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My love affair with StackExchange (and a plea for help)

December 15, 2010 10 comments

tl;dr: Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope. Trying to move the Q&A for our community to StackExchange, which I love, and could use your help. Please click here, hit ‘Commit’, then click the link in your email if you can help us out.

Full Balcony, Columbia MOThis is the balcony at Harpo's, famous for post-football game riots.  Harpo's is where the mob of fans brings the goal post to cut it up with hack saws.  I've even heard that Harpo's actually distributes the hack saws.  It's been a while since I've been inside, it's not my kind of place.These B&W shots were inspired by Richard Kane, a great photographer.  I'm trying to learn how to use my limited processing skills to bring out the grains, but can't do it like the master.I've been too busy to take new photos, so I decided to do some new processing instead.Daily photo: November 5, 2010, taken October 26, 2010

I’ve been in love with StackOverflow since the day Jeff and Joel announced it. I taught myself how to write SmugMug using Google, not books, so a site like StackOverflow was a dream come true. However, I’d only been a lurker until recently – I figured I didn’t have the kind of time needed to really answer questions.

When ServerFault, and recently, the Photography & Photographic Editing StackExchange site came along, I started lurking more. Now that I run a photography company, I don’t get to take as many photos (go figure), but our employees and customers, obviously, take tons. And just like StackOverflow, the Photo site is full of great information shared by a wonderful, and growing, community. One of the things I really love about these sites is the overflow nature – many photographers are into geekier pastimes and vice versa, so there’s a natural compatibility with Photos and StackOverflow, for example.

Very recently, a few people have both asked “Why doesn’t SmugMug have a StackExchange site? Do you want to control all the data or something?” and “Why does your support forum suck so badly for finding answers to fairly simple questions?”. Our support forum does suck for this (good answers get buried pages deep, searching is tough, you don’t want to read all the discussions all the time, the same question get asked many times, etc…) Which, of course, got me thinking – surely we can just pay StackExchange to solve this problem (I do not want to control all the data – I just want an awesome experience).

StackExchange would be amazing for our community because:

  • The best answers to a question are always on top. No wading through pages of replies.
  • Searching is easy, both on StackExchange and via engines like Google.
  • The same questions won’t get asked over and over – they’ve already been answered and are easy to find.
  • The system encourages people to ask great questions and provide authoritative answers.
  • You can tell at a glance if someone answering your question knows what they’re talking about.
  • They’ve done this for large topics like StackOverflow already, so they understand the ins & outs of the process and software to support communities like this.
  • And more… See for yourself at StackOverflow

Turns out, they won’t take a check. We have to go through a formal community vetting process, to make sure our criteria matches with theirs. After that, it’s free (yay!), but until then, we can’t use it (boo!). The process seems like a sound way to ensure that a StackExchange site won’t just linger and drift into obscurity, and that it starts off with a nice subset of users as it ramps up. After glancing through the FAQ, it looked like we’d be a slam-dunk.

2007 San Francisco Pillow Fight Held on Valentine's Day

We have millions of paying customers, tens of thousands of whom are active posters on our forums at Digital Grin, and they’ve posted tens of thousands of threads with hundreds of thousands of replies around just the sorts of things we’d ask & answer on a StackExchange site. Best of all, we’d instantly have all the world’s experts (say, the top 100-200 most knowledgeable SmugMug people in the world) to jumpstart things. Sounds perfect, right?

Wrong.

Our problem is that during the ‘Commit’ phase, what matters more than warm bodies is your rank on other StackExchange sites, like StackOverflow, ServerFault, etc. And SmugMug’s community, while full of warm, eager bodies, isn’t brimming with StackExchange users. To make matters worse, I can’t reach out to my customers and ask them to ‘Commit’ because there’s nothing useful there to see, and explaining the process is difficult. When it’s in ‘Beta’, this probably gets much easier – since the site becomes fully functional at that point, we can begin directing *all* of our customers to it, and drive usage and adoption pretty rapidly.

When it comes right down to it, we’re really trying to expose tens of thousands (hundreds eventually and perhaps millions) of new people to StackExchange. I’m very confident that many of these photographers would love to be exposed at the same time to the Photography StackExchange site, and that the thousands of developers of our API would love to be exposed to StackOverflow.

This seems to be a win-win for everyone involved: SmugMug gets massively better community-driven Q&A, SmugMug’s customers get the answers to the questions they need answered, and StackExchange gets valuable users, traffic, and data. But we’re stuck with a chicken-or-the-egg problem – we can’t jumpstart our community of fresh new StackExchange users because we don’t have enough StackExchange users.

Bummer.

So our ‘Commit’ process has stalled. And I’d love to have your help. If you’d like to see a repository of authoritative answers for SmugMug questions, from Pro-related sales & money-making to Power-user customization to API developer questions, please, give us a hand.

2007 San Francisco Pillow Fight:  Victory!

Click here, hit ‘Commit’, fill in your details (your SmugMug URL works as an OpenID!), and then click the link in the email they’ll send you.

Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.

P.S. – I’m a full-fledged addict on StackOverflow and ServerFault, now, not just a lurker. Hardest thing? Answering a question quickly enough that someone else hasn’t already answered it. Those communities are on fire!

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