A small experiment on Stack Exchange Expatriate

by Joe Jean | on November 9, 2015 | tech communication

As a programmer I use Stack Overflow a lot. But last week one of my professors asked us to pick one of the Stack Exchange websites that we have never used before and experiment with it by using some of its features. This article is an analysis of my experience with Stack Exchange Expatriates.

Why did I pick Stack Exchange Expatriates? Well, I wanted to pick something non technical as I already have a lot of experiences with technical forums such as Stack Overflow, Hacker News, SubReddit cscareerquestions etc.

After signing up for Stack Exchange Expatriates and as I was going through the questions I saw a rather simple question which nobody had answered yet. The question which you can see in the screen shot below looked somewhat simple to me. Simple in the sense that a Google search would have revealed the answer. So I decided to try to answer it.

I naturally went ahead and tried two or three Google queries until I stumbled upon an article, on a website specialized in H1B information, that has the answer to the question. At this point I paused for a while to think about the credibility of the source of the information. I did that because according to my experience, there is a lot of false information on the WEB especially when it comes to those specialized topics. Among other things, I checked the comments at the bottom of the article and most commenters except one seemed to validate the correctness of the information provided in the article. But can those users also be trusted? I had no answer to that.

After investigating I decided that I could trust the content of the article with a confidence level of about 70%. Therefore, I went back to the Stack Exchange Expatriates and answer the question by quoting the article and putting a link to it as well. Referencing one’s source when replying to a question on Stack Exchange is highly encouraged in their guidelines. To me, by referencing the original source, I was not only following proper standards but I was also passing on the responsibility of verifying the correctness of the information to the original poster.

After answering the question I couldn’t help but wonder why didn’t the original poster do the same thing I did to find the answer. Maybe he did but he did not use the right queries hence why he did not get the answer. Or maybe he did not even bother to do a Google search first knowing that a Stack Exchange user who wants more points would be happy to do the research and give him a solution.

Speaking of points, so far I have only received one vote for my answer and the original poster asked some follow-up questions and another user had answered before I could get my hands on them. I have no idea why the original poster did not mark my answer as the accepted one, which would have resulted in more points for me. But why do I care about earning more points?

Well, points seem to be a very important part of the experience a user can have on a Stack Exchange site. The number of points you have can determine whether you have access to certain features of the site or not. For example, I saw a question with an already accepted answer and tried to up-vote but I get a message saying that I need 50 more points for my vote to count. I’m assuming that the people who designed Stack Exchange have a good rationale to support such restrictions. Since I don’t know what their rationales are I’m not going to criticize the feature.

Another thing that this experience got me to think about is how much redundancy of information there is on the web. The same information is repeated in different places on the web. I know that storage is becoming cheaper and cheaper but I wonder whether the such redundancy has any other cost that we haven’t discovered.

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