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Archive for October 7th, 2010

Is Stack Overflow Useful for Web Developers?

Posted by Brian Kelly on 7 October 2010

A couple of months ago I reported on The Decline in JISCMail Use Across the Web Management Community. Virginia Knight responded by commenting that “many email lists to have a natural life-cycle ending with dormancy” and it does seem that the web-support list is no longer having a significant role to play in providing advice and support on technical Web issues, such as HTML, CSS and JavaScript queries, with posts now seeming to publicise job vacancies and events (in September 2010, for example, there were only 4 posts: one a advert for CILIP courses and the other three being a question, a request for a clarification followed by a clarification – but no answer provided!).

But where should Web developers go if they have such queries which need answering?  Might Stack Overflow provide an alternative?

Stack Overflow is a programming Q & A Web site which is collaboratively built and maintained b fellow programmers. The Stack Overflow About page goes on to add that “The only unusual thing we do is synthesize aspects of Wikis, Blogs, Forums, and Digg/Reddit in a way that we think is original“. The FAQ goes on to add that you should “avoid asking questions that are subjective, argumentative, or require extended discussion. This is not a discussion board, this is a place for questions that can be answered!“.

As can be seen from the image the programing scope includes various areas of interest to Web developers including HTML, CSS, JavaScript, JQuery, etc.

Stack Overflow goes beyond the simple responses that can be provided on a mailing list, allowing the person who asked a question to identify the answer which has been the most helpful.  Participants in the Stack Overflow community  can also rate the responses so that people who response with useful answers will gain reputation points – as Tony Hirst (pyschemedia on Stack Overflow, from the Open University, has shown recently with the first points he has been awarded after providing an answer to a question about Yahoo Pipes.  Once a certain level of reputation has been gained additional responsibilities are available including the ability to moderate contributions.

I can’t help but feel that although the web-support JISCMail list was useful in the early days of the Web  Web developers should be making use of richer environments for helping them in their development work.  Isn’t it time we acknowledged that the web-support list is now primarily an announcement list for jobs and events and a service like Stack Overflow can fulfill the service of finding answer to Web development queries? And since we have a lot of expertise across the sector, with people clearly willing to help and advise others, we could soon see UK Web developers with high reputation ratings on the service.

What do others think?

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