Sunday, 9 November 2008

Stack Overflow

I was programming long before the internet, and long before Google. I sometimes wonder how we managed it before we had that great resource. I guess we read lots of books, and perhaps solved more problems ourselves. Or perhaps we just didn’t have as many problems as we do today. Whatever it is we used to do, I couldn’t do my job today without Google.

Well now we just may have something that in a few years time we’ll be wondering how we ever used to do our job without it. is that something. What is It’s a site where you can go and ask any programming question, and get an accurate answer pretty quickly. The genius of the site though, is how it gets developers to answer questions.

To get people to do anything, you either need to give them money, or you have to cater to their ego. Funnily enough, people will usually respond more to having their ego stoked, than if you were to wave money in front of their face. So back to that genius master stroke. has a system of reputation and badges. You earn reputation for asking and answering questions. Other developers can vote your entries up or down depending on how good they think your effort was. That causes your reputation to go up and down. Reputation is like a video game score, and if you spend any time on, it starts to feel like a game. The badges are awarded for attaining certain milestones such as giving an answer with 10 up votes (Nice Answer) or leaving 10 comments (Commentator) etc etc. I’m not so sure about the badges, but gaining reputation is addictive. The more reputation you gain, the more status you have, and the more status you have, the more administrator rights you gain over the site as a whole.

There are downsides to the site though. One is that it is very addictive. The other is that it can get depressing, as you begin to realize how little you really know. When you realize that there are over 40,000 questions,  and you can only answer a handful of them, it can get you down a bit.

So if you have a programming question you need answering, try out

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