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I never heard of Stack Overflow until Joel made an announcement on his blog about it (like a year ago, post-beta).

My question is this: Was Stack Overflow as helpful when it had hardly anyone on it as it is today? How long did it take to get answers? Was it still more helpful than your favorite forum/IRC/mailing list?

Basically what I'm wondering is:

Is Stack Overflow so useful because of its design or because of the mass amounts of people on it?

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@mmyers lol, grammar nazi. –  Earlz Feb 25 '10 at 23:32
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I hate syntax errors. :P –  mmyers Feb 26 '10 at 3:36
    
Good work @mmyers! –  John Topley Feb 26 '10 at 8:58

5 Answers 5

up vote 4 down vote accepted

I'm one of the first Beta Testers (I think from Week 2) and it was useful from the very first moment on, simply because it had critical mass from the get-go.

Can't comment on ServerFault or SuperUser though.

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Can't mess with those 2 digit SO UserID numbers ; ) –  David HAust Feb 26 '10 at 0:55
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I remember when you were the Jon Skeet of the private beta :-) –  Kyle Cronin Feb 26 '10 at 5:20
    
Oh, just rub some more salt into the wounds :P ;) –  Michael Stum Feb 26 '10 at 6:58

Both

SO currently has the most features out of ANY web forum I've visited. Its searchable, answers are sorted by votes, tags, run by the community, etc.

SO's traffic also pwns any other programming forum in traffic by at least 5 according to alexa. You are almost guaranteed an answer in an hour as opposed to a day.

Both these "features" are why SO is so freakin' awesome. :D

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I believe it is a bit of both.

The site itself is different from traditional forums, and therefore instantly gets attention. The reputation points and badges also has a lot to do with it's appeal.

This attracted users who at the end of the day are brilliant, or very proficient in a particular area of expertise, or even users that are mediocre but still know the answers to common questions because they had to find those answers before. This means that even in the smaller areas you will find at least one person that can answer a question.

In my experience SO has been great from the beginning, however I did follow it since the very first podcast came out, so also understand the original goals behind the sites. I do believe that it's the combination of users and design that make it work. It does however need both. Even with the best design in the world, without it's users it will be just another site. Ask anyone trying to launch a SE site at the moment.

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Both.

Having a critical mass to create question and post answers is fundamental on a site like this.

Joel and Jeff have mentioned it is like a restaurant. If you go to one and found it empty, you don't really feel like eating there.

But, is the design of the application that have retained and increased the number of users in the site. It is very addictive.

Without a good design you've lost all those users in the first couple of weeks.

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Having no users on a site like SO is like going to a restaurant and finding no FOOD there. –  MarkJ Feb 26 '10 at 13:03

I preferred it earlier on. Now there is so much crap on it. Too much to wade through.

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Imagine how much more crap there would be if we didn't enforce the topic limits we have! Also see: super user. –  Jeff Atwood Mar 2 '10 at 1:31
    
@Jeff - you are right and I see the rationale behind some of the enforcement. I still shake my head in wonder at the inconsistencies, but, as you point out above, it would be worse without limits. –  tim Mar 2 '10 at 1:58
    
Oh, the price of success (that many posts and users)... –  tim Mar 2 '10 at 1:59

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