Announcing Stack Overflow for Teams

Hey, we have a new thing for you today!

Today’s new thing is called Stack Overflow for Teams. It lets you set up a private place on Stack Overflow where you can ask questions that will only be visible to members of your team, company, or organization. It is a paid service, but it’s not expensive.

I meet people who use Stack Overflow every single day, but a lot of them tell me they have never needed to post their own question. “All the questions are already answered!” they say. Mission accomplished, I guess!

Still, when I think about what questions developers have every day, only the ones that have to do with public stuff can be asked on Stack Overflow. Maybe you don’t have a question about Python or Android… maybe you want to ask something about your team’s own code base!

That’s the idea behind Stack Overflow Teams.

Helicopters

Quick background: every development team since the beginning of time has been trying to figure out how to get institutional knowledge out of people’s heads and into written, searchable form where everyone can find it. Like new members of the team. And old members of the team working on new parts of the code. And people who forgot what they did three years ago and now have questions about their own code.

For a while developers thought wikis might be the solution. Anyone who has used a wiki for this purpose has probably discovered that not very much knowledge actually makes it into the wiki, and what does is not particularly useful, doesn’t get updated, and honestly it just feels like a bunch of homework to write a bunch of wiki documentation about your code when you don’t know if it will ever help anyone.

Another solution being sold today is the idea of having some kind of online IRC-style chat rooms, and hoping that by searching those chat archives, you can find “institutional knowledge.” Ha ha ha! Even if that works, all you really find is the history of some conversation people had. It might have clues but it’s not knowledge.

But you know what does work? A Q&A system. Like Stack Overflow.

Why? Because unlike wikis, you don’t write documentation in the hopes that one day it might help someone. You answer questions that are going to help someone immediately. And you can stop answering the minute you get the green checkmark that shows that you solved their problem.

And unlike chatrooms, searching actually works. It finds you a question and its answers, not a conversation-captured-in-amber.

This is why Stack Overflow worked so much better on the public internet than the previous generation of discussion forums, and we think that it will work for all the same reasons with teams’ proprietary questions and answers.

When you join a team, you’ll see your team’s private questions right on stackoverflow.com (although they actually live in a separate database for security). Your teams are listed in the left hand navbar.

Screen Shot

Everything else works pretty much … like you would expect. When you ask a question, you can direct it to your team or to the whole world. The UI makes it very clear whether you are posting publicly or privately. If you are asking a question of your team, there’s a Notify field so you can type the names of some people who might be able to answer the question, and they’ll hear about it right away.

Screen shot

When you search, you can search everywhere, or just within your team. You can set up tags that are specific to your team, too.

The pricing is designed to be “no-brainer” pricing, starting at just $10 per month for the first ten users.

I think Stack Overflow for Teams is going to be almost as important to developers’ daily work as public Stack Overflow. It brings Stack Overflow’s uniquely powerful system to every developer question, not just the things that can be discussed in public. You can stop asking your teammates questions in email (where they help nobody else) or in chatrooms (where they are impossible to find) and start building your own private knowledge base to document your code and answer future teammates’ questions before they have them.

The Stack Overflow Age

Hi, everyone! A lot of stuff has happened since I was writing all those blog posts about Aeron chairs 18 years ago. Some of those blog posts are old enough to go to college.

And, also: Stack Overflow will be ten years old soon! Wow! So I thought it would be cool to get the old band back together for a little reunion tour over the next few weeks. I want to catch you all up on some stuff but mostly I want to tell the story of Stack Overflow in a not-completely-disorganized way. With some perspective, it’s clearer now what we did right and what we messed up, so I’ll try to cover the good and the bad over a series of blog posts.

And, also: we’re just a few weeks away from launching Stack Overflow Teams, the biggest upgrade to Stack Overflow ever, so that’s going to be really cool. I’ll get to that in a future blog post!

Today is chapter one. I want to talk a little bit about what it was like for developers before Stack Overflow, the problem that Stack Overflow tried to solve, and early origins.

In the early days of the Internet, before the Web, there was a system called Usenet which created primitive online discussion forums. When programmers had problems with their code, they could ask a question on a Usenet forum. (They were technically called newsgroups, not forums (even though they had nothing to do with news. (You couldn’t even get news on Usenet.)))

As soon as the world wide web became a thing, Usenet was immediately technically obsolete. We programmers started asking about our problems on various web-based forums, of which there were thousands.

One of the biggest such forums was called Experts Exchange. The first version of Experts Exchange was not successful financially. Apparently they went bankrupt in 2001. Eventually new owners bought the assets and resurrected the site with a clever business model: charging money to read answers.

This actually fixed the business, which started making money, but it caused some problems.

The first problem was that programmers with problems would search on Google, not on Experts Exchange. And Google only knows about free, open websites, not websites that you have to pay to access. So EE did a bamboozle: when the Google Robot came by, they showed it the full question and its answers. But when regular people went to the same page, they saw the answers were scrambled, with instructions to pay (I think it was about $250 a year) to see the results. Most programmers couldn’t be bothered.

The second problem was that EE let you get a free membership if you answered a certain number of questions. As it turned out, the people who were most desperate for free memberships were not exactly the best programmers in the world, and they wrote low quality answers to questions just to get those free memberships. And the quality of answers on the site went down.

For a long time (at least five years, I think) programmers would constantly come across EE in the Google search results, try to click on them, discover that it was a pay site, grumble, and just go back to Google and try to find an answer for free.

And I kept thinking, how hard is it to run a discussion forum on the Internet? For fudge sake, I had written one in Visual Basic in a weekend. (Not kidding, actually. Yeah I know that I am always saying “I could do that in a weekend in Visual Basic” when developers tell me some feature is going to take a year. This is why). So I was confident that it was only a matter of time before one of the 9,000,000 smart programmers in the world decided to route around this EE damage and make a free forum.

You know what? Nobody ever did. I kept waiting.

Another thing I wrote in a weekend (well, to be precise: a fortnight (shut up, I’m telling this lie)) was a job listing board for this blog. And in the first month of running that job board I think we sold about $90,000 of job listings. Huzzah! And then I thought, wow, if we smashed these ideas together—replace Experts Exchange with a free site, and pay for it with job listings—we could undo the damage to the internet and let developers get work done again.

I kept thinking “Man, this is so obvious, somebody is going to do it.”

And they never did.

And I went to one of the programmers at Fog Creek, and explained my idea, and he was like “yeah yeah sounds like a great idea, but I really like working on FogBugz.”

And more time went by.

And eventually, early in 2008, a developer/blogger named Jeff Atwood called me up, and said, “Hey Joel, I’m thinking of quitting my day job to be a Pro Blogger; you’re a blogger: what do you think?”

And I said, “Jeff, I’ve got a better idea” and I told him about the idea to combine the job listings with the Q&A site for developers, and, it took more than a weekend, but eventually I convinced him. We started talking about all the ways our Q&A site would be amazing. Jeff started working on the code in April 2008, recruited two other programmers to join him (Geoff and Jarrod, who are still here), and the three of them heroically launched what became Stack Overflow in September 2008.

 

The original Stack Overflow

 

And thus began the Stack Overflow Age.

Stack Overflow was better because it was free, but it had a ton of other “innovations” (which I put in quotes because we stole them from other Internet pioneers) which made it a much, much better site for getting answers to programming questions.

We wanted the whole thing to be a fun game, with incentives to answer questions, so we had a reputation system. The more you answer, the more reputation you earn. The reputation idea had been seen before on sites like Slashdot and Reddit.

As you earn reputation, you also earn moderation privileges on the site. So the site actually moderates itself, which is pretty cool.

Instead of putting all the Java programmers in one little forum and all the C++ programmers in another, we dumped everyone together and just let them tag their questions. This idea was stolen from flickr (remember flickr?) who, I think, stole it from del.icio.us (now gone)—who knows, anyway, the point is, tags were the new hotness and made Stack Overflow work great.

Most importantly, we realized that each question is asked by one person but the answers are seen by thousands of people who found it through a search. So we decided to optimize everything to be useful for the thousands, not the individual. We literally have 1000 visitors for every person who asks a question. That’s why we sort the answers by votes. It’s also why we optimize for questions and answers that will be helpful to other people, later.

Interestingly, when Jeff and I started Stack Overflow, we didn’t really care if it was a business and we didn’t need it to be a big profitable success. We created it because the internet sucked for programmers and we needed to make it better. We thought the job listings would pay the bills, and we’d fix the internet, and that was all we cared about and it’s what motivated us to work so hard.

Of course, it turned out a lot bigger than we thought it would. The company today has 250 employees, is profitable, and has made it possible for millions of people to learn how to code and to deal with the new, super-complicated world of APIs and frameworks that we live in. But we just wanted to fix the internet.

I have met a lot of people who started businesses because they wanted to start a business. Paul Graham calls this “Playing House.” And they didn’t really care what the business did; they just wanted to “be entrepreneurs.” Which is weird, because being an entrepreneur really sucks. It’s really hard to get through all the extraordinary difficulty, pain, and stress of starting a company if you’re not super, super motivated to solve a problem for the world.

The entrepreneurs who succeed do so because it is incredibly important to them a thing exist in the world, and it does not exist, so they work like crazy until it does. When we started Stack Overflow we didn’t expect it to be a big business; we just wanted there to be someplace where developers could get help to daily problems, while showing off how smart they were helping other developers.

Ok, that’s chapter one. I’ve got a lot more to talk about. In the next installment, I’ll talk more about how Stack Overflow’s light dusting of gamification made it really take off.

Stack Exchange Raises $40m

Today Stack Exchange is pleased to announce that we have raised $40 million, mostly from Andreessen Horowitz.

Everybody wants to know what we’re going to do with all that money. First of all, of course we’re going to gold-plate the Aeron chairs in the office. Then we’re going to upgrade the game room, and we’re already sending lox platters to our highest-rep users.

But I’ll get into that in a minute. First, let me catch everyone up on what’s happening at Stack Exchange.

In 2008, Jeff Atwood and I set out to fix a problem for programmers. At the time, getting answers to programming questions online was super annoying. The answers that we needed were hidden behind paywalls, or buried in thousands of pages of stale forums.

So we built Stack Overflow with a single-minded, compulsive, fanatical obsession with serving programmers with a better Q&A site.

Everything about how Stack Overflow works today was designed to make programmers’ jobs easier. We let members vote up answers, so we can show you the best answer first. We don’t allow opinionated questions, because they descend into flame wars that don’t help people who need an answer right now. We have scrupulously avoided any commercialization of our editorial content, because we want to have a site that programmers can trust.

Heck, we don’t even allow animated ads, even though they are totally standard on every other site on the Internet, because it would be disrespectful to programmers to strain their delicate eyes with a dancing monkey, and we can’t serve them 100% if we are distracting them with a monkey. That would only be serving them 98%. And we’re OBSESSED, so 98% is like, we might as well close this all down and go drive taxis in Las Vegas.

Anyway, it worked! Entirely thanks to you. An insane number of developers stepped up to pass on their knowledge and help others. Stack Overflow quickly grew into the largest, most trusted repository of programming knowledge in the world.

Quickly, Jeff and I discovered that serving programmers required more than just code-related questions, so we built Server Fault and Super User. And when that still didn’t satisfy your needs, we set up Stack Exchange so the community could create sites on new topics. Now when a programmer has to set up a server, or a PC, or a database, or Ubuntu, or an iPhone, they have a place to go to ask those questions that are full of the people who can actually help them do it.

But you know how programmers are. They “have babies.”  Or “take pictures of babies.” So our users started building Stack Exchange sites on unrelated topics, like parenting and photography, because the programmers we were serving expected—nay, demanded!—a place as awesome as Stack Overflow to ask about baby feeding schedules and f-stops and whatnot.

And we did such a good job of serving programmers that a few smart non-programmers looked at us and said, “Behold! I want that!” and we thought, hey!  What works for developers should work for a lot of other people, too, as long as they’re willing to think like developers, which is the best way to think. So, we decided that anybody who wants to get with the program is welcome to join in our plan. And these sites serve their own communities of, you know, bicycle mechanics, or what have you, and make the world safer for the Programmer Way Of Thinking and thus serve programmers by serving bicycle mechanics.

In the five years since then, our users have built 133 communities. Stack Overflow is still the biggest. It reminds me of those medieval maps of the ancient world. The kind that shows a big bustling city (Jerusalem) smack dab in the middle, with a few smaller settlements around the periphery. (Please imagine Gregorian chamber music).


View of Jerusalem
Stack Overflow is the big city in the middle. Because the programmer-city worked so well, people wanted to ask questions about other subjects, so we let them build other Q&A villages in the catchment area of the programmer-city. Some of these Q&A villages became cities of their own. The math cities barely even have any programmers and they speak their own weird language. They are math-Jerusalem. They makes us very proud. Even though they don’t directly serve programmers, we love them and they bring a little tear to our eyes, like the other little villages, and they’re certainly making the Internet—and the world—better, so we’re devoted to them.

One of these days some of those villages will be big cities, so we’re committed to keeping them clean, and pulling the weeds, and helping them grow.

But let’s go back to programmer Jerusalem, which—as you might expect—is full of devs milling about, building the ENTIRE FUTURE of the HUMAN RACE, because, after all, software is eating the world and writing software is just writing a script for how the future will play out.

So given the importance of software and programmers, you might think they all had wonderful, satisfying jobs that they love.

But sadly, we saw that was not universal. Programmers often have crappy jobs, and their bosses often poke them with sharp sticks. They are underpaid, and they aren’t learning things, and they are sometimes overqualified, and sometimes underqualified. So we decided we could actually make all the programmers happier if we could move them into better jobs.

That’s why we built Stack Overflow Careers. This was the first site that was built for developers, not recruiters. We banned the scourge of contingency recruiters (even if they have big bank accounts and are just LINING UP at the Zion Gate trying to get into our city to feed on programmer meat, but, to hell with them). We are SERVING PROGRAMMERS, not spammers. Bye Felicia.

Which brings us to 2015.

The sites are still growing like crazy. By our measurements, the Stack Exchange network is already in the top 50 of all US websites, ranked by number of unique visitors, with traffic still growing at 25% annually. The company itself has passed 200 employees worldwide, with big plush offices in Denver, New York, and London, and dozens of amazing people who work from the comfort of their own homes. (By the way, if 200 people seems like a lot, keep in mind that more than half of them are working on Stack Overflow Careers).

We could just slow down our insane hiring pace and get profitable right now, but it would mean foregoing some of the investments that let us help more developers. To be honest, we literally can’t keep up with the features we want to build for our users. The code is not done yet—we’re dedicating a lot of resources to the core Q&A engine. This year we’ll work on improving the experience for both new users and highly experienced users.

And let’s not forget Stack Overflow Careers. I believe it is, bar-none, the single best job board for developer candidates, which should  automatically make it the best place for employers to find developer talent. There’s a LOT more to be done to serve developers here and we’re just getting warmed up.

So that’s why we took this new investment of $40m.

We’re ecstatic to have Andreessen Horowitz on board. The partners there believe in our idea of programmers taking over (it was Marc Andreessen who coined the phrase “Software is eating the world”). Chris Dixon has been a personal investor in the company since the beginning and has always known we’d be the obvious winner in the Q&A category, and will be joining our board of directors as an observer.

This is not the first time we’ve raised money; we’re proud to have previously taken investments from Union Square Ventures, Index Ventures, Spark Capital, and Bezos Expeditions. We only take outside money when we are 100% confident that the investors share our philosophy completely and after our lawyers have done a ruthless (sorry, investors) job of maintaining control so that it is literally impossible for anyone to mess up our vision of fanatically serving the people who use our site, and continuing to make the Internet a better place to get expert answers to your questions.

For those of you who have been with us since the early days of Our Incredible Journey, thank you. For those of you who are new, welcome. And if you want to learn more, check out our hott new “about” page. Or ask!

Careers 2.0 (by Stack Overflow)

One day, you’ll be telling your grandchildren about getting a programming job, version 1.0. You would send a “resume” to a “recruiter.” It included all kinds of silly information required by the esoteric resume ritual (foreign languages spoken, whether or not you play ultimate Frisbee, Microsoft-veteran status). This so-called “information” was utterly useless at determining whether you could program or not, but if you spelled everything right and used suitable fonts, you could come in for a day of interviews at which you would be asked to perform mundane programming tasks on a whiteboard.

Careers 2.0 is here!

Stack Overflow 2010 recap

(reposted from the Stack Overflow blog)

2010 was an absolutely amazing year here at Stack Overflow. We grew from 7 million visitors to over 16 million, putting us in Quantcast’s top 400. We raised $6 million in venture capital, and we went from three full time employees to 27. We built a 7500 square foot office in New York, and we launched a ton of new features and sites, like Stack Exchange, a network of 33 Q&A sites on diverse topics from cooking to computer science. Stack Exchange grew 51% in December alone. Wow.

The expert Q&A model that Stack Overflow pioneered is really working. The statistic I’m proudest of is the percentage of questions that get a good answer, over 80% (and many of the new Stack Exchange sites have 100% answer rates!)

Traffic

The true measure of success for any Internet company is how often people come up to me in swank hotel lobbies and offer to buy me meals, let me use their corporate jet, etc. But since there is a great deal of disagreement as to how to measure that, we track a reasonable proxy called “eyeballs,” on the theory that if a site is useful, people will load it up in their browsers and eyeball it.

Traffic graph for Stack Overflow 2011

Traffic to Stack Overflow grew 131% in 2010, to 16.6 million global monthly uniques. *Uniques* are counted by cookies, so the number of human beings is less. We also measure the number of page views (top level pages loaded, which doesn’t count images and supporting files), which has similarly grown from 31.8 million per month to 72.8 million per month, i.e. 129% growth.

Based on the number of people who do come up to us in hotel lobbies, we’re pretty sure that ALL the programmers in the world use Stack Overflow. (Source: completely made up. But seriously, when was the last time you met a programmer who didn’t use “El Stack”?) In order to keep growing and making the Internet more awesome, we have to expand into new subject areas, like Molecular Biology and Harley Davidson Belt Buckles. That’s what Stack Exchange is all about. Stack Exchange growth is insane. In six short months, we’ve gone from zero to 1.5 million monthly visitors, growing 51% in December.

2011 Traffic stats for Stack Exchange network - unique visitors

Scene from Office SpaceIf, as planned, we continue growing at 51% a month, we will be bigger than Facebook in 15 months. We’re ALREADY bigger than ocn.ne.jp (No, I’ve never heard of that either. But we’re bigger). Jeff and I are already planning who will play us in the Aaron Sorkin movie. (Tyler Labine and Zac Efron, obviously.)

Now, obviously, all this TRAFFIC isn’t worth a thing if people aren’t getting answers to their questions. That’s why our favorite thing to measure is “percent of questions answered.” And not just any answer will do, either: to count a question as “answered”, either the original poster has to accept the answer, or a third party has to upvote the answer. This is where Stack Overflow really shines compared to other Q&A sites: we actually get questions answered. Three of our sites actually have 100% answer rates!

Chart of percent of questions answered for each site

New Sites

Last summer, we relaunched Stack Exchange as a democratically-driven network of sites on topics chosen by our users. Some of these sites are directly related to programming (for example, Game Development), but some are quite far afield, from English Language toCooking.

Screenshots of some new Stack Exchange sites

We call it the Stack Exchange network, and at StackExchange.com you’ll find a directory of all of them, along with some hot questions, statistics, leaderboards, and other tools so that you can follow the sites and tags that you’re interested in.

We learned a long time ago that the only way to get questions answered promptly is to have a critical mass of knowledgeable users, so we have an onerous process called Area 51 where sites are proposed, discussed, and voted on. If a proposed site doesn’t have critical mass, we just won’t create it. Even if it does get created, it has to maintain a certain level of traffic and quality or we’ll close it down.

So far, 13 sites have gone all the way through the Area 51 process and launched. Dozens more are already in beta. Hundreds more are in active discussion and will launch when they reach a critical mass of interested participants.

The development team has been knocking out new features at a constant pace. They built an amazing web-based chat system, and we’ve added literally hundreds of new features and improvements to the core Stack Overflow engine which we roll out continuously.

The Company

At the beginning of the year, Stack Overflow LLC was just three developers working from home. In the spring, we raised $6 million in venture capital from Union Square Ventures and a long list of celebrity angel investors, which allowed us to expand rapidly. We hired a team of great people, including several of the high-reputation users that you know from Stack Overflow.

the Stack Overflow team - portraits

We now have community managers, a sales team, two full time system administrators, and Very Important Administrative Overhead like myself, but most importantly, we have a great team of developers, in New York and around the world, building the next generation of cool features, like the important “wheel of blame” feature, which we can run at any time to calculate precisely who is responsible for anything that went wrong. (Contrary to popular belief, it’s not always Jason Punyon.)

To make room for all these people, or, at least, those who live in New York, we rented a 7500 square foot, class A, super-elite batcave in New York and then fixed it up to be nice, with cool furniture including Aeron chairs and height-adjustable desks, and lots of glass to bring views and daylight deep into the batcave. And of course, we have private offices with a half dozen gigantic 453-inch monitors for each developer. And there’s an amazingly cool Star Trek couch. Does your company have a Star Trek Couch? *I didn’t think so.* We also have Rovio, a little robot that our remote developers can use to visit the office “virtually.” (There. I said “virtually.” Are you happy now?)

Floorplan of Stack Overflow office

Overall 2010 has been a real breakout year for Stack Overflow, which is now the largest programmer website in the world (source: me) and the best, fastest-growing Q&A website in the world (source: also me). We’ve got an incredible team firing on all cylinders, so we’re really looking forward to 2011.

Stack Exchange for Jewish Life and Learning

It seems like Stack Exchange is the perfect platform for questions about Jewish observance. After all, most of the Talmud reads just like Stack Overflow: a question, followed by multiple answers, usually with the highest ranking answer appearing first. The number of questions is infinite.

If you would be interested in participating in such a thing, please commit to the proposal today.