Stack Overflow is Not Welcoming by Design

Stack Overflow is going through some kind of asshole midlife crisis and this blog post is the corresponding spiritual Mustang GT.

Don’t be fatuous, Stack Overflow. Your culture is the way it is because of your rules. It’s not an accident that oh-my-stars we just peeked under the rock and discovered last week. Your rules created this monster.

What is the overriding principle of Stack Overflow? It’s that questions (and answers) have differing value. Some questions are just more useful than others. Same with answers. And the whole rest of the machine falls out of that concept. People who ask better questions are better. People who give better answers are better. The dialogue between a seeker and an answerer is garbage unless it leads to an answer. Commentary is almost worthless. Subjectivity is worthless! Only ask questions that can be answered! No, I will not recommend an off-site resource for you, noob!

Why are we assholes to people who ask questions that already have answers? Because your rules say to close questions that have already been asked.

I follow the Prolog tag. I can tell you about 1 out of every 20 or 50 questions is actually new. The rest are people wanting help with their homework. Most of their questions can be answered by reading the output from their terminal aloud to them. They need help. But the Stack Overflow goal, which is perfect answers to the best questions, is useless to them because they are essentially illiterate. If they were literate, they would read their console output, or their textbook, or their notes. Instead, they want you to do the work for them because Stack Overflow and the internet more generally has created a culture for them where there is simply no need for many programmers to read or think.

“All developers are free to participate”—but that participation is modulated by your rep. And with the vast majority of established engineers being white men, of course the bulk of women and minorities are not high-ranking Stack Overflow users. But the difference has nothing to do with institutional bias. It’s completely a function of the date you joined. Stack Overflow is an asshole to new users, period. Nobody knows or cares about your background, just that you’re a noob, what with your “hi” and your “thanks” and your not knowing Markdown and your asking a question that’s been asked a thousand times.

Stack Overflow seems determined to overthink their position and fuck it up somehow, first with Documentation and now this. Why did we all love Stack Overflow in the beginning? Because you got answers without all the commentary, the irrelevant massive signatures, the page 923 of this forum post, the “is this solution still good?” ten years after the fact. You beat the shit out of Experts Exchange, that’s what we loved about you. Who’s competing with you now? Nobody. So just shut up already. Making Stack Overflow a better partner in the evolution of my growth as a Jewish programmer is a meaningless and stupid goal for you. If I ask a question that already has a good answer, it’s a waste of everyone’s time to stop and answer it, and that’s really the only way to evolve from where you are now.

There’s a joke about contradictory requirements that goes something like, “I demand we build a new schoolhouse! I demand we use the bricks in the existing schoolhouse! I demand we keep the old school open while we build the new one!” Stack Overflow cannot be a welcoming place that caters to the wholeness of your being and still be the central resource for canonical answers to every question about programming. Those concepts cross each other exactly the same way “the bricks must be reused while the school stays open” crosses itself. You can’t be welcoming to new users and tell them to go fuck themselves for asking a duplicate question, and conversely you cannot be the home of the best comprehensive answers to the best questions while allowing your content to degrade into a billion answers of the same stupid questions because someone couldn’t be bothered to open their textbook before failing to implement their homework.

This is really disingenuous anyway, because you have, what, 50 developers against literally the rest of the world’s developers? Even if you had a great idea, you don’t have the manpower to police anything. Your police are, unsurprisingly, users with a lot of rep—in other words, the people most invested in the way the system currently works.

In short: you have no concrete plan, you have no resources to implement a concrete plan if you had one, and you have no actual incentive to do it. So this is nothing. Posturing-as-a-product.