I've been using Stack Exchange for a while, and must say that this is an awesome site. For every question you get a useful answer within of a short period time. Recently, I began to research deeper about Stack Exchange to know what the opinion of others/ blogger are.

Besides the positive critics ...

... I have found many angry negative critics:

  • 1
    It looks like the "StackOverflow and Lack of Transparency" link duplicates the first "Why StackOverflow Sucks" one, and that also doesn't seem like a particularly positive title. May 5, 2023 at 3:32
  • We may never know. The OP left the building. It could be Peter Kellner's "StackOverflow [sic] and Lack of Transparency". It has both positive and negative things to say, e.g. "Job Well Done" and the title's "why I titled this post lack of transparency? ... almost everyone on StackOverflow [sic] can come to a question or answer you posted and vote your question up or down. ... It’s the voting down anonymously that bothers me." May 5, 2023 at 9:56

3 Answers 3


People criticize SO (and SE sites in general) because they think they know how the sites work, and suffer major cognitive dissonance when the sites don't actually work that way. Generally, they don't believe that it's necessary to learn how the sites work, that you can just start using them. When that goes poorly, the reaction can be to declare that the site sucks.

The emotional reactions are typically a result of reading a meaning that doesn't exist. "Someone said my question was a duplicate" is not "someone said I was stupid/lazy/bad/wrong" but many feel that it is. "Someone thinks my question is off topic" is not "someone wants me to go away and never come back" but many feel that it is. Many of our tools mean "this question needs a bit of editing" - and there are volunteers aplenty who do that editing. (I edit material from comments into unclear questions, for example.) But when the person who wrote the question thinks it means "we hate you" they react poorly.

The longtime users who leave typically get fed up of the showing off by some users. But showing off is our lifeblood! People who have left have time to write something up explaining they didn't like it. People who like it generally don't. One exception might be the course I wrote on how to use SE sites well: http://www.pluralsight.com/courses/using-stackoverflow-stackexchange-sites which I have to tell you has not had a ton of viewings. The idea that this is something you have to learn and adapt to is not very popular, I guess, and this, in my opinion, is why you can find people who will carp and complain about the system. They don't understand it, they don't want to understand it, they don't think they should have to understand it. They think they should just be able to use it and get all the benefits without the constraints.

  • 1
    Absolutely. And, many people expect similar functions and usage as the forums they're used to. Which is perfectly understandable, but as it's not that, it is also expected that they spend some time learning the site. Unfortunately, and again understandably, they do not want to spend the time.
    – James
    Apr 26, 2015 at 19:05
  • 2
    "because they think they know how the sites work" or they know and hate the fact that it prevents them from doing whatever they want. Also, interesting idea, that pluralsight course. I'll have to come back to this the next time they offer some free course time...
    – user1228
    Apr 27, 2015 at 15:20
  • 2
    "which I have to tell you has not had a ton of viewings" Well... Viewing that needs loading of third party JS. Also behind login barrier (or maybe a paywall)... I'm not surprised that almost no one look at it.
    – Calmarius
    Jan 11, 2016 at 15:27
  • 5
    The problem with Stack Overflow is the same as the perennial problem with democracies. They degenerate into the tyranny of opinions.
    – codewise
    Feb 9, 2017 at 1:47
  • 2
    StackOverflow is around 10 years old. If people have to learn how it works, it's different than other sites. Why does it diverge from so many other sites? Isn't usability defined in a large degree as leveraging the memes and patterns a user would already expect? Also, the long term users leaving or stopping contributions is a problem. Those people know how the sites work, and are eventually giving up. The truth, SO is a karma game, and now it's nearly impossible to score points. I have gone from answers that garnered 100 karma to ones that barely garner 10, if they stay open.
    – Edwin Buck
    May 19, 2018 at 13:52
  • 1
    "showing off is our lifeblood" -- well that explains a lot
    – user247028
    Oct 29, 2019 at 14:33
  • I believe people would criticize less if SE sites where less orientated towar "hate first, help pointing what is wrong in the question only if the user insist on getting help making a better question". Mar 31, 2021 at 19:24
  • 1
    @Edwin Buck: Stack Overflow was partly a reaction to terrible, terrible forums. As Jeff Atwood (one of founders) once said on the Stack Overflow podcast: "I am done with forums!". Apr 29, 2023 at 10:38
  • 1
    @EdwinBuck "If people have to learn how it works, it's different than other sites." - yes; it is different, by design. "Why does it diverge from so many other sites?" Because it is a very good thing that there exists a site that works the way that Stack Overflow does, and if it didn't diverge, there wouldn't be such a site. The existence of such a site allows for solving problems that could not be solved otherwise. " Isn't usability defined in a large degree as leveraging the memes and patterns a user would already expect?" Yes; that's why, for example, we use Markdown. May 5, 2023 at 3:41
  • 1
    "Also, the long term users leaving or stopping contributions is a problem. Those people know how the sites work, and are eventually giving up." - yes; I'm about to give up because the site is flooded with people who don't understand how it's supposed to work, and are only present to farm the perverse incentives from a broken incentive system. May 5, 2023 at 3:43
  • 1
    "The truth, SO is a karma game" - no; people believing this is a big part of the problem. "and now it's nearly impossible to score points." Clearly untrue, as demonstrated by the fact that I find myself constantly chewing out users with six-digit reputation scores who are damaging the site by continuing to chase more quick reputation points (even though they cannot gain any more privileges for doing so), and who come to meta with absurd requests demonstrating a complete misunderstanding of the site's purpose. May 5, 2023 at 3:44
  • 1
    @Karl Knechtel: You can't change people (14 years may not be long enough). Yes, the whole system needs reform, but that is unlikely to ever happen. It is ripe for another site, but for some odd reason they want to recreate forums (and allow blatant plagiarism). May 5, 2023 at 10:19

The cause stems from basic miscommunication and a mismatch of expectations.

Stack Overflow is a site for:

  • Repository of knowledge - First and foremost. Our goal is to be the best knowledge repo out there. This means that any and all questions are expected to have value beyond what the OP can take out of it.
  • Interesting, valuable Q&A - Nobody likes crap. Nobody likes answering the same questions over and over again, and nobody likes giving a user a bedtime story to introduce them to the manual.

For that reason, things get down voted. Things get closed. Often without sufficient communication to help the confused and hurt OP improve their question asking skills for the next time.

The solution is not to change how we close or downvote. Those are our quality assurance tools and they work well. What needs to change is our attitude. Patience is a virtue, and I don't think we're as patient as we should be as a community.

  • 1
    Close and vote down isn't the only thing. Also this very hard reputation gaming system is a problem as Michal T. Richter (a 15k rep user) said is a problem. For example you need 50 reps to can comment to asking the questioners for more informaiton. It is impossilbe to post a high quality anser without able to comment. So how you can earn reps if your answer is poor, cause you could'nt ask for more information via comment? And high-rep user can comment and ask for more info, so they post high-quality answers. Thereby beginners almost can't earn reps.
    – user289222
    Apr 26, 2015 at 10:44
  • 1
    You're preaching to the choir. I've been an advocate of reducing the comment rep privilege to 20 for quite a while. Apr 26, 2015 at 10:46
  • An other problem besides the reputation is that so many things are off-topic here. I understand if for recommendations, thats very opinion-based and you want to avoid spam!
    – user289222
    Apr 26, 2015 at 10:55
  • And if a question is duplicate, broad or lazy. Why you don't just ignore them. Nobody forces you to answering the same questions over and over again or to giving a user a bedtime story to introduce them to the manual. Why do you just let them allown when new noob users don't offed, hurt or spam?
    – user289222
    Apr 26, 2015 at 11:01
  • 6
    "And if a question is duplicate, broad or lazy. Why you don't just ignore them" - that is a terrible idea. You can find sites/forums that take any question whatsoever everywhere on the Internet. SE sites attempt to be focused, and rather strict in that focus. Goals: attract experts and keep them, so that questions get good answers. You allow "crap" in, you'll get anything out. As for duplicates: how could we help the asker better than to give them a direct link to a post that already answers their question?
    – Mat
    Apr 26, 2015 at 11:23
  • 5
    @user289222 There's nothing more annoying than finding a forum post online from 5 years ago with the exact same question as yours, and no answer in sight because everyone just ignored it. We like our questions answered. Apr 26, 2015 at 11:24
  • 7
    There is also the human condition that who have problems or disagree would be more vocal about it than those who don't. People voice disagreement much more readily than approval...
    – Oded
    Apr 26, 2015 at 12:14
  • Ok, I understood the duplicate, board and lazy things. But what about the off-topic things. Why are so many things off-topic here, appart from recommendations that I can understand. Many topics and tags who are very popular gets banned by moderators and strong community because the don't like them. But if others are interested in these banned topics they don't get ask! To be short: Why I can't ask everthing but recommendations.
    – user281336
    Apr 26, 2015 at 13:44
  • 3
    @Why_SE_bulling_new_users because if we weren't focused, our quality level would have dropped significantly. That's why other sites were created, each site attracts expert on one specific field and nothing more. If I can ask about why my display driver is malfunctioning on Stack Overflow, I can ask about why my computer won't start, right? They're both similar. And that means I can ask about why my coffee machine isn't working, after all, it has a computer in it! Apr 26, 2015 at 13:47
  • Then SO should not be accepting new questions at all. The site is a Q & A site first and foremost, to punish anyone who asks a question is wrong full stop.
    – KyloRen
    Nov 23, 2017 at 13:00
  • @KyloRen You aren't punished for asking a question. The point isn't to punish anyway. The point is that questions that don't conform to the standard the community put in place are downvoted. It's not against the asker, it's against the question. If your question got downvoted, you should be asking yourself what's wrong with the question you posted, and not "why do these people hate me". Nov 23, 2017 at 13:08
  • 2
    The obvious problem with this is that the very fact that it wants to be a repository of knowledge makes it a failure. SE's collective failure to understand this even as of 2018 makes it outdated.
    – user384068
    Mar 6, 2018 at 11:05
  • 1
    Maybe this is why more and more I get myself in quora and similars than SE sites... SE sites have a big comunication problem but I would add that, at the same time their policies make them a more and more specialized hub that as stated make it fail as a knowledge repository, and dividing subjects is not helping. I also question the quality they are preserving, to me it is slowly shifting from knowledge base to a job/status builder. Mar 31, 2021 at 19:32

I would like to add a little to the excellent answer from Madara.

The reason why you get more negative reviews is because the rusty wheel squeaks and some square pegs don't fit the round hole. Some brilliant people have been a part of Stack Overflow, but not all of them have the best personality or play nice with others.

Sure, you can pick holes in the reputation system and the moderation system - but then again you can criticize just about anything on this Earth. The people behind Stack Exchange have learned a lot over the last five years and have put together a lot of help and easy to read material on how to use the site. But you know what? You simply couldn't count the number of lazy or incompetent new users who don't bother to read that material, and don't bother to do even the most basic of research before they ask the most basic/oldest/laziest question you could imagine.

Happy users don't tend to write nice happy blog posts stating how much they looooove Stack Overflow - because they just keep on using it. A lot of the people who dedicate their time to answering questions are busy professionals who are paid good money to be doing actual real work - but they donate time and expertise to this site free of charge. Next time you read a negative review, remember that our job here is not to endlessly baby users who are too hopeless to help themselves, or endlessly answer the same questions, or allow users to use it to shoot down others to further stroke their own egos.

Like any good or complex tool, Stack Overflow can take some time to learn how to use. People who charge in and use it recklessly are liable to lose their fingers (figuratively speaking). Take your time and use it wisely and pretty soon you'll be sucking the rep koolaid up there with the "StackOverlords".

  • 1
    I'm sincerely sorry that my personality doesn't play nice with others. I try to improve that.It helps if I get reminded about that now and then....
    – rene
    Apr 26, 2015 at 12:14
  • 1
    @rene Many of us are deeply flawed. It's no fun when your genius overawes people and scares them away :)
    – slugster
    Apr 26, 2015 at 12:16
  • 1
    Five years? It's six and a half at this point. SO launched in fall of '08.
    – jscs
    Apr 26, 2015 at 19:01
  • 1
    I agree with this. Except on the part that people is answering time after time the same questions. There is a duplicated system for frequent questions. And for specific garbage question, there is a lot of other users willing to reply. The "gurus" dont need to be there feeling as they shall reply negatively. If you feel negatively with somebody, arrange your life and dont write it, do other stuff plain and simple. Newbies will be around "all time", and if SO dont accept that there is some rule filtering which should be applied...
    – Brethlosze
    Mar 31, 2016 at 1:36

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