People hate StackOverflow (SO) for various reasons. There’s the general hate that SO is a quick-and-dirty help forum that promotes copy-paste-driven development. Then there are architects and “10x” developers who say that the entire SO is a joke, and so are the solutions found there. Finally, many people consider it a valuable entity and want to participate but are repulsed by the heavily acidic moderators and downvoters.

What do I think? Well, I think that while there’s vast amounts of low-quality Q&A on StackOverflow, it also contains answers to common but tricky questions that many developers struggle with on their journey. Some of these questions tend to be subjective and hence have been locked down, but the content and discussions remain to read and profit from. And of course, SO remains the fastest way to have your programming-related questions answered.

SO is keenly aware of its bad reputation, and has taken some actions to improve, but the experience remains the same. I think their problems aren’t as thorny as they might think. With some small changes, SO can become a great place.

Here’s what I propose:

  • No Read The Fucking Manual (RTFM) responses from mods. Sure, your rule no. 23, section 11, para 4, sentence 6 clearly says that such and such things are not allowed, but come on, let’s get real — nobody memorizes all the rules of a forum before posting anything, and even if they do, they’re likely to forget over time.
  • Downvoting users should be visible. On SO itself, such people are called “downvote ninjas”; they come, downvote and disappear, leaving no explanation or trace. So, if I downvote something, my profile must be linked to it and clearly visible.
  • Downvotes must have an explanation (note: not a list of possible offenses to choose from, but a hand-typed response). This will prevent the “gamification” tendency to downvote based on the heat of the moment.
  • Downvotes should be challengeable. Yes, I know, this means a lot more work for the moderators, but this is vital if we want the new people (or even existing ones) to not feel crushed under the boot of authority.
  • There should be an “asshole score” for the moderators (and perhaps, for everyone else). If a moderator demonstrates the ability to consistently be an asshole, they should suffer some punishment heavy loss of reputation points, blocked from moderating for a few days, removal of moderation powers, deletion of account, etc.
  • SO should allow more subjective questions. Of course, not as subjective as “React sucks, so we switched to Vue” but something like “Vue2 vs. Vue3” should be allowed. Perhaps what I’m trying to get at is that posts lying between the current SO “objective” and the current Software Engineering StackExchange “subjective” shouldn’t be treated as clouds of poisonous gas.
  • If a question has already been answered, moderators should be able to post the reference link but not vote for deletion, etc., of the content. I mean, come on, it’s a community, and if someone is asking something and I feel like answering (even if there are five similar questions), we shouldn’t be stopped. And it’s not as if there’s not heavy repetition already on SO anyway.

I’m sure more corrective measures can be thought of, but what I’m trying to say is that if SO really wants to change, then it’ll really have to change how it treats people or allows people to treat other people. 🙂