I'm in the top 0.1% of Stack Overflow, but I don't use it anymore

Thursday, January 26, 2023

As of January 20231, I’m in the top 0.07% of all Stack Overflow users with a reputation of over 158,000:

profile for coobird at Stack Overflow, Q&A for professional and enthusiast programmers

My first contribution to Stack Overflow was in September 2008, a few days after the public beta period started. I’d been listening to the weekly podcast where Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood around spring of 2008, before the website even had a name. However, for a reason or another, I didn’t join the closed beta because I stopped listening to the weekly podcast after a few episodes. (But I did join before the legendary Jon Skeet! 😉)

Once the website came online, the gamification got me hooked for a while. The Markdown editor with live preview made it a pleasure to write nicely-formatted answers with minimal effort.2 However, I’ve contributed to only five questions in the past decade.


Watching the Youtube video The Tyrannical Mods of Stack Overflow reminded me of one reason why I stepped away from Stack Overflow.

Overzealous moderation

Over time, the moderation became overzealous – there seemed to be a disconnect between what users found useful and what the moderators thought were appropriate. I used to do moderation when it was first introduced as a community feature, especially as I had enough reputation to participate. From what I recall, there were little concrete rules at the beginning but eventually guidelines were put in place, which seemed to get more and more complicated.

And fast-forward a couple of years, many questions became closed for one reason or another. One of the unfortunate things was that “subjective” questions, like “Best XYZ”, were closed ruthlessly. For example, Most useful free third-party Java libraries was deleted3, but it could have been a great way to discover many libraries and frameworks in the Java ecosystem. (And yes, this question was made a community wiki, which doesn’t give reputation to any contributor, but it was closed anyway.)

That said, the likely issue was that these “answers” were opinions and upvotes didn’t indicate whether the “answer” was correct or not – it was a popularity contest. A popular opinion would gain lots of upvotes, hence the poster would gain a lots of reputation. So while I understand that these questions weren’t completely aligned with a Q&A site, I felt that at least some of those “questions” still had merit and value. (And hey, maybe the moderators felt a bit jealous seeing those who didn’t “work hard” for repulation getting “easy reps” through such answers? 😛)

Gamification fatigue

Gamification got old after a while – at the beginning, it was exciting to write an answer in a limited amount of time. I recall doing tricks like writing a preliminary answer and making edits over time, such as adding links by editing the post.

There definitely was an advantage to answering first in order to get upvotes from other viewers. And this was especially important in the early days, as there were fewer users, so any question or answer had better visibility. These “strategies” enabled me to get “badges”. In fact, I was the 9th user to get the gold Java badge on the site 🏆

However, over time, similar questions began showing up (and the aforementioned moderation system kicking in) and became quite repetitive. Eventually, especially with other commitments, Stack Overflow became more of a chore than a fun pastime.

A similar sentiment was expressed by Gishu, a user I recall seeing from back in the days I contributed, had a similar drop in motivation. Shows that I wasn’t alone.

In any case, I just lost the interest in participating over time…

  1. I’m finishing up writing this post in April, but I’ll just leave it as January as that’s when these thoughts were written. 

  2. It’s likely that Stack Overflow has influenced my preference of Markdown. And that probably had some bearing on choosing Jekyll for building this website. 😉 

  3. If you’re not a moderator, you can’t even see this question anymore…