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A story has come up recently on Slashdot that discusses the use of Stack Overflow as a replacement for documentation. Are the effects that it notes something that we should be encouraging? Should we be more strongly encouraging people to learn through reading the documentation rather than acting as sources of that documentation itself?

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Why would that encouragement be up to us? SO doesn't host pure documentation. And if users don't bother to actually read documentation or specifications, that's really their problem. So I'm not entirely sure what it is you want to discuss or what action you propose to take. – Bart Mar 5 '13 at 19:48
I link to documentation all the time, pointing new users to more information. What else do you expect us to do? I rely on good documentation to be able to answer. – Martijn Pieters Mar 5 '13 at 19:51
And please note that it's a "study" among 17 developers. Statistically that has no real significance. – Bart Mar 5 '13 at 19:52
With questions regarding Android. Even a moderately good statistician would ignore this. It should be titled "8.5 Android Developers Use StackOverflow After Reading Official Documentaion." – Mike D Mar 5 '13 at 20:00
@Mike You mean, 8.5 out of all of them read the docs? That sounds remarkably accurate. :) – Pëkka Mar 5 '13 at 20:05
Actually, this question was an evil trick to draw attention to that story and to try to get some truth and promotion out there. Still, I didn't want to post something that wasn't at least formulated as a question… – Donal Fellows Mar 5 '13 at 20:36
@DonalFellows "to try to get some truth and promotion out there"? What truth? What promotion? – Bart Mar 5 '13 at 21:06
@Bart If I have to tell you, I'm pushing it too hard. – Donal Fellows Mar 5 '13 at 21:23
up vote 17 down vote accepted

I don't think that SO (or any system like it) should ever try to replace the official documentation.

SO will close a gap where the official documentation lacks, by giving:

  • Example code.
  • Live help.
  • Experience from seniors all over the world.
  • A fresh view on a problem.
  • Answers to complex problems that the original designers didn't envision.
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Not only isn't Stack Overflow replacing official documentation, it is actually acting as a table of contents for it. Many actual examples can be given supporting this statement, because a lot of answers on SO actually point to official documentation as a reference check and provide additional examples focused on the specific scenario the developer/enthusiast wants to use the technology in.

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If SO is taking over the role of documentation that says less about SO than it does about the pitiful state of official documentation for the products/projects in question. SO fills the gap where existing documentation fails. Where SO is the majority of the information out there, epic fail.

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