When I first had a post flagged on StackOverflow as being “closed as off topic,” I was kind of annoyed. I felt that my question was genuine, and ironically, at over one hundred thousand views, it was also the most popular question I have asked on StackOverflow. But those are the rules, like it or not.
Fast forward a few years, and I found myself trying to articulate some of the advantages Spring had over using the JBoss implementation of Java EE.
It seemed that any time I had a problem with Spring, a simple Google search revealed a StackOverflow post that laid out the same problem and the solution.
I couldn’t really say the same about the JBoss libraries. More often than not, I would be taken to a forum post that I would have to read top to bottom in order to work out if the issue being discussed was related. Every time I saw a link to the JBoss forums, I sighed, knowing just how much work I was going to have to do to get anything useful out of the content.
And don’t get me started on mailing lists. I have yet to see a pleasant way to browse mailing lists, what with all their inline quotes, signatures, and awkward threading displays.
Hello, the 90's are calling and they want their Frontpage web design back.
Despite my initial displeasure at having StackOverflow posts flagged as off-topic or conversational, I now appreciate the genius behind the decision. While conversational posts are a great way to support the first person to ask a question, they are a very poor way to support the next thousand that Google the same problem. Not even the ability to move a helpful answer to the top of the post seems to make forums as instantly useful as a StackOverflow post.
I think it is time to accept that, for developer related issues, the QA format so zealously promoted by StackOverflow has won, providing much better support for modern software development:
"Traditional software dev was like farming. You bought your tool stack and got busy. Now we're more like foragers."
For software development support, it is time to put traditional forums, Wikis, and mailing lists to pasture, because the needs of the many people Googling a problem outweigh the needs of the few who fill entire pages with streams of consciousness as they go from problem to solution. In the end, your customers will thank you.