It's been a long time since someone has so quickly and effectively handed me my ego on a platter... long past due, some might say!
So I want to thank Geoff Dalgas, a core member the StackOverflow team, for doing the honors...
Here's the background: I have been rethinking my earlier (possibly premature?) criticism of StackOverflow, and seriously considering "taking my business" to StackOverflow... my business in this case being that of answering SQL Anywhere and MobiLink technical questions on the public NNTP forums at forums.sybase.com.
I've been doing that for many years, and I've been an active member of Team Sybase since its inception in 1993. So... plenty of time to develop an ego of planetary size.
Anyway, StackOverflow is a truly wonderful programming Q & A website built around tags rather than subforums; i.e., individual posts are manually marked with tags like "sqlanywhere" but otherwise everything's stored in one big bucket.
I just want to work with posts tagged as "sqlanywhere". There aren't a lot of those right now, but there are tens of thousands of threads in the NNTP forums so if even a fraction of the SQL Anywhere and MobiLink developers came over to StackOverflow, that would change dramatically.
I figured out how to search StackOverflow within the context of a tag, but not stay there. Not even the StackOverflow search stays within the context of a tag; you have to keep typing [sqlanywhere] in the search box or it will suddenly broaden the search.
At least, as far as I can tell... after a few hours of searching and reading and testing, and after answering a couple of questions here and here, I decided to ask my very first question on StackOverflow:
How to I get StackOverflow to treat a tag as a subforum?
I want to work within the context of a particular tag; i.e., only see messages that have been tagged with "sqlanywhere", as if SO supported subforums.
I know that I can tailor an initial StackOverflow search with a particular tag using one of the following techniques, but in each case the tag is only applied to the initial search; i.e., on a subsequent search using the SO GUI the user must re-enter the tag [sqlanywhere] or else the search suddenly broadens:<form id="search" action="http://stackoverflow.com/search" method="get" target="_blank">In any event, I want the pseudo-subforum "tag localization" to extend beyond searching.
<input name="q" class="textbox" onfocus="if (this.value=='search') this.value = ''" type="text" maxlength="80" size="28" value="[sqlanywhere]">
<form id="search" action="http://stackoverflow.com/questions/tagged/'sqlanywhere'" method="get" target="_blank">
<input name="q" class="textbox" onfocus="if (this.value=='search') this.value = ''" type="text" maxlength="80" size="28" value="">
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!
Within two minutes, Geoff Dalgas sprang into action! ... on a Saturday morning no less!
Geoff marked my message as "closed" and tagged it as "belongs on uservoice", no other comment.
A bit of digging revealed that uservoice is the place where people post StackOverflow enhancement requests.
I had no intention of asking for an enhancement to StackOverflow, not after using it for only a few hours. That would be hugely presumptuous, coming from a n00b like me.
I just asked how to do something, and if the answer is "you can't" then that's OK too.
Well... I guess I did get an answer, in a rude and roundabout way.Sure, I could argue against the "closed"... if that's even possible for a n00b with no "reputation"... or I could go ahead and post the question on the uservoice forum, but that's not important.
Here's what is...
Important Lesson Learned
If Geoff Dalgas was just some random dude, no big deal, the interweb is full of people like him. But he's not some random dude, he represents StackOverflow.
And through him, StackOverflow is saying "Breck Carter is not welcome! Go away!"
Quickly, effectively, thoroughly... here's the lesson I've learned: Don't tell friends to ask questions on StackOverflow.
The SQL Anywhere and MobiLink developer community is filled to the brim with serious professionals. Everyone who answers questions on the NNTP forums (Sybase tech support, iAnywhere Solutions engineers and outsiders like me) are unfailingly gentle and polite when dealing with even the simplest of questions. The developers are used to that level of service, and they would be shocked and horrified at the treatment waiting for them at StackOverflow.
Sure... Geoff might think so. But remember, he's not just a community member, not just a moderator, he's at the very heart of StackOverflow, and that's important.
Thank you, Geoff Dalgas, for saving me from spending any more time learning about StackOverflow, and from embarrassing myself with friends and clients.
I did have a second question for StackOverflow all lined up ready to go:
How do I create a Google Custom Search Engine that searches within a tag on StackOverflow?Google web search is great, we all know that. What isn't so great, at least for someone with my abilities, is making it work well with websites like StackOverflow.
The StackOverflow search is nice, but Google it ain't.
For example, a Google search on the word subforum will also find subforums and sub-forum, but apparently StackOverflow will not.
Sure, it's easy to set up a Google Custom Search Engine to search all of StackOverflow, but how do I specify an url pattern that will limit the search to posts tagged with "sqlanywhere"? These patterns don't work:
I'm sure there is an answer, maybe someone will comment here ( not gonna ask on StackOverflow, ego still healing :)http://stackoverflow.com/questions/tagged/sqlanywhere/*
Some time ago, in the search for true happiness, I lowered my expectations about developer support forums. I now only have two requirements: First, the forums have to be fast, and second, they have to be searchable by Google.
Once upon a time, the NNTP forums satisfied those requirements. NNTP client software like Forte Agent was blindingly fast, and with the immediate feed from the Sybase NNTP server to Google, the Google Groups search facility brought the power of Google search to bear.
No more. Forte Agent is still fast, but Google Groups search is broken... and that's the main reason I was revisiting StackOverflow.
Here's the story on Google Groups search, told by example...
Never mind that the following search only finds two matches; after all, 2003 was a long time ago, and the feed from forums.sybase.com to Google Groups has been inoperative from time to time.
No, the problem here is quite different: Google Groups is returning one hit from an entirely different group than the one requested:
The "wrong groups" problem occurs randomly. Sometimes Google Groups searches in the domain range sybase.* return hits in groups entirely outside that range.
The following Google Groups date range search doesn't find any posts in January 2009:
... even though quite a few exist:
... and even though other Google Groups searches can find January posts.
But those are minor issues compared to the problems with exact phrase searches. The following Google Groups searches were formed by plucking various phrases from actual NNTP posts made over several years. None of these searches find anything:
"download acknowledgement disabled" group:sybase.public.sqlanywhere.mobilinkIn each case, Google Groups does have matching messages and can display them via other searches, it just can't find them using simple exact phrase searches.
"use named row parameters" group:sybase.public.sqlanywhere.mobilink
"unable to calculate the timestamp precision" group:sybase.public.sqlanywhere.mobilink
Here's an interesting case; this Google Groups search doesn't find anything: "run syncase.sql" group:sybase.public.sqlanywhere.mobilink
But this search does work, and does successfully find the post that contains the longer phrase "run syncase.sql": "syncase.sql" group:sybase.public.sqlanywhere.mobilink
And this search works too; go figure: "run syncase" group:sybase.public.sqlanywhere.mobilink
Yup, broken... or worse
Google Groups search is broken, which means Google Groups is broken... useless... untrustworthy.
And StackOverflow is run by people like this.
My search for happiness continues.