The UX of StackOverflow Discussions

StackOverflow is a really awesome movement on the web that is revolutionizing Question & Answer forums.  Experts-Exchange.com is really being left in the dust mainly because of the user experience of this new upstart.  There is an elegance to the overall design that I enjoy very much.  The use of reputation points and badges is breakthrough stuff.  I am the number #1 reputation on UXExchange.com, but then StackOverflow changed the game and now there is a new site with a similar mission.  (Goodbye points)

However, I do have one major problem StackOverflow.  When you ask a question there is this text on the right side of the screen:

We prefer questions that can be answered, not just discussed.

I hate this. Especially on forums that are dedicated to user experience.  I want to discuss the topics and let the best ideas rise to the top.  The fact that the ideas get out of order because of voting is GOOD.  It forces each person to come up with a self-contained single answer that stands on its own.  Typically people do not answer more than once.  There are comments for talking about a single answer, which provides an extra outlet for conversation. This is much better than an opened ended threaded discussion.  There is a limiting force based on the structure which makes each answer more potent.  You have one shot, you better make it good.

I love StackOverflow for discussion AS IS, yet they actively shun this type of activity.  They will literally shut the question down.  People are hard-core getting pissed that people like me want to have discussions.  I think it is actually ruining the overall user experience to not have the option of discussing in the same context as answering.  The UI works for it perfectly.  It would be smart to mark or tag the question as open-ended.  That way, people who are annoyed by it can skip those questions.  However, to eliminate them completely makes it impossible for the rest of us to have satisfaction.

This issue is like Gay Marriage.  If you say it can only be one way (Man/Woman), then you are happy with your one way.  If someone else LIKES MARRIAGE but wants it another way (Man/Man or Woman/Woman) then they are S.O.L.  They don’t want some messed up “third way”, they want to be married!  Stop being control freaks and let people do what they want to do!

StackOverflow has suggested a “third place” to deal with this problem.  (Civil Union?) They created a totally different UI that truthfully doesn’t work for me at all.  Their whole approach to the problem is just missing the point.  We like the regular Stackoverflow UI for discussion, not some bizarre other thing.  Their new UI is not useful at all and I wouldn’t be tempted to use it.

Why is this so hard for people?  Jeff Atwood, please come over to the good side of the force.  Add a flag for open-ended questions and leave the UI alone.  We like it very much.

One Reply to “The UX of StackOverflow Discussions”

  1. I used to use Experts-Exchange a long time ago. Long long before StackOverflow came around. When StackOverflow actually launched and got a lot of use, I knew that Experts-Exchange was doomed.

    This graph here pretty much shows it all: Experts-Exchange.com traffic vs StackOverflow.com

    They have lost more than half their traffic since Stack Overflow started taking off.
    I suspect they will lose another half soon enough.

    I have no idea why Google allows Experts-Exchange to pull a bait and switch with it’s pages. I thought it was specifically against Google’s terms of service to show one thing to the search engine crawler, but something totally different to the user. I wish Google would de-list them for their deceptive tactics.

    As for your specific complaints against Stack Overflow’s aggressive moderation… well moderation of user submitted content is always a tricky. It’s almost always a ‘fine line’ and a ‘slippery slope’ sort of thing. I think the idea of a ‘discussion’ tag may be a good one, but I think it would take more thinking about it’s potential impacts (both good and bad) before implementation.

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