Since I started on my “seekrit project” I’ve asked a few questions on programming related topics at StackOverflow. Thus far I’ve found the answers to be really helpful. While most people know about StackOverflow, lots of folks don’t realize that there three other sites in StackOverflow empire: ServerFault - for system administration issues, SuperUser - for end user software issues, and Meta.StackOverflow - for site related questions about StackOverflow.
Today during my run in Central Park, I was thinking about the community that StackOverflow has. It’s really a remarkable thing, there are thousands of users and most posts in even the most obscure topics get lots of views quickly. If you’re lucky, you’ll even get a good answer or two – or, more likely, you’ll have someone who is smart tell you that you’re not asking the right question, and help you down the right path to rethink your problem in the correct way. This sort of input can be really helpful in many other domains, parenting, cooking, travel, etc.
It’s actually possible to run your own StackOverflow site. The software, StackExchange is available from FogCreek software who offer different hosted plans. At $129/mo for the most basic plan it’s not cheap at all, but when you consider that includes everything, it’s not a horrible idea either. It’s been a pretty decent hit so far too, the StackExchange website lists numerous sites around specific topics.
So here’s the sites that I’d really like to see:
- NYCLikeALocal.com: Questions and answers about the self-proclaimed greatest city in the world. With a focus for people actually living in the city who may not be overly familiar with the city. In other words, folks like me who live in NYC, but aren’t native.
- RunThroughTheWall.com: Questions and answers about training for marathons and other long distance endurance sports, like IronMen triathlons.
- SnackExchange.com: Ideas for cooking, specifically desserts. Everyone loves deserts.
After browsing through the sites, I found out that in each of the cases someone had already beat me to it. For NYC local information there is PojoCity.com. For running someone created FitBulb which covers all sports. Unfortunately, they weren’t on the ball and let a squatter get FibBulb.com. For cooking there is cooking.stackexchange.com, which probably the least branded StackExchange site in existence.
While I’ve contributed to FitBulb, most of the sites are rather sparse. This could be for a variety of reasons, it’s likely that they haven’t advertised themselves enough. StackOverflow launched and was hugely successful because Jeff Atwood and Joel Spolsky both had legions of followers on their weblogs. When the site was launched there was already a huge pool of users. By mentioning them here I’m hoping that other people will use these three StackExchange sites and help build mass.
The second reason why the sites may have difficulty in excelling is because they’re not generally perceived as a need. For programming there was a definite need for a site where people could ask questions and get reasonable answers. StackOverflow was aimed dead center at destroying ExpertsExchange, both by providing better answers, more information about people who provide answers, and not seeming all scammy. From the looks of it, they’re succeeding.
However, most of these other domains don’t have any large community at all, so it’s up to the site developers and maintainers to build one. This is no easy task. I’d like to think that I’m pretty savvy, but I haven’t seen much about communities for any of these topics.
Finally, there’s a small problem with the architecture of StackExchange. I would like to vote up some posts and answers on FitBulb, but I can’t do that until I get 15 karma. Unfortunately, when no one has any karma on the site, it’s difficult to build enough karma. So, if the site admins hear me, vote me up some so I can support other people on your fledgling site.
In any case, it’s exciting to see that there are StackExchange sites for the three sites that I really hoped would exist. I’ve already posted a bit to FitBulb and have found some useful stuff on Pojocity, but remember, community sites are only as good as the people who use them. So visit the sites and give them some love today.