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Tuesday, September 16, 2008


As a programmer, Internet is the single best resource for me to find my answers. Thanks to Google, online forums, Usernet and blogs, and thanks to all the selfless programmers, I can solve my problems in just a few clicks without even referring to the tome and tome of heavy books.

But the flow of information is not always as free as it should be. There were times when the answers I sought were buried behind a login page, guarded by subscription fees. There were also times when the answers were just plain annoying because the answerers didn't even have a clue on what they were talking about and so they asked a lot of seemly irrelevant questions to scare the original questioners off. And there were times when, because of time delay between Malaysia and other countries, I had to wait for hours before I got the first response.

All these impediments made finding answers on the Internet not as pleasant and smooth as it could be.

With StackOverflow, I am pleased to report that I've found a place that I can really ask and get answers, fast.

Although StackOverflow was barely launched yesterday, but it is already active-- very active. It won't take 5 minutes for a boring question to get pushed to the second page. I think the ratio of contributors vs. pure readers ratio is exceptional high in StackOverflow, which means that this is a good thing.

StackOverflow is by programmers, for programmers. Given that it is community oriented in nature, like Reddit, Youtube etc, the more the participants, the better the site is. So, the very fact that there are lots of contributors mean that the chances of programming questions being answered correctly are significantly higher. This, in turn, will encourage those who've received help want to help others, and thus creates a virtuous cycle.

I have asked a few questions on the website, and with no exception, I got very high quality responses in a very short span of time. This makes it an ideal tool for researching my problem. The questions I asked differed wildly in terms of scope and difficulty. Some of the questions are technical in nature ( such as Change attribute's parameter at runtime)  and some are purely subjective ( How to remain employable in the face of constant technological changes); some questions are easy to look up ( Set Google Chrome as the Debugging Browser in VS) and some requires a lot of Googling and thinking (Get the App.Config of another exe). Without exception, the StackOverflow contributors throw at me their solutions in a very short span of time. The quality? The answers for easy questions are the most accurate, whereas the difficult ones and subjective ones... well, the answers I get for them are still of high quality, it's just that I have to do a bit of my own digestion and research.

So, StackOverflow is the first choice when I can't think of an obvious solution to an easy question, or when I can't find anything useful via Google. Given that I am very forgetful and handling a lot of programming tasks of different languages and nature, StackOverflow is a favorite destination for me.

To keep people on the site, Jeff Atwood, the programmer behind StackOverflow devised a few tricks. If you are asking good questions or answering good answers you will be properly rewarded in terms of points and badges. These measures, although simple, but are highly effective.

As a member who has 304 points ( and counting!), I can attest to the addictiveness of StackOverflow. It's such a pure joy to see my points grow, and to see people answer my questions. When I was tired of programming, I would just go to StackOverflow to read the questions and answers, or to check out other people's reputation and badges. StackOveflow is officially overtaking, and as the most visited programming website, as far as I am concerned.

StackOverflow seems to have all the right criteria to render pay programming Q&A site ( such as expert-exchange) obsolete. But whether this will materialize is still to be seen.

But I am holding my breath for it.

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