My contributions on Ask Different occasionally leads to people reaching out to me.
A recent e-mail asked why I wrote on the site and what might improve it. I though the answers useful to share more widely. Maybe this train of thought itself answers their question?
Ask Different is a web site focusing on questions about Apple related software and hardware. Its big brother is Stack Overflow; a site where the topic is software development. Stack Overflow towers over the other Stack Exchange sites in terms of size and impact.
Discovering Stack Overflow
I had long followed Joel Spolsky, one of the creators of Stack Overflow, via the the web site “Joel on Software” and the “Business of Software” forum. I discovered Stack Overflow through Joel’s documenting its creation.
I do not actively contribute to Stack Overflow. The site does not feel welcoming and it suffers from too many looking for quick fixes, rather than answers. I do not envy the moderators their role.
I do contribute to Ask Different, another Stack Exchange site. Ask Different’s culture has been more welcoming and aims to help users of Apple devices, rather than developers.
Early on I mostly made small edits to other’s questions and answers. Typically improving formatting or fixing typos.
Later I looked for questions related to my areas of expertise. When I noticed long unanswered questions that I could answer; I answered.
Today Ask Different provides professional benefits. I get to tell others about my work and I am helping to create a safe site where I can point customers needing more general advice.
Most of my answers are from hard won experience. I prefer not to answer questions outside of my field of experience or expertise.
Rarely but sometimes I answer opinion related questions in order to publish information in one place that is difficult to find elsewhere.
Improving Stack Overflow?
With regard to Stack Overflow specifically, it is tempting to suggest splitting up the site by development language or tool. But this would not fix the problem of low quality, quick fix seeking, behaviour.
I would examine the role of comments on questions and answers. They have use but are home to many problems.
I wonder if better cross-linking of questions and answers would be useful. The ability to find a question or answer and then navigate around the subject matter. Links outside the site to specific official documentation and tutorials might be useful.