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I propose that Stack Exchange evolve to support more of a crowd sourced documentation model than just questions and answers. Please don't dismiss this as heresy. The great thing about Stack Exchange is that it encourages the community to create clear, concise, accurate answers to questions or problems that people have (eliminating the snide, cryptic, rambling discussions of the old listserv and forum systems.)

I think most people go to Stack Exchange sites to get answers (to questions other people have already asked). The clear answer is (usually) more important than the question. What would happen if we took the answers and organized them in some sort of taxonomy (or more precisely a directed (not necessarily acyclic) graph) of related answers / gems of information? Stack Exchanges would become responsive, crowd sourced, organized documentation.

The questions and (multiple) answers and comments would still be a major engine of generating information -- as well as getting answers for the people who first ask the questions. I guess the 'documentation' 'view' of Stack Overflow would be a alternate rendering of the database of answers (and questions and comments). It doesn't have to replace the Q and A rendering of the information.

One major advantage of the 'directed graph' (that is, outline organization) of the information is that people can find closely related 'answers' to what they are looking at. I've recently been trying to compile dynamically linked C programs for Android/Linux and found lots of goodies on Stack Overflow. However, if when I found one answer related to Linux -> Android -> linking/loading -> dynamicLoading -> /system/bin/linker, I may see other related answers/documentation about dynamicLoading or how to use LD to create a .so file. Web searches for information (on Stack Overflow) is great, but finding related information by proximity is another valuable way to find things. (This organization is not free, but it is worthwhile).

Second, we might encourage people to write answers (even more) like a tutorial or documentation. People have been doing that already -- not just answering the specific question, but explaining the issue in a general, more broad way than exactly what was asked in the question. Further, we could tolerate (or encourage) people to just post answers (documentation) rather than putting the information out in the form of a question -- with accompanying answer. I think I now understand my (not yet posted) question about how dynamic linking works in Android/Linux/C. I can see that other people have been having this problem. I'd like to be able to just write a few paragraphs with what I've learned. -- Stack Overflow shouldn't reject this valuable knowledge just because it isn't a question posted by one person and answered by another.

I'd like to see Stack Exchange evolve into more of a question-driven WikiPedia. What do you think?

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    Google already does this on SE's behalf... – Servy Dec 20 '13 at 19:19
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    It is unclear what you are really asking for here; it's rather a wall of text. The suggestion, to build a taxonomy or graph of connections, is buried in too much prose. – Martijn Pieters Dec 20 '13 at 19:20
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    I think StackExchange works the way it is. It uses a simple model that people understand. It doesn't need to evolve further. If it isn't broken don't try fix it. – Scott Dec 20 '13 at 19:22
  • Please consider adding your findings to the info section of dynamic-linking. – trashgod Dec 20 '13 at 19:28
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    «I think I now understand my (not yet posted) question about how dynamic linking works in Android/Linux/C. I can see that other people have been having this problem.» SO would be more than happy to have you post that, right now, without any changes to the system. Answering your own question is quite welcome. – Josh Caswell Dec 20 '13 at 19:35
  • From the way your suggestion received you can tell that my answer is actually speaks the truth. A harsh one, that nobody likes to admit ;) – Your Common Sense Dec 20 '13 at 20:19
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    @YourCommonSense How does that follow? Your answer is, in effect, saying that all/most answers on the site are bad. The downvotes on this question indicate that several people wouldn't like to see the entire design of the site refactored from a q/a site to a wiki (which is, more or less, what the proposal would look like, from the sounds of it). It's entirely possible for people to prefer the site remain a q/a site, not become a wiki, but also feel that the given answers are often of high quality. – Servy Dec 20 '13 at 20:22
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    People already link to related answers when they answer questions and the sidebar has related links that are usually very related. I don't think we really have to try to make SO more useful. It already shows up as one of the first links in EVERY Google search I do. – Tim Seguine Dec 20 '13 at 20:46
  • Have you seen the scala tag wiki? stackoverflow.com/tags/scala/info – user213963 Dec 21 '13 at 5:44
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While I understand the desire to further organize this information and present it in a manner that looks more official and static, I don't see how that will improve the experience for its users, either the people looking for information, or those providing information.

Right now your suggestion would require a significant effort to develop, because it isn't just a new presentation of existing data, but appears to require significant effort further organizing and categorizing the existing information, and choosing what to present as "official", since presenting multiple answers as "documentation" would merely lead to confusion if they don't all agree.

You might need to rethink the concept, and present it here differently. Consider answering the following questions when you re-post it:

  • How does this improve a programmer's ability to find an answer to their problem?
  • How does this improve a programmer's ability to find a problem they can answer?
  • How can this be implemented with algorithms, rather than human effort?
  • How would this apply, or not, to the rest of the Stack Exchange sites?
  • What specific benefits does this change provide to existing users and newcomers?
  • I'll try reorganizing the proposal. It is intended to improve the experience by making the information more directly and simply presented -- rather than reading a question to figure out if the answer is going to solve your problem. -- Yes it would be a significant development effort, I think it would be worth it and I'd be glad to work on it. – Ribo Dec 23 '13 at 14:06
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I think this can just be done by organizing the tags differently.

Here's one suggestion for hierarchial tagging.

  • Agreed, organized tagging helps alot -- and can reduce the human effort needed. However that human effort provides additional value to the information. – Ribo Dec 23 '13 at 13:51
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You can (sort of) do this already. Go to the search box, and type in something like:

[ruby]is:answer

And tap the votes tap. To just see answers about, say, Ruby encodings:

[ruby][encoding]is:answer

And so on.

  • Thanks, that helps. Search is a great help, but human's organizing information and making associations between questions/answers that the search engine doesn't see help in a different, complementary manner. – Ribo Dec 23 '13 at 13:45
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What Stack Overflow are you talking about?

One I know encourages the community to do only one thing: to get reputation points. This is the only thing that is actually encouraged here. Which makes writing ugly, incomplete, hasty and inaccurate answers way more desirable for the community.

As a matter of fact, Stack Overflow is just some sort of gamble. And writing complete answers won't give you any profit. While writing as many hasty answers on as many simple questions as possible surely would gain you a decent reward.

The model of Stack Overflow is plain and simple: to attract as many people with silly questions as possible. This style simply creates more traffic. More people are encouraged to ask "first answers" and even more encouraged to write fast on-site answers. Which makes traffic flow.

While your proposal is aimed at reducing this help-vampires/rep-whores generated traffic - a thing that nobody would ever approve.

Oh, I really beg my pardon. Stack Overflow is not only after reputation points, I have to admit. There are also badges, funny hats and unicorns. Next time try to propose something that fits Stack Overflow better: a Christmas decoration, or a new badge.
As you can clearly see from the voting, that's the only topics that really attracts people's attention.

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    "...encourages the community to create ugly, incomplete, hasty and inaccurate answers only." This is certainly not true, even if you remove the "only." I stare at SO all day long and most of the answers I see are excellent, at least in the tags I watch. Inaccurate answers are typically downvoted into oblivion. Do you have some concrete figures to back up your statement? – ThisSuitIsBlackNot Dec 20 '13 at 20:04
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    Oh please don't make me laugh so loud :) Especially on the downvoting bad answers part. On a real Stack Overflow a downvote results in only author's comment with an air of injured innocence, followed by couple of comforting upvotes. – Your Common Sense Dec 20 '13 at 20:09
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    If you feel this way then why have you posted 4,866 answers here? If the site is so flawed, why haven't you gone to another site that does a better job of encouraging quality answers instead of low quality answers? – Servy Dec 20 '13 at 20:09
  • @Servy I keep here only in hope to get such interesting and relevant comments. It's the only pleasure in my life. – Your Common Sense Dec 20 '13 at 20:12
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    @YourCommonSense "On a real Stack Overflow a downvote results in only author's comment with an air of injured innocence, followed by couple of comforting upvotes." Yet you have 300 (exactly, interestingly enough) answers on SO with a score less than 0. Clearly this doesn't happen all of the time. – Servy Dec 20 '13 at 20:13
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    Keep in mind, @This, Servy: Your is primarily active in php. The issues there can be somewhat different than elsewhere. – Shog9 Dec 20 '13 at 20:39
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    methinks that this answer is a little bit off topic – Sam I am says Reinstate Monica Dec 20 '13 at 21:09
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    "What Stack Overflow you are talking about? " He's talking about stackoverflow.com - in the future please post follow up questions as comments, as this does not actually solve his problem, and as such isn't an answer. – Adam Davis 'ze-zir-zem' Dec 20 '13 at 21:14
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    @AdamDavis this is not a q&a but discussion site, if you didn't notice. – Your Common Sense Dec 20 '13 at 21:20
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    @AdamDavis You disagree not with me but with site rules, mind you. Care to read them? – Your Common Sense Dec 20 '13 at 21:26
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    I am a long-standing admirer of the long-suffering Colonel. Few have the fortitude to inhabit the php tag. I think he's entitled to some grumpy remarks here from time to time. – Rosinante Dec 20 '13 at 22:33
  • By "just some sort of gamble", do you mean "just some sort of game"? – Peter Mortensen Dec 21 '13 at 5:47
  • I think you would make a good moderator at Programmers. We already have one expat from php tag, need more guys like that – gnat Dec 21 '13 at 7:50
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    @PeterMortensen thank you for correcting. Would be 'gambling' more appropriate word to reflect the meaning of 'a game so addicting that one don't pay attention to anything but getting reward points'? – Your Common Sense Dec 21 '13 at 7:51
  • As long as this post isn't some warning sign that you are about to ragequit. If I upvote this, will you stay? – Tim Seguine Dec 21 '13 at 10:43

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