I’ve been active on the programming question & answer site, StackOverflow.com for a few years now, and in the past several months, the company behind that wonderful resource has branched out into other topics. This week, the new Homebrew.StackExchange.com site launched in public beta.
The software this site runs on is finely tuned for asking questions, and getting useful answers quickly. It is specifically designed not to be used for discussion, since other forum software handles discussions relatively well (but is really cumbersome for asking questions, and evaluating which answer is the most helpful).
So, the way the site works is:
- You ask your question. You provide a title for the question, and then go into as much detail as you feel is necessary in the body of the question. Of course, the more detail you can provide, the easier it will be for people to understand both what you are asking, and why you are asking it, so they can give you a useful answer (or answers :))
- People see your question, and post comments asking for clarification, if they feel it is needed. You can then edit your question to add more details. This is important, because then if people find this page later, because they have a similar question, all the relevant details are in one place, and there is no need to sift through 12 pages of forum posts trying to understand the problem and solution.
- People post answers to your question. Again, they should be posting as much detail as possible, to try to give you a useful solution to your problem.
- People will read your question and the posted answers, and vote on each, indicating how helpful they feel each answer is, and also on how valuable the question is.
- You will read the answers posted, and post comments on them if you need more details (just like the people posted comments on your question asking for clarification, you can do the same if the answer is unclear). You can also vote each answer either up or down, based on whether you think it is helpful or not.
- You can then mark one of the answers as ‘accepted’, to indicate that it solved your problem. This servers as a ‘thank you’ to the answerer, and closes the feedback loop.
All of this voting will build up ‘reputation’ points for the users of the site. To the left is my reputation badge on the new site. As you gain reputation, the system ‘trusts’ you more, and gives you access to more tools to help maintain the site. The site is very much driven by the community, and really does a great job of building and nurturing the community.
Also, all of the data gathered by the site (questions, answers, etc) is released in a monthly data dump under a Creative Commons license, so you don’t have to worry about the site taking all of this content, and then turning it into a for-pay site, or anything. If that happened, you could just take the data dump, and start your own site with it.