Based on what my professor shared about his experience on StackOverflow, I started thinking about who participates in this type of community.
- People who know nothing but need reputation, so they ask questions and answer quickly and haphazardly. They don’t understand the StackOverflow community and don’t make an attempt to.
- People who are smart but insist that everyone conform to their view of how StackOverflow ought to be. These people downvote questions that are well asked but they don’t understand. They are quick to resort to sarcasm and get upvotes for snark. These people spend too much time on Reddit and not enough time socializing with real people in different industries.
- People who are very smart but add noise not really understanding the question. They assume since they are a great programmer in a certain language they are qualified to answer questions tagged in that. They are busy people so they don’t take a lot of time to really understand what someone is getting at, so really obscure language bugs just get lost in rabbit trails.
- The guy who wrote the code at Microsoft who knows exactly whats happening but no one else understands he’s the only one qualified to answer, and his wisdom is overwhelmed by the noise of the other three.
Me? I think I’m usually in group three. I usually know what I’m talking about but in the rush to get the first answer in (which usually gets the upvotes), I sometimes don’t look towards what the questioner really needs.
These are systemic problems to online communities in general and I’m not sure of the best way to fix them. Quora has some way to say who you are and what qualifies you to answer the question (John Skeet on C#, Linus on Linux…). It would be cool to be able to say “hey, I’m a lead data scientist at LinkedIn” or “I built GFS.” Reputation is about how much you participate as much as it’s about how good you are. There are a lot of questions that don’t require any skill to answer, and there are a few questions that require great skill. There are no easy answers, but it’s worth being careful about how we participate in these communities.