Done Answering Questions Stack Overflow

2021-02-16

Over the last ~9 years I've spent way too much time answering questions on stack overflow. I don't know why. I want to say it's because I like helping people. It's certainly not for "internet points". In fact I despise the gamification on Stack Overflow so much I tried to hide it from myself. Here is what my view of Stack Overflow looks like

Notice all the points are missing. I feel an unhealthy influence of points on all sites that have them so I turn them off. I'm convinced someday some scientific research will show they are detrimental to well being and will push to ban them or at least shame them out of existence.

In any case, yea, I spent way to much time answering questions on Stack Overflow. At the time I wrote this I had answered 27% of all the WebGL tagged questions on the site. Including other topics in total over 1900 answers. I also edited the tags of hundreds of wrongly tagged questions.

Many of my answers took hours to write. It could be figuring out a working solution or it could be debugging someone's code. I generally tried to post working code in as many answers as appropriate since in my opinion, working code is almost always better than just an explanation.

As a recent example, someone was trying to glue together two libraries and was running into issues. I got their minimal repo runnable, tracked down the issue, posted a working solution, and filed a bug report on one of the libraries. The entire process took about 2.5 hours.

I've also pointed out before that I wrote webglfundamentals.org and webgl2fundamentals.org in response to questions on stack overflow. WebGL is a verbose API. People ask questions and there is no simple answer. You could just give them some code that happens to work but they likely need 16 chapters of tutorials to understand that code. That's way too much for stack overflow.

So, 9 years ago I started writing articles to explain WebGL. I tried to go out of my way not have them be self promoting. The don't say "WebGL articles by GREGG TAVARES" In fact, except for the copyright license hidden in the code comments IIRC my name is no where on the website. I'd even be happy to remove my name from the license though I'm not quite sure what legal implications there are. Can I just make something up like "copyright webglfundamentals.org"? I have no idea.

I even moved them from my github account to an organization. The hope was I could find more people to contribute if there was an org so you can participate in the org and not in my personal site. The sites are under "gfxfundametnals" not "greggman". Unfortunately no one has stepped up to write anything though several volunteers have translated the articles into Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Korean, and other languages.

In any case, once I'd written the articles I would point people to them on Stack Overflow when it seemed appropriate. If someone is clearly new to WebGL based on the issues they are having I might leave an answer that answers their specific question and then also leave a link to the effect of

You might find these articles useful.

If someone else had already written a good answer I might just add the same as a comment under the question.

Similarly if one of the articles addressed their particular issue I might link directly to it. Of course if I was answering I'd always leave a full answer, not just a link. I've been doing this for the least 9 years. It's clearly and unambiguously helpful to the user that asked the question and well as users reading later.

An example of this came up recently. Some asked a question about how to use mat4 attributes. Someone else left an okay answer that answered the question, though it didn't give a good example. But, given the answer was good enough, I added a comment. "You might find this article useful..." because the article has a better example.

There were 2 other parts to the comment.

  1. The answer stated something incorrect. They claimed drawing different shapes with instancing is impossible. My comment pointed out it was not impossible and specified how to do it.

  2. That brought up another point which is if you want to draw multiple different models in a single draw call, I'd written an example to do that in a stack overflow answer and so I linked to it.

The next day I went to check if there was a new comment, in particular to see if the answerer had addressed their incorrect "it's impossible" blurb. They had, they'd removed that part of the answer. But, further my comment had been deleted!?!?!

WTF!!!!

The comment was triple useful. It was useful because it explained how something was possible. It was useful because it linked to a better working example the questioner needed. And, it was useful because it linked to a more flexible solution.

I didn't know this at the time but there is no record of deleted comments. I'd thought maybe I was dreaming. That 2.5 hours I spent on some other answer happened between 4am and 6am. I meant to go to sleep but got sucked into debugging. When I was finished I checked for more questions, saw this one, and added the comment but maybe I was too tired and forgot to press "submit"?

So I left the comment again, this time under the question itself since the answer had removed the part about something being impossible. This time I took a screenshot just so I'd know my memory wasn't bad.

I checked back later in the day to find the comment deleted. This prompted me to ask on meta, the stack overflow about stack overflow, what to do about on topic comments being over zealously deleted.

This is when I found out a bunch of things I didn't know

  1. Comments can be deleted by any moderator with for any reason. They don't like you? They can delete all your comments. They hate LGBT people and believe you're LGBT? They can delete your comments. This is one reason why there is no visible comment history.

  2. Comments are apparently meant to be ephemeral.

    Several people claimed comments have absolutely zero value. Therefore their deletion is irrelevant.

I found both of these claims rather ludicrous. Comments have a voting system. Some comments get hundreds of vote. Why would anyone design a voting system for something that has zero value?

Links to other stack overflow questions and answers in comments are scanned and used to show related links on the right side bar. If comments have zero value why would anyone make a system to scan them and display their info?

But further, I found that, according to various members, the links I'd been leaving are considered spam!!!!

According to these people, the links are nothing but self serving self promotion. More than worthless they considered them actively bad and I was a bad person for spamming the site with them. Here I was spending a few hundred hours writing these articles for users of stack overflow to reference when they needed more than would fit in an answer but apparently trying to tell them about these articles was against the rules.

Some claimed, though it was frowned on, it was slightly less shitty spam if I spelled out I wrote the articles when linking to them. There was no guarantee they wouldn't still be deleted, only that it was marginally less shitty if I declared my supposed conflict of interest.

To put it another way, if someone else posted the links it would be more okay because there is no conflict of interest. I don't buy that though. They're basically saying the exact same comment by person A is ok but by person B is not. That's effing stupid. Either the comment is useful to people reading it or it's not. Who posted it is irrelevant.

Well, this is straw that broke the camel's back.

I'm Done Answering Questions on Stack Overflow

Spending all the time answering people's questions and writing these article to help them was nothing but a burden anyway so I guess I should be thankful Stack Overflow corrected my delusion that I was being helpful and made it clear I was just a self serving spammer.

It's probably for the best anyway. I'll find some more productive way to use my time. To be clear, a bit has flipped in my head. My joy or compulsion or whatever it was that made me want to participate on Stack Overflow is gone or curred. Time to move on.

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