So, the collaboration between Atwood and Spolsky titled StackOverflow has come to (beta) fruition. The buzz is finally starting to come in. I have seen both good and bad and decided to see for myself what the hype was about. I'm going to walk you through my experience and give you some of my reactions.
The UI is welcoming, and I say that as a developer. Well, maybe not so much a developer as much as just someone who likes a "no frills" UI. I'm more of a reddit girl than a digg girl, I don't like extra bells and whistles and even special colors. Let me rephrase that, I like a high functioning skeleton without all the distracting "Look at me! Look at me!". In other words I like plain webpages. Why was that so hard to say?
So, naked UI, check. How does this thing work? I figured I would play around... so I did the obvious and asked a question. This is a problem I am really having with my Visual Studio. I think it has something to do with Installing and Uninstalling both Refactor Pro and Resharper. It comes and goes, but regardless it's an annoying problem and I figured I would check to see if anyone else had it. I was able to post a question without registering. I gave myself the moniker "Kevin Lee." I often hear that being a female I get my questions answered a little faster than the average nerd. Something about a "Geek to the Rescue" fantasy. I figured if I just pretended to be the average programmer I could see an unbiased response time. My question was answered quickly (I notice you can't see exactly but it took about 20 mins) and the integral goal of StackOverflow was fulfilled. I was impressed, only because my first question about StackOverflow was "Well, I mean, don't we have forums for that?" However, it takes me a lot longer to get an answer on the ASP.NET forums. Was it answered correctly? Yes, after a few. There were some answers that were a little off the path for my question, though I could see why a programmer would go to them, they didn't apply. The same experience as if I was in a forum, answered a little faster. So, I mark the answer as "accepted" and go to rate up the answer as well (may as well throw around some points).
What's this? Hmm, apparently I can't rate answers up if I don't have at least 15 points. Well, that's clever, I need a rep in order to decide what question rates. What about if I want to vote an answer down? I need 100 points, so if I'm some kind of jerk who likes to go spreading bad web vibes I have to work REEEALY hard to get there. I guess that adds to the Wiki-ish flavor. A lot of the feedback I have read in the "sphere" points to the idea that everyone that answers questions isn't necessarily going to answer correctly. I found that the correct answers tended to be indicated and rated high, possibly this algorithm for voting is to thank for that.
Ok, now let me go answer some questions. Mmmm, I had a little trouble including multiple tags when searching questions, now I'm not going to jump on the "THIS IS A BUG" wagon, but if it isn't then the UI could be a little more explanatory. I entered the names of multiple tags I saw on the list, but when I entered C# and then .NET (with a space in between as instructed) nothing was returned. I was able to answer questions with ease... nothing too exciting (though the level of most of the questions being asked was impressive).
What are some of the other features I noticed? Well, you can earn badges based on performance. I was really excited to see that
I had earned the "Autobiographer" badge, but then I realized it was simply because I had filled out my profile. I sincerely hope I get a "Kiss Ass Blogger" badge for this post. Some other fun things were the ways you can filter questions by what is unanswered, or what is popular, and other nifty filters to make browsing more interesting. I'm sure I will discover more in time.
What didn't I like? Well, the amount of information all at once was kind of daunting. I supposed this could be partially remedied by the use of multiple tags. I would also recommend giving users the option to not see a preview of each post and just view titles. There were many times I wanted to rate an answer or question and I can't yet which was frustrating. I suppose that's the price you pay to keep the community clean.
So, the question remains, is StackOverflow THE new resource for all your coding needs? Is it going to put Experts Exchange and other pay-for-your-answer sites out of business? My answer is: no one knows and don't pretend you do, blaggers, because you don't. If I were to design a perfect UX for a one-stop-shopping coding resource this is pretty dang close. However, it's really up to us as a community to put in the effort. It seems to have a huge following already in beta, so Joel and Jeff as developers may have hit on something big (is this possible for people not named Scott?). I'll be interested where this thing goes and what changes are made for the first official release (may I suggest a NY release party?).