Since my previous post on the subject, Stackoverflow.com has moved from private beta to public beta. I’ve had more time to use the site and have some more thoughts. The criticisms here are meant to be constructive. Hopefully the feedback from users will help the Stackoverflow team to make a good site even better.
First the good news. The site has transitioned from private to public very well. Jeff and his team seem to have got it right in terms of architecture and infrastructure because, even with the increased load, it remains blindingly fast.
In terms of usability, I think there’s more that could be done to help me find the content that I’m interested in. The default front page is, to be honest, not very useful. New questions are coming in so fast and on so many topics that displaying the most recent questions is just noise.
I would prefer to have a personalised home page that shows me relevant questions based on my previous answering/voting history. I realise that this is major new functionality and I’m not criticising the Stackoverflow team for not having this in the initial version, it makes sense to get the site up and running first. However, it would be great if this could be implemented at some point. I’m not alone on this one, it’s the second most popular requested feature at the moment.
Presently I’m finding stuff that I want to look at by going to the tags page and clicking on interesting topics. But I’m sure I’m missing out on questions that would be of interest if only I could find them.
The tag cloud on the right of the front page isn’t very helpful either. It’s ordered with the most recent first. If I just wanted to view questions tagged “html”, I’m going to struggle to find the tag in the cloud. An alphabetical ordering would be more usable. Unfortunately, this has already been suggested and rejected.
Voting and Reputation
I outlined my concerns on the voting mechanism previously. In the interests of being constructive, rather than just a whiny blogger, I’ve opened new issues on the Stackoverflow Uservoice page. If you agree with me, please vote on these issues:
- Don’t allow users to answer and vote on the same question (and remove the -1 penalty for down-voting)
- Make down votes equivalent to up votes
Addressing each of these will help in resolving The Fastest Gun in the West Problem (currently the number one voted-on issue). The problem is that early answers get the votes and later, better answers are largely ignored. Removing the penalty for down-voting will encourage more down votes where they are deserved (so an early answer that is later shown to be wrong is less likely to retain a high score). Also, if a down vote was as powerful as an up vote, people might be more careful in crafting good answers as opposed to quick answers.