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I was telling a friend of mine about the SO/SE model today. At some point he asked, "wouldn't you want to somehow separate questions according to the level of the target audience?" That is, if I'm an expert on foobar and I visit SO, the most popular/most upvoted foobar questions will likely be the kinds of questions that students think about when they take foobar 101. The really niche-y questions that would appeal to a foobar expert like me will have few views/upvotes, so they'll be hard for me to find. My friend was suggesting that maybe expert-level questions should somehow be tagged as such. I think this is a bad idea, but I can't exactly put my finger on why.

Does SO appeal to experts looking for interesting questions, or only to those experts who are willing to comb through pages of newbie questions? If it appeals to (non-persistent) experts, how does it do it?

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5  
Some experts like putting people straight too. –  Benjol Aug 18 '09 at 5:25

3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

The "interest tags" feature does a lot of the filtering. You still see questions not on that list but the ones that have tags that are on that list will get highlighted. This allows you to mentally filter out a lot of "noise" (from your perspective).

As for the level or complexity of the question, speaking for myself I read a lot more questions than I answer. Some I'll figure out "aren't for me" by reading the first sentence. That doesn't mean theres anything wrong with the question but I guess it comes down to what you're willing to answer. For me that's:

  • questions that don't have an answer to which I have one;
  • questions that do have an answer but I consider the current answers to be wrong and/or incomplete;
  • questions that I want to know the answer to (and will then research); and
  • questions that I simply find interesting for whatever reason (not necessarily predictable).

It's clear to me that many people (myself include) will, at times, trawl for questions to answer so I guess by that observation and the fact that luminaries such as Jon Skeet (primarily C#), Alex Miller (Java) and that Javascript guy (sorry, forget his name) do bother to answer questions (sometimes a lot of them) you would have to agree that SO does attract "experts".

As for the "how", well that comes down to basic human nature I believe: you'll typically find there are people who, once they become proficient at something, want to share that knowledge. Their reasons may vary from the altruistic to the egotistical but there it is. That is allowed to happen because:

  • There is a sufficient volume of questions to answer (and this one is a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem); and
  • The interface is sufficiently good to weed through the noise and find questions to answer.
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I agree, I have a very extensive list of 'ignored' tags. –  please delete me Aug 18 '09 at 5:39

Some experts like to show off; so it helps that.

Some experts like to just be helpful, so that's what's in it for them.

All experts are experts via learning, so they continue to learn by reading and answering.

And some experts hang around for interesting questions, and answer others while waiting for builds :)

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... or long running batch jobs. –  ConcernedOfTunbridgeWells Aug 18 '09 at 8:17
    
Also networking. Jon Skeet has earned a lot of free advertising for his book. (Free in the "Linux" sense) –  devinb Aug 18 '09 at 12:07

It's way too cumbersome to judge expertise.

For example consider a question that's tagged ,,java jvm garbage-collection''.

There's this tag java. A java programmer that knows a lot about garbage collectors can be considered an expert java programmer. Non-expert java programmers just expect garbage collection to happen.

On the other hand there's this tag ,,garbage-collection''. Our java expert can debug performance issues and fine-tune garbage collection, but probably isn't a hardcore garbage collector hacker who has written two or three JVM garbage collectors on his own. In pure JVM bytecode. He is not an expert on garbage collection..

The focus changes with each tag. Expertise is a multi-dimensional thing. I think that there's little point measuring what exactly is your focal length of all the tags you like and skills you're more-or-less expert at.

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