Most of the discussion has dealt with whether or not StackOverflow should be open sourced, but a more interesting question IMO is what tangible (ie. non-idealogical) benefits the community could hope for in the event StackOverflow was open sourced.

Full disclosure: I feel that open sourcing StackOverflow is a bad idea so long as StackExchange is around; should that venture be abandoned, and the StackOverflow team will to put up with the time investment, then I can't see a compelling reason not to.

Assume that some time from now StackOverflow is open sourced, with a well defined process for submitting patches (and, presumably, a few new employees to type "Decline" all day :) ).

What features, improvements, "bug" fixes, or the like would you contribute?

17 Answers 17


Some ideas:

  • Pluggable text editor - so you can separate out the markdown editor and substitute in something like freetextbox, a bb-code editor, or whatever you'd like.
  • Pluggable authentication - for the OpenID haters out there, you could swap out the authentication for something completely different a la the ASP.Net Membership provider model.
  • Stricter tagging rules - combined with better collection of tag synonyms and auto-retagging to the canonical version at post time, which would then be used to create:
  • Tag-specific home pages - In the wiki style of course, so that users with sufficent rep in that tag can edit it.
  • +1. Plus, have some feedback about how much rep is available in each tag? – akarnokd Jul 13 '09 at 20:07
  • Set a relatively high number (I'm thinking 1K) and the wiki page wouldn't exist until there are least two people with enough rep to edit it. – Joel Coehoorn Jul 14 '09 at 0:07

Google Wave robots. I suspect it'll be a lot easier to implement said robots in the same server farm as the database than via an intermediate internet API.

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    This will be a must have, even in closed source SO – OscarRyz Jul 13 '09 at 20:46
  • Why are there so little amount of XMPP notification across Web 2.0 sites? XMPP is way better for instant notification like "you got a new badge on SO", than email. Or am i wrong? – Mirzhan Irkegulov Oct 26 '11 at 7:13

An MSDN / JavaDoc link simplifier, extensible so that systems for other languages could be plugged into it.

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    +1. I would love that. But are MSDN links that static? They seemed to me a bit cryptic. – akarnokd Jul 13 '09 at 19:45
  • They may be cryptic, but they don't change if that's what you're after. – Joel Coehoorn Jul 13 '09 at 19:58
  • @J.C.: Yes, thats enough. I just hoped for more descriptive links for MSDN comparable to the Sun javadoc links. – akarnokd Jul 13 '09 at 20:02
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    For non-generic links, they don't have to be crypic, e.g. msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/system.guid.aspx – Jon Skeet Jul 13 '09 at 20:10
  • @JS: Nice, wonder since when is this so? I once filled in a questionare on msdn and asked for such a feature. – akarnokd Jul 13 '09 at 20:27
  • A few years, I think. Doesn't work for generic types or methods though :( – Jon Skeet Jul 13 '09 at 21:00
  • @Jon: One day...we can hope, one day. cue violins – Jeff Yates Jul 13 '09 at 21:50
  • Don't need in for Perl search.cpan.org/perldoc?Template::Toolkit . – Brad Gilbert Jul 14 '09 at 17:32

I personally would be more inclined to branch off of an open-sourced StackOverflow and develop features for it which would allow it to work more towards an idea I had for a software design/architecture collaboration website.

I assume others would likely want to take the framework core and build on a lot more social networking features on it which don't tend to be held in high regard on StackOverflow itself.

I believe that it would be better overall if there was some branching done to any type of open-source StackExchange project. That way you don't end up having way too many ingredients thrown in. If you want a StackExchange which is geared towards the social networking aspects, go for it. If you want something that allows for more collaboration between users on longer questions and answers (multi-stage items perhaps?) work on that. I don't think everything should all be thrown into a single pot.

  • LFSR: Exactly. So many people have so many feature requests that you would end up having a huge monstrosity after a while. It would be better to branch off the framework into multiple projects where the feature-sets can be geared towards the specific audience(s) or how you wish the site to be used. – TheTXI Jul 13 '09 at 19:22

I'd just completely modify it into an image rating site for all sorts of adorable things that aren't ponies. It'd be called notponyoverflow.com.

  • Have you considered all the possibilities of ponyoverflow? – bananakata Jul 13 '09 at 19:19
  • ponyoverflow.com is already taken. Now all I need to figure out is how to incorporate AdSense in there. ATWOOD, HELP ME! – TheTXI Jul 13 '09 at 19:25
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    @TheTXI: "Before you enjoy an overflow of ponies, watch this message from our sponsor, Elmer's Glue..." – Hilarious Comedy Pesto Jul 13 '09 at 19:27

Threaded comments...

  • @TheTXI: Who needs those when you have @ symbols? – Hilarious Comedy Pesto Jul 13 '09 at 19:25
  • I would give you +1 but my rep isn't high enough on this site. :( – Matt Grande Jul 13 '09 at 19:33
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    Nooooo, threaded comments always end up a mess. Maybe one level of threading (reply to a comment) at most, I'd say.. – dbr Jul 20 '09 at 8:58
  • Yeh, Threaded comments look a mess IMO. The @ signs work well. Maybe a little icon to do an auto reply. – Damien Jul 20 '09 at 9:05
  • @(guess...): Threads happen - get multiple people involved in a long-running conversation, and sooner or later it'll branch off with different people replying to different aspects of different replies. Either the software supports it, and helps users keep track of which reply follows which reply... or things get weird. For SO, the lack of threading, reply notification, etc. helps to discourage long conversations with multiple participants - an intentional design choice to help discourage discussion questions. But sites like MSO could use it. – Shog9 Jul 20 '09 at 13:46
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    Note: you can get that functionality here – uɐɯsO uɐɥʇɐN Dec 16 '11 at 5:19

A pluggable reputation system, if possible. (I'm aware this is likely to be pretty tricky, although I suspect that the work in making it all hang together would be a good thing in terms of refactoring anyway. I'm only guessing at what the code looks like now, of course.)

  • I suspect alot of patches would be of the "improved architecture" form. Which is great for the SE in me, but somewhat less exciting for the user. Regardless, +1. – Kevin Montrose Jul 13 '09 at 19:57


in comments...

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    If they ever do this, this comment will be horrible to read. – mmyers Jul 21 '09 at 15:33

I'd be willing to throw an awful lot of time at making the envelope more responsive and just generally better. Its really quite frustrating to have it light up rand() time after it should.


I would add a small patch to improve the the reputation system:

if (user.Id == 21574)
   user.Reputation *= 30;

Mostly bug fixes. I don't have that many good ideas.


Some ideas:

  • Properly linked and detailed documentation about the behavior and other things.
  • Private badges: for those who like to get badges and define their own rules for getting one
  • More notifications
  • More customizable and saveable searches and filters
  • In-page links and other small productivity enhancements
  • More display options, e.g. code/answer folding

meta-tag support for internationalization ( among other uses ) of course.


I'd look at all the high vote things which are/were on uservoice and got turned down, and do them. But before that I'd add a mute user feature in and before that I'd get rid of the table based layout.


(Separate answers so they can be voted on separately. All CW of course.)

An easy way of generating alternative formats for data dumps.

  • Rep Wh....nevermind. – TheTXI Jul 13 '09 at 19:43

Automatic library chooser for questions requiring an existing library - Commons *, Spring, JPA, Hibernate, GCollections, etc. Of course pluggable.



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