Idiomdrottning’s homepage

The success of the QA format

Alex points out:

I had been posting on the newsgroups for a long time, and slowly I realized that the same questions kept being asked again and again. The newsgroups and mailing lists were failing as a medium because they were ephemeral. Sure, we kept telling people to search the archives. But the medium afforded asking questions instead of searching.

When I looked for Frequently Asked Questions, I found a document online, maintained by a single person. This person was a bottleneck. The FAQ updated slowly.

At the time I was getting into Internet Relay Chat. On IRC, conversation is even more ephemeral than on the mailing list. This time, however, “searching the archives” was out of the question. We needed our own archive. And thus I started answering questions on IRC and posting the answers on the wiki.

I think the Emacs Wiki was great or is great especially for that usecase which Alex’ defense admits the most concern: randos searching the web and stumbling on a half-working, probably-deprecated elisp snippet that they manage to cobble together into something that works for them. If the purpose of the Emacs Wiki was to save people from a trip to IRC or a mailing list, then it has had many wins in that regard over the years.

Further down in the text, he isn’t too happy about the culture on Stack Exchange, and there is some merit to that. Just like on Wikipedia, you can run into some rando småpåve who thinks they’re the king of the world and tries to put you in your place while they’re the one who’s being all wrong about something.

It sucks when that happens, but overall I think Wikipedia and especially Stack Exchange have been successes, especially in the context of the ephemerality of Usenet and IRC.

I wish they were both decentralized, and that Stack Exchange weren’t owned by a for-profit company, but at least the content is CC licensed. Even Reddit where nothing was free and everything was a corporate hellsilo has had one benefit: it has been a QA-format where people retroactively rediscover older questions-and-answers to a greater extent than they did on Usenet or could on IRC.

The question and answer format is just a good format and it’s one I wanna preserve.

I don’t think that still-centralized Stack Exchange clones is the answer. Federation might work; FEP-1b12 is already a perfect fit.