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Stack Overflow vs Yahoo! Answers vs Experts-Exchange vs ProgrammingTalk etc

I've never really used a Q&A site different from the Stack Exchange. Browsing Yahoo! Answers gives me the feeling someone is pouring snow into my trousers and reminds me I'm happy where I am. But what is it that sets the Stack Exchange network apart? Is it better due to a number of conscious design decisions? What are those, how do those differ from other Q&A websites? Or is it better just because of its audience, and might we regress down to the Yahoo! Answers level as soon as Relationships & Dating goes live?

In summary, What is it that makes the SE network higher quality than other Q&A sites?

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    Community moderation – yannis Nov 5 '12 at 9:03
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    Closers, you've marked this as a duplicate of another question which was closed as too localised. Doesn't one contradict the other? Too localised means This question is unlikely to help any future visitors. In my opinion, the fact that I was looking for the same proves that it is not too localised! So I think it's reasonable to have at least one of the two open, and IMNSHO my question is slightly better phrased... – gerrit Nov 5 '12 at 14:40
  • The too localized closure on the duplicate just prevents further answers, because there's absolutely no reason for further answers. – yannis Nov 5 '12 at 14:42
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    @YannisRizos Isn't that what locking a question is for? I thought closing a question implied the question shouldn't have been asked in the first place. – gerrit Nov 5 '12 at 14:44
  • Locking also prevents voting, editing and flagging. Anyway, I don't really feel either discussion is particularly interesting or useful and I won't be voting to re-open. Others, of course, might disagree. – yannis Nov 5 '12 at 14:45
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    @YannisRizos That is completely different from the text below the closing reason, quoting again: This question is unlikely to help any future visitors; it is only relevant to a small geographic area, a specific moment in time, or an extraordinarily narrow situation that is not generally applicable to the worldwide audience of the internet.. Isn't that demonstrably false? – gerrit Nov 5 '12 at 14:47
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    "This question is unlikely to help any future visitors..." imho, both this and the other question aren't particularly helpful to anyone. In any case, there's a re-open vote already ;) – yannis Nov 5 '12 at 14:48
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    To me it's helpful to understand the Stack Exchange network and its community (I don't have the rep. to either view close votes or to vote for reopening except on my own questions). – gerrit Nov 5 '12 at 14:52
  • And I hope my answer helped you understand the network and its community a little bit better ;) Also, I was under the impression that as the OP you can see close/re-open votes on your own question, isn't that the case? – yannis Nov 5 '12 at 14:53
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    @YannisRizos, your answer helped me, I just find answering a question at odds with closing it as too localised, as I'm sure I'm not the only one with this question. I can indeed see the reopen vote on my own question (incidentally, the reopen vote is my own ;). – gerrit Nov 5 '12 at 14:56

There are three things that set Stack Exchange apart from every other Q&A site:

  1. Laser sharp focus,
  2. Gamification, and
  3. Community moderation.

Gamification is what keeps us all hooked1, and the combination of our laser sharp focus and vigilant community moderation is what keeps the quality of the content high, it's really as simple as that. There's also the fact that Stack Exchange site's are free to use, but that's really only in contrast with a certain Q&A for Sex Change Experts.

1 Just got a Guru badge while I was writing this, it's shiny!

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    Not forgetting Quora which now requires you be registered and logged in to be able to read answers to questions. – JonW Nov 5 '12 at 9:28
  • @JonW It's still free though. Registration walls are annoying, but most people really don't mind about them, in the post-Facebook era. – yannis Nov 5 '12 at 9:29
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    It's (presumably) less likely to hook people into the site - if they search for a question on Google and stumble onto Quora having never seen it before and then find they can't actually read the answers that's an immediate negative perception of the site. Yes, some will register just to see the answer, but with SE you don't need to even register - you can just read. – JonW Nov 5 '12 at 9:31
  • @JonW No argument there. – yannis Nov 5 '12 at 9:32
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    I mind about registration walls. Suppose I'm googling for information (but I now try the relevant SE site first for some things, for all the reasons Jeff points out are bad about other sources); if a site wants me to register, that's a no. I'm not registering until I know I want to use the site long term. I never knew expertsexchange were charging because I never got past the registration wall, and there's no way I'm connecting my facebook accounts to random websites that claim have an answer but give every impression they plan to monetize me fast. Too many non-answers on the web for that. – AndrewC Nov 5 '12 at 10:07
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    @YannisRizos Quora additionally has a very annoying real-name requirement, that can also be a deal-breaker for users that don't mind the registration itself. – Mad Scientist Nov 5 '12 at 10:09
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    @AndrewC My argument was that if people in general minded about registration walls, there would be no Facebook. Yet, Facebook thrives. That said, Quora appeared after SE, and it's a bit moronic that they ask you to jump through hoops when you can browse and even contribute to a higher quality alternative site without registration. – yannis Nov 5 '12 at 10:13
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    Oh now I see your point, yes, but I would say Facebook is a very different site. Social networking is about talking to my friends. I expect that to be password protected. Finding stuff out isn't about me and I don't expect to tell anyone my email address to find out how to use a custom pre-processor with the ghc compiler, for example. (Excellent answer by the way.) – AndrewC Nov 5 '12 at 10:25
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    Don't knock paid sites, if you're getting a sex change you might as well pay for experts. Who knows what you'll end up with otherwise. – Ben Brocka Nov 5 '12 at 17:02

Just browsing through the list of questions on Yahoo Answers, I get the impression that there's no organization or quality control. There's also not a beacon for which experts can rally around. The community on Yahoo Answers is essentially, anyone!

When questions are asked, it just doesn't feel like there are experts there, not like there are on Stack Overflow. The top questions under the search for "programming" are all asking "What language should I learn", which is hardly a question that an expert programmer would ask.

Stack Exchange thrives by focusing experts on different topics. By having a separate site for Project Management, English, Physics and more, all with their own rules and community moderators, the community is able to attract experts, which leads to better questions.

When Relationships and Dating goes live, if it goes live, it too will get its own private beta, public beta, pro-temp moderators, and child meta site for discussing quality issues. During the private beta, members will ask questions that experts would answer, and this will help design a Q&A site much like others already on the network.

Like other Stack Exchange sites, there will be people who show up that try to make it into something it's not. Surely you see this happen on Stack Overflow every day when someone tries to post something off-topic or too broad. If I were a part of the Relationships and Dating community, I would certainly expect questions that don't show research effort to be closed early and often. I'd expect editing to occur, and guidance from the community for new users on how to ask good questions. Meta plays a big part in working through these issues, and it will likely be busy with lots of questions about what to put in the FAQ, what to do about questions about general dating advice, etc.

In short, there's a lot of work that goes into making Stack Exchange Q&A sites stand out above the competition, and I don't see it regressing as long as people are passionate about expert Q&A.

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    The top questions under the search for "programming" are all asking "What language should I learn". Indeed. We explicitly banned those on Programmers because we realised they were the ultimate bad question. – ChrisF Nov 5 '12 at 9:28
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    Yup. Is there such a thing as a relationships and dating expert? I would close every single question on that proposal as Not Constructive (We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or specific expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion.) An expert in relationships and dating is almost a contradiction in terms. If you have broad experience of either dating or relationships, you can't be expert at relationships! Relationship experts only get repeat visits if their advice was convincing/compelling but didn't fully help. – AndrewC Nov 5 '12 at 11:05
  • @AndrewC Is We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or specific expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion a global rule or something each SE community can decide for themselves? – gerrit Nov 5 '12 at 14:37
  • @gerrit All the SE sites I've browsed have it as a choice when flagging posts for deletion (but see shog9's point about variation of expectations.) The general feeling is that Q&A sites are helpful if they give you concise, accurate answers to your questions, and that we don't want to be about debate, we want to be about answers. Maybe they won't have that reason available there (they couldn't) but that's one of the reasons I think it doesn't fit with SE. – AndrewC Nov 5 '12 at 15:11
  • @AndrewC - While I like that you're concerned about quality, give Good Subjective, Bad Subjective another read, then go take a look at that proposal's example questions. There is a such thing as a good subjective question that elicits expert opinion, not just the opinions of random people on the Internet. ;) – jmort253 Nov 5 '12 at 15:12
  • I guess I'm also saying relationships are inherently subjective. My computer and your computer should give us the same results with the same input. We speak the same language with very similar grammar and spelling, Physics is the same everywhere. That's not going to be true in relationships. – AndrewC Nov 5 '12 at 15:15
  • @AndrewC - You're absolutely right, and that is what makes those Q&A sites tougher. Still, I think it can work. Just look at Programmers SE, Workplace SE, and Project Management SE. So far, they've made it work. It's tough, but do-able. ;) – jmort253 Nov 6 '12 at 4:30
  • OK, Good Subjective, Bad Subjective was a good place to send me. I worry that if the majority of marriages now end in divorce, democracy might not lead you to the best answers. I guess no-one's forcing me to take part, so sorry for being a pest. If you're on the team or a major contributor watch out for people taking things personally and encourage a supportive tone. There's already dissent! Perhaps some of the standard close messages need serious editing towards diplomacy. It's bad enough at the "hard" end of the spectrum with people getting emotional, but if it's about your love life..... – AndrewC Nov 6 '12 at 12:29
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    @AndrewC - "This question is closed because you're being a whiny baby... oh, and welcome to the friend zone, muahahahaha". <<< This would be an awesome close reason on Relationships and Dating. It's what a lot of people might interpret anyway. ;) In all seriousness, you do have a valid point, and the meta for that site is likely to be a mess. We can still try though. ;) – jmort253 Nov 7 '12 at 6:13
  • Oh yes that would work for massive offence, definitely. The summary in my inbox had shock value! This did make me laugh, thanks. – AndrewC Nov 7 '12 at 7:24
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    @AndrewC - Sorry about the shock value. I didn't think about that, lol. ;) – jmort253 Nov 8 '12 at 7:03
  • We don't care about your question. Who would? It's worthless. We're deleting it because no-one else could possibly be interested in your non-problem. <<< The less diplomatic NARQ. (It wouldn't have been funny if it weren't shocking.) – AndrewC Nov 8 '12 at 7:24
  • Actually, this is Too Localized, isn't it. Oh, and your problem is insignificant. – AndrewC Nov 8 '12 at 9:10
  • If idiots could fly, Yahoo! Answers would be an airport. – Dan Dascalescu Feb 24 '13 at 5:38

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