Joel and Jeff from time to time reference the social research backing their design decisions for Stack Overflow. Specifically I remember in one of the podcasts where they mentioned that time and again, people design social communities and as it grows, they get excited when they noticed certain trends. Then somebody more experienced tells them it's all been done before and just wait till you see how it changes when it grows to the next stage.

It seems they take a lot of care to try to understand how online communities work and design the software and user experience around those principles, in order to drive behaviors towards the site's goals.

I'd like to compile a list of references to some of the research they've mentioned, and what design decisions that research led to.

4 Answers 4


Anything written by Clay Shirky involving Media & Community. Particularly his keynote speech at ETech: "A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy" is a must read.

Robert Scoble: "The chat room/forum problem" is a short post that exemplifies the problem Stack Overflow set out to solve.

Kathy Sierra has been a big influence with her writings about about creating passionate users and how people learn. She doesn't actively blog anymore (blog link) but she was on the Stack Overflow podcast #74 talking about what drives users to want to contribute and "show off" online. Read her article, "One of us is smarter than all of us" and then Jeff Atwood's "One of us is smarter than all of us".

Joel Spolsky's early talk about Stack Overflow (Google Talks: Learning from StackOverflow.com) contains a lot of the research that went into the building of Stack Overflow.


They've referenced a few books:


This Friday's meta-meta-meta question labelled

Question title that doesn’t describe the problem

is definitely worth a read when researching social behaviour on SO. It condenses a lot of patterns and behaviours common on SO - in an exaggerated and cartoonized form outlining the worst of the worst in a theatrical way, of course. Still, there's a lot of truth in it.

A true piece of collective art IMO. Must be read including all comments, but should under no circumstances be read if you're new to Stack Overflow. :)

  • Its also an evolving piece of art, as polyanna keeps changing the accepted answer in entertaining & amusing ways.
    – Erik
    Commented Mar 14, 2010 at 19:15

The Lessons of Lucasfilm's Habitat

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