Meta Stack Overflow is today, I believe, the largest Stack Overflow / Stack Exchange type site "doing" discussions (with more than 3,000 questions tagged 'discussion' and more than 10,000 registered users).

I am very interested in figuring out if Stack Overflow / Stack Exchange sites can improve the status-quo of forums (newsgroups, phpBB, LinkedIn discussions, etc.).

I am aware of the fact that the following question was opened and moved to Meta Stack Exchange: https://meta.stackexchange.com/questions/3703/stack-exchange-vs-discussion-forum/3767#3767 Unfortunately the question gets very little attention since it moved here.

I feel we could get valuable feedback from the users here...

Would you recommend Stack Exchange sites vs other types of fora?

  • 2
    smells like a question that'll get closed as not-SO-related... Commented Jan 24, 2010 at 14:05
  • I agree that it's not directly related to SO; though it's related directly to meta.SO users. Where else would you post a question to get feedback from meta.SO users? It's kind of meta.meta.SO I suppose. Commented Jan 24, 2010 at 14:51
  • @tucson: Actually, the site for this might be meta.stackexchange.com ... ?
    – John Rudy
    Commented Jan 24, 2010 at 17:33
  • @G.P. LeChuck You might be right for the site. Though the question is addressed to the meta.SO users and I doubt they will register and get 15 rep on meta.SE just to give their feeback and votes on this question. Commented Jan 24, 2010 at 17:43
  • 1
    Answering questions does not require any rep, but voting and commenting does. ..If only it was possible to associate one's metaSO account with metaSE and gain the 100 rep bonus needed to get started...
    – Ether
    Commented Jan 24, 2010 at 17:48
  • I refer iPhoners to Slidetoask, since that's where they can actually GET answers
    – Ivo Flipse
    Commented Feb 8, 2010 at 20:17
  • Based on Robert's answer I agree that it's possible to get an expert based answer rather than only opinion based ones; that doesn't mean everyone with two things should share one thing.
    – Rob
    Commented Nov 29, 2020 at 4:53

2 Answers 2


Would you recommend Stack Exchange sites vs other types of fora?

For what?

To decide if Stack Exchange is more appropriate or better than another technology, you have to identify your end goals. It's like asking "is it better to buy a sports car or a truck?" Answer: it depends on what your needs are.

So, in the most general terms (my biased view)...

Open-Forum Discussion...

Conversations are organized as "threads." Conversation start out responding to the original author. At various points in the exchange, any post that evokes (brings to mind) a response, a memory, a side story, a reminiscence, or whatever... it branches off into a sub-conversation. Sub-conversations generate further sub-conversations, generating further sub-conversations, etc. These all exist in parallel without any weight given to separate relevant answers from random missives; no weight separating correct from incorrect information. The more interesting the topic, the more posts and off-shoot branches it generates. It's the type of conversation you might have among a group of friends at a bar.

On the plus side, some people like going to bars. It's community-building. Forums start out fun. Everyone has a common interest and start out at the same level.

The problem: Forums don't scale. They get noisier and noisier. Long-time users get tired of the new users asking the same old questions. New users can't find useful information and feel ostracized. Most find that, the more they talk, the less value they get from the experience. In short, you stop learning.

The chat room/forum problem by Robert Scoble

...Versus Deliberative Assembly

In contrast, Stack Overflow does not encourage open, free-for-all discussion (many-to-many conversations). That is by design. Stack Overflow works more along the lines of "deliberative assembly" (many-to-one -- Wikipedia).

  • A question is posed;
  • You weigh in with a carefully-thought-out response;
  • Then a short comment session;
  • Followed by voting.

Stack Overflow doesn't work exactly like that but the goal is to get to a reasonable answer quickly without branching into different discussions. Various points of view carry different weights and float to the top. Less relevant information is pushed to the bottom. Incorrect or out-dated information is corrected collaboratively.

The limitations of Stack Overflow: Stack Overflow's design doesn't welcome (or even support) inter-answer debates. If your subject matter benefits from on-going collaboration, Stack Exchange may not be appropriate. Many scientific disciplines need open debate. You propose an answer, someone else responds with a retort and wants to know, "what do you think of that?" Back and forth, many-to-many, until all facets are thoroughly explored to its natural conclusion. That exchange doesn't happen in Stack Overflow or any Stack Exchange site... by design.

A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy by Clay Shirky


For communities that needs free, open-ended discussion and back-and-forth debate, traditional forums are your choice.

To create a collection of "authoritative knowledge," vetted by a community of experts, Stack Exchange seems to be a better choice.

None of Us is as Dumb as All of Us

  • +1 Robert, thanks a lot for your detailed answer. I know you already gave some feedback on the meta.SE page and I appreciate the additional details here. Commented Jan 24, 2010 at 16:57
  • One comment on the "limitations of Stack Overflow"/"what do you think of that?" aspect. If the question generates enough comments, why not opening a new question in that case and cross-reference? There can be multiple "children" questions. Remains the advantage that you have a clearly formatted status on each single question raised. And whoever comes 3 months later to the discussion can follow the tracks and add his view and possibly change the outcome on a "child" question. Commented Jan 24, 2010 at 18:19
  • @tucson - Sometimes it goes that way. Comments are typically just a bit of meta about the post (requests for more info, errata). But if an interesting point is raised, sometimes it is posted as another question. The author might link to the previous discussion, but there is no formal requirement to do that... Commented Jan 24, 2010 at 18:49
  • ...Those "semantic web"-style requirements for posts (bibliography, attributions, references) are pretty free-form on Stack Overflow (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semantic_web). That keeps things simple but flexible. The formal organization of parent-child questions is outside the scope of Stack Overflow. That doesn't mean a StackExchange community couldn't do it as a matter of community convention. Commented Jan 24, 2010 at 18:49
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    That link to the Clay Shirky transcript (A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy) was excellent. After reading it just now, I think I'm finally willing to accept what I previously thought of as the 'arbitrary and inane restrictions' of SO. Commented Jul 22, 2013 at 19:10
  • The CEO said it as well! Commented Oct 7, 2022 at 20:59

Thanks to a post from Helder Ribeiro on the Stack Overflow blog, today I found a very interesting text on the yoomoot blog. The text is written to promote yoomoot, but I think parts of it fit Stack Exchange very well.

I am using some of the ideas from that blog to explain my view on the Stack Exchange vs. forums question.

Sins of online forums:

                |    Email group    |   Stack Exchange   |
Disorder        |         More      |       lot less     |
Clutter         |         More      |       lot less     |
Repetitiveness  |         More      |       lot less     |
Aimlessness     |         More      |       Less         |
Incivility      |         More      |       Less         |

Virtues of online forums:

                          |    Email group    |   Stack Exchange   |
Focus                     |         Less      |       More         |
Reusability               |         Less      |       More         |
Streamlined notifications |         Less      |       More         |
Navigability              |         Less      |       More         |
Consistency               |         Less      |       More         |

The blog post I mentioned has very interesting texts explaining each term.


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