Design Lessons from the Fastest Q&A Site in the West

Lena Mamykina, Bella Manoim, Manas Mittal, George Hripcsak, and Björn Hartmann
ACM Human Factors in Computing Systems (2011)


This paper analyzes a Question & Answer site for programmers, Stack Overflow, that dramatically improves on the utility and performance of Q&A systems for technical domains. Over 92% of Stack Overflow questions about expert topics are answered — in a median time of 11 minutes. Using a mixed methods approach that combines statistical data analysis with user interviews, we seek to understand this success. We argue that it is not primarily due to an a priori superior technical design, but also to the high visibility and daily involvement of the design team within the community they serve. This model of continued community leadership presents challenges to both CSCW systems research as well as to attempts to apply the Stack Overflow model to other specialized knowledge domains.