love/ hate letter to stackexchange summer 2017 at ½ decade mark

hi all, have now been on stackexchange over 5 yrs, focusing on CS-related groups, mainly theoretical computer science and the computer science sites. its been a wild ride and full of a lot of color and online adventures. the cyber culture is quite rich. full of dynamic psychology and ripe for a sociological/ anthropological study. when finding this site early on and seeing their rapid growth, thought it could be a like a mini-facebook. but alas, there are really no other mini-facebooks! (lol at someone-or-other who told me in chat not long ago that SE is not a “social networking system”!) its a winner-take-all situation in capitalism and mirrored in cyberspace.

for 4 years focused on building up my online rep. shew, it sure/ really isnt easy! esp if one wants to have a personal style to their posts! the site culture is very “left brained”. analytical. exacting. its that old japanese expr applied to cyberspace:

the nail that sticks out gets hammered down.

as they say on stackexchange, there are a LOT of hammers. moderators have a lot of power. they tend to run a very tight ship. stackexchange management also generally runs a very tight ship! have seen them “fire” moderators on occasion, and moderators resign in other rare cases. for obvious reasons there is little recorded history of such high-profile “purges/ meltdowns”. [g10][g11] are two rare cases have come across over the years. the site is highly airbrushed/ sanitized, occasionally even verging on whitewashing. yikes!

1st few years ran into a lot of frustration. there were rep points at stake! those were hard earned. the gamification system had its intended effect on my psychology. was fighting to be recognized among 1st rate peers. stackexchange has one of the worlds “most rigorous/ bordering-on-lethal” cyber peer review systems! last year, have retired from trying to earn rep. my stess levels/ blood pressure is much more even these days.

these days, focus more on the chat rooms. have met a lot of brilliant people there. alas, however, not surprisingly, they tend to be meandering and aimless most of the time (the chat rooms, not the people that is). not very many chat rooms have much activity. would like to see that change. their chat rooms even while well designed are still something of an afterthought on the sites. (which shows how high quality the sites are when even the afterthought chat infrastructure is actually very well designed/ built/ streamlined.)

there are likely literally dozens of cases of ppl criticizing me on the site for my “ee cummings” chat style. even in chat! geez! my feeling is sometimes the culture is too fixated on COSMETIC/ SUPERFICIAL stuff.[g] the interface and design maybe are intentionally designed in that direction. think there needs to be more focus on CONTENT and CONTRIBUTIONS with some allowance for/ acceptance of DIVERSITY. but it sure is an uphill battle trying to change that. like trying to push the river! or boil the ocean!

the site was created by Spolsky and Atwood years ago, who, if you look into deep history, previously created a bug tracking system prior to Stackexchange that had some rough similarities. the whole system is designed to treat questions somewhat like “issues” or “defects”. and programmers have some natural opposition/ pushback to some bugs being reported. so the system vaporizes some questions without any record, without a trace, it would be hard to get statistics on those. to me, the system kills “on topic” but “low quality” questions a bit too easily. management has noticed this to some degree.[e][f]

Spolsky/ Atwood founders are both prolific bloggers and all their old blogs are available as the site was built. its a remarkable way to view the history of the site.[c]

would like to see someone do a eg detailed book-length history on the site, but so far it hasnt happened. stackexchange culture is possibly even more rich and variegated than wikipedia and arguably has had a similar mass cultural impact (in some ways possibly even more far reaching), but for some reason the media hasnt paid much attn to stackexchange. maybe they need better PR?

there were some indications over the years that SE might reach high visibility eg teaming up with google/ USPTO, and opening new offices eg Denver, etc.[a1][a2] but they still seem to be flying below the radar so to speak. looks like it will never go IPO or get acquired at the moment! maybe they dont have harsh/ voracious investors/ shareholders clamoring for a “liquidity event” like nearly every other silicon valley startup! expected something along those lines by now, and really wonder about that myself! was waiting for some big, opportune moment to write this blog up, based on a big announcement by the site, but am now thinking it will never arrive, and so “am instead zigging instead of zagging” so to speak.

for me a highlight of stackexchange is for very high quality communities such as MO[i] and cstheory.SE[j] with many engaged PhDs (the latter maybe not quite as engaged). its a rare case where academics/ Phds can be attracted/ incentivized somehow to hang out in cyberspace and share their hardwon/ expensive knowledge. SE is a case study for success in this area that maybe any future systems might emulate. [i8] is a great article and wish something like this would be written for SE in general. maybe a documentary? really am amazed sometimes how low-profile Stackexchange is given its ingenuity, cyber/global impact etc!

SE is one of the most successful cyber-collaborative systems ever developed, a marvel of design and engineering, and has implications for electronic democracy/ building cyber community etc, which Zuckerberg is increasingly interested in. (there are persistent rumors hes interested in running for president, and his US tour seems to add momentum in that direction!)

could write far more on this subj, its been a real epic saga personally and more globally/ larger pov and theres so much to write about, but am going to leave it at that for now, and hope others pick up more. these are key links noticed over the years, very substantial areas with lots of moving parts/ complexity, many diverse/ deep angles, reveal lots into its mojo/ zeitgeist/ modus operandi but am just gonna scratch the surface for now.

so there you have it! stackexchange is a treasure, a gem, a constant source of irritation/ frustration/ exasperation! a lot like life itself! j/k! sort of! 😳 o_O 😡 👿 😈


a. overview
  • 1. StackExchange, Google Team Up With USPTO To Help Crowdsource Prior Art Discovery | Techdirt
  • 2. Join us for our opening reception of Stack Exchange: Denver! « Blog – Stack Exchange
  • 3. Stack Exchange Gives Back 2013 « Blog – Stack Exchange
  • 4. Five years ago, Stack Overflow launched. Then, a miracle occurred. « Blog – Stack Exchange
  • 5. Our best questions come from non-expert users – Physics Meta Stack Exchange
  • 6. Stack Overflow clones – Meta Stack Overflow
  • 7. Learning from – YouTube
  • 8. Does this site have a chance of succeeding? « Blog – Stack Exchange
  • 9. A Recipe to Promote your Site « Blog – Stack Exchange
b. design
  • 1. Site Directory – Stack Exchange
  • 2. About – Stack Exchange
  • 3. The Gamification
  • 4. Optimizing For Pearls, Not Sand – Stack Overflow Blog – A destination for all things related to development at Stack Overflow
  • 5. The Architecture of Stack Overflow | code.talks
  • 6. What form of government does StackExchange resemble? – Politics Stack Exchange
  • 7. Joel Spolsky – The Cultural Anthropology of Stack Exchange | Business of Software
  • 8. Meta Is Murder
  • 9. Should Community Moderators be “elected for life”, or have terms? – Meta Stack Overflow
  • 10. What do you think of the Stack Exchange main meta site? – Computer Science Meta Stack Exchange
  • 11. Marco Cecconi, Software Developer @ Stack Exchange – The architectu…
  • 12. A New Top Bar for Stack Exchange « Blog – Stack Exchange
  • 13. Stack Overflow is getting a place of its own – Meta Stack Overflow
c. philosophy
  • 1. A Theory of Moderation – Stack Exchange Blog – A destination for all things related to development at Stack Exchange
  • 2. Toward a philosophy of Chat – Meta Stack Exchange
  • 3. How to train your growing community to self-moderate? – Meta Stack Exchange
  • 4. Is Stack Overflow a forum? – Meta Stack Exchange
  • 5. Stack Exchange Moderator FAQ – Meta Stack Exchange
  • 6. What makes an answer good, and what makes an answer get feedback? – Computer Science Meta – Stack Exchange
  • 7. Moderator Cheat Sheet – Meta Stack Overflow
d. criticism
  • 1. The decline of Stack Overflow — Medium
  • 2. Stack Overflow: Where We Hate Fun – Stack Overflow Blog – A destination for all things related to development at Stack Overflow
  • 3. Coding Horror: Building Social Software for the Anti-Social
  • 4. Are moderators right 99% of the time? – 2014-03-14
  • 5. Handling Calls to Remove a Moderator – Meta Stack Overflow
  • 6. How can Meta be made more conducive to discussions? – Meta Stack Overflow
  • 7. Why StackOverflow sucks | The Programming Works
  • 8. The unilateral removal of comments by Jeff Atwood – Mathematics Meta Stack Exchange
e. se close
  • 1. The War of the Closes « Blog – Stack Exchange
  • 2. Aggressive closing of questions? – Theoretical Computer Science Meta Stack Exchange
  • 3. Closing questions too quickly, revisited? – Theoretical Computer Science Meta Stack Exchange
  • 4. Why the extreme strictness on topic closing? – Theoretical Computer Science Meta Stack Exchange
  • 5. Are we being too quick to close questions? – Theoretical Computer Science Meta Stack Exchange
  • 6. How Much Time before Closing a Question? – Theoretical Computer Science Meta Stack Exchange
  • 7. The number of questions and closed questions – Theoretical Computer Science Meta Stack Exchange
  • 8. Closed questions per month – Stack Exchange Data Explorer
  • 9. Let’s burn down the close queue! – Meta Stack Overflow
  • 10. Closing changes: [on hold], unclear, too broad, opinion-based, off-topic reasons, bye-bye to Too Localized – Meta Stack Overflow
  • 11. Distribution of Close Reasons – Stack Exchange Data Explorer
f. question quality
  • 1. Gorilla vs. Shark « Blog – Stack Exchange
  • 2. Good Subjective, Bad Subjective « Blog – Stack Exchange
  • 3. Could we please be a bit nicer to new users? – Meta Stack Overflow
  • 4. The Anatomy of a Hot Question – Meta Stack Overflow
  • 5. Should Stack Overflow be awarding “A”s for Effort? – Meta Stack Overflow
  • 6. How much research effort is expected of Stack Overflow users? – Meta Stack Overflow
  • 7. Should Stack Overflow (and Stack Exchange in general) be awarding “A”s for Effort? – Meta Stack Exchange
  • 8. Question self-destruction: why don’t experts ask more questions? – Physics Meta Stack Exchange
  • 9. What is a help vampire? – Meta Stack Overflow
  • 10. The Help Vampire problem – Meta Stack Exchange
g. tone
  • 1. Is Stack Overflow overrun by trolls? : programming
  • 2. Ideas for proposals to help Stack Overflow create a more positive community? – Meta Stack Overflow
  • 3. Kicking off the Summer of Love « Blog – Stack Exchange
  • 4. Week 2 of the Summer of Love: Researching Comments « Blog – Stack Exchange
  • 5. Why is Stack Overflow so negative of late? – Meta Stack Overflow
  • 6. We need to be a little less hostile – Meta Stack Overflow
  • 7. Should Sarcasm be Acceptable? – Meta Stack Overflow
  • 8. How can we avoid comments intended to be helpful being perceived as unfriendly? – Meta Stack Overflow
  • 9. Are Stack Overflow people *still* nice? – Meta Stack Overflow
  • 10. Why was a moderator on our Stack asked to step down? – Science Fiction & Fantasy Meta Stack Exchange
  • 11. Why I am stepping down – Theoretical Computer Science Meta Stack Exchange
h. voting
  • 1. Visual voting trends – Game Development Meta Stack Exchange
  • 2. Some Statistics on the Growth of Math.SE « Stack Exchange Mathematics Blog
  • 3. An interactive graph of Math.SE tags – Mathematics Meta Stack Exchange
  • 4. Why the low voting rates? – Computer Science Meta – Stack Exchange
  • 5. Is interesting activity on decreasing over the last year or so? – Theoretical Computer Science Meta Stack Exchange
i. MO
  • 1. History of MathOverflow – MathOverflow Meta
  • 2. A blog for MathOverflow – MathOverflow Meta
  • 3. Best of MathOverflow – MathOverflow Meta
  • 4. What MO is for and what is *your* aim in participation? – MathOverflow Meta
  • 5. MathOverflow at the Joint Mathematics Meetings, Baltimore, January 2014 – MathOverflow Meta
  • 6. Does Mathoverflow really want the ‘Publicist’ badge? – MathOverflow Meta
  • 7. MathOverflow @ ICM2014 : We Want You! – MathOverflow Meta
  • 8. The Global Math Commons | Simons Foundation
  • 9. – How is MO useful for me?
  • 10. MathOverflow, the eternal fountain of mathematics: reflections on a hundred kiloreps | Joel David Hamkins
j. TCS
  • 1. Questions Answered. In Theory.
  • 2. Can we write a research paper from stackexchange collaboration? – Theoretical Computer Science Meta – Stack Exchange
  • 3. What TCS-stackexchange is for and what is *your* aim in participation? – Theoretical Computer Science Meta Stack Exchange
  • 4. Original proofs generated on the parent site – Theoretical Computer Science Meta Stack Exchange
  • 5. Is “theoretical” computer science too narrow? – Theoretical Computer Science Meta Stack Exchange
  • 6. On modifying our scope: A proposal – Theoretical Computer Science Meta Stack Exchange
  • 7. Broadening the scope of questions – Theoretical Computer Science Meta Stack Exchange
  • 8. Initial reputation frustration – Theoretical Computer Science Meta Stack Exchange

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