March 12, 2023 by Marco Cecconi
Stack Overflow is the go-to resource for developers worldwide seeking solutions to their programming problems. Its impressive database of millions of questions and answers has been curated and built over the years, offering an exhaustive library of programming knowledge. However, the site has come under fire for being too strict and unwelcoming to new users. Many developers are already using ChatGPT to get answers to their programming questions instead of Stack Overflow. So, what lessons can Stack Overflow learn from ChatGPT to improve its platform?
Blanket kindness and a lack of ego go a long way to improving the user experience. Stack Overflow is known for its strict rules and guidelines, and while they're essential to maintaining the site's quality, they can also be intimidating to new users. The site's reputation system can discourage new users from asking questions, as the fear of being judged or downvoted can be overwhelming. ChatGPT, on the other hand, provides a friendlier and more welcoming environment where users can ask questions without fear of being judged. ChatGPT's conversational nature allows users to have a back-and-forth dialogue, which helps to clarify the question and provide better answers. In other words, people fear asking questions on Stack Overflow but not ChatGPT. Fear of downvotes or being ridiculed by the community does discourage new users from asking questions on Stack Overflow. In contrast, ChatGPT's anonymous and non-judgmental nature allows users to ask questions freely without fear.
Could having more freedom to ask questions help to foster a better Stack Overflow community? Would it enable users to learn better from one another and grow their programming knowledge more easily?
ChatGPT is often correctly accused of giving wrong advice. Not giving wrong answers is essential, but let's admit there are many wrong answers on Stack Overflow, too. Stack Overflow's reputation system allows users to upvote or downvote answers. Still, it's not foolproof, and moderation breaks down entirely for sufficiently advanced questions. For complex queries, most of the reputation is performed by people that lack the knowledge to do so appropriately.
ChatGPT's answers are sometimes wrong but often fail spectacularly, making it easier, in my experience, to weed out bad content, especially since getting a response in real-time is a superior experience. When I get a wrong answer from ChatGPT, I converse and try to get a better one: it happens in seconds. On the contrary, Stack Overflow's Q&A format means users must wait for someone to answer their questions and then wait again for further follow-ups.
In other words, the cost of getting a wrong answer on Stack Overflow is much higher than on ChatGPT. A user will have waited minutes or hours for that answer that turned out to be inaccurate. While this slow answering format is useful sometimes, it can frustrate users working on a project with tight deadlines or in the case of questions needing refinements to get a useful answer. ChatGPT's algorithm provides users with instant conversations, which is incredibly helpful when time is of the essence or clarification is required.
Moreover, conversing about your question to clarify is a better experience for both the asker and the answerer. Often, users may not know how exactly to articulate their questions, especially if they are not native English speakers, which in turn makes it difficult for others to provide accurate answers. ChatGPT's conversational nature allows users to have a back-and-forth dialogue in natural language, which helps to clarify the question and provide better answers. In the case of Stack Overflow, having a conversation about a question could also help build a sense of community, where users can learn from one another and work together to solve programming problems.
The cost of getting a wrong answer on Stack Overflow is much higher than on ChatGPT. A user will have waited minutes or hours for that answer that turned out to be inaccurate.
Finally, answers tailored to your specific problem are better answers. The vastity of Stack Overflow's database means that users may need to sift through several possible solutions before finding one that addresses their problem. Often, they have to patch together clues gathered from different answers to have a complete picture. This process can be time-consuming and frustrating for users, particularly those new to programming. ChatGPT provides personalized answers, making it easier for users to find specific solutions to their particular programming issues. This personalized approach leads to answers which are way more helpful to the asker.
Stack Overflow has been a valuable resource for developers worldwide seeking solutions to their programming problems. However, criticism has highlighted the need for the site to adapt to new technologies and user expectations, but Stack Overflow's reaction has been a blanket ban on the technology. ChatGPT's approach has shown that there are many things that Stack Overflow could instead learn from to improve its platform. The site could benefit from adopting a more welcoming and anonymized approach to encourage new users to ask questions. It could use conversations to build a sense of community. It could use a conversational AI to provide answers specific to each user's problem.
By embracing new technologies and addressing user expectations, I believe Stack Overflow can continue providing a valuable resource for developers worldwide while improving the user experience. Let's hope the Stack Overflow community can take this situation as an opportunity instead of a threat and use this technology to improve the site!
Hi, I'm Marco Cecconi. I am the founder of Intelligent Hack, developer, hacker, blogger, conference lecturer. Bio: ex Stack Overflow core team, ex Toptal EM.Read more
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