The need for experts

September 30, 2013 by . 4 comments

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بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

In The Name of Allah most Gracious most Merciful

I joined Stack Overflow a bit over two years ago when I had some questions about some code that I was writing for the internship that I was involved in at the time.  This was my very first introduction to StackExchange.  At the time (and really, even now), I was certainly no expert in programming.  I had just finished the second year of my undergraduate education and I was working with some technology that I had never used before.  I had heard of Stack Overflow before, and even used it on occasion when Google brought me to a useful question/answer, but it was my first time participating.

The first time I ever asked an answerable question (my first question was actually being complicated by something that I did not realize at the time and did not include in the question), I got a great answer… and fast.  How fast?  The timestamp on the question says 16:08 and the timestamp on the answer says 16:12.  So it took four minutes for someone to read and process my problem, figure out the solution, and type up an answer.  Granted, this was not a particularly complicated problem, but it also was not completely trivial.  And the answer consisted of two short but complete paragraphs: one with a diagnosis of the problem and one with a solution.

Why does Stack Overflow work so efficiently?  It’s because the site is full of people who know all about programming.  Sure the site has lots of casual programmers and computer science students, but it also as a very strong core of outright computer programming geniuses.  They don’t make up the majority of the Stack Overflow users – or even 10% – but you only need a few of these people.  Check out some of the answers from the people with 100k+ rep.  There is no problem too difficult for them to tackle.  The top 15-20 users with the most rep on Stack Overflow provide some huge percentage of the answers to the most difficult questions.  Many of them hardly ever ask a question themselves, but when they do, it is always the type of question that cannot be answered by any ordinary programmer with a cursory Google search.

The people that I am talking about are the programming experts.  The only reason Stack Overflow is able to survive and thrive is because of people like Jon Skeet and others who know programming like nobody else.  They aren’t just the best programmers on Stack Overflow, they are among the best programmers in the world.

I hope by now you can see what I am getting at with respect to our Islam Stack Exchange site.  We need a few Jon Skeets.  We need people who can answer the difficult questions.  Currently, 14% of questions on I.SE do not have an answer.  This is not terrible, but it’s also not wonderful.  And the problem is that often, the questions that do not get answered are the best questions.  Lots of people can answer your basic halal/haram question, but you need a real expert to answer the actual difficult questions.

One problem that we have with recruiting experts is that we do not have the type of content that will attract them.  If we want Islamic scholars to participate in our site, we need to challenge them.  Give them difficult questions to answer.  These are the types of questions that are asked by what I call second-tier participants.  Second-tier participants haven’t published books about Islam.  They may or may not be Imams or Sheikhs.  What separates them from regular users is that they have undergone a rigorous Islamic education.  Second-tier users might not be able to answer every question that comes their way, but they can answer a lot of them.  And when they ask a question, it is a very good question.

When I look at the list of unanswered questions, I do not see any second-tier level questions.  Two questions that I have asked appear among the top 20 unanswered questions and my Islamic education basically started 4 months ago when I joined this site.  I should not be able to crack the top 20.  I don’t know enough to ask a good enough question.

Once we have the users we need, good content will come in a self-perpetuating cycle.  Good users produce good content, which attracts good users.  In the mean time, we need to do something to start the cycle.  We need more high quality posts.  We need to stop asking halal/haram questions and start asking analysis questions.  A website full of yes/no questions and answers is boring.  If we are boring, then the people who can make it interesting won’t come.  A really good site is full of “why” questions.  These are the questions that invite an answer-er to go into detail.  These are the questions that encourage answers that people will enjoy reading.  And these are the questions that can pull I.SE up by the bootstraps to start a site full of good content.

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  • Ali says:

    Daniel, I would like to thank you for writing a fantastic post , your post shows that people can cross the hurdles of knowledge and make useful contribution to ISE, what is needed is the will and motivation do do so.

  • Ali says:

    Also many people on SO were not good programmers before joining SO , after joining SO they became the best programmers , Infact I see 12-15 year old chaps learning fast and contributing quality content on SO. I myself learned a lot about Islam after joining ISE and most importantly I got to know about other religions too and like to contribute on other religion sites, Hence I would want to see how we can tap the large pool of SE users on the Islam.SE site. The other religion sites like JSE , CSE have a significant userbase overlap with triology sites hence they are have managed to successfully launch their sites with high quality questions. I guess we need the contribution of people like you who are humble enough to contribute on our site and making it a success.

  • Daniel says:

    Looks like someone was trying a little sql injection. This is StackExchange… the inventors of Stack Overflow. Do you really think they don’t sanitize their inputs? 🙂

  • Mebel Jepara says:

    The otherr religion sites like JSE , CSE have a significant userbase overlap with triology sites hence they are have managed to successfully launch their sites with high quality questions

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