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I'm imagining that I see proportionally more "bad" questions on SO. They continue to be closed, but I'm wondering if a problem looms.

We all know that the comment model of a blog breaks down as the community grows. It seems to me that the current model of all-questions-are-on-the-front-page may have similar limitations.

To be specific, I enjoy browsing the current questions, but I enjoy it less when 1/4 of them are "What's the best language for a beginner?" even if such questions are closed. At some point, the experts we depend on will be driven away by the incredible bulk of new users.

I have no proposed solutions, since SO has depended heavily on accessibility to new users. I'm just curious if this seems like a future challenge to others.

*Addendum: * Please don't interpret my question as elitist, or anti-newbie. I am (more-or-less) a newbie, and as I was changing vocations I was greatly blessed by the easy, free, fast, and friendly help I received at SO. I'm not saying that new people shouldn't be welcome, or that stupid questions belong elsewhere.

Nevertheless a certain proportion will need to be maintained to avoid what happens on a blog when the comments under a post number in the hundreds. At some point, the conversation breaks down.

This may never be a problem. But it might.

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+1 - I don't see why this was down-voted. The question has valid concerns - real or imagined. –  IAbstract Mar 31 '10 at 16:38
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Don't fret @dboarman-FissureStudios. Down-votes on meta have a slightly different meaning/connotation from the rest of the sites. A down-vote on meta only indicates that the voter does not agree. Not that there's anything necessarily wrong with the question. –  Robert Cartaino Mar 31 '10 at 20:15

4 Answers 4

A few issues to consider:

Stack Overflow is Not a Publication

Stack Overflow isn't really designed to be browsed. It is designed to be canonical collection of any-and-all programming questions. In actual usage (to the vast majority of users), Google is Stack Overflow's "front page." You should no more expect to be consistently and thoroughly entertained by thumbing through all the posts on page 1 than if you were to read through Wikipedia's Recent Changes page.

Stack Overflow is for Everyone

You said, "The experts we depend on will be driven away by the incredible bulk of new users." What you identify as a problem is actually the very premise that Stack Overflow is built on... a frictionless, low barrier of entry.

Listen to Podcast #74 (no, really; go ahead and do it now). Kathy Sierra; brilliant teacher, Java programmer, and community builder; she talks about the utter intimidation and outright fear of stumbling into the Usenet Java groups just to dare ask a question. The so-called experts rail and rant every time someone dares ask a question that was discussed two years earlier. New users unhappy; experts lose interest; the community breaks down. That's a problem Stack Overflow solves.

Here, you don't have to "pay your dues" and become a Stack Overflow guru-extraordinaire just to ask a "worthy" question. The vast, vast majority of users catch on quickly (often on their first visit). If they, oops, err is some way, the community quickly cleans up the little crumb they dropped and the site is none the worse for wear. Some might even argue that each duplicate question provides a valuable index into the site, guiding users to the right answer.

"Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded."

If an expert is truly "driven away" by closed questions, I would suggest that they have become too close to the system anyway. Even the most devoted user should "go home when the bar closes." On the whole, Stack Overflow is still an indispensable resource. But part of being a healthy software programmer is that you are not spending all of your time at Stack Overflow. Don't worry. They'll be back when it is time to tap that resource again.

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It looks like Jeff agrees with me, based on his MSO question meta.stackexchange.com/questions/56817/… –  Eric Wilson Jul 19 '10 at 20:04

To be specific, I enjoy browsing the current questions, but I enjoy it less when 1/4 of them are "What's the best language for a beginner?" even if such questions are closed. At some point, the experts we depend on will be driven away by the incredible bulk of new users.

  • Did you know that you can ignore these questions?
  • Simply add the 'beginner' tag to your list of 'ignored tags', and you won't see these questions.

  • This is why it's incumbent on users with over 500 reputation points to make sure that such questions are tagged 'beginner'.

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I like beginner questions, they are the ones I might be able to answer. I don't like subjective, unanswerable, and often repeated questions. –  Eric Wilson Mar 31 '10 at 12:36
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@FarmBoy: As a SO user with over 100 rep. points, it is your duty to vote these questions down. Problem solved. –  Jim G. Mar 31 '10 at 14:05

As SO grows, will different strategies be necessary to maintain quality?

No, the current strategy, namely "Let the community moderate itself," scales with the growth of the community quite well.

However, keep in mind that the design of SO is not set in stone. Tweaks are made weekly that affect how the community interacts with it and moderates it, so if things do start to break down changes in how the site works will be made that will discourage poor behavior, and make it easier for the community to clean itself up.

It's an evolutionary process, whereas your question suggests a revolutionary change might need to be made to course correct the site.

Since it's still on track, only minor course corrections are necessary.

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I suppose that "Let the community moderate itself" scales fine, if the basic composition remains the same. –  Eric Wilson Mar 31 '10 at 16:40
    
+1 for course corrections - major and minor. Like all goals, a plan must be in place in order to stay focused. However, like all good plans, they must be flexible and allow for course adjustments along the way. –  IAbstract Mar 31 '10 at 16:51
    
@FarmBoy: The community has a way of culling out those that ignore or refuse to conform to the culture. To maintain the culture, as @Pollyanna states, the mods continue to review the system and make adjustments as needed to maintain course. –  IAbstract Mar 31 '10 at 16:54

At some point it might make sense for SO to split into more per-technology sites.
There are reasons why simply filtering on tags doesn't work.

I'm a relative beginner at Qt so I tend to ask more questions than I answer, on other technologies on other sites I'm an expert. If the SO rep is supposed to show the value of a persons answers then it only works if the rep is more technology focused. You shouldn't believe anything I say on asp.net because I have 20k of rep form c++ answers.

(There are also two competing forums for Qt questions which helps nobody)

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