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For background, see this post on the Stack Overflow blog, and this post.

Since it appears that no Area 51 proposal that can be covered by a tag on Stack Overflow is going to be allowed, I would like to know what we can do to develop first-class subcommunities on Stack Overflow.

Consider the Compiler Design proposal. This proposal differs from the other programming duplicate Area 51 proposals in several respects:

  1. It encapsulates a specific body of expert knowledge within the programming universe.
  2. That body of knowledge has a community of experts willing to share their expertise
  3. Programmers that do not write compilers can benefit from this expert knowledge.

The Compiler Design proposal had the potential to attract this body of experts, just as MathOverflow was successful in attracting the body of experts it has.

So why not just have a tag on Stack Overflow?

  1. It doesn't have a home page; it's just a tag (yes, I know about tag pages; they are a poor substitute).
  2. It doesn't have its own set of guidelines about what are considered good and bad questions (these can be more specific than the general guidelines used by Stack Overflow).
  3. It doesn't benefit from the community-building process that is available on Area 51.

Stack Overflow has an image problem among highly-qualified experts in fields such as compiler design. Namely, that the community at large doesn't interest them; how do you attract experts in compiler design when every other question is a question about how to fix my null reference error?

So I put the question to the community. Since we're not going to get individual sites, how do we make this work better on Stack Overflow?

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Also see my response here. –  configurator Oct 10 '10 at 18:09

7 Answers 7

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Your points are correct and well taken. Stack Overflow doesn't (yet) really allow the formation of sub-communities or SIGs (special-interest groups). Even with tag grouping and tag wikis, that only forms the very, very meager basis of creating effective (sub)communities.

To me, it's not about simply grouping questions but providing a place for people with like-minded interests to commune (i.e. form their own communities). If we are going to conglomerate these niche sites into larger sites, I believe we have to shore up and add features to the Stack Exchange engine that allow (and ENCOURAGE) groups of users to create these communities. Tag wikis form a good basis for the idea of special-interest groups. Chat is another resource. Who knows.

I just started thinking this through so it isn't something that's likely to be imminent. Without a comprehensive community-minded design, the "compiler people" (just to use your example) will never feel like they are part their own community; nor will they feel like they are part of the more nebulous Stack Overflow community. But the worse situation would have been to let these sub communities create an ineffective Q&A system just to fulfill some sense of segregated ownership.

The ideal situation is to give "the compiler people" their own personal slice of the much larger Stack Overflow. But until that area can be effectively promoted and developed independently of the main site, it wont be a community in their own right.

It's all about having that "sense of place."

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Re "sense of place", I wrote up a suggestion for this: Introduce sub-communities (or "Portals") –  Pëkka Jun 10 '11 at 11:20

You could adopt mathoverflow.net's tagging scheme.

Have a family of [compiler-design] tags that all begin with [cd.. For example:

Well, I know nothing about compiler design, so I cannot provide any examples.

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+1 because the third sentence made me laugh –  Andreas Bonini Oct 6 '10 at 18:57
    
@Kop, ha thaks. –  jjnguy Oct 6 '10 at 19:01
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cd.burning! Oh wait... –  KennyTM Oct 6 '10 at 19:05
    
+1 because tags are the way to segregate the SO community. I only ever look at the asp.net tag - of the example null reference search in the question, only one of those appears in the list of questions I regularly check. –  Jason Berkan Oct 6 '10 at 19:13
    
@kenny, I would concede that that is a point against my suggestion, but in what way does 'burning' have anything to do with compiler design? –  jjnguy Oct 6 '10 at 19:16
    
@jjnguy: No, just a joke :). There can be possibility that a newbie wrongly assumed [cd. means compact disk, but it's not a big concern. –  KennyTM Oct 6 '10 at 19:31
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@Kenny, that's what I figured, but you can never be too careful on the internet... –  jjnguy Oct 6 '10 at 19:37
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I agree that tags are the way to do this, but the idea of a heirarchical naming scheme bothers me. If a topic is so completely unlike any other topic on SO, to the point where the majority of its tags fail to share a common meaning with those in use elsewhere on the site, then that probably is a good reason to create another site. Whether or not compiler design falls into this category I cannot say, but I would be somewhat surprised... –  Shogging through the snow Oct 6 '10 at 20:15
    
@Shog, I'm not suggesting a hierarchy. I'm suggesting coming up with a tagging convention for those interested in the topic. –  jjnguy Oct 6 '10 at 20:23
    
@jjnguy: yeah, but your convention is hierarchical: topic.subtopic –  Shogging through the snow Oct 6 '10 at 20:26
    
@shog, Ah, well, I think that that hierarchy is a good idea, if the things in the sub-topic could only possibly relate to the 'parent' topic –  jjnguy Oct 6 '10 at 20:30
    
I don't really think fake tag hierarchy is the way to go here. –  Jeff Atwood Oct 7 '10 at 19:00

I think asking how to make those topics "first-class citizens" misses the point of the consolidation. All questions on Stack Overflow have an equal opportunity to be answered.

That is, the point being made is that there's nothing special about questions about Developer Testing and Compiler Design that warrants them being separate and different from existing communities: it'd be like asking how can we make PHP and C++ first-class citizens?

By asking it, you're just sidestepping the problem: they only difference between creating a new site specifically for Compiler Design and Developer Testing and leaving them on Stack Overflow would be the URL.

But really, if it's on Stack Overflow, the question should follow general Stack Overflow policy. The experts you want to attract would be joining the Stack Overflow community. Getting them on board would mean selling them Stack Overflow.

So then it's really about clarifying to the community what types of questions are allowed and what aren't to allow for questions that might've been closed on Stack Overflow in the past, and I thought that's what Good Subjective, Bad Subjective was meant to do.

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These are all very excellent reasons why Compiler Designers perceive StackOverflow as a general Q&A site, and not one specifically geared towards them. If the site had adequate mechanisms for attracting such experts, [compiler-design] would have already grown a community around itself naturally. –  Robert Harvey Oct 6 '10 at 19:22
    
@Robert, you're right about equal vs. equal opportunity; I've edited my answer. Regarding the perception compiler designers have of Stack Overflow, that's the correct perception. That is, if you're looking for a site that's geared specifically towards a niche, it's likely not going to happen. If that's important, the fight towards getting a separate community is the one to have. Trying to get the ability to tailor sub-sections of Stack Overflow to specific niches might satisfy the letter of what SOIS wants to do, but not the spirit (that is, to have large communities of general topics). –  user149432 Oct 6 '10 at 19:31

You don't. The idea that some topics would get special treatment is largely foreign to SO, and everything you're asking for implies that this is what you want.

If you're an expert in some topic and want that topic to have good support on SO, all you have to do is participate: answer questions, vote on Q&A, edit, close, retag... The usual stuff. There are people doing this every day in niche topics without seeking out fan-fare or bothering to dump on users asking questions on other topics because their problems aren't interesting enough.

But if that's not good enough for Compiler Designers, I'm sure they can find a newsgroup or mailing list to hole up in. And probably already have...

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You could have made a better case than this. A newsgroup or mailing list? Really? Spoken like a true advocate of the "forum" concept. –  Robert Harvey Oct 6 '10 at 20:17
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@Robert: I'm a huge fan of forums. I don't think they work well for Q&A, but you can't beat 'em for discussion. Especially if they have threads... More importantly though, you can set up a forum to keep people out, which you cannot do on SO. So if your primary goal is to attract people who'll get scared away by questions that are too mundane... –  Shogging through the snow Oct 6 '10 at 20:28

As someone who is already taking part in a (fairly) active sub-community on SO (hey, 2,117 questions isn't bad... it beats out [emacs]), I think SO already has the tools in place to handle what you want:

  • As others have mentioned, the tag wiki is a good place to list some common resources and guidelines related to that tag/sub-community.

  • The tagging system itself can be used to identify what "belongs" to your sub-community. One key factor would be getting your experts to make use of their interested and ignored tags to help them focus on only those questions that fall within the boundaries of your desired sub-community. I mostly only look at MATLAB-tagged questions, and sometimes it's easy to forget that there is even anything else going on outside of that on SO.

  • But the biggest factor in shaping your sub-community, in my opinion: The dedication of its experts. If you really want a sub-community to thrive, you need experts who are willing to not just answer questions, but also do all of the "mundane" stuff:

    • Guide new users with helpful comments when their questions don't meet the standards of either SO or your sub-community.
    • Edit/retag questions in your sub-community.
    • Close/open/delete questions in your sub-community.
    • Take part in discussion about the sub-community, either within comments, on Meta, on chat, or by email.

In short, I haven't felt that there was really anything lacking with regard to fostering a MATLAB sub-community on SO, and I don't see why Compiler Design folks would be in great need of new functionality or special attention to do the same.

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How do you foster that dedication? –  Robert Harvey Oct 8 '10 at 1:12
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@Robert: Well, I suppose things like Reputation and Badges foster it somewhat, but ultimately (and you may not want to hear this) I think you're going to need self-motivated experts. If your experts don't have any inherent drive to foster and maintain a sub-community, I don't know that there's much you can do to instill that drive in them. –  gnostradamus Oct 8 '10 at 16:15

The biggest hindrance to having sub-communities on SO is that the default view is a fire hose of questions about everything. The feature request to show only interested tags strikes me as the logical way to start building the sub-community feel. With that the users who care about only one specific subject can set the filter and see only those questions. And the users who wish to participate in the community as a whole can still do so.

Beyond that, I think gnostradamus got it right in his answer.

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Why even go to the homepage if all you care about is [java]? Start on stackoverflow.com/tags/java –  Jeff Atwood Oct 7 '10 at 18:45
    
@Jeff: How would you know about that if it is only the first or second time you've been to the website? –  Robert Harvey Oct 8 '10 at 1:31
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@robert well, it's not like the tags aren't linked everywhere on every single question, and in the sidebar.. –  Jeff Atwood Oct 8 '10 at 1:51

One major thing that I think is missing for the proper formation of sub-communities is being able to subset reputation and its effects.

There's a related discussion on the MathOverflow meta site about how to deal with the influx of StackExchange users who get free voting rights on MathOverflow; they're concerned that it will lead to questions that aren't that good by their own standards getting too many votes from ignorant users.

The same kind of danger applies to a sub-community on StackOverflow itself; how do you identify the really good questions, answers and users relating to compiler design when many of the people voting on them may be high reputation users on SO generally but know nothing much about compiler design?

Perhaps if the entire site could be viewed through a "compiler-design" lens where reputation was limited to that tag, and votes etc were only counted if made by users with enough reputation just for that tag, we could get the best of both worlds.

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