Netscape, Napster and Kazaa, MSN messenger and ICQ, Geocities, you name it ... the list of dead Internet services is long.

I wonder:

  1. What could make Stack Exchange obsolete?

  2. Is there any plan to prevent or minimize this risk?

  3. How can users contribute to it?


3 Answers 3


Part of me is tempted to VTC as too broad, but I'll bite.

Netscape didn't really die (Modern day firefox is a literal descendant of it). It didn't innovate, and a competitor with deep pockets, a willingness to innovate (and yes, there was a period where IE was actually innovative) and the ability to get market penetration quickly through many means took it on.

In a sense, outside being the victor (and if you think about it, SE had a free, arguably superior product - which is what won MS the first browser war, there were few parallels.

Kazzaa and napster were basically killed off by media companies and laws. They did not die solely due to being an inferior product.

The chat systems mentioned had similar reasons for dying . ICQ got killed off cause AOL bought it. MSN messenger got killed off cause MSN bought skype. So, as long as SE dosen't get bought over by a bigger company with a similar product with better product recognition, we should be safe

MSN's internet gaming... what? Let me look that up. Wikipedia says it is still around

And well, most of these is relatively irrelevant. SE really only needs two things to survive.

I'd note, most of this is speculative. I'm not an SE Employee at the point of writing, and none of this information is in any way, stuff I picked up as a mod.

Firstly, It needs a steady revenue source - Stuff like SO Enterprise and SO Jobs are aimed at creating that. Least from the job postings (Which I admit to looking at regularly!), there's pretty heavy investment in people to do marketing and engage possible customers on those fronts. In a sense, SE cannot keep the lights on without paying the lighting bills. This kills off many companies, but hopefully SE can avoid this

Secondly, it needs to keep users engaged - this is tricky. Folks on the internet are a prickly bunch. Too much change and they get annoyed. Things being too much the same means people get bored and drifting off. There's also the occasional mass exodus of users (which happens some times). Some sites also end up getting users chased off by folks who want to troll or are a bit too grumpy. A massive part of keeping a service like this up is about soft skills, and finding the right folk to help run the various sites, and keeping a core of users who can both provide good content, and help with meta moderation. This is closer to the problems of keeping a forum or message board running than say a chat or any of the examples you gave.

SE does have a few flaws. At the moment, I feel the strategy for finding the 'next big product' feels scattered, and that SO is not the best place for it, even if SE's been billing itself as a little more developer centric than it felt like when I was new. I admit - going beyond QA is important, just that for the rest of SE, we don't know where things are going sometimes. We haven't quite hit DICE era slashdot unhappiness, but I think I've complained somewhat loudly about things before. I personally don't like the SO pivot (as someone who's spent more time on the rest of the trilogy) - but I get the goals here in terms of branding, and its a semi trivial thing to change back, if the SE brand proved better.

To sum up - stagnation - the inability to grow, both in terms of revenue, and users or getting acquired by a larger company (or even an internal pivot) that doesn't see the value in QA could kill off SE.


What could make SE obsolete?

Two things in my opinion: a competitor that does a better job in what SE already does and becoming irrelevant (because its content is not relevant any more and the community stops adding new content).

Is there any plan to prevent or minimize this risk?

The first problem can be solved by having a better proposition than others. Quora, Expert Exchange and others are competitors, but the SE 'discussion-free' format gives answers quicker and better. That is the most important way how they keep the edge.

The second problem can be solved by listening to the community, and that has been something SE hasn't always done last years (new product lines, licensing model and politics). They have to keep fully engaged with the community which I hope they will do.

  • 1
    Not sure about that @Pat. To me it looks like they try to make Stack Overflow into something else, looking for another golden egg which is not the familiar Q&A format. So far they failed, but who knows, they might find it, and then they won't need us anymore. :) Jul 25, 2017 at 9:12
  • Lol, but as long as the Q/A stays and stays to be prominent among users, all those things aside don't matter too much. Who cares about Documentation? It is just a project dying a silent death, and then we continue doing Q/A again :). Jul 25, 2017 at 9:13
  • 1
    You know, @ShadowWizard - in all the internal discussions about new ideas and things we can do for developers, the idea that we would leave Q&A has never come up. Not once. Everything we do is always expected to work with Q&A.
    – Oded
    Jul 25, 2017 at 15:57
  • @Oded Jobs does not appear to be Q&A and that is where many, if not most, of SE resources are directed these days. No? Jul 25, 2017 at 15:59
  • 1
    @ShadowWizard - and it has been around from pretty much the first day (even if not initially integrated with SO). It started its life as the Joel on Software Job Board. It is a major source of revenue - it is needed in order for SE to survive.
    – Oded
    Jul 25, 2017 at 16:01

TL;DR: This can happen if/when Stack Exchange will be sold to/bought by some big company like Google or Microsoft. For the full details, given as personal story, read below.

I was a member of a big forum (aspfree) for long years, years ago. It thrived, getting tons of posts, having active Lounge with all the active members chatting with the owner, etc. And then one bright day (well, dark day actually) the owner sold the whole thing to some big fancy internet company.

First thing they did was change the design of course, to add tons of advertisements. Then they appointed some administrators who were never around and totally unreachable, even to the moderators.

The core members started complaining in the Lounge, nobody responded. They simply started to leave, many of them following one who started a new forum all on his own.

The big forum still got lots of questions every day, but there was nobody to answer them. Slowly but surely, the forum died.

Same thing can happen to Stack Exchange. Most chances are that big company with billions of dollars income won't care a bit about some Q&A sites, and the active members won't be able to request new features or report bugs anymore. Maybe they will leave the meta sites, but I'm 100% sure they won't really listen to what's being said there. That's just how big companies work. Frustrated, those users will just leave, causing the same slow but sure death of the sites.

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