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I was under the impression that Stack Overflow was a forum, or a forum-like object.

And if it is not a forum: Why isn't it? What defines a forum?

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What Stack Overflow does "is synthesize aspects of Wikis, Blogs, Forums, and Digg/Reddit in a way that [the team thinks] is original." – Pops May 20 '11 at 20:28
Early in the life of Stack Overflow, Joel and Jeff sought to separate it from typical help forums. It's a lot less interesting to people to hear, "It's a different kind of forum, and here are the differences:..." than it is to say, "Forums suck, this is the answer." without completely saying it isn't a forum, but trying to make sure people understood the distinct difference. For the purposes of marketing and branding, Stack Exchange does NOT use the word forum to describe itself, and due to the early forum bashing, there is a distinct anti-forum contingent that still exists. – Adam Davis May 20 '11 at 20:57
But at the end of the day, it is a forum. It's just specifically designed to encourage productive discussion by limiting the types of responses people can give. In fact this almost dictatorial adherence to restricting responses to good questions and answers led to the addition of comments, Meta, and ultimately chat. – Adam Davis May 20 '11 at 21:00
Voting to close since OP insist this to be specific to Stack Overflow. – Shadow Wizard Jan 6 '15 at 16:18
@ShadowWizard because that was the original intent of this question. It was on stackoverflow meta – amanaP lanaC A nalP A naM A Jan 6 '15 at 16:19
I know, but since the split, such questions can get closed and eventually migrated if the team decides so. Others tried to make it "cross-site" for you, but it's your question so you have the right to overrule this. – Shadow Wizard Jan 6 '15 at 16:26
I have no problem with migrating it to the SO meta. This was a question JUST for SO, unless you think otherwise @ShadowWizard – amanaP lanaC A nalP A naM A Jan 6 '15 at 16:41
All of the answers pertain to Stack Overflow and not to the Stack Exchange @ShadowWizard – amanaP lanaC A nalP A naM A Jan 6 '15 at 16:41
Actually the top and accepted answer kind of talking about Stack Exchange in general. – Shadow Wizard Jan 6 '15 at 18:38
Since the Meta SE community seems to have an interest in this Q&A being clearly generalized to SE perhaps it could be converted to Community Wiki. It is a very useful Q&A and to have it migrated to SO would seem to be a loss to our community. – PolyGeo Jan 18 '15 at 3:03
Community sentiment currently seems to be that this question should be generalized to Stack Exchange sites in general rather than being specific to Stack Overflow:… – PolyGeo Jan 13 at 0:08
@Won't SE employee has removed the faq-proposed tag, I really don't think there's any point putting it back. (as it essentially means the proposal has been rejected.) – Shadow Wizard May 23 at 19:00
@ShadowWizard Hmmm, didn't see that. Is there already a "SO isn't a forum" question in the FAQ? I didn't think there was one... – Won't May 23 at 20:06
@Won't there isn't but considering the infamous "What Stack Overflow is not" has been nuked from orbit, guess SE simply doesn't want to promote this kind of posts any further. – Shadow Wizard May 23 at 20:48
up vote 179 down vote accepted

Stack Overflow is not a forum. Forums are largely discussion-based and tend to follow less strict rules about what posts can be like.

On Stack Overflow (and Stack Exchange in general), we require every new thread to be started with a question and every response to that question to be an attempt at answering it.

For example, on a forum you might ask how to run a game in windowed mode. You will get several responses, some of which will be nothing but "oh, I love that game!" or "I haven't played that in a while, wow." You'll be lucky if you get a relevant response. By contrast, on Stack Exchange you'd get practical responses that are 100% relevant to your question.

Stack Exchange creates communities that draw in experts in particular fields who are interested in communicating and learning at a professional level. This results in writing quality being an important aspect of the site.

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Stack Overflow (Stack Exchange, in the more general sense) is not a forum.

In a dictionary sense, a "forum" is a place where ideas and views can be exchanged. But in a larger Internet context, a "forum" is traditionally regarded as a place where issues (questions) are discussed in a threaded manner. A topic of discussion is posed where people can respond, and responses are allowed to evoke further sub-conversations… which generate still further discussion — ad infinitum until all possible facets have been discussed, or the participants lose interest.

In contrast, Stack Exchange encourages specific questions that have a specific, canonical answers. A question is asked and respondents weigh in with a carefully thought-out response which is then vetted through voting and wiki-editing (improving on the answer).

The key difference is that each answer posted has to stand on its own. Stack Exchange neither supports nor encourages a "forum-style" of open, free-for-all discussion (many-to-many conversations). This is by design.

The advantage is that users can vote on the best answers which then float to the top. You don't have to worry about breaking the conversation thread, and answers are not buried deep down in the larger context of an entire, vast "conversation."

We prefer this Q&A format over the "forum"-style conversations typically found on the Internet. People who say "this is not a forum" are simply urging users to avoid the patterns that cause traditional forums to fail.

Stack Exchange is built on the premise that forums don't scale. All those open conversations mean that those forums only tend to get noisier and noisier. What inevitably happens is that long-time users get tired of the new users asking the same old questions. New users can't find useful information and feel ostracized. And most find that, the more they talk, the less value they get from the experience. In short, you stop learning.

The chat room/forum problem by Robert Scoble

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What inevitably happens is that long-time users get tired of the new users asking the same old questions. For the record, that happens here too. – Lightness Races in Orbit Apr 23 '13 at 16:46
@LightnessRacesinOrbit, but instead of answering or discussing a lot about what has been discussed, you can mark and close questions as duplicates. Forums don't usually have that available to non-moderators, if at all. – JMCF125 Apr 5 '14 at 12:34

In this case there is no simple yes / no answer to that question...

Remember this image from the FAQ?

We are different than just a forum, we are a Q&A site that is on the border of all these different types of sites.

  1. We have a forum aspect in terms of limited discussion in comments and on our meta.

  2. We have two blog networks, one for fourth place blogs and one for developing beta blogs.

  3. Our voting and view counts give the site a Digg / Reddit aspect, but only that.

  4. A lot of users are helping to build a canonical set of answers, which is the Wiki aspect of our network.

But in general, it's not about "discussion, blogging, votes, views or answering"; it is all about learning.

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The question being whether Stack Overflow is a forum, and so the answer is just what you said: "We are different than _just a _ forum." In my opinion, SE sites are forums insofar as I can ask questions and recieve answers - all of varying opinions. Thus, SE sites are not just Q&A sites either - because Q&A means you get an authouritative question and an authouritative answer. But here, you get varying types and grades of questions and answers - and this, I think, borders on the nature of discussion, although it isn't discussion absolutely. In this sense, they can be called forums. – bgmCoder May 8 '12 at 15:28
Another way this place is like a forum is this: a forum is a gathering place for the community, and we have a community here, and we gather here. We also have chat rooms for gathering AND discussion. Also, a forum can be a marketplace. I come here to "go shopping" for answers. And I pay for my answers by making the effort to ask good questions, and by voting to "pay" my respects to the people who answer well. – bgmCoder May 8 '12 at 15:34
@BGM: Please read the FAQ which mentions how questions asking opinions are often not welcome, I can agree though that they are welcome on the meta sites (as long as it is about the main site). But glad that you agree with the first part... :) – Tom Wijsman May 8 '12 at 17:17
I understand about the opinion thing (and the exception for meta) - but I mean to say that in a certain sense, since there are so many approaches to answer the question, an answer can be an opinion. Everyone has a different approach, and, especially with code, an approach is, in that person's opinion, the answer. But since there can be so many approaches, there is often no definitive answer - which makes more like opinions even if they do answer the question. I bet that is as clear as mud! – bgmCoder May 8 '12 at 19:46

Yes, for some definitions of forum.

fo·rum –noun, plural fo·rums, fo·ra  

  1. the marketplace or public square of an ancient Roman city, the center of judicial and business affairs and a place of assembly for the people.
  2. a court or tribunal: the forum of public opinion.
  3. an assembly, meeting place, television program, etc., for the discussion of questions of public interest.

One could speak very generally and claim that Stack Exchange sites embody a meeting place for the discussion of questions of public interest. More and more it's becoming a marketplace and place of assembly for the people - we have careers and chatting. Stack Overflow in particular aims to attract all the average and above average programmers in the world.

Strictly speaking, Stack Exchange is a Forum.

Colloquially speaking, however, one must take into account the connotation of the word Forum in connection with the internet. For many years "forum" software has been developed to encourage non-directed discussion. The format of most forum software encourages personal conversational style, and if there is a desire for direction it must be enforced by moderators, rather than simply by the design of the software.

Stack Exchange is very directed toward problem solving, and strongly discourages conversational style discussion. There is a question, and there are multiple answers, and there are comments. While comments are a bit more loose, the question and answers must fit very specific criteria to be accepted as part of the discussion.

Further, Jeff and Joel have spent some considerable time in branding their product as distinctly different than existing internet forums.

So whether it's a forum largely depends on one's personal definition of a "forum", however, technically speaking, the Stack Exchange platform is most certainly a forum, and as they expand it and add new features it only becomes more a forum than anything else.

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The questions and answers are really not a forum in any way, I think that's pretty easy to see.

I can see how comments could be thought of as forum-like, however, that's still not what they are. I use one simple rule for comments that helps me to remember how they are different from a forum:

Each and every comment should be made with the end-goal of wrapping up a discussion, not starting or encouraging one.

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