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After I recommended stack overflow to a friend she briefly looked at it and concluded it was not much different than a wiki. I can think of many reason why this is false but perhaps it would be useful to have a link to direct someone like that to, that would go through some of the reasons. For example:

  • The attribution system that is both quantitative and democratic
  • meta sites allow the site rules to be democratically defined as well
  • etc...
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Maybe you should just tell your friend to look at it a bit more closely. :) –  Pëkka Feb 4 '11 at 0:06
I did. I'm not convincing enough. –  D W Feb 5 '11 at 6:33
It's for the community, by the community. Does a wiki have a theory of moderation? No. It's not just some site where people contribute, it's a site that is made to really benefit the users. The users are there at the first step of creating a new site, they give feedback, more people are on this than a wiki. The community is really involved, and you can get answers quicker. –  Annonomus Penguin Aug 18 '13 at 16:54

4 Answers 4

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I can think of a few reasons why it's better:

  • Different answers provide completely different approaches to the same problem whereas a wiki is really just one that might be modified over time. Different people react better to different styles of answers.
  • There's much more accountability here than in a wiki. If you post a crap answer then it'll generally get voted down. This means, in general either the community will ignore it (a good thing) or it'll get drastically improved and voted up again (a better thing.) If someone writes crap on a wiki, the community will generally take notice of it until / if someone changes it.
  • People get more incentive for posting good things here than on a wiki because there's a reward system in place.
  • People get very specific answers to specific questions here, generalised wikis are generally more, well, general.
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+1 for third point! –  Trufa Feb 3 '11 at 23:50

Well, the about page provides a helpful not-quite-Venn diagram that points out that the site is really a combination of wiki, digg/reddit, blog and forum:

pseudo-Venn diagram comprising circles representing wiki, digg/reddit, blog and forum, with Stack Overflow at intersection

To answer your question, all you have to do is look at the three remaining areas. I'll answer all four, so that this answer can be used to answer "how is Stack Overflow different/better than just [some subset of the four things]?"


Digg, Reddit and similar services allow users to vote on content.


Blogs tend to contain longer, more essay-like and/or comprehensive posts than other media on the Internet. Bloggers can develop reputations over time, based on the content they post.


Forums are about getting many people together, and treating them roughly as equals. They tend to focus on one topic or a group of related topics.


Wikis are editable by many people, and contents of wikis are generally shared under some sort of non-restrictive license.

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That description/graphic feels overly misrepresentative. SO shares minor attributes, but it really doesn't qualify as mix. Besides using it like Reddit or a Forum being discouraged, it follows more the bulletin board pattern than a forum (which should be threaded like on reddit). And I remember some antipathy for using it blog-like too. –  mario Feb 4 '11 at 12:54
@mario, there's a big difference between using SO like any one of the four components, and SO incorporating attributes of each of the four components. –  Pops Feb 4 '11 at 15:31
+1 for a detailed viewpoint @Popular Demand. However I tend to agree with @mario –  D W Feb 5 '11 at 18:05

Some other differences:

  • Tags
  • User stats and different abilities based on rep
  • Format of a single question and multiple answers
  • Ability for questions to be closed as duplicates
  • Ordering of questions based on rating
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+1 great answers thanks –  D W Feb 5 '11 at 18:37

The primary distinction I remember being mentioned (in Jeff's blog or somesuch) is that questions and answers are typically "owned" by a specific user on the SE sites, rather than everything being community content as is the case on most wikis. This promotes some hopefully beneficial competition and stake in the community from each contributer.

Found at least one mention on Jeff's blog - An excerpt from Mixing Oil and Water: Authorship in a Wiki World (Feb 2, 2009)

But that doesn't entirely work; we also need to know who the primary author is, because that information will color and influence our responses to the question. I'll grant you this is an extreme example; no disrespect to my fellow programmers, but you haven't won a turing award. Even in more typical cases, attaching authorship matters. It lets us know who we're talking to, what their background is, what their skills are, and so forth. Furthermore, how can you possibly form a community when everyone is a random, anonymous contributor?

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What is the link to Jeff's blog please. –  D W Feb 5 '11 at 6:34
@D W - I found one link, and added an excerpt above. –  jball Feb 5 '11 at 6:48
+1 thanks this is helpful. –  D W Feb 7 '11 at 19:17

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