Stack Exchange: Why I dropped out

Stack Exchange is a series of question-and-answer sites, including Stack Overflow for programming and Cross Validated for statistics. I was introduced to these sites at a short talk by Barry Rowlingson at the 2011 UseR! meeting, “Why R-help must die!“

These sites have a lot of advantages over R-help: The format is easier to read, math and code can be nicely formatted, the questions are tagged, search is easier, and there should be less redundancy.

Additional pros

  • It’s good to help people.
  • It’s fun to rack up reputation points for helping people.
  • It’s good exercise, in both thinking about statistical questions and in articulating useful answers (and there are some interesting questions).

However, some cons

So I gave up

I started spending time on stackoverflow and cross-validated soon after returning from UseR! 2011, but I lost my patience and quit within three months.

One needs to treat each question with respect, and I eventually seemed to lose my ability to sustain such goodwill. I think I take things too personally.


I should clarify: I do continue to use Stack Exchange, mostly through google. Many problems I run into have already been answered. I just don’t have the right temperament to participate regularly in answering others’ questions.


11 Responses to “Stack Exchange: Why I dropped out”

  1. Wesley Brooks Says:

    Hi Karl,
    Sorry to hear you’ve quit using Stack Overflow! Since I usually am asking questions, not answering them, your cons are mostly positives for me – I love that the gurus are climbing over each other to answer my questions. Of course, it’s only sustainable if they enjoy the process, too.

    Actually, the problem I’ve encountered most often is that since I tend not to post a question unless I’m completely stumped, there aren’t many people who know the answers. Or, vanity aside, maybe my questions are just awful.


    I sometimes wonder if all this training in communicating with the precision of academic writing makes me incomprehensible to regular people.

    • Karl Broman Says:

      I do still find useful answers there; many problems I run into have already been answered, so it is a great repository.

      It’s good that you answered your own question!

  2. Anthony Damico Says:

    SO is a great way to help if you know one corner of programming very well.. if you’re frustrated, you should skip the general questions but keep an alert for [r] + tags relevant to your work/interests. for me, i only answer questions about “public survey data” because that’s what i know well..

    the founders talk about it here-

    hope you come back 😉

    • Karl Broman Says:

      I’m glad that you’re able to continue participating. I think I just don’t have the temperament for it. I’ve not found a way to categorize my interests so succinctly.

  3. Frankie Says:

    Karl, I believe that this is the moment you’ve actually started to use SE. The moment you drop the “game” out of it and start using the site not for the points or whatnot but simply as a repository of knowledge. You’ll answer some questions, vote on others and will keep being sent there by Google because after all, in the end, when you search you’re looking for quality content and, so far, SO is years ahead of the next provider.

  4. Tom Says:

    Thank, Karl for your honest opinion. I too have become somewhat disenchanted with SE. This isn’t to say I don’t still return for the great content. And I’m still amazed that smart people ever bothered to answer my questions. But there are a few things I really can’t stand.

    – Inability for juniors like me to give back. I feel like I’ve been really helped and I would like to help others, but as you note the easy questions go in a matter of seconds.
    – Overfocus on avoiding redundant or poorly worded questions (I disagree with you somewhat here). For new users, we definitely don’t know all the answers, but often we don’t even know the questions. The automatic checks when asking questions are sufficient, there’s no need for petty wrist-slapping of ‘dumb’ questions. There’s always the option to just not answer.
    – The god-like power of the heavyweights. SE is supposed to be a community-run Q&A, but you’re only in the community if you have a ludicrous amount of reputation. How many fantastic questions are “closed for not being constructive”? Some with really great answers already (good thing people answered before it got stamped out!) This to me really feels like the era of serfs and fiefs.

  5. ap53 Says:

    Hi Karl,
    As a newcomer to statistics in general and to R I find SE and SO absolutely fantastic, I often wonder how I would manage without them.
    I want to thank you and all the other people who so generously give their time and knowledge to guys like me.
    I don’t need to ask many questions because so many of them are already answered. I look forward to the day where I will have interesting questions that will get answers and in turn will help others.
    Thanks again

  6. John Says:

    So you’re not an actual teaching Professor you’re a research Professor. Gotta do what feels right otherwise everyone will be unhappy. I can imagine there are a lot of newbies and their questions breathing a sigh of relief that you wont be there to tear their questions to shreds.

  7. NIck Cox Says:

    SO and CV are like any other large communities with some hierarchical or status differentiation. Senior people can seem over-authoritarian to junior people, while there’s limited sympathy from senior people for many kinds of low-level questions. One recent question on CV was of the form “My dissertation is due in tomorrow and I need precise advice on how to analyse my data”. That did get specific advice and specific questions in return — that mostly weren’t answered by the original poster — but there are many web forums in which there would have been very severe and much ruder put-downs. So it seems to me that CV is on the whole remarkably positive. Also, there has been plenty of discussion on why CV (for example) doesn’t work better e.g.

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