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There have been a few questions on here in the past about whether there is a place for tutorials/"how to" articles on Stack Overflow (for example, here and here). But I didn't see anyone make a strong case for embracing the creation of tutorials on Stack Overflow, so let me make a brief attempt...

Why should we host tutorials on Stack Overflow?

  • If I'm looking for a tutorial on a particular topic (for example, data binding in WPF), I will often do a web search with keywords like "Getting started" or "tutorial", but what comes up is often a mixed bag. I think it would be great if I could come directly to Stack Overflow and search for [tutorial] [wpf], looking at the upvotes to judge easily if it is going to be worth my while.
  • When I solve a problem myself, I often write up how I solved it and blog it, if nothing else so I can google for my own answer in the future. It would be nice to be able to put these mini-tutorials on Stack Overflow, but I don't at the moment since it seems to be against the spirit of Stack Overflow to post a fake question just so you can answer it yourself moments later.
  • I also sometimes write mini-tutorials on the correct use of an open source library. Again, they could easily be presented in the form of a "How do I..." question with a tutorial style answer.
  • There are many subject-matter experts here on Stack Overflow who post articles on their own blogs or on sites like The Code Project. That is of course fine, but would Stack Overflow not benefit from being the host of such excellent material?

How could it work on Stack Overflow?

  • Have a [tutorial] tag. People tag a question with this if they are either seeking a tutorial type answer or proposing to write a tutorial themselves.
  • Voting up a question with the [tutorial] tag means "yes, the Internet needs a good tutorial on this topic"
  • The question asker would be at liberty to answer with their own tutorial, but it would also be fully open to the community to provide rival better tutorials.
  • Alternatively the question asker could create a community wiki answer, inviting others from the community to enhance it.
  • People could also answer with a link to a good tutorial elsewhere online, which, if it is good enough, can be upvoted indicating that Stack Overflow doesn't really need to provide an alternative.
  • You could have a period where answers couldn't be upvoted but only commented on, allowing tutorials to undergo a few rounds of revisions before being voted on by the community.

Are there any potential issues?

  • The answers could get very long, which might require a "read more" link at the bottom of answers (I don't know what the Stack Overflow answer length limit is at the moment)
  • Good tutorials often come with sample code. I don't think it would be a good idea to introduce attachments to answers, but we could encourage people linking to small projects on GitHub or similar. In fact, if Fog Creek Software were willing to let each Stack Overflow user create mini-repositories on a cut-down version of Kiln it might be a great marketing opportunity for them!
  • It could be frowned upon as an alternative route to gaining reputation points that doesn't require you to answer anyone's questions but your own. One solution is simply to say any [tutorial] tagged questions and their answers are automatically community-wiki.
  • There might be a risk of a proliferation of low quality tutorials on topics not really in need of yet another tutorial (I won't mention any site names). I personally think the voting system on Stack Overflow would handle this though.

Anyway, is this just a stupid idea, or would it benefit Stack Overflow? I can always keep blogging my own tutorials elsewhere, but I'd be interested in what people think.

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The problem is that tutorial is a meta tag –  ChrisF May 22 '11 at 20:44
    
@ChrisF, nice article. Not sure it is an insurmountable problem to hosting tutorials though, but I can appreciate why meta-tags have been discouraged. –  Mark Heath May 22 '11 at 21:00
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Prominent tutorial links could also be added to tag-wikis. –  Gordon Gustafson May 22 '11 at 21:08
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Why not use the tag-wikis for the tutorial? –  Ian Ringrose May 22 '11 at 21:20
    
Perhaps this could make a perfect Area51 proposal. And it could be made to house ALL tutorials for whatever. Then any SE site can point to the "in-house" user created tutorials found there. –  Jeff Mercado May 22 '11 at 22:55
    
The current post limit is 30000 characters. –  Hendrik Vogt May 23 '11 at 10:42
    
A little birdie told me that there may eventually be support for some sort of tutorial system. In the meantime, community blogs are a good place to host tutorials if people are so inclined as to write them. –  nhinkle May 17 '12 at 23:33
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1 Answer

Segmenting certain types of questions as special "tutorial" content is outside the design and purpose of Stack Overflow.

Users are encouraged to answer questions in the clearest, most correct way possible… and sometimes the best format MAY just happen to be a tutorial. But to ask users to jump into a different set of behaviors when something is labeled user-must-post-a-[tutorial] just does not fit the Stack Exchange model.

Reading your suggestions of how this would work just screams "square peg, round hole." Your "how could this work" section talks about all the ways the users (and the system) would be expected to behave differently to accommodate this content:

  • Add a special (generally verboten) meta tag to mark the post as a different type of animal.
  • Voting up a [tutorial] now means something different.
  • Users are not expected to answer this "question", but start contributing tutorials.
  • People could also answer with a link to a good tutorial elsewhere, which is generally considered really bad form for normal questions.

Question authors generally ask about problems they actually have; Users answer in the best way they know how. On occasion, users can even ask a question which they subsequently answer themselves. If the question can best be answered by a tutorial, so be it. But going out of our way to create an explicit collection of tutorials might best be served by a blog format.

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I suspected that this might be the answer. There is something admirable about a dogged refusal to provide anything but the one thing (questions+answers) you are really good at, even though I think that you can have an awesome programming site that features more than one type of content. –  Mark Heath May 23 '11 at 6:00
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