Monday, October 04, 2010

Bad Experiences with StackOverflow

If you build software you're probably familiar with StackOverflow, the 2-year-old, collaboratively edited question-and-answer site for programmers. SO was not a new idea, but it was well-executed and quickly gained a a large number of users due to the popular blogs of its founders.

I haven't been a particularly active SO user, and my "reputation" peaked at a little over 400 points after one question and 20+ answers on the site. But what's been striking is how many negative experiences I've had in my relatively limited usage of SO.

My first and only question was quickly deleted by another user who said it was "too localized, outside the scope of [StackOverflow]...and argumentative" (my question concerned an esoteric provision of employment agreements and state intellectual property laws). I was a powerless newbie with no reputation so I had little recourse at that point. Fortunately at least one other user disagreed, and my question was eventually restored and even added to the SO community wiki.

The next negative experience occurred after I downvoted an answer by Mitch Wheat of Perth, Australia. As per the SO recommended protocol I added a comment explaining why I downvoted his answer. Normally you can't see who downvotes your answers--except when they add comments explaining their votes! Mitch used this information to rapidly downvote several of my answers in retaliation. (I know this because he couldn't restrain from also adding sarcastic comments of his own. But he must have agreed with me because he proceeded to delete his own answer which I had downvoted!)

My latest experience with SO has left such a sour taste that I've decided not to waste my time contributing answers to the site. Instead I'll stick to blog posts. Here's what happened: About half my answers on SO have something to do with Amazon SimpleDb. They will sometimes include a reference to my Simple Savant open-source library--but only when pertinent to the question. Sometimes I'll phrase the answer in a way that indicates I'm the creator of Savant, and 2 or 3 times I mentioned that Savant has a feature that might help solve the questioner's problem without explaining that I created Savant. Explicitly stating that I created Savant in the answer has always been something of an afterthought because

  1. I use my real name on both SO and Codeplex, making the connection blindingly obvious.
  2. Savant is free, open-source software from which I have not directly or indirectly earned one penny.
  3. These haven't been cheerleading Savant-is-the-greatest-thing-since-Charles-Babbage-type answers, merely plain statements of fact.

Unfortunately some poor, benighted SO super-user 5 poor, benighted SO users decided the answers which don't explicitly disclose my connection to Simple Savant are unacceptable. These answers were flagged as spam and deleted, and my SO account was nuked back to 1 reputation point. Here's an example of one of my answers that was deleted:

Question: Is there a production grade SimpleDB library, preferable built in C#. If not, May I use the VB.NET library on a C# project as a reference?

My Answer: You should check out Simple Savant. It builds on the Amazon library to provide many additional features and is used in production or beta sites by quite a few folks.

Apparently an answer like the following would have been just fine:

You should check out Simple Savant. It builds on the Amazon library to provide many additional features and is used in production or beta sites by quite a few folks.

FULL DISCLOSURE: I'm the creator of Simple Savant. You should be aware that I may not have your best interests in mind. I may have spent several hundred hours of uncompensated time building and documenting this open-source project solely to lure unsuspecting application developers like yourself into an unhealthy, asymmetric relationship where you get valuable, free software and I, warm fuzzy feelings because people are using my library. Also be aware that I strive to provide the highest quality of support to users of the Savant library. You may find yourself startled--nay--alarumed even by the rapidity with which answers to your questions stream across the Savant discussion forum. Consider yourself warned.

Of course, the delicious irony here is that the spam-offended SO user users who nuked my account only knew that I was connected to Simple Savant because I make that obvious by using my real name in both places!

UPDATE: Jeff Atwood explains in the comments that 5 StackOverflow users must flag a post as spam before it's deleted. If anything this makes the problem seem even worse. It's also worth noting that the posts marked as spam were all 7+ months old. I never received any warning or indication of a problem until I visited SO one day and found my reputation blanked.

UPDATE 2: After some more back and forth, the folks at StackOverflow said they were willing to chalk this up to a mistake and (mostly) restored my lost reputation.


Anonymous said...

Hi Ashley,

It actually takes 5 users to flag something as spam and remove it, so to be clear, this was not the action of any individual user, it was the action of five different users working together.

So, for better or worse, all five of them agreed these posts were spammy.

I'm not saying I necessarily agree, but it is part of our /faq to disclose affiliation:

May I promote products I am affiliated with here?

Be careful, because the community frowns on overt self-promotion and tends to vote it down and flag it as spam. Post good, relevant answers, and if they happen to be about your product, so be it. However, you must disclose your affiliation with the product in your answers. Also, if a huge percentage of your posts include a mention of your product, you're clearly here for the wrong reasons. Our advertising rates are quite reasonable;contact our ad sales team for details. We also offer free vote-based advertising for open source projects.


Ashley Tate said...

@Jeff: Thanks for the response. Obviously we disagree on what is and isn't spam. Part of the problem here is that the deleted answers were all 7+ months old (and at least one had been upvoted by other users who found it useful). I didn't visit SO for 4 or 5 days, and then returned to find my reputation gone. There was *never* any indication of a developing problem.

Milstein Munakami said...

Hi Ashley,

Even i felt the same regarding #stackoverflow
Spam is not if it accidental and posted twice and only due to considered from moderator's eyes.
Thaks why i also opted to close my account.

RDC said...

Hi..Ashley Tate

i agree with you StackOverflow sucks.
i created my account and asked a question and also posted some answers but they didn't accepts and some pigs copy my ans which was accepeted dont know how?

even my account is blocked and want to delete it but event they dont allow delete what i should do?

i just want to say goodbye and remove my account.

really Stack Overflow sucks..

Anonymous said...

At Ashley and RDC...

Not only am I going to leave my account, but I'm also going to retaliate. I'll first wiki-vandalize my own posts and other people's posts: this may seem rude, but the rudeness of some of the elected mods is just disgusting. I've got a bit more than 3000 rep and the thing that turns me mad is the arrogance and sarcasm of a lot of mods. It is basically impossible to complain about something on meta because a mob of self-congratulating mods keeps being sarcastic and making fun a user with low-rep on meta. So meta is supposed to be a place to discuss about SO issues but it's near impossible to discuss about moderators: they'll protect each other. Yet some behavior are unacceptable. The use "The Establishment" is the worse. He's arrogant, unhelpful and provocative: from it's name to it's wiki link to basically every single comment he's posting. The guy has no life and keeps ruining the site. So don't just leave: post comments everywhere you can about SO issues. Do like Ashley here: post your bad experience. Complain. And not on SO/meta of course: they'll delete the evidence. They do it all the time. I'll say it here clear and loud: user "The Establishment" on meta.stackoverflow should be banned. As long as he's in place I'll wiki-vandalize SO and cast fake votes to ruin the sytem. Do like me.

Anonymous said...

I abandoned stackoverflow few weeks ago too. I totally agree with Anonymous comment (5/12/2012 7:14 AM). I found many arrogant mods imposing an unpolite culture and downvoting any comment which is against their inhumane vision of the world. The user called "The Establishment" is not a mod, by the way. All they say that saying thanks is just noise and it is even rude, and saying "thanks in advance" is even more rude with stupid arguments like "why to say thanks to an unknown answerer?, before any answerer and you are forcing the other SO users to provide one". Another annoying feature of SO is that you cannot find clear rules, but a bunch of FAQ pages that are not signed by the administrators and moderators ask users to follow their comments of some pages that are not even FAQs but discussion pages with the argument: "You should follow mods' majority opinion".

Anonymous said...

Why I left StackOverflow? Because it is governed by loutish people:

Anonymous said...

Support a related wikipedia article (see older revisions) that includes a criticism section on the matter.

Anonymous said...

I agree with this article. And I just contacted them to delete my account. They close the question (telling this can be merged with xyz question), but why do not they merge? Very arrogant indeed some of the admins.

Anonymous said...

I worked hard and posted 53 useful answer with evidence. But today i have only 10 reputation.

Helping SO is wastage of time and effort. And clearly most of the answer I found there is only there opinion sometime out of scope answer which is accepted there.

I have asked three question and all are closed just because of I have low reputation and some groups of bastard flag my question to increase their own reputation. Today I have also requested to close my account and my contribution (my answers) from SO. Let see what they will reply.

Anonymous said...

I agree, SO is full of arrogant people... The whole meaning shouldn't be to help and to be helped? Actually it seems that reputation is like money and if you got some, you'll probably be accused of theft.

Anonymous said...

I have hated this site in my 30 days experience ...
if the stupid , arrogant dumbheaded people dont have an answer they just fucking say that it is not suitable for SO and the question gets closed...
A brilliant site full of hypocrats riding on their reputations

From the far south said...

The lack of humility in SO is far outrageous. I ended up deleting my account, of course, I wonder if my contributions were also deleted.

Anonymous said...

I too said goodbye to stackoverflow. if the questions are allowed only from experts then i dont think its for me. If i ask a stupid question about HTML it may be because my expertise is in something else and i just want to fix something in HTML to get going. So If i am asked to go and do research for few days; then think i can find the answer by myself

Anonymous said...

Stack Overflow is incredibly arrogant. It's unreal what people will use to pad their egos nowadays.

Anonymous said...

The truth is, Stack Overflow has a very high noise-to-signal ratio because of many of its policies, which unfortunately tends attract a lot of unpleasant personality types.

While having quality questions and answers is a positive thing, it too often comes at the exclusion of human civility.

Stack Overflow is a community. I don't think that this community has decided that being friendly and welcoming are important values to the operation of the community.

I find that very unhealthy and as such I have decided to stop contributing answers and comments. I still use the site, but only to look up answers (with an ad blocker).

And no, my account had never been downvoted in the short time I contributed (only upvoted), but I was sick of the attitude of many people there.

My theory is that a very high percentage of programmers have insufferable personality types, but that's just a theory.

Anonymous said...

CORRECTION: I meant to say a LOW nose-to-signal ratio. (Or HIGH signal-to-nose ratio).


Jordan said...

"[A]fter I downvoted an answer by Mitch Wheat of Perth, Australia… I added a comment explaining why I downvoted his answer [and] Mitch used this information to rapidly downvote several of my answers in retaliation."

That is a complete asshole move and I hope you flagged him so that a moderator could intervene. I really like Stack Overflow, and crap like retaliatory downvoting makes it a worse place for everyone.

Anonymous said...

It's mid 2014 now, stackoverflow still sucks, this time, more than ever.
In a couple of years they will surely have lost all of it's core contributors.

Anonymous said...

Yes, that is true. Yesterday I asked a simple yes/no question. I got one 'no' and a couple of downvotes, all unexplained. Then I answered the question saying 'no' is the answer. Then some moderator downvoted my answer to my own question, because it 'is not a complete answer'. WTF? Then I deleted the question, because obviously the whole thing became meaningless, wishing to end this charade.

Then I got the peer-pressure badge.

Obviously, SO is not about the meat, but only about people pushing other people around.

Anonymous said...

i've just leaved SO tonight, ppl downvoting my question without giving some clear reasons..., n the result is i can't post questions anymore...

Anonymous said...

I really hate SO. Some dumbheads moderators just delete my answers. I clearly said that I'm the author of the product but still get deleted. I see many users posting answers to promote their products too but still get up votes.

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