I came across an old but very good interview by Scott Hanselman with Jeff Atwood of StackOverflow. StackOverflow is trying to replicate its tremendously successful curated Q&A model into topics other than programming. They raised venture funding and created StackExchange which is essentially a birthing ground for StackOverflows for various topics.

Scott gave an example of his father who likes to make and hunt with hand made bows. He asked Jeff whether a strict on-topic question and answer site would be too sterile for them. He said that while his dad and friends love their hobby and they love hanging out with like minded people they like to talk about other stuff. Perhaps they would like to put photos of a recent bow project then have a wide ranging discussion. Would they be able to have the community they were looking for in the StackOverlfow format?

Jeff hedged a little bit but essentially stuck to his guns. He said that the strict format maintains a high signal to noise ratio. Too much general discussion tends to pollute and limit the informational value. Ultimately he said that StackOverflow’s narrow vision of community bound by on-topic information exchange may actually not be valuable to the Bow Hunting community. But in that case they were morel likely to seek out other communities where information exchange is king rather than mutate StackExchange too much.

I really liked that.

There was a great comment by @EStormann on the thread with the interview which put it very eloquently.

“I think by tyrannically defining “Social” as this narrow thing that requires you implement the “ISocial” interface you completely destroy this other vision of social. Social as defined by common interest rather than freedom of frivolity.

Creativity and excellence is defined and enhanced by the boundaries you work within. StackOverflow, working within it’s narrow vision of community bound by on-topic Information exchange, is the best StackOverflow it can be.

To get wrapped around the orthogonal issue of “Community” or “Anti-Community” would quickly ruin what makes StackOverflow great. You can be an excellent StackOverflow or a mediocre hybrid of facebook, slashdot, Question/Answer reputation site that doesn’t know what it wants to be when it grows up.

I mean, really…what do you want…MafiaWars and FarmVille there too? Thats “Social” right?”

It will be interesting to see whether the StackOverflow formula will be engaging for a wide range of communities.