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Joel on Software

Stack Overflow is a Wiki

by Joel Spolsky
Sunday, December 28, 2008

Stack Overflow launched about three months ago, and is already serving 8.3 million page views per month. The growth has been incessant.

Most of the criticism I’ve heard of Stack Overflow reminds me of the early criticism of Wikipedia: “I went to this article and it was wrong.” By the time you read the criticism, the article has been fixed. There was that year, not last year, but the year before, when every traditional journalist wrote a funny thought piece in their newspaper about something they looked up in Wikipedia and just how wrong it was. By the time their column appeared in print, the Wikipedia article was corrected, making a liar out of the journalist. Eventually they learned to stop writing that story.

Stack Overflow works the same way. Voting is open forever. It’s a wiki, so anythin
Stack Overflow data from Google Analytics
g can be edited, and it is.

Most topics get most of their traffic not in the first few days, but by the Google traffic that comes in for people searching for the same exact problem. Search engines now account for 81% of Stack Overflow traffic: people searching for specific questions, not asking them directly. And that's where it's really working. Answers DO get better. If they don’t, it's a wiki: fix them. Instead of complaining about good answers with few votes, vote down the top answer and vote up the better answer.

My criterion for whether Stack Overflow works: when you type your question into Google, and you’re happy to see a Stack Overflow result rather than a result at another one of those Q&A sites where you have to sign up and pay a monthly fee to see the answer.


Have you been wondering about Distributed Version Control? It has been a huge productivity boon for us, so I wrote Hg Init, a Mercurial tutorial—check it out!

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About the author.

I’m Joel Spolsky, co-founder of Fog Creek Software, a New York company that proves that you can treat programmers well and still be highly profitable. Programmers get private offices, free lunch, and work 40 hours a week. Customers only pay for software if they’re delighted. We make Trello, easy web-based collaboration software, FogBugz, an enlightened bug tracking and software development tool, and Kiln, a distributed source control system that will blow your socks off. I’m also the co-founder and CEO of Stack Exchange. More about me.

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