Stack Overflow is a new Q&A website for developers, which is still in beta. You can read more about it here:
The URL to access Stack Overflow is here:
I love the idea/theory/vision behind this. I have been reading Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood's blogs for years and I really enjoy and respect them.
The execution of the idea leaves a lot to be desired. My expectations were probably way too high. Joel and Jeff blog extensively about usability, yet the usability of Stack Overflow drives me crazy.
Here is specific feedback on what I would like to see changed with the implementation of Stack Overflow:
Let's start at the beginning: Login. If you go to login to Stackoverflow (login is optional, but required for the vast majority of the features of the web site), you run into something called OpenID. For some people OpenID is probably a non-issue. For me, it is an issue. You can Google OpenID and read more about it, I'm not going to try to describe it. Here are my issues with OpenID:
1) I immediately have to make a hard choice: Do I trust some third party with my OpenID information or do I roll my own? I don't like either option at all. Rolling your own OpenID is non-trivial and under-documented. I don't have any trust for any of the third party OpenID providers. So, I of course threw up my hands and chose the path of least resistance: I just arbitrarily chose an OpenID provider and I pray it doesn't hurt me later. I'm still upset about this.
2) I have to read extensively to understand what OpenID is. Honestly, I don't care what it is and I don't care for it. It's solving a problem I don't have now and I don't foresee ever having. Why does Stack Overflow force me down this path?
3) I now have a really long, difficult to remember, user name.
Okay, that's a pretty horrible way to start off, but I'm now logged in.
I find a question I like, so I try to upvote it. Oh, I can't do that until I have 15 reputation. Earning reputation is either really easy or really hard, depending how good you are at that "mini-game". Honestly, I don't care to play the mini-game. So my ability to contribute to StackOverflow is limited, I can live with that. Usage of the site over time will eventually unlock most of the reputation based features automatically as long as you are logged in while using the site.
So, I'm looking at questions and answers and I see these little bronze and silver badges by people's names. I wonder what that is about. Well, unless you happen to click on the badges button at the top of the page, it's actually fairly difficult to find out. Search is unhelpful. The official FAQ is unhelpful. The unofficial FAQ is unhelpful. This is the best part: You are not supposed to ask questions on StackOverflow about how to use StackOverflow. Seriously.
Okay, so the usability leaves a lot to be desired so far. I don't think my "new user" experience is so different from other people, but that's how I've been made to feel so far.
So, if you have a question about how to use StackOverflow, what are you supposed to do? Use Uservoice:
What is uservoice? It's a third party feedback web application. The usability of user voice is much, much worse than Stack Overflow itself. You get dumped on a webpage with very little clue where you landed, why you landed there, or what you are supposed to do.
Let's go through the exercise of trying to figure out what the badges by people's names mean here. I type in "badge" in the "I suggest you..." box. I get 5 matches, none of which look like what I want. So, at this point I guess I should "create new idea". I get a tiny little popup box to type in. I can't edit or delete it once I submit it. I can't comment on it unless I login. Comments can't be longer than 400 characters. When I try to login to UserVoice, I can't use my StackOverflow (aka OpenID) credentials. If I need to include my StackOverflow user name in my Uservoice comment, I need to type it out as the two systems aren't really integrated with each other (although you might get the impression that they are integrated with each other due to the fact that StackOverflow is displayed much more prominately on the UserVoice site than UserVoice is).
At this point, I'm mostly hate the user experience. Let's look at some of the other comments on UserVoice about the user experience:
Here's a problem that new users are having that got an admin response that I think is dismissive:
Here's what I would agree is a very valid point about the FAQ confusion (in fact, I would criticize the FAQ situation much more heavily):
Here's a "feature" that I hate, but has been declined by the administrators as not going to be fixed:
Users hate when they spend time entering data into your system and it disappears with zero indication why. That is a horrible way to treat users.
In general, the tone of admin responses I see on User Voice is horrible and makes me not want to contribute there.
As a new user I posted a question on StackOverflow about what badges were and the next day that question disappeared, so I asked another question which will likely also disappear. While this link remains valid, you can read more of the details of my non-wonderful StackOverflow experience:
Right now, I have to say "thumbs way down". I'm pretty upset with how I was treated as a new user and I'm not sure if I should give the site another chance if/when it moves out of beta. Maybe the site will take off and everyone will love it and I won't have a choice.
Updated 08/22/2009: Why I'm Using Stack Overflow