Stack Overflow is a great way to have "community help" on programming questions. The entire model is free, and it adds value for everyone. You give and you get.

What I'd like to know is, would the developer community here be interested in carrying this over into a model where you could be compensated as well for doing actual development work? I'm going to ramble a bit here, but I need to get it all out there so you can get a picture of what I'm really asking.

First off, this question isn't asking anyone to work for me or anyone else on a free or speculative nature as you sometimes see on craigslist. This isn't a "that guy" thing, but rather just a general question. Specifically, would you as a developer be interested in having a place (maybe within Stack Overflow) where you could just log in, see a spec, code up a few portions of that spec, and get paid for it?

What I've often found is that I will be offered a freelance project, and I don't want to just sit there and work on it in my spare time all by myself. But the 2-3 other developers I often do things with may be busy, so I end up just turning down the work so I can maintain my own sanity.

In the past, I have gone on craigslist or guru.com and searched for other contractors who might be interested in subbing out for a portion. I've had success with that about 3 out of 20 times. The 3 times were awesome, and I still work with one of those guys on an regular basis today.

But I thought alternatively, it would be very very cool to post a project spec, and let the community handle the project from start to finish including design, documentation and implementation. Ad hoc teams could spring up to work on components, and the Stack Overflow community could develop solid bonds between developers who work well together and make good teams. As developers we could naturally gravitate towards who our best team leads are as they would have the most successful projects. If we didn't (as developers) like working with one team, we could just jump over to another team and try them out.

Also, I would guess that some large percentage of us here have jobs where we could occasionally post a project to the "community development teams" and be able to have our company pay a reasonable price to get the project done. The teams could/would already have a bit of reputation established just on the basis of their StackOverflow rep. Successful projects could additionally add to a "team rep" score.

Personally, I would love to be able to do this. I think it would be great to be able to quickly elect a small team to work with, take a 2 week side project, get my part, code it, get paid, and be done. Even if it only netted me 300 bucks for side money at first, I would like being able to interact with lots of different people, without the stress of having to worry about a long term job, and get paid.

That is the overview of the idea, so I'd like feedback please. What do you think? How could this work better? Would this be a good way for Joel and his team to highlight their FogCreek software for managing software projects? Is SO the right place for this?


There are a lot of things in this that sound very interesting. One potential problem:

Stackoverflow is built on the behavioral economics paradox that people will often do a lot of work for free, but find it offensive when they're asked to do the same thing for a small sum of money (covered in Dan Ariely's "Predictably Irrational", discussed in this video, or see this blog post as an example). That's one of the reasons open source software is so successful.

You would really need to ensure that this community system still remains as much fun as the original stackoverflow or else compensate on a high enough level so that you don't violate this social norm. I think that the payment system could be small if it isn't the focus of the community, but is more of a side effect. People on SO collaborate on things all the time. So you would just need to be sure that every person's contribution is being clearly tracked and that the money doesn't become the overarching focus. I don't think that SO in its current version would work, but something like it could be very effective.

Another thing to consider would be using an SO-like system to create open source software.

  • Thanks for the answer. Yes, I've read that post before, and I agree 100%. Also/however, I've worked on opensource projects before, and often times it can take a long time before you become an "accepted member" of a team. This then basically ties you into that project. One of the things I would like to have as a goal of this project is not being tied to a particular job or funtion, but rather build effective teams that can act as a strikeforce on specific tractable projects. The most important factor would be developing highly effective teams that could be brought together quickly. – Zak Dec 4 '09 at 22:00
  • Arguably, careers.stackoverflow.com is doing that. You are able to hire people by looking at their work/reputation on stackoverflow. The concept of rolling that into something like fogbugz is novel though...creating an environment where people effectively can build teams and collaborate over the internet. – Shane Dec 4 '09 at 22:16
  • Re "Another thing to consider would be using an SO-like system to create open source software." see: community.mediabrowser.tv – waffles Dec 4 '09 at 22:26
  • yeah, the media browser community thing seems like it would be the 1st half of issue, for open source.. Getting highly requested features onto a list for programmers/teams to work on. The second part would be a strong workflow for generating tasks for design docs, documentation, coding of designs, and following up on tasks assigned to teams/individuals. – Zak Dec 4 '09 at 22:38
  • re:design docs community.mediabrowser.tv/topics/107/response/111#111 re: wiki meta.community-tracker.com/permalinks/20/wiki-feature also I currently support assigning tasks, tracking a tasks progress and assigning badges based on completion of tasks. Its early, but it is rather effective. please if you have any feedback post it on my meta site – waffles Dec 4 '09 at 22:46
  • That's cool and all, but are you saying you are going to open this up for people to post projects in generally? It seems like its a dev tool you are using for your personal business project... – Zak Dec 5 '09 at 3:14
  • Yes Zak this will be open for the public soon, I am working on scaling it out. – waffles Dec 5 '09 at 12:28

I've had similar ideas and am actively pursuing them.

What you are discussing is primarily a people problem, not a technology problem, and you can't really throw a technology solution at it.

There are many challenges to overcome when forming this kind of system and I'm working through them one at a time.

I like the end utopia where my risk is spread across multiple projects and I'm not tied to a single income stream. I'm entrepreneurial by nature however and most people just are not a good fit for this kind of system.

I applaud the line of thinking, but I think you need to do a lot more deep thinking about the business model and work through the challenges that bring themselves into view.

I'd love to see you succeed with this line of thinking as I don't particularly care for the predominate work for hire systems we have today.


Right now, I can answer questions on SO in little breaks from work because I'm not paid. If I were paid for it, I couldn't do it from work, and I'd have to find something else to do to get my mind clear for a different attack at a problem. Anything that's paid has to be done on my free time, which is rather limited currently.

Moreover, if I were paid, I'd expect it to be at well over a dollar a minute, or to come with some sort of equity or profit-sharing. If it's not just for intellectual playing around, it had better be for a good rate.

Asking people to do something for free works. Paying them a reasonable rate works. Paying them peanuts doesn't work all that well.

  • You can do SO at work because you aren't paid to post to SO? That makes no sense. It seems more likely that you can do SO at work because you don't care if your employer owns what you post to SO, assuming you have a somewhat standard employment contract. If your employment contracts are setup correctly, you can bill multiple clients at the same time for the same work. – Michael Maddox Dec 6 '09 at 10:27
  • There's a difference between doing something unpaid on the employer's dime and doing something paid. I'm working a standard job, currently, not contracting. – David Thornley Dec 6 '09 at 19:05

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