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I noticed that Apache project user mailing lists (e.g. JMeter, Lucene, and Solr) heavily rely on mailing lists. As far as I'm concerned, this is old school. IMO, Stack Overflow is a superior way for Q&A. To clarify: I'm talking about the user mailing lists--not the dev contributer mailing lists.

Posting Apache project questions to Stack Overflow is not the fastest way to get answers. I have posted two straight-forward questions (one JMeter and one Lucene/Solr) on Stack Overflow. One I ended up answering myself, and the other I ended up emailing a dev contributor. I kindly asked him to post his answer on Stack Overflow, but he declined. Instead he posted on the Solr mailing list.

Mailing lists work. But Stack Overflow is better, IMO. And I wish mailing list users would convert.

Does Stack Overflow Inc (or the community) desire or plan to convert mailing list users over to Stack Overflow?

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do you mean e.g. rather than i.e. ( – Rich Seller May 26 '10 at 12:24
@Rich -- always learning :) – Bill Paetzke May 26 '10 at 18:45

I think it ought to be up to the communities themselves to decide this, with no external suggestions.

For example, that's exactly what's happened for Google Guava: the mailing list is still active for discussions, but it's been suggested that usage questions may be more usefully posted to Stack Overflow:

For general discussion only. How-to questions (and why-doesn't-this-work questions) should be posted on with the "guava" tag; we monitor these posts and ensure that they are properly answered.

I think if communities come to that decision for themselves, it's going to be much better than if the SO team target them explicitly.

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Yes, I enjoy seeing groups move over to SO. The Android team did too, right? I wish there was a way we could expedite this movement. Mailing list users need to see the light :) – Bill Paetzke May 26 '10 at 18:22
SO Inc could send an awareness message (email or whatever) to young open-source projects. Something like, "Hey guys, we love programming here at SO, and we know you do, too. We're here to help organize your Q&A. Feel free to use us as your Q&A platform. However, general discussions and dev-contributer discussions should be taken elsewhere." It's just a friendly reminder. One message. The project's community could take it or leave it. How about that? – Bill Paetzke May 26 '10 at 18:36
@Bill: I think it's still a bit in-your-face. SO is sufficiently well known that it will get considered if the community is interested. – Jon Skeet May 26 '10 at 18:55
@Bill I too think it's not really an appropriate thing to do for SO, and might generate more adversity than positive feedback. Not everyone hates mailing lists: I imagine there are a lot of people perfectly comfortable with them. The impulse to switch needs to come from within each community, after a discussion has taken place. On the other hand, an express invitation from the management somewhere on the site (e.g. a blog entry) might be nice - if it doesn't already exist in some shape or form. – Pëkka Aug 18 '10 at 12:27

Our masters talk about "land grabs". This means they are aiming for topic areas where there are no existing online discussion communities.

It would be very difficult to persuade an entire community to switch from mailing lists to a StackExchangish site. The killer feature of online discussion boards is the presence of experts who answer the questions. You'd need to persuade nearly all the experts to switch at the same time. Difficult.

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I'm talking about Stack Overflow--not Stack Exchange. Many questions asked on the user mailing lists are programming questions. And they would be best served on SO, IMO. – Bill Paetzke May 26 '10 at 18:24
I agree that it would be difficult to persuade all the experts within a community to move. Old habits die hard. – Bill Paetzke May 26 '10 at 18:24
Perhaps, Stack Overflow Inc could market toward new open-source projects? That way, the community isn't too entrenched yet. – Bill Paetzke May 26 '10 at 18:25

I am involved with a minor open source project. It was suggested we move to a forum as a more "user friendly" method of communication. The issue is that due to the low level of usage, maybe 2 - 3 messages a day max, I would be very unlikely to check it regularly. As I use my email all the time, I get messages as they come with no extra effort and can answer them without having to use a web interface designed for instant answers (You can't save a draft on SO).

In other words, I cannot see why it is superior for a smallish project to use Stack Overflow given that for a project that size the main people you need to contact for help are the developers.

All you have said is you think it is superior. You haven't given any real reasons.

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It'd be easy to keep up with a low volume of new messages on SO. Use an RSS feed. There's a link to one at the bottom of every question-list page. For example, here's the "newest Solr questions" feed. – Bill Paetzke May 26 '10 at 18:18
Re: superior. I thought we all are here because SO is the superior way to ask and answer programming questions. That's why I didn't list any reasons here. It's assumed that the reader knows. – Bill Paetzke May 26 '10 at 18:21

No. While SO is great, it isn't OpenSource, and it is infrastructure. For OpenSource projects that take a long-term view, not having control of their own infrastructure is a serious drawback. (The CC licensed data dumps not withstanding.) Individual projects may choose to make that tradeoff, but should do so with open eyes.

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The data dump is available, so even if SO itself goes away the questions and answers are usable elsewhere. In fact I would suggest that such usage be provided an API interface to SO on the project websites themselves. – Adam Davis May 26 '10 at 17:00
I understand that open-source projects would not want to base their discussions on closed-source software (like SO). At least then, they could move their discussion onto an open-source SO clone. I realize at this point, I'm just wishing. But, hey, at least put the thought out there and see what happens. @Pollyanna – Bill Paetzke May 26 '10 at 18:00
This is a very good reason to not switch over to SO – bobobobo Aug 18 '10 at 12:16
  • Usage question, such as how to configure apache, are not necessarily appropriate for SO.
  • SO has not been friendly to "Why did project X choose path Y instead of path Z when they designed X?" type questions. These are very subjective, and delve into areas that can't be easily evaluated for correctness.
  • Feature requests for projects are not welcome on SO

For these reasons, and many others, most mailing list traffic is not well served by stack overflow. Some projects might be able to switch largely to sending their users to SO for questions if they are of a development nature, such as jquery user questions. Others might be able to split some of their traffic off and send people to SO.

In both cases projects would be well served by adding an SO interface using the API to their site so users can search the SO corpus for project related questions, and eventually post new questions when the API implements posting.

But Stackoverflow has a very narrow focus, so a lot of mailing list traffic cannot be passed through SO.

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Many people use mailing lists for how-to questions and why-doesn't-this-work questions. Those questions should be on Stack Overflow, IMO. – Bill Paetzke May 26 '10 at 17:55
Your first point, how to configure apache, would be great for Server Fault. – Bill Paetzke May 26 '10 at 17:55
Your other two points about subjective questions and feature requests are irrelevant to Stack Overflow--I agree. – Bill Paetzke May 26 '10 at 17:56

I really think this is an excellent idea.

Mailing lists are awkward, let things get lost and fall through the cracks, require a lot of vigilance and manual maintenance (auto-filter helps a little), and are generally just dark ages.

Upvoting ("yeah") and downvoting ("nah") are also very manual.

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