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Is it an acceptable usage of Stack Overflow to use it as a sort of Q/A database for extremely specialized topics (still related to programming, albeit very narrow focus)?

I teach workshops on a real-time operating system and often, students have specific questions about certain aspects of our product. We have an internal mailing list we use to disseminate the knowledge, but SO would be a very nice way to capture the information: Pose the question and the provide the answer.

I know that Jeff encourages this, but I don't think he envisioned this scale: we're talking about posing and answering 100 to 200 questions. I would make sure to tag them appropriately just with the specific rtos (vxworks) tag. Those questions would probably have a minuscule audience.

Am I just setting myself up to be down moded as a spammer wannabe?

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I disagree with the off-topic close votes. While the example in this question is a topic on SO, one can easily imagine similar questions coming up on other sites too. –  Monica Cellio Dec 16 at 16:17

9 Answers 9

To quote Joel:

Every question in Stack Overflow is like the Wikipedia article for some extremely narrow, specific programming question.

As long as you aren't producing lots of duplicates, this practice seems like a great way to populate the SO knowledgebase. Just be sure to follow the rules of the FAQ, and be open to alternate answers.

From the FAQ:

As long as your question is:

  • detailed and specific
  • written clearly and simply
  • of interest to at least one other programmer somewhere

... it is welcome here. No question is too trivial or too "newbie". Oh yes, and it should be about programming. You know, with a computer.

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I think it depends on the applicability of your problem domain. For example

  • if your "product" is available outside of your workshop (either via opensource, freeware, or for sale to the general public) AND
  • The types of questions/knowledge your students are going to be asking are not related to specific projects in your workshop

Then it's probably OK.

However:

  • If the product isn't available outside of your community and/or
  • if the types of questions the students are going to ask are of the type "What is meant by requirement 1.27 in the BenoitWorkshop Project 2 specification"

Then it's probably NOT OK.

SO wasn't meant to replace the documentation, mailing lists, discussion groups, etc. of various products or communities. Nor was it intended to be the place for vendors to publish their FAQ. It was intended for the community at large of users of these products/tools/etc. to do Q&A.

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Interesting. The product is VxWorks, a RTOS. So it is commercial, but not FAQ like –  Benoit Sep 17 '08 at 19:38
    
I agree with this. The product has to scale to a reasonably large audience; an extremely niche commercial product might be a bad fit. –  Jeff Atwood Sep 18 '08 at 9:22

Yes, if there is any audience beyond your workshops.

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I'm sure it would be welcome.

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I have never seen a technical question get any down votes, unless it is a duplicate of a question already asked and answered, so I wouldn't worry about that.

I think it's a great idea, and definitely appropriate in Stack Overflow.

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I think you need to state your association with WindRiver in the question. Also, if you have an answer already to post to your question you should post it right away -- not 20 hours later (as was done in your "target shell" question). That way people won't waste time duplicating effort.

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fair enough. Mea culpa. Didn't want to look uncouth by posting a question and answering right away. My bad. –  Benoit Sep 18 '08 at 3:35
    
No problem -- I think it will really help the type of replies you get. As an "answerer" I want to know my audience. The primary audience is the person asking the question, and I want to know if that person already knows the answer! –  Adam Mitz Sep 18 '08 at 3:53

It's encourage to have specialized Q&A

The original vision was for this site to be a fallback from searching google (even though people don't do it before asking)

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Would you mind please marking such questions as "I already understand an answer to this question" or "this is a meta-question" or similar? For example, I just answered one of your questions. I would have written more had I known you were asking for a long-form answer rather than a short answer (expecting further discussion).

To answer nickf's comment, since I can't respond inline yet: Nowhere did I say that I thought the concept of these questions is a bad idea.

Instead, what I meant was that a vague question, such as the one I responded to, could be answered in a few different ways:

  1. You could give a simple answer and wait for a response, hoping to ferret out the asker's skill level and exact situation in order to provide an answer relevant to the exact situation. (Both myself and the other answerer did this.)
  2. You could give a very general, encyclopedic answer. I prefer not to start with such an answer, because it takes me a lot of time to prepare, and is not necessarily appreciated by a question asker who just wants a solution to his or her immediate problem, not a lecture.
  3. You could simply ask for additional information.

However, if the question is vague because it's intended to be a general meta-question, obviously only solutions in form #2 make sense. Therefore, to prevent answers of form #1 or #3 from cluttering the question, I would simply ask that the question be somehow tagged or marked as being a "reference" question.

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There's nothing wrong with asking a question you already know the answer to. It's largely irrelevant who asks and who answers questions: it's all about disseminating knowledge. It's a good way to test out your own knowledge too: post a question and then answer it and see if everyone else agrees! –  nickf Sep 18 '08 at 5:40
    
I don't have a problem with #1 or #3 showing up. I don't think I necessarily have the best answer. I would like balance annoyance vs. apathy –  Benoit Sep 18 '08 at 5:55

See Can I support my product on this site?, which says:

We get a lot of requests from product teams about how they can use Stack Overflow to support their communities. Stack Overflow works really well for technical support and we welcome this, within limits. If you follow a few simple guidelines then you, your users, and Stack Overflow can all benefit.

[...] Stack Overflow can help support your product but it can't be the only support. There are issues that only you can address, and if you send your users to Stack Overflow for them they'll just get frustrated.

So if your product is available outside your classroom, and the questions would be potentially useful, go ahead and ask them. (Do read the link for other guidelines.)

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