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Building Social Software for the Anti-Social: Part I

Five scary rules for building social software, based on our experience at Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange.

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Building Social Software for the Anti-Social: Part I

  1. Geoff KyleJeff NYC HQ Rebecca Jarrod Nick Kevin Robert
  2. Marc Ben Sam
  3. “… designing software forgroup-as-user is a problemthat cant be attacked in thesame way as designing aword processor or a graphicstool.”
  4. know your audience
  5. Q:How do you tell an introvertedcomputer programmer from anextroverted computerprogrammer?
  6. A:An extroverted computerprogrammer looks at your shoeswhen he talks to you.
  7. “In the early years of programming,a program was regarded as theprivate property of theprogrammer. One would no morethink of reading a colleaguesprogram unbidden than of pickingup a love letter and reading it.”
  8. “This is essentially what a programwas, a love letter from theprogrammer to the hardware, fullof the intimate details known onlyto partners in an affair.”
  9. REM The IBM Personal Computer DonkeyREM Version 1.10 (C)Copyright IBM Corp 1981, 1982REM Licensed Material - Program Property of IBMDEF SEG : POKE 106, 0SAMPLES$ = "NO"DIM CAR%(900)GOTO 1010SAMPLES$ = "YES"1010 KEY OFF: SCREEN 0, 1: COLOR 15, 0, 0: WIDTH 40: CLS : LOCATE 5, 19: PRINT "IBM"LOCATE 7, 12, 0: PRINT "Personal Computer"COLOR 10, 0: LOCATE 10, 9, 0: PRINT CHR$(213) + STRING$(21, 205) + CHR$(184)LOCATE 11, 9, 0: PRINT CHR$(179) + " DONKEY " + CHR$(179)LOCATE 12, 9, 0: PRINT CHR$(179) + STRING$(21, 32) + CHR$(179)LOCATE 13, 9, 0: PRINT CHR$(179) + " Version 1.10 " + CHR$(179)LOCATE 14, 9, 0: PRINT CHR$(212) + STRING$(21, 205) + CHR$(190)COLOR 15, 0: LOCATE 17, 4, 0: PRINT "(C) Copyright IBM Corp 1981, 1982"COLOR 14, 0: LOCATE 23, 7, 0: PRINT "Press space bar to continue“1100 IF INKEY$ <> "" THEN GOTO 11001110 CMD$ = INKEY$IF CMD$ = "" THEN GOTO 1110
  10. This series of books is affectionately dedicatedto the Type 650 computer once installed atCase Institute of Technology,in remembrance of many pleasant evenings.Donald Knuthdedication toThe Art of Computer Programming1968
  11. know your topic
  12. One of the great pioneers of computerand online gaming, Dani Berry died in1998. Some of her aphorisms are stillfrequently quoted by game developers,including”No one ever said on their deathbed,‘Gee, I wish I had spent more timealone with my computer.’”
  13. Programming used to be an intenselyprivate experience.Programming is now a public, socialactivityLike it or not.
  14. SourceForge is about projects. GitHub isabout people... A world of programmersforking, hacking and experimenting. Thereis merging, but only if people agree to doso, by other channels... GitHub gives memy own place to play. It lets me share mycode the way I share photos on Flickr, thesame way I share bookmarks on’s something I found useful, for whatit’s worth...
  15. Moreover, I’m sharing my code, for what it’sworth to me to share my code... I amsharing my code. I am not launching anopen source project. I am not beginning asearch for like minded developers to avoidduplication of efforts. I am not showing upat someone else’s door hat in hand, askingfor commit access. I am not looking to dobattle with Brook’s Law at the outset of mybrainstorm.
  16. Social software for the anti-social (programmers)
  17. understand people’smotivations
  18. Modern programming may be asocial activity, but programmers arestill introverted and anti-social.*What motivates us to work withconfusing, complicated, erraticpeople instead of simplecomputers?*and that’s how we like it!
  19. A shared passion:We love programming.
  20. A common enemy:We hate Bad Code.
  21. • I don’t have to agree with you• I don’t have to be “friends” with you• I don’t even have to like you… but we have a shared passion, ashared enemy, and we can learn fromeach other.
  22. The currency of Stack Overflow is information. Programmers map social relationships on top of that.Do you really need software to tell you who your friends are?
  23. Work
  24. Work is when your boss tells you to dosomething, you do it, and you get is motivated by inherent interestand generally unpaid.
  25. Usability testing techniques developedover the past 25 years for Work nolonger apply for work.We shouldnt be asking, “Can youcomplete the task?” but rather “Areyou motivated to do it in the firstplace?”
  26. Little-w work:Tiny slices of frictionless effort Amortized across the entire community
  27. “If you take Wikipedia as a kind of unit,all of Wikipedia, the whole project --every page, every edit, every talk page,every line of code, in every languagethat Wikipedia exists in -- thatrepresents something like thecumulation of 100 million hours ofhuman thought.”
  28. • Fast, fast, fast• No registration required• Simple Markdown formatting• Edit anything, anytime (even anon!)Every question has an input box at thebottom, inviting you to participate andshare what you know
  29. “Im doing a (free) operating system (just ahobby) [...] Id like to know what featuresmost people would want.”“Humor me. Go there and add a littlearticle. It will take all of five or tenminutes.”“In the past, we could do little things forlove, but big things required money. Now,we can do big things for love.”
  30. 1. Radically lower the bar for participation2. Trusting (some of) your users3. Life is the world’s biggest MMORPG4. Bad stuff happens5. Love trumps money
  31. Scary Idea #1Radically lower the bar forparticipationNo registration.None. Nada. Zilch.
  32. The Tragedy of the Commons
  33. everyone’sattention
  34. Fred Rescues the Neighborhood SquirrelsViews5,348,838Comments48,710
  35. Optical Effects of Special RelativityViews45,866Comments153
  36. Scary Idea #2Trusting (some of) your usersWhat if everyone could editeverything?
  37. OilThe value of theinformation is moreimportant than theindividual authors.WaterInformation fromcredible authors is morereliable.
  38. Channel Rules1. No whining2. No colours or other formatting, especially in automated scripts.3. Do not paste code (or anything) on the channel.4. If you feel you have been unfairly treated, abused or just arent getting your moneys worth ($0), see Rule #1.
  39. Scary Idea #3Life is the world’s biggestMMORPGWhat if you embraced the game-like aspects of your profession?
  40. Slashdot
  41. How Moderation Happens
  42. “A soldier will fight long and hard for abit of colored ribbon.”
  43. “Even though points onConsumating were redeemable forabsolutely nothing, not even a goldstar, our members had anunquenchable desire for them.”
  44. Scary Idea #4Bad stuff happensIt’s OK for bad things to happenas long as the community hasways of dealing with them.
  45. “So, Lone Starr, now you seethat evil will always triumph,because good is dumb.”
  46. Don’t be dumb.
  47. 3138 Edits 1574 UsersAve: 1.99
  48. Scary Idea #4Love Trumps MoneyEven the most staunch capitalistswill do things for love that theywould never do for money.
  49. Because the community is engaging, gives you newand different problems to solve, your help isappreciated and no one can force you to dosomething that you dont want to (as long as youdont want to troll or set things on fire) and you donthave the stress of having to answer correctly or youlllose your food (being fired). Lack of having to answerto a clueless PHB is just a plus.In short: You are here for intellectualleisure/engagement/fun, you are at work to getmoney so you can eat every day and sleepcomfortably (consumerism aside).
  50. Linux“Im doing a (free) operatingsystem (just a hobby) [...] Idlike to know what featuresmost people would want.” Wikipedia“Humor me. Go there and add alittle article. It will take all of fiveor ten minutes.”
  51. 1. Radically lower the bar for participation2. Trusting (some of) your users3. Life is the world’s biggest MMORPG4. Bad stuff happens5. Love trumps money
  52. .. it’s a trap!
  53. I live in US – skycbc5405Can you get a GTX 480? You can get thembrand new in the UK now for like £200-£220 –AtomfixWhat kind of resolution do you play on? Thatwould help us pick out the right GPU for you?– tryagainplss
  54. The other thing I wanted was that they be reallyliterate in whatever language they write to otherhumans. I want people who can write, becausewe spend a lot of time writing to each other.We’re writing email or documentation. We’rewriting plans. We’re writing specifications. I wantto know the people on my team are capable ofdoing that, and that turns out to be a verydifficult skill. I would actually rather see peoplestart as English majors than as math majors toget into programming. -- Douglas Crockford
  55. Another is Elements of Style, which isn’teven a programming book. You should readit for two reasons. The first is that a largepart of every software engineer’s job iswriting prose. If you can’t write precise,coherent, readable specs, nobody is going tobe able to use your stuff. So anything thatimproves your prose style is good. Thesecond reason is that most of the ideas inthat book are also applicable to programs. -- Joshua Bloch
  56. I heard about a computer sciencedepartment where in the tutor’s officethey had a stuffed animal and the rulewas that you had to explain yourproblem to the stuffed animal beforeyou could bother the tutor. “Ok,Mister Bear, here’s the thing I’mworking on and here’s my approach –aha! There it is.”
  57. I’ve occasionally been asked to advise universitieson syllabus subjects for computer sciencecourses. And I say “Well, turn ‘em out being ableto write and argue cogently.” Most graduateswho come out, they’ve got degrees in computerscience, but writing’s not their strong point.It’s very difficult to teach *writing+ because it’svery individual. Somebody’s got to take your textand a red pen and explain to you what you didwrong. And that’s very time consuming. -- Joe Armstrong
  58. Everyone should write a lot – whether it’s a blog,a book, SO answers, emails or whatever. Write,and take some care over it. Clarifying yourcommunication helps you to clarify your owninternal thought processes, in my experience.It’s amazing how much you find you don’t knowwhen you try to explain something in detail tosomeone else. It can start a whole new processof discovery. -- Jon Skeet
  59. where do we go from here?