I discovered Stack Overflow from some months, now, as a reader, and since last week as a member.

But I was deeply involved in the growing of Wikipedia between 2003 and 2008, and what I saw didn't always made me happy.

I get the impression that the process in Stack Overflow is very similar to the one in Wikipedia, but with some lessons understood in the meanwhile:

  • Not all contributors have the same worth, both in knowledge and motivations. Let's go the end of the community-thought and let the community rate its own members, by rating their contributions
  • Avoid the appearance of cliques by giving the rights progressively to the members

I think that now, Wikipedia could have some things to learn from Stack Overflow.

Has anybody some thoughts about this?


5 Answers 5


Great question! I see three big differences:

Game dynamics which rewards people for quick responses and great questions / answers (levelling up) and collectible badges (even though they are often derided, I think they have a lot of impact). This is great! It helps to keep people addicted!

Not open source this is a shame because I'd love to see this used in organisations, whether for profit businesses or not for profits.

Not article based I think this also leads to this containing different information. If you want to read about one topic in detail, check out Wikipedia. If you have one specific question, this format works extremely well.

  • 1
    Regarding open source, there are open source competitors out there, most notably Shapado (which is admittedly not quite as polished).
    – tshepang
    Commented Jan 7, 2011 at 21:03
  • 1
    The software behind Stack Overflow is not open-source, and it's a shame. But OSQA does a similar work, and is GPL licenced: osqa.net Commented Feb 16, 2011 at 11:26
  • 3
    Wikipedia has some game dynamics too: edit counts, Service Awards, people getting adminship and other permissions (rollback, reviewer, file mover, autopatrolled, account creator etc.) and on a slightly more positive level: the number of successful Good Article, Featured Article or Did You Know? nominations one has been through.
    – Tom Morris
    Commented May 13, 2011 at 14:01

While I think Wikipedia could learn some things from this healthy Q&A ecosystem, I don't think they're the same thing.

It's much easier to get people answer questions in an unbiased way with rep, than it is to get people to speak on religion, political figures, and history in an unbiased way. In short, it's apples and oranges.

Look at the About page. Stack Overflow is a little bit wiki, and a lot of other things. This system works for what we do here; I'm not sure everything here applies to a pure wiki.

  • The purpose is still to let surface free (as in free speech) knowledge. Commented Nov 20, 2010 at 12:57
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    @Traroth The format (the medium) does matter. Also, the definition of quality and the audience are very different.
    – C. Ross
    Commented Nov 20, 2010 at 14:45
  • The definition of quality, that's my whole point, actually! Commented Nov 20, 2010 at 17:45

Interesting to hear this from somebody somewhat involved in Wikipedia. I must admit that I've been thinking about contributing to WP a few times, but was always put off by the strong feeling of being an outsider to a rather closed group, and what felt to me like both a complicated user interface and hierarchy - I have had a very hard time really understanding how things work there (and I'm a software developer!)

It is certainly true that the SO community feels more transparent and open than the lot of Wikipedia's editors. I would welcome Stack Overflow-y elements on WP, although I can think of a number of valid counter-arguments - the reputation system is great and a strong motivator, but it puts more emphasis on individuals than an encyclopedia might want.

Also, the size of the community on Wikipedia is still orders of magnitude larger than anything in the Stack Exchange network. Whether SO's community system will work without changes for those kinds of numbers is yet to be determined (although it's well possible that it will).

  • @Pekka - great answer. One point I'd like to pick out: the closed group feeling. I have that much more here (I contribute to both) because here there seem to be only about 20 - 30 people (correct me if I'm wrong) regularly contributing. On WP there are many more. Commented Nov 21, 2010 at 18:06
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    @Mark If you mean Meta, that is definitely very much a closed group, but that's a special case. I rather mean SO proper. The thresholds to start contributing in your area of expertise there are much lower than on Wikipedia, at least they felt that way to me
    – Pekka
    Commented Nov 21, 2010 at 18:12
  • @Pekka - yes, you're right. Fair correction, thanks. Commented Nov 21, 2010 at 18:26
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    To extend on @Mark's first comment a bit: the sole fact one needs a few points to be able to comment (to point out errors), and as many as 2k rep to edit (to fix even minor errors), was a bit annoying to me. Even more, nowadays it still keeps me away from new sites like apple.stackexchange.com (which I would happily contribute at if it were part of SU). I'm not saying it's bad for the communities, but to me it does feel more closed.
    – Arjan
    Commented Nov 21, 2010 at 18:42
  • 1
    @arjan the +100 bonus on any new site, so long as you have +200 somewhere in the network, is not enough? Commented Nov 23, 2010 at 7:08
  • @Jeff, 101 rep won't let me edit posts. But indeed, being able to comment just because one gets the 100 points bonus is GREAT and was very smart move! Still, for totally new folks, even getting the 50 rep to comment might be a bit frustrating. Again, I am NOT saying it's bad; in fact, I guess it's good. (And it's only my loss that I'm ignoring apple.stackexchange.com and might not even know about many other sites.) I was just saying that this feels more "closed" to me than Wikipedia.
    – Arjan
    Commented Nov 23, 2010 at 18:36
  • @Arjan still, everybody has a shot at providing answers from the start, and gaining the reputation to unlock those privileges. I guess that (well, and the fact that I never really cared about my privileges, I just discovered the "edit" button one day :) is why I've never seen SO as a closed community.
    – Pekka
    Commented Nov 23, 2010 at 20:57
  • Actually, from my experience, most of WP's processes were created when Wikipedians were really only a few lost souls working on an unknown project. The evolution since then are really small (beside of technical infrastructure, which really buffed up). The lack of transparency is currently, in my opinion, one of the biggest issues. And I think a reputation system like SO's could really help in that matter. Commented Dec 13, 2010 at 15:25

Another big difference is that Stack Overflow, Super User, Server Fault, etc are specifically how to sites. Wikipedia is not a how to.


Stack Overflow only deals with programming, whereas Wikipedia often has to be able to deal with very controversial issues.

I'd say that Stack Overflow's automated reputation system is easier to game than Wikipedia's process of vetting (such as Wikipedia: Requests for adminship), but that SO can get away with a simpler process because there's less motive to abuse SO than to abuse Wikipedia.

  • While Stack Overflow deals with programming, Server Fault deals with system administration, Seasoned Advice deals with cooking, etc, etc, This question can be applied to the Stack Overflow/Exchange model rather than a specific site.
    – ChrisF Mod
    Commented Nov 20, 2010 at 12:45
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    Actually, the Area 51 incubator is not least interesting part of the thing. It will let surface same structured Q&A sites in a wide area of center of interest. Math and photography already exist. Commented Nov 20, 2010 at 12:56
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    @Traroth true, but one has to admit that Wikipedia has to deal with things no SO site will ever see: Historic events with different views; controversial religious and political issues; etc. etc... those things could become very complicated to deal with in an open, vote-based system
    – Pekka
    Commented Nov 20, 2010 at 17:15
  • My point was more that the rep system makes SO more or less a meritocracy. WP gives every contributor the same worth and so the same freedom of speech. Which is fine with 1000 vcery motivated contributors, but degenerates in chaos with 100,000 contributors. "Assume good faith" is not a good motto anymore in such context, imho. And I'm obviously not the only one thinking that, leading to arbitrary behaviour by WP administrators... Commented Dec 13, 2010 at 15:29
  • A rather snarky take on it: call me when the Stack Exchange model has to start dealing with Israel/Palestine or Mormon vs. non-Mormon edit warriors. (That said, the current ridiculous controversy on Wikipedia is hyphens vs. dashes...)
    – Tom Morris
    Commented May 13, 2011 at 13:59

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