Why StackOverflow is Toxic, and a Way to Improve It

People ask questions when they don’t know enough to solve a problem on their own. This means, by definition, they are very likely not to be able to formulate their question in such a way that the answer will be easily discernable by a 3rd party observer, even a highly skilled one.

Put another way, if the typical person with a problem could comply with the StackOverflow model, they wouldn’t need to go to StackOverflow for help. They’d likely already have figured out the answer on their own, or by googling.

What’s worse, in pursuing their flawed model, StackOverflow has managed to recruit, and incentivize, some of the most anal compulsive people on the planet. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen critical comments that basically boil down to “do things our way, you stupid cretin!” To which I always want to reply “Get a life! Rather than waste your time lambasting someone, just move on and ignore the question.” But some people live to criticize others, and StackOverflow has cornered the market on them.

Which is why I do everything I can to avoid going to StackOverflow anymore. The original poster is correct, it is a highly toxic environment.

One other point: a respondent here described StackOverflow as the archive for problems and answers. I don’t agree with that formulation. But such a result could be achieved in a different way, without the toxic behavior exhibited by too many StackOverflow moderators.

Just let users filter out stuff that doesn’t have a lot of positive feedback. That’s sort of what the idiots at StackOverflow try to do with their moderation and hierarchical user process, but they missed a key element: don’t allow downvotes and delete as many only critical comments as you can.

It’s the ability to crap on others which lies at the heart of StackOverflow’s toxicity. If they instead used the alternative model of “if you can’t say something nice about someone else say nothing at all” they’d instantly have a much better — and more useful! — site.

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