Stack Overflow Revisited


I know it’s only been a few weeks or so since my first post on this subject, but there have been a development and I found out something I wasn’t aware of when I first posted.

First the development: there has been a recent blog post on StackOverflow about gaming the system:

http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2009/03/more-voting-anomalies/

This follows on from the one I’d missed when I first posted:

http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2008/12/vote-fraud-and-you/

So it appears that Jon & Joel are aware of people trying to “cheat” at StackOverflow.  I know what benefit this brings to the gamers – more reputation and SO badges. However, these are the ultimate in intangibles, but when scores and prizes are on offer it appears to be human nature to want to have the highest score or most badges. I’m not immune to it myself, but I do try and play within the rules. For example, one badge is awarded for your first “Roll Back” where you undo an edit you (or, I assume, someone else) makes. Now it would be easy to get this by editing one of my own posts and then immediately undoing it. However, I haven’t done this, preferring to wait until I had a real reason to restore a previous version of a post.

This reminds me of what happened on Sev a few years ago. Here you submit punch lines for incomplete cartoons. Everybody then rates punch lines and the best (as chosen by the site owner) are voted upon. People engaged in similar tactics; wholesale down-voting of everybody else’s punch lines, sock puppet accounts to up-vote theirs, etc. The reward was a bit more tangible- seeing your punch line in print, but nothing financial. The site owner had to eventually bring in registration and restrict voting and eventually even submitting punch lines to registered users. This couldn’t stop the abuse, but did mean that when caught the offender’s account could be suspended.

I have however come up with a theory as to why people ask question I feel can be answered by either using Google (or your search engine of choice), MSDN or even just experimentation with an IDE. What prompted this – well I’ve asked what in hindsight proved to be a couple of these. The reason I posted was because I had a complete mental block about the best approach to a solution and as I’m working alone at the moment I had no one else to ask.

So maybe that’s it. All these people are lone developers with no one around to bounce ideas off or answer the stupid questions we all ask from time to time, so that honour goes to the Stack Overflow community. So perhaps it is serving a useful purpose after all. That does mean that we (and my “we” I mean “experienced” developers) need to be more tolerant of the new guys – after all we had the benefit of working in teams and (sometimes) formal training.

Post script: I did add a comment to both the question and the accepted answer to the effect that I realised it was a dumb question and that I should have remembered the solution myself.

However, there seem to be some fundamental questions that get repeated over and over again.

  • Why am I having problems comparing these two floating point numbers?

Now this seems to show a fundamental lack of knowledge of computers, computer science and programming.  How can someone with 1000′s of points of rep (i.e. they’ve had answers and questions voted up 100′s of times) and several badges awarded for “good answers” not know this stuff?

Is it because with the rise of languages like VB and now C# and their ilk it’s much easier to get started programming? Programming well has always been hard. There’s so much you need to know and in the “good old days” of c and c++ and before Integrated Development Environments with auto-complete functions and IntelliSenseTM any sort of programming was hard. You simply had text editors (more often than not vi) and command line compilers. This meant you had to know the syntax inside out or spend all day tracking down compilation errors.

Debugging consisted of log files and trace outputs – no visual debuggers back then. Again this made you think about the problems rather than just running the program and seeing where it falls over.

I realise I’m coming over as an old fart, so I’ll shut up now!

© 2009, Chris. All rights reserved. If you republish this post can you please link back to the original post.

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