The StackExchange series of sites seem like a great idea. I first discovered the Stack Overflow beta which was great…a community of peers and students learning from and helping each other. The design of the page was excellent, very simple and easy to use with a simple voting and reputation system in place. Due to the popularity of the format other sites with the same design sprung up, including Super User for user problems and Server Fault for networking stuff with a whole host of additional sites in beta.
For me these sites have largely replaced forums when I need a quick answer I can’t find elsewhere, however there are quite a few problems with the format that prevents me from contributing in any serious manner. I should stress that problems I have are not related to the design or implementation of the technology, but rather are problems intrinsic to any community moderated site.
The most annoying problem is if asking a specific question, people will make assumptions and try to answer with what they think is best for you, ignoring the actual question asked. This can be frustration and people should not need to explain their entire situation just to get a technical answer. Often the excuse for this is that it is a community orientated site so they don’t want to give an answer that could mislead or harm people, despite questions often being extremely specific. The community rationale is also used to excuse against editing posts away. If you make a specific question it may be edited to “better serve the community” which is just annoying if you need a specific answer to a specific question. The only recourse you then have is to ask your question again, or to delete your original post.
The other problem is all too often emotion and/or politics comes into play affecting the answers selected as correct. Sometimes it doesn’t matter if an answer is technically correct so long as it is popular. Windows is technically and factually more secure than OS X at present, yet any answer saying that in response to a question regarding OS security would get voted down, while a template response about how Windows is horribly insecure would likely get voted up. It’s frustrating to deal with a might is right community, but there also isn’t much that can be done about it while maintaining the freedom the community enjoys.
Lastly, some of the moderators/long time users are far too eager to mark questions as duplicates. Sathya on Super User is especially guilty of this. Sometimes questions may have similar or even identical titles, but often with computing questions the devil is in the details. A person asking the question may want a different solution, may have different needs, may have different circumstances causing the problem, whatever. Sathya simply marks anything similar as a dupe and the sheep follow. Since it only takes 4 votes to close a question it can happen a lot. It can be even more frustrating when you may want an answer in a programming context and your question gets migrated to Super User because people didn’t read it properly. Gah.
I love the technology and continue to use it, but it just isn’t worth committing a lot of time to with this kind of idiocy going on, unless you are fine with the idiocy and partake in it. It’s a shame as the technology is excellent, but people have a long way to go before we use it to its full potential.