Since I first blogged about Stack Overflow in February 2011, the number of questions on the Q&A portal has more than doubled (from 1 million to almost 2.5 million), as has the number of answers (from 2.5 million to 5.2 million). According to a recent study by Lena Mamykina and colleagues, over 92% of the questions on Stack Overflow are answered — in a median time of a staggering 11 minutes.
The virtually real-time access to a community of other programmers willing and eager to help is an almost irresistible resource, as shown by the 12 million visitors and 131 million page views in December 2011 alone. Also, as we found in a recent study for Web2SE 2011, Stack Overflow can reach high levels of coverage for a given topic. For example, we analyzed the Google search results for one particular API –- jQuery -– and found at least one Stack Overflow question on the first page of the search results for 84% of the API’s methods.
The access to such a vast repository of knowledge that is just a web search away raises several research questions:
- Will developers who focus on reusing content from the web have sufficient understanding of the inner workings of the software they produce?
- Are web resources going to cover all important aspects of a topic?
- What meta-data is needed to facilitate technical information-seeking?
- How can we address security and copyright concerns that come with using other developers’ code?
In a recent position paper, Fernando, Brendan, Peggy and I discuss the past, present, and future of software developers that have access to an unprecedented amount and diversity of resources on the web. The paper is available as a pre-print, and will be presented at the Future of Collaborative Software Development workshop co-located with CSCW 2012 in Seattle in February.
This is the abstract of the paper:
Social media has changed how software developers collaborate, how they coordinate their work, and where they find information. Social media sites, such as the Question and Answer (Q&A) portal Stack Overflow, fill archives with millions of entries that contribute to what we know about software development, covering a wide range of topics. For today’s software developers, reusable code snippets, introductory usage examples, and pertinent libraries are often just a web search away. In this position paper, we discuss the opportunities and challenges for software developers that rely on web content curated by the crowd, and we envision the future of an industry where individual developers benefit from and contribute to a body of knowledge maintained by the crowd using social media.