# Should SO host howto-style writeups after all?

There's a lot of questions every day on SO that would be best answered with a link to a good tutorial:

• How to debug Ajax requests
• How to write a database query in PHP that isn't a crime against humanity
• How to debug when automated E-Mails end up in the spam folder
• How to do nice URLs using mod_rewrite

et al.

There have been numerous attempts to create such resources, but most of them didn't really fit into the Q&A format and the general consensus of the community on those attempts was "go start a blog".

However, I'm still thinking Stack Overflow would be the ideal location to host this stuff.

Hosting programming-related "howto" writeups

• would be directly related to SO's day-to-day activity
• would be compatible with Stack Overflow's general mission of being a great, free programming reference resource
• Stack Overflow is planning to stick around, so it's as reliable a place to put stuff on as it gets
• Not everybody wants to run a personal blog to host tutorials on
• Contents would be licensed under CC, with the known advantages of that model (well, and disadvantages, but those can be dealt with)
• SO has a high-quality, weather-tested editing interface, quality control system and reputation system

I'm not aware of a tutorial site that is only remotely as non-crappy and integer as the Stack Exchange network.

What I'm proposing is a howto.stackoverflow.com that essentially is a copy of the existing engine but with the answering functionality removed.

Each writeup would be a question; it can be upvoted, downvoted, and commented on as usual. Of course, there would be very relaxed Wikification rules so everyone can easily edit existing howto's.

Presentation and browsing could be similar to Stackapps, with the most popular writeups filling the initial view when you enter the site.

Reputation could be shared with the main site, or separate.

There could be some changes to highlight authors more - to balance a bit that they're posting on a community resource instead of their own blogs. But chances are that a great howto.SO track record can earn more recognition than solitary blogging, anyway.

It would make sense! At least to me. Finally, whenever I'd see a shitty tutorial, I could fix it myself or at least downvote it!

I'm not currently aware of a tutorial platform that is as non-crappy and integer as SO, Inc. is. They all seem to be riddled with ads and low-quality content.

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Heck, we're even using HOWTO: xxx in titles! ;-) –  Arjan Aug 30 '11 at 18:18
@Arjan: That's a curious edit. We've been discouraging tags, [solved] and other such nonsense in the title, but HOWTO: is OK, I guess. –  Robert Harvey Aug 30 '11 at 18:21
Your proposal is basically about hosting canonical questions. I don't think the answering functionality is the problem; you need the answering functionality to answer the questions asked. The problem is getting the community to accept canonical questions without closing them, and then maintaining them in a good state of repair. –  Robert Harvey Aug 30 '11 at 18:25
@Robert that's an interesting (and valid) way to see it, but the focus of this idea specifically would be on each entry being one answer, one tutorial, one walkthrough that you can vote and comment on. There would be no competition like when answering a question - writing a good howto is much more demanding than writing an answer, and there will be fewer "contenders". I think it would need a different system than Q&A –  Pëkka Aug 30 '11 at 18:29
Then I support George Edison's idea of a "How-To" blog. –  Robert Harvey Aug 30 '11 at 18:34
@Robert fair enough - although what I'd miss in a blog post is quality control. Reputation gain is secondary, but upvoting and downvoting I wouldn't want to live without –  Pëkka Aug 30 '11 at 18:36
You got my vote. I want to write one on how to use PHP's DOM tools. ;) –  Herbert Dec 7 '11 at 7:32

I still think the best way to do something like that is to create a community blog for Stack Overflow.

Such an approach fits some of your criterion:

• "it can be ... commented on as usual"
• "Presentation and browsing could be similar to Stackapps" - this is essentially how a blog is presented

Creating a separate section of the site for howtos and tutorials would be a lot of extra work and I can come up with at least a couple pitfalls - some of which might be able to be addressed:

• Allowing just anyone to write a howto / tutorial will result in a lot of low-quality unfinished entries. (If you want to get an idea of what that looks like, visit WikiBooks.)
• Allowing anonymous or even low-rep users to edit the articles would result in a lot of vandalism - requiring constant surveillance by moderators and other users.

So in summary, I like the idea of creating a place for authors to write howtos / tutorials but I think it would be better to stick this type of content on a blog and not make "the fourth place".

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I don't think the blog format is exactly right for this. What we want is reference how-to's that everyone can edit if they find a mistake. A blog post does something similar, but not entirely. I do see however the danger of a wasteland of unfinished tutorials. Hmm. –  Pëkka Aug 30 '11 at 18:26
The bar for community blogs is a bit high if your goal is to, for example, create "frequently asked questions" with canonical answers for the Android tag. –  Robert Harvey Aug 30 '11 at 18:27
Also, creating a generic "Programming Blog" would probably be more feasible than a bunch of smaller blogs for SO, Programmers.SE, Code Review.SE, etc. –  uɐɯsO uɐɥʇɐN Aug 30 '11 at 18:32

We already have a process for creating FAQ entries here on meta that could be adapted to Stack Overflow. It could look something like this:

1. Write the new question (or co-opt a really good existing question), with a note indicating that the question is a FAQ entry for the major tag under which it falls.

2. Flag a moderator requesting community wiki status and protection.

3. Include a link to the Tag Wiki of the major tag the question addresses.

4. Include a link in the Tag Wiki (in a "Frequently-Asked Questions subsection) to the new question.

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George's idea of a blog sub-site is an interesting one, but he nails the problem with using it for tutorials:

Allowing just anyone to write a howto / tutorial will result in a lot of low-quality unfinished entries

You need a decently large community of users to review these things - unlike a normal question, there's no OP to come back and tell you it didn't work. On an active, functioning site like Stack Overflow, that community is already there; on some sub-site ghetto, it wouldn't be. If your plan is to compete with WikiHow, then starting from square one without any of the tools that exist there or our own audience is... Pointless.

Fortunately, "HOWTO" articles fit very neatly into the Q&A model - so posting one in response to a question works just fine. If you can't find an existing question, ask one yourself.

If you're concerned that folks might get hung up on some part of this process, I am looking for suggestions on how to ensure such things are more effectively moderated...

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