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Did AI Cause StackOverflow's Massive Job Cuts, or Did StackOverflow's Community?

StackOverflow FireThe clownshow that is StackOverflow has a new episode.

It’s called “The One About Massive Layoffs”.

They announced they’re cutting 28% of staff.  This is after doubling the size of their company only a year ago.

This is why we have been so focused on our path to profitability, even as we commit to the continued product innovation of Stack Overflow for Teams and the health of the public platform by building out our AI/ML capabilities. This year we took many steps to spend less. Changes have been pursued through the lens of minimizing impact to the lives of Stackers. Unfortunately, those changes were not enough and we have made the extremely difficult decision to reduce the company’s headcount by approximately 28%.

As you may recall, when ChatGPT burst on the scene late last year, SO responded by banning it from its platform in a well-argued post.  Then they backtracked, which lead to a moderator strike (which coincided with the higher-visibility Reddit strike).  This was resolved a couple months ago, so now everything is hunky dory, right?

Not quite.  The mod strike was really a sideshow.  The core problem SO has goes like this:

  • AI companies trained their models using SO’s massive postbase
  • Users have discovered that they can ask ChatGPT to write scripts for them and answer questions and get these results faster and without having to interact with SO’s cranky community
  • Hence, users no longer need SO


There’s still many times where a dev may want a more nuanced answer than “write me an Ansible playbook” and having gen AI spit out an example, so this isn’t just a “AI wrecks humanity” story.  There are many forums where you can find questions asked and answered at length.

But SO designed their community to be nothing more than human answerbots that can can easily be replaced by AI bots.

Here are some problems with SO:

  • Strict rules.  Rules aren’t bad, of course, but SO’s are so dense and black/white that I doubt any newbie could ask a question there without running afoul.  The community’s response is “you need to read the rules” but asking users to read through a long document and understand every nuance before tiptoeing in to ask a question is a high hurdle.
  • Unpopular rules.  Asking “what’s the best Javaccript framework to do ____” will be immediately closed as it doesn’t fit the site.  But that’s a question a lot of people want to ask.
  • This leads to too fine a focus – OK, I can go to SO and ask how to do something with a js array but the moment I want to compare something, I need to go find a different site.  Most communities want to keep users on their site.
  • Rude users and walking-on-eggshells conversations.  Those who’ve run the gauntlet a few times are likely to turn the same “offtopic! read the rules!” etc. flamethrowers on newbs.  It’s almost like hazing.
  • Repetitive questions.  And yet, there are still lots of repeat questions.  Amazing.
  • The interface is punitive.  Questions are “downvoted” and it’s very easy for a newcomer to ask a question and then be downvoted to oblivion.  Once that happens, how likely is it that someone is going to come back?
  • Search is overwhelming.  I’ve searched thoroughly sometimes, not found anything, asked my question, and then had responses with links to SO questions that didn’t come up.  Perhaps it’s because I got 2,000 responses in my search and only #1,513 was actually the answer.
  • Who has the time?  The focus on badges, achievements, etc. leads to behavior that is sometimes not helpful.  I’ve always carried a spare clue or two on forums but who has time to sit and watch the torrential flow of questions coming in over the transom?  People who are not experts but want points, badges, and other virtual doo-dads.
  • Lack of personality.  This is a huge one.  If you’re an SO user, you can set your name and your avatar and that’s about it.  Can you name a dozen of your favorite users on SO?  Probably not.  There’s no “pub” where users gather…yes, there’s meta and offtopic areas but they’re separate and you have to seek them out.  It’s not like there’s an integrated community where you make friends.  It’s a stream of anonymous human bots answering questions.

StackOverflow autocomplete

Designed Themselves Into a Corner

SO has really programmed their own failure.

If there was a community in the SO, er, community, then people would still come to their site and cherish it.  But SO is just a stream of meaningless avatars, many of which are not particularly friendly.  People were once willing to endure that experience to get answers, but now that there’s an alternative, they are quickly jumping ship.



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