Stack Overflow began in 2008 as a site to help programmers get information faster in the form of a Q&A site.
From the very beginning, Stack Overflow was extremely community oriented. The site has four main interfaces for user interaction. One is the regular question and answer site, similar to Yahoo Answers. The site also has a “Meta” section, which is a clone of the regular question and answer site, but for questions and answers about the site itself. The Meta site is also used for the Stack Overflow company to get user feedback about particular decisions. Chat rooms on Stack Overflow also provide a sense of community to developers, providing a place where they can talk to other programmers about similar interests. Stack Overflow provides a job-finding interface as well, where programmers can search for employment.
There are a few other mechanisms key to understanding Stack Overflow. As users participate on the site and their posts are voted on, their account gains reputation which is publicly displayed. In addition, Stack Overflow, is moderated by users who volunteer their time to remove useless or harmful posts. However, Stack Overflow differs in that its moderators are mostly chosen by the community of users through an election process.
Thus, Stack Overflow’s value to users is primarily based around providing a community for programmers. There is easy access to helpful information, transparency about what the company is doing and how the site works, conversation groups, ways to search for jobs, and users essentially moderate themselves to build the community they want.
On the revenue side of things, Stack Overflow is funded through two main sources: Stack Overflow Talent (job-finding) and advertising. Stack Overflow has now also added a Stack Overflow Teams product as well, which allows companies to clone the Q&A model for their own personal use.
Since 2008, Stack Overflow has over 18 million questions, with over 11 million users and 51 million unique visitors per month. This is a huge value add for programmers across the world.
So why is Stack Overflow at a tipping point?
They’re on the brink of losing their old community.
Here’s a timeline of important events (many have been excluded for succinctness):
- New changes to the site go live
- June 5th, 2018
- People aren’t very happy with the changes
- Votes: -226
- Twitter Over Meta
- October 17, 2018
- One of the stack exchange sites, Interpersonal Skills, is removed from the Hot Network Questions functionality, due to a single Tweet, leading to a huge loss of views for that site and worries from the community about Twitter mattering more than Meta
- Quality of Ads Decreases
- June 15, 2018
- Hot Meta Posts Removed
- July 23, 2018
- Hot Meta Posts, the main functionality for users to find out about posts on Meta, is removed; moderators put in charge of what goes in its place.
- Votes: -806
- Disconnect Between Stack Overflow Company and Community
- July 24, 2018
- Sara Chipps, Director of Public Q&A at the Stack Overflow company, justifies removing Hot Meta by saying “Stack Overflow Employees have panic attacks and nightmares when they know they will need to post something to Meta…We’re removing Hot on Meta as I don’t want to send new people to a place where people have these experiences. Full stop.”
- Votes: -240
- Stack Overflow Moves to a New License – but it’s Likely Illegal
- September 5, 2019
- Votes: -408
- A Community Moderator (Monica) is Removed and Other Moderators Begin Resigning
- Sept 29, 2019
- Meta Post titled “Firing mods and forced relicensing: is Stack Exchange still interested in cooperating with the community?”
- Votes: 2237
- Stack Overflow Announces New Pronoun Policy
- October 10, 2019
- Votes: -1927
- Post now deleted
- Stack Overflow Comes to an Agreement with Monica
- December 23, 2019
- Votes: -1781
- Monica replies “I can’t comment further for legal reasons.”
- Votes: +1179
- Longtime Community Builders and Moderators Fired
- Jan 13, 2020
- Meta Post titled “Firing Community Managers: Stack Exchange is not interested in cooperating with the community, is it?”
- Votes: 842
- Shog9, longtime community moderator hired by Stack Overflow and provided a calm and rational voice throughout much of the previous turmoil – fired.
- Robert Cartaino, Director of Community Development – fired.
- More moderator resignations follow
- New CEO Gives General, Uninspiring Responses
- Feb 4, 2020
- Community-elected moderator Aaron Hall (not a Stack Overflow employee) meets with CEO Prashanth Chandrasekar
- Response titled “More Talk, Vagueness, Excuses”
- Votes: 427
The company now needs to decide how to react. What can they do to revitalize their trust among longtime users? Do they need to keep longtime users, or are they happy to discard old users and bring in new ones? What message will this send to those new users?
If Stack Overflow reacts poorly here, they may end up being a digital loser. Their site’s model is not patented, and anyone can copy it. Stack Overflow thrives on its community; if its community decides to migrate, Stack Overflow will no longer be able to make money by connecting people with jobs, serving advertisements, and the Stack Overflow for Teams product may lose credibility. Their future is on the line.