This is a summary of Joel Spolsky‘s Business of Software 2012 presentation.
Joel is the CEO of Stack Exchange. Stack Exchange gets about 266 million monthly page views and 22 million unique views. Stack Exchange is about the size of Texas in terms of the number of monthly visitors.
Cultural Anthropology was the most boring class Joel took in college, but it has been the most useful in the long run and now it is the only thing he uses. Building a website with 22 million users is an exercise in cultural anthropology.
The whole Usenet culture was a result of accidental and intentional choices in the software. The world’s first Internet troll used a straw man as the target of his flames.
We evolved from Usenet to online discussion forums. However, the behavior of discussion forum users is still similar to what emerged from Usenet, even if it wasn’t intentional. When you copy the same format of Usenet, you get Usenet.
We wanted Stack Exchange to be different. The whole idea of Stack Exchange was to disrupt all the accidental design choices resulting from the Usenet era, and make a culturally distinct site. If we know we’re going to build a culture, and what we want that culture to be, we can design for it. We designed Stack Exchange for the culture we wanted from our users.
Every time you see a group of people, you decide whether you’d like to join them. That’s the purpose of the homepage. Everything about the first impression on Stack Exchange is designed to drive the wrong people away, and incentivize the culture they want.
The goal of Stack Exchange is not to have super popular pages (it would be Reddit then). The goal of Stack Exchange is to have super useful pages. The most useful posts on Stack Exchange are not necessarily popular…they’re intensely useful to those who need them.
Religious debate type of questions get an enormous amount of page views, but they don’t teach you anything. Hence we close them down for further discussion and eventual deletion. Examples of such questions are
Off-topic questions are an attractive nuisance, and will also be closed and eventually deleted. Some ask, why not move off-topic questions to another site that is strictly for off-topic questions? There are two reasons:
The purpose of Stack Exchange is different from that of discussion forums. The goal is to create a permanent, useful artifact for the Internet. If your goal is to produce something of permanent value to the Internet, you start to think differently about what you want on the site. Stack Exchange caters to the millions of people that never create an account on the site, but have questions they need answered.
Having a community is a huge advantage for Stack Exchange that can’t be overcome.
BUSINESS OF SOFTWARE – FOR PEOPLE BUILDING GREAT SOFTWARE BUSINESSES.
This year will be the 7th Business of Software Conference – 15-17th September 2014, Boston.
A three day conference for founders who want to build sustainable, profitable software businesses. BoS has always been a special conference for our delegates and we want to keep it special. Attendance is restricted to just 400 attendees in 2014. Registration open now.
This year we are also running Business of Software Conference Europe, 25-26th June. For more details, visit the dedicated BoS Europe site. Two days in the birthplace of computers – Cambridge, England.
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