Stackoverflow’s Mediocrity of Experts

I love stackoverflow, I really do. Whenever I need a quick fix of a practical knowledge, I’m there. And most of the time I really find what I’m looking for. But there is another thing about this site. The owners of the site claims that here in this site there are mostly expert programmers hanging around. And the questions asked are from experts to experts. Alright I’m OK with that.

But you get to notice a pattern once you signed up and start to contribute to this site. There is this thing called reputation, basically the essence of all sites using some kind of gamification. You gain reputation by answering to other people’s questions or asking good questions. But how do you gain reputation? Other people vote on your answer because it is somehow helpful to them. Or other people vote on your question because they need to ask something very similar to your question. That’s OK and it’s kind of entertaining to run for the points. And they also show you how the community trusts you ;). Anyway so far so good. But once you come across some real problems in a really expert topic, you say “OK, I’ll post this to stackoverflow, and answers will fall like rain”. But unfortunately that’s not happening here.

You know every community consists of really good ones, average ones and really bad individuals (the bell curve basically). So the question asked will mostly be an average question, occasionally good questions(hard questions) and rarely really easy questions because they are also answered on other pages of web. So the answers will be mostly to average questions and they will get really high reputations. Why? Because the community is mostly average as I  mentioned before. So when average joe of a programmer (me for example) looks for something little bit practical about a language he/she doesn’t know about, the question is most likely already asked there and answered there. So what happens next? People start voting the questions and answers that have higher hits because they suit the needs of more average people.

Let me show you some examples of what I mean :

  1. http://stackoverflow.com/questions/65035/in-java-does-return-trump-finally : This question is a trick/game question in Java. And you can see the vote on the asker and the answerer. Is this an expert question? It is asked at 2008, when the site is relatively very young compared to its status now.
  2. http://stackoverflow.com/questions/503093/how-can-i-make-a-redirect-page-in-jquery-javascript : this is a really easy question you see. The guy who answered probably answered another of this easy question way back and look at the vote he got from it ; ).
  3. http://stackoverflow.com/questions/905222/javascriptenter-key-press-event : same guy edited the question and answered the question, cool!
  4. http://stackoverflow.com/questions/796482/steps-to-upload-an-iphone-application-to-the-appstore : this is a question which you can get the answer from an apple site. Nowadays if you ask something like that you will get a downvote and then your question gets closed.
  5. http://stackoverflow.com/questions/498970/how-do-i-trim-a-string-in-javascript : a very good introduction level knowledge about javascript.
  6. http://stackoverflow.com/questions/415602/set-value-of-textarea-in-jquery : WTF!! Are you serious? Oh I didn’t know we should use .val() in Jquery. That’s the expertise.
  7. And one exception : http://stackoverflow.com/questions/8479058/how-do-i-find-waldo-with-mathematica , there is an idiom in my language: “kill the brave man, dont take what he earned”. This is the question that really deserved all of its points both the asker and the receiver.

So does this high reputation thing show us an expert question? No, you have seen how average questions get more votes. Does it show that the guy who answered the question is an expert? Umm, maybe, or at least it shows that the guy knew a lot of basic stuff that most of us don’t have a clue. Or maybe he was just there at the right time, when the basic question is asked. Or he was just refreshing his browser over and over, then encountered this simple question. What a chance!

But what happened to your hardcore problem? It is probably forgotten by everyone because it needs time to research or come up with a good sound solution with the ready knowledge. You are lucky if someone really can point you in the right direction. You will probably thank the guys answered by voting them up, but that’s it. No one else will see the question because it’s special to your problem domain and it really needs expertise from the field you are working.