Has the Stack Overflow crew considered partnering with other existing, more traditional forums to support open ended discussion?

I understand Stack Overflow is strictly a Q&A site. We all know the drill. We also all know that when a more 'discussion-y' question is asked it's either coerced into Community Wiki mode or out right closed by the moderators. And that's fair enough I suppose but sometimes a question is open ended or spawns many, many comments. With Stack Overflow's lack of threads it can be difficult to follow anything of length. So, on to the my feature request!

Partner with other forums such as Reddit (stackoverflow.reddit.com?) so if open discussion is wanted it can happen easily. And by easily I mean provide a link on each question page saying something like "Open an official discussion at $forum_name", or if the discussion was already opened then "Join the official discussion at $forum_name". And of course on the forum posts provide a link back to the SO question for reference. When clicking the outgoing link a bunch of heavy lifting is automatically taken care of such as signing into the forum (As who? Obviously that will have to be figured out) and filling in the various post fields with data from the question and submitting it.

As to which forums would be official partners I only came up with Slashdot and Reddit as possible candidates but I imagine that there should be a number to choose from depending on the topic of the question. Select the best forum for the topic.

The key part is to still let SO be really good at Q&A and still let the various forums be really good at being forums while providing a little bit of official integration between the two. Additionally if the discussion devolves into nothing worth while then it's only related to SO and not actually a part of it. No harm, no foul.

So at the risk of making this sound too 'discussion-y', what do you people think? ;)

PS, And on second thought maybe this would be better implemented as a browser plugin or Greasemonkey script. :P

PPS, Or perhaps the focus should be a little narrower. One of the options for closing a question could be to migrate it to a forum area. That way the Q&A isn't polluted with discussion questions and the actually discussion could be isolated to a discussion area.

  • 5
    A clear and well reasoned question, but I'm not sure I agree with the idea.
    – ChrisF Mod
    Commented Feb 4, 2010 at 21:33
  • reddit isn't supposed to be a discussion site either - and it is populated by imbeciles.
    – nb69307
    Commented Feb 4, 2010 at 22:10
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    What is Reddit supposed to be? I never quite figured that out...
    – Shog9
    Commented Feb 4, 2010 at 22:13
  • It's supposed to be a link aggregater
    – nb69307
    Commented Feb 4, 2010 at 22:15
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    According to your text length you must be an expert to open ended discussions... Commented Feb 4, 2010 at 23:56
  • @John Smithers "It's a trap!" ;) Commented Feb 5, 2010 at 0:01
  • I definitely support the idea of a professional programming discussion board. Commented Feb 5, 2010 at 5:32
  • @Paul "professional programming discussion board." Nice way to put it. I like it. Commented Feb 5, 2010 at 6:48
  • +1 I don't actually like this idea but here's a sympathy upvote to offset the typical groupthink downvotes you get on meta.
    – Perpetual Motion Goat
    Commented Feb 5, 2010 at 9:40
  • @Perpetual Motion Goat Ha! Thanks. I figure if I get the down votes it means it's just an unpopular idea. :/ Commented Feb 5, 2010 at 17:03
  • Good idea but the forum should stay inside SO's realm instead of using a third party site. Commented Feb 5, 2010 at 17:35
  • @Tony_Henrich Having the forum stay inside SO's realm would certainly allow for tighter integration but development time for that would be much, much longer. I think if SO were to undertake this even as a limited experiment then cooperation from an outside forum would be key. They could at least see if it would be useful without a doing a ton of development work. Commented Feb 5, 2010 at 17:46
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    @Perpetual MG: "pity upvotes" are really frowned upon on SOFU. On Meta it's not such a big deal, but try not to do that on the other sites.
    – perbert
    Commented Feb 5, 2010 at 18:32
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    @Jonathon Watney, Why reinvent the wheel? Just use one of the high quality asp.net forum software. All SO should do is call the forum api to create a new topic with the question's title and the users will take it from there. Commented Feb 12, 2010 at 17:43
  • @Tony_Henrich, Of course! The "call the forum api to create a new topic" being key. Commented Feb 16, 2010 at 20:45

5 Answers 5


Stack Overflow proposes to end "traditional forums to support open ended discussion."

The very existence of Stack Overflow is based on the premise that these threaded systems don't work. Or at least that they certainly don't scale.

I guess it depends on what your needs are. Stack Overflow is focused on asking questions and getting quick, accurate, and timely answers. It might seem to make sense on the surface that promoting more discussions would be a wonderful thing. But it's an oil and water thing. One does not promote the other.

The Chat Room/Forum Problem by Robert Scoble

Heck, while you're reading, take a look at this.

A Group is its Own Worst Enemy by Clay Shirky

What you'll find is more conversation isn't necessarily better. When you have a site where you come to find answers, it's worse. Much worse. The more people involved in a "conversation," the more noise each new connection will bring.

The ultimate fail for threaded discussions is that more conversations you get involved in the less you are learning. And, with Stack Overflow, the very purpose of the system stops working. Old users get bored. New users get frustrated.

...and the whole thing devolves into just another giant mess-of-a phpBB forum.

Would You Recommend [Stack Overflow] or a Traditional Forum

  • Thanks for the interesting links.
    – Michelle
    Commented Feb 4, 2010 at 22:48
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    @Robert "The very existence of Stack Overflow is based on the premise that these threaded systems don't work." ... for Q&A. ;) Besides, the group can be it's own worst enemy off-site. The discussion would be related to SO but not a part of it. I think the key would be finding the correct forum(s). A community like that of Hacker News could yield some pretty good discussions, I think. Commented Feb 4, 2010 at 23:45
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    @Robert The whole promise is to augment SO, not to replace QA with a forum. The spirit of SO stays the same. You want to discuss, then go to our related discussion area. Having an extra option would make the site more usable. Commented Feb 5, 2010 at 17:32
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    I understand. I can't speak for Stack Overflow but I think the prevailing thinking on this is that adding open, threaded discussion -- even if it is just an adjunct to the main site -- would significantly detract from the driving forces that make Stack Overflow "work." It's a philosophical belief and just my point view. Commented Feb 5, 2010 at 17:54
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    Robert: One of the things I've always wanted - I believe my record bears me out here - is a place where programmer-related topics can be discussed. There is a certain set of questions that are not programming related, but are programmer related that I have interest in. Things like job market, open source vs. closed source markets, software business, etc. I would vastly prefer to have a forum to focus on that, with an peer group of professionals instead of wading through the non-professional focuses of other sites(not knocking non-professional developers, just different foci). Commented Feb 5, 2010 at 21:28
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    cont. Q&A is not always what I am interested in. I am interested in discussing certain topics at times, understanding that there might not be a clearcut answer, or that the area is fairly subjective and relative to a given situation(i.e., contrary to the SO faq and the Q&A idea). Commented Feb 5, 2010 at 21:31

And on second thought maybe this would be better implemented as a browser plugin or Greasemonkey script.

Yup. There's no reason why any question (or answer...) on SO couldn't be submitted to, say, Reddit. But there's rarely any reason to do so, and putting that directly into the SO UI would only serve as a distraction in most cases.

  • I agree. There probably isn't much use for it seeing as the number of discussions that would come up be a low percentage of total questions asked. I may have to agree on the distraction part as well but I bet it could be done effectively. Commented Feb 4, 2010 at 23:39
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    Why not just a simple link instead of a plugin so you don't have to deal with support for different browsers. One hyperlink to a whole world of discussions is not going to crowd the current SO page. Commented Feb 5, 2010 at 17:28

This is a rather bad idea. You're basically proposing the complete fragmentation of discussions on the site. We already have comments, @replies, it should normally be ok. Adding a new site into the mix would be awful; most users don't know/care that there's anything beyond the site they use (SO/SF/SU). When you migrate a question you might as well delete it, it's gone to them. So sending a whole discussion to another site would hurt even more. It would also rupture the community and confuse users.

The system has worked up to now, why change it for a small minority of questions? If it works 99% of the time, it's more than fine. Take meta as an example; it's mostly a discussion site. It works without the need to go offsite or require nesting.

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    I understood that discussions were frowned upon on SO though. At least that's the idea I get from the various SO podcasts and some of the moderation behavior I've seen. So perhaps supporting actually discussion elsewhere would be beneficial. And you're probably correct, fragmentation will happen but the parts would be Q&A on one side and discussion on the other, granted with some people lost in between. Commented Feb 4, 2010 at 21:57
  • @Jonathon But, what would be the point of SOFU? A sort of address book to find people to discuss to? There's a question here on meta about Google Wave IDs. Wave is excellent for discussions, you could use that. However, it's difficult to link these discussions back to the trilogy sites since they are far more informal. The format of SO is this strict because it has to keep people focused. If you give them more room, they'll simply go off topic, which is simply not what the community needs.
    – alex
    Commented Feb 4, 2010 at 22:05
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    It's not such a bad idea (see wave), but wouldn't want to see it at SO.
    – perbert
    Commented Feb 4, 2010 at 22:07
  • @The Big Cheese Heavens, no! Wave should have nothing to do with SO, that's my whole point.
    – alex
    Commented Feb 4, 2010 at 22:10
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    @pi The point of SO wouldn't change. It would still be here to serve as a Q&A site. But if a full scale discussion is in order then that can take place off-site. In other words, they can go off topic somewhere else and SO would be any worse off. I'm just suggesting a method that makes this a little more formal than popping a forum link in a comment. Commented Feb 4, 2010 at 23:35
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    @pi Nothing against you directly because I've not seen your name before, but every time I bring up anything about comments I get bashed in the head by people saying that comments shouldn't be used for discussion.
    – orokusaki
    Commented Feb 5, 2010 at 4:41
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    @orokusaki it depends what you want to talk about. If I were to ask you how the weather is wherever you live, it would have nothing to do with the site, and would be wrong. However, if the discussion is about the question/answer it's more than ok, that's the whole point of comments. Anybody saying otherwise has no idea what they're talking about. What else would you use comments for apart from discussions and/or snarky comments?
    – alex
    Commented Feb 5, 2010 at 7:40

I don't think we need free-form discussions for the reasons Robert mentioned.

However, I do think an editorial layer on top of the Q&A is a good thing, and a highly complementary curated editorial "yin" to our freeform user-generated "yang" -- like the relationship between http://howtogeek.com and http://superuser.com for example.

  • Yes make another layer to cut the increased number of comments. Commented Feb 5, 2010 at 17:31
  • Just to be clear, I'm not supporting free-form discussions in general, just those that arise out of questions that have already been asked. That is discussions are always related to a question or even an answer. Commented Feb 5, 2010 at 17:56
  • @Jonathon If there's really that much to be discussed in the comments, why not open new questions? The advantage of the Q&A format is that it's structuring the dicussions. Commented Feb 5, 2010 at 18:27
  • @tucson But the Q&A format is for Q&A, not discussions. Comments that want to be a discussion may not translate well into the Q&A format, and as a result be closed. As far as structuring discussions, especially threaded discussions, I'm vaguely reminded of a Steve Yegge blog where he says the current state of threaded discussion UI is horrible and that there has to be a better way. I think SO does it's very well for the Q&As but perhaps threaded discussion only works with a committed community and Steve's UI is a pipe dream. Commented Feb 5, 2010 at 19:02
  • @Jonathon You might be right. My problem with threaded discussion is that I feel it doesn't scale. With Q&A if you really want to discuss something you open the question(s); open as many as you need; at least each individual question will 'scale' no matter how many people chip in. Commented Feb 5, 2010 at 19:32
  • @tucson I'm thinking that threaded discussion doesn't scale because the current UI does a poor job of accommodating the extreme, or more precisely, the UI does a poor job when approaching the extreme. Maybe creating a killer UI for threaded discussion is next to impossible on the web or in the very least, complicated. As far as opening as many questions as you need, yeah, in theory that works. But in practice open ended questions will be closed. Now where do you discuss those topics with the same community? Commented Feb 5, 2010 at 20:04
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    Why wouldn't it scale? The discussion would be using a forum software that's made specifically for forums and discussions. This can be hosted away from SO's site. SO will only have a single hyperlink that points to discussion topic. The way it works is like: "You want to discuss this further?", click here and you go to a whole new area. If you want QA only, stick with SO. If you want to get involved in discussions, enter the discussion world there. Commented Feb 12, 2010 at 17:45
  • @Tony_Henrich, Was that directed at my comment? If it was, what I'm trying to say is I think the typical forum UI doesn't present threaded discussion very well when you start having long running discussions where each reply has many replies, i.e. the indenting can make things squished. And flattened replies never work so well either, even with proper quoting. Reply organization would have to be better. Commented Feb 16, 2010 at 20:58

I am not opposed as such, but why?

Why add any complexity to the interface here when people interested in holding discussions could post on one of those other sites in the first place, or could settle on a place to move the question in the comments or ..., or ..., or ...

  • Why indeed. :) Upon thinking about it further, yeah, this sort of thing may not be Stack Overflow's concern. Why should SO officially support something like this? Because it would probably scratch an itch that more than a few people have. Some of the comments prompted me to pose this question: blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/02/stack-exchange-gets-a-blog/… It certainly doesn't justify implementing it though. I'd much rather see a query API before something like this. :) Commented Feb 4, 2010 at 21:42

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