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I've been using Stack Overflow for a couple of weeks, and it is an amazing resource and community. A couple of things have been bugging me, however, and I wanted to share them from the perspective of a new user.

  • the Community Wiki concept is utterly baffling at first - not because the concept is difficult, but because it receives very little support from the interface:
    • What IS the community wiki?
    • What posts should go in there?
    • How do I know if a post is community wiki? (yes, I know it's labeled as such, but it's really not visually distinct unless you're looking for it).
    • Is it an important aspect of Stack Overflow?
    • If it is, why is it so downplayed by the interface and the FAQ (barely mentioned in passing)?
    • If it isn't an important aspect, why is it there in the first place, and why do so many posts complain "this should be community wiki"?
    • And, last but not least - if it's a WIKI, how do I search/browse it?
  • "my tags" unanswered questions - why can they only be sorted by votes, not by date? For the longest time, I thought I was simply missing an interface feature somewhere. I've seen this question, but my experience so far doesn't match with the reasoning given. Only something like 10% of the new questions have one of my tags, and I have yet to answer a question outside my tags. I get tired of sifting through all the unrelated questions on the "newest" page, so I don't do it very often. On the other hand, "my tags" doesn't show the newest questions, so I miss them. Unless there's been some significant testing done to show otherwise, I think this is the biggest flaw in Stack Overflow.

Edit: a couple of things I forgot to mention. These tripped me up a bit at first, but I mostly got used to them by now.

  • The difference between the home page and the questions page. They're... different, but it's not immediately obvious how.
  • The difference between the "Recent activity" page (click on the mail icon) and the user page (click on my username). The difference is a bit more obvious, but getting to the "Recent activity" page isn't that obvious unless the mail icon is colored in. (my first instinct was that the mail icon and the username, being so close together, would both go to the same place).
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This is very valuable information alex_c, thanks for posting this! – Troggy Sep 25 '09 at 16:05
You forgot to mention how awesome I am. :( – JSONBog Sep 25 '09 at 16:31
@Welbog: Don't worry, man. We all know you're way laser than the rest. – JSONBog Sep 25 '09 at 16:31
@welbog: you are a sockpuppet now? – perbert Sep 25 '09 at 16:37
@voyager: I'm a LASER. – JSONBog Sep 25 '09 at 16:39
I agree with the community wiki. I remember it took me a while to get it right. – OscarRyz Sep 25 '09 at 18:18

I'll answer your questions in as direct and succinct a manner as possible, point by point:

What IS the community wiki?

It's complicated. (Reference)

What posts should go in there?

Stuff you want others to edit. Beyond that, there's disagreement. (Reference)

How do I know if a post is community wiki? (yes, I know it's labeled as such, but it's really not visually distinct unless you're looking for it).

You have to look for that distinguishing feature, sorry.

Is it an important aspect of Stack Overflow?

Some say very much so, others disagree. (Reference)

If it is, why is it so downplayed by the interface and the FAQ (barely mentioned in passing)?

Huh. Good question. (See Also)

If it isn't an important aspect, why is it there in the first place, and why do so many posts complain "this should be community wiki"?

Not sure. Puzzling, isn't it? (See Also)

And, last but not least - if it's a WIKI, how do I search/browse it?

You can find wiki questions by adding wiki:1 in the search bar, but most people just use Google, and ignore whether questions are wiki or not.

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this is the clearest most concise introduction to CW for new users that I've seen yet. Thanks. It should be part of the FAQ. – matt wilkie Jul 28 '10 at 16:59

I mostly agree the community wiki concept is strange. Case in point: experienced users disagree about what it should be used for to the point that the community wiki police come along and insist that anything without a formal proof of correctness be made CW. I'm still not sure what the basis of this opinion is.

Others think that by marking their question CW they should be allowed to say anything and have open ended discussions. You see these questions that are closed with the indignant comments "What?! Why?! I marked it CW!"

I'd be interested to know what purpose it was intended for. The reality just seems to be a means of lowering the bar for relevance, quality and being on topic (jokes, cartoon, wedding cakes and so on).

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Hey, you got to admit that wedding cake question was pretty funny. ;) – Troggy Sep 25 '09 at 16:17
This is pretty funny too but that doesn't make it a programming related question. – cletus Sep 25 '09 at 16:55
I'm still mad that the wedding cake question (and my answer) was forced into being CW even though it was an actually correct answer. – TheTXI Sep 25 '09 at 17:25
You may recall, from the misty olden days of 2008, the friction between people who were only answering technical questions and those who were gaining a lot of rep on fluff, and the emergence of a consensus that the fluff should be CW. The "subjective ==> CW" thing is related to that, though I don't know that it was ever written down, and I'm sure that boundary is a matter of opinion. – dmckee Sep 25 '09 at 17:28
@TheTXI: your answer should've been CW, just like the question. You simply escaped on a technaclity so others (quite rightly imho) forced it to CW like every other answer. – cletus Sep 25 '09 at 23:21

Technically, all answers/questions are wiki if you have enough reputation.

Wiki questions should be the ones that can't have a deffinitive answer.

To browse by date, just order by newest.

Its interesting to hear the point of view of a newcommer, as most of the people here in Meta have been on the site for months (some for more than a year).

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Yes, I agree CW needs better definition. It took myself awhile before I understood why some questions were and were not. I remember that being one the most confusing things when I was new.

The other thing that tripped me up was the difference between home page questions and the questions section. You are not alone in your concerns and experience.

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In the spirit of the Summer of Love, we ought to address some of the non-cultural problems people run into on the site.


From what I can tell, we've mostly fixed the cultural problem of badgering people into making their posts CW because of the perception of "rep-whoring". (If there still are sites who do that: STOP IT!) But I still see people thrown off by posts becoming CW after X edits. If that behavior were fixed (perhaps by putting heavily edited posts into a review queue or some such), new users would likely never notice this feature.

"my tags"

This is trickier. Way back in the past, the decision was made to throw all programming languages on the same site. If you are fortunate enough to be interested in a technology that has it's own stack (TeX, Databases, Unix, Android, etc.), this problem is more or less solved. But if, like me, you don't care to read questions about C#, there's not much to be done except make it one of your "Ignored Tags". Since that hides questions with that tag from the main page (on Stack Overflow at least), it may be possible to narrow down the list to a reasonable subset.

The front page of Stack Overflow is a bit like an emergency room lobby: a guy hemorrhaging from a gunshot wound waits his turn next to another patient with dizziness while a third person is there because they don't have medical insurance. Nobody can fully address all these problems. It'd be nice if the list of unanswered questions I could actually address were easier to manage, but I wonder if this is the symptom of a bigger problem. I mean, there are 10,558 unanswered questions in my tags, which is overwhelming. There are 367 unanswered questions at the moment.

Home page vs. Questions page

I never noticed that before—I never use the Questions page as far as I can tell.

Recent activity

With all the changes to the global inbox, I think that issue has been overtaken by events.

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I think everyone either uses the home page or the questions page 100% of the time, but people are split on which one they use. I never leave the new question list – Michael Mrozek Jul 24 '12 at 20:58

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