Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Just another Q&A site: StackOverflow fades from view

Here's a short story about how long it takes for old folks to learn new tricks:

I was trying to launch http://localhost/ in the default browser from inside a Windows batch file. A Windows shortcut specifying only http://localhost/ worked, but coding the same thing inside a batch file:

resulted in this error message:
'http:' is not recognized as an internal or external command,
operable program or batch file.

Press any key to continue . . .
So I went to Google (one of those new tricks that old folks take a long time to learn)...
how do I launch a web page from a batch file?
Lots of hits, but nothing useful, and nothing at all from either or, so...

It was time for an epiphany: Aha! Perhaps I could create a shortcut and have the batch file launch that!

Time to refine the search (another one of those new tricks for old folks)...
how do I launch a shortcut from a batch file?
Bingo! Among the answers was a clue that the shortcut name wasn't *.lnk like it would be for a shortcut to a batch file, it was *.url, so this batch file worked:

That's nice, but it's not the point, is it?

No, that's not the point here. The point is that if StackOverflow and ServerFault were living up to their lofty goals, they would have appeared in the Google searches.

And they didn't. And they haven't appeared in Google searches for quite some time... and I haven't bothered to go directly to those websites for quite some time, either.

Why is that?

Out of almost 2 million questions on StackOverflow, nothing came close to answering this question
how do I launch a shortcut from a batch file?
but that's to be expected, that isn't a "real programming question" in the minds of the jerks who run StackOverflow the folks who frequent StackOverflow.

How about ServerFault? That should be a better place to ask this question... but alas, no. Perhaps it is because there are only 87,000 questions on that website, an astonishingly small number considering its broad scope and the fact that it's been around for over two years.

Why didn't you ask the question on ServerFault?

Because I already had my answer. I got it in a very short time using Google.

Why don't you post the answer on ServerFault?

Are you kidding me? Go ahead, try to post a question-with-answer on StackOverflow or ServerFault, you will be slagged as being a "reputation whore" who just wants points and badges. I made that mistake once, never again.

Back on topic...

In the words of Joel Spolsky, here is the biggest, most lofty goal ever expressed for the internet as a whole, let alone for a single website:
"Our core mission at Stack Overflow is: Make the Internet a better place to get expert answers to your questions."
Well, StackOverflow is still a good source for information, but so are any number of a zillion other Q&A websites out there. StackOverflow and ServerFault (and all of their StackExchange spawn?) are fading from view among the wonder of the interweb.

Memo to Joel: Google Search is achieving that goal, not you. In fact, you're being left behind... your websites aren't showing up in Google searches.

Oh, and good luck with that venture capital thing... the software's great, but StackExchange ain't gonna be The Next Big Thing.

You shoulda stuck to your original software-as-a-service business model... you never gave it a chance, you never went off beta with it.


Anonymous said...

Start http://localhost

Daz Liquid.

Breck Carter said...

@Daz: Awesome! Another new trick / old folks moment for me! It also demonstrates The Power Of Procrastination, also known as "never do today what you can put off until tomorrow"; here's my to-do item which you have now made unnecessary: "Create and deploy a Foxhound shortcut http_localhost.url ... blah blah blah". Thanks!

Anonymous said...

If there's anything like a "nice rant" - here you are:) And it's a sound analysis as well.

In short: Well done.


Unknown said...

I always thought I was the ONLY ONE who found Joel's perceived value of his own advice somewhat higher than the actual value!