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In an hour, I will present in a small meeting some rants and raves about communities and my opinion why some are working, and some not. For me, Stack Overflow is one of the best working communities, but I'm not sure about what is the most important reason why it is working.

And of course, this question (and I hope some answers) will demonstrate why Stack Overflow (and its sister web sites) are brilliant.

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My bet on User #22656. – jokerdino Jul 11 '12 at 14:03
Amazing moderation. Those guys deserve a medal. – Bill the Lizard Jul 11 '12 at 14:04
And modesty... That's important too :P – Lix Jul 11 '12 at 14:05
"In an hour, I will present..." - Procrastinate much? =P – jadarnel27 Jul 11 '12 at 14:06
@jadarnel27 my thoughts exactly! – bluefeet Jul 11 '12 at 14:07
All those other forums are not that well-arranged. It is easy to use. – juergen d Jul 11 '12 at 14:21
Thank's to all for great comments, some of them had been good answers as well :-) – mliebelt Jul 12 '12 at 5:54
up vote 27 down vote accepted

I believe that it's because the following qualities that the Stack Exchange community has experienced such success (not in order of importance or value):

  • Stack Exchange has a clear purpose. SE revolves around questions and answers. This means that community interaction is more focused and most movement within the community will revolve around this purpose. More importantly, SE separates itself into child sites, each with its own specific focus, thus reducing clutter.
  • Stack Exchange has a reward system. Say what you will about reputation, it gets people involved with the community. The tiered privilege system encourages involvement with the core Q&A process and interest in the various privileges. On a site where all the privileges are unlocked upon account creation, a user might not care about editing posts. With Stack Exchange, a user unlocks editing privileges and thinks, "Ooo~, I wanna try out this new toy." At first, he/she might not do well but practice makes better.
  • Stack Exchange has a robust moderation ecosystem. Most sites only have the equivalent of our diamond moderators. Stack Exchange's idea of giving mod tools to high-rep users is novel and a vital contributor to SE's success. Mod tools given to 10k+ users means that less work is piled on the diamond moderators and regular users feel that they can achieve importance within the community with enough involvement.
  • Stack Exchange iz not srs bsns. One thing I find refreshing about SE is that the moderators (including 10k+ users) generally have a good sense of humor. I believe that comes with the open moderation system because moderators on other sites have a sort of closed-off, holier-than-thou feeling to them and it affects their attitude as well. Good humor promotes a healthy community

I'm pretty sure there are other things, but this is as much as I could come up with given your deadline (One hour? Seriously? This better have been assigned to you at last second).

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Thank's for the nice answer, there are a lot of things overlapping with what I have thought. Just came up in my preparation that I could try to ask something reasonable, and get feedback in that short amount of time (perhaps too sportive) :-) – mliebelt Jul 11 '12 at 14:17
+1 - nice post! Another thing to add here is the simply mind-boggling amount of new posts coming into the site. As new technologies and platforms are created, they become assimilated in the Stack Overflow tags... Future proof (to some extent :) – Lix Jul 11 '12 at 14:27
@Lix I believe that the high number of posts is an expression of SE's purpose. People will always have questions, they will always want answers, and SE is currently one of the best (if not the best) places for getting answers to your questions. – Yawus Jul 11 '12 at 14:42
I'm not sure about the last point. Of course we all like to think that our sense of humor helps but I always feel that one of the reasons the question handling keeps focused is because the system doesn't encourage flood. You joke rarely in SO (it's a little different in meta) because jokes prevent efficient answering process. – Denys Séguret Jul 11 '12 at 14:55
@dystroy Good sense of humor doesn't always mean joking. I was trying to demonstrate the difference between our moderators and other moderators. On several sites I've been on, the mod team weren't really accessible and the nature of "mod-ness" made them haughty. They constantly talked down to regular users and were overly defensive about their actions. This didn't help promote a healthy community. – Yawus Jul 11 '12 at 14:59
Too many people ignore the importance of a clear focus. You can't make a great community around "answering questions about...I dunno, stuff". You either end up with Yahoo Answers (no one knows WTF they're talking about) or Quora, which is more a social network than a Q&A site. – Ben Brocka Jul 11 '12 at 15:02
@BenBrocka That's why I like the Stack Exchange idea of a network of focused sites. That way, we can have several small but communally strong sites instead of one big what-the-hell-are-we-doing mish-mash of random information. – Yawus Jul 11 '12 at 15:04
Thank's again for the great answer. I had my date, and SO qualified (in my opinion) as one the the best communities currently available (which I wanted to show). Great to be here ;-) – mliebelt Jul 12 '12 at 5:55

Yawus already gave good answers but I'd like to add a point that's often overlooked.

A site/community/enterprise doesn't just work because of good ideas. It also needs work and good operation.

A reason SO is so great is that SO is technically amazing.

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did you really mean 'operation'? or 'cooperation'? – ajax333221 Jul 12 '12 at 21:26
I meant "operation" as in "COO". – Denys Séguret Jul 13 '12 at 6:01

This is why SE sites rock:

  • The use of a voting system: it makes us quickly find high/low quality posts
  • The use of reputation and badges: they are so fun and addicting that makes us visit the website more often than we would normally do without them
  • The great content available: it will help us in many occasions, so many that we usually feel like we owe something to the community and eventually start contributing too
  • The awesome moderation system: everybody loves websites that have total control on spammers and abusers
  • The possibility to edit someone else's content: increases the quality of the site a lot, everybody helping each other to build the best community possible
  • A dedicated site just for problems, suggestions and bug reports: it is a big plus to be able to do all this without needing to send e-mails, also allowing the people to vote on these things make it easier to see what is important or high priority.
  • Really good search options: the flexibility on searching content is the best I have seen, just to number some options: combine tags, exclude tags, specific user, specific range of votes, specific range of number of answers, is closed, etc
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Nice point: editing someone else posts .. Who had thought previously that this would be sometime a selling point for anything. – mliebelt Jul 13 '12 at 14:01

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