StackOverflow retreats from its over-ambitious Documentation project

(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at:

Anyone’s who has tried to write a book about computer programming (as I have attempted and failed) can tell you that writing good code examples is very hard work. But this is interesting:

Will anything come out of this experiment?

Yes! As Shog pointed out, we’ve already learned quite a bit from doing things we couldn’t do otherwise. It’s too soon to know exactly what we’ll be able to port over to Q&A, but I’m excited about the possibilities of CommonMark, technology versions support, shared drafts, better collaborative editing and dated links to previous revisions. Before we leave Documentation, the team will compile what we learned so that we can draw from the knowledge in the future. And, as I will describe below, we’ll publish all of the content generated in Documentation.

More importantly, we’ve changed our approach to product development across the company. When we started Documentation, our discovery phase was largely done without interviewing typical users. Up to that point, most new features on Stack Exchange were developed with input from Meta or entirely internally. If a feature got used, we’d refine it or just declare victory. If a feature wasn’t used, we typically removed it only if was actively causing harm. However, after our experience with the Documentation Beta, we’ve learned to focus more of our efforts on pre-development research.

For instance, the Documentation team already decided the outline of the feature before coming to meta with the initial announcement. By contrast, our newly formed Developer Affinity & Growth team asked for help setting priorities based on themes and user stories. Documentation’s private beta fleshed out most of the functionality. By contrast, the new mentoring proposal is a minimal viable product that is arguably too minimal. We’re certain to have failed projects in the future, but we’re working to fail a lot earlier in the process.