The Worrying Side of Stack Overflow: A Personal Analysis With BigQuery's Public Data

Stack Overflow is an invaluable resource for developers worldwide. It’s the go-to place to find answers, share knowledge, and contribute to the collective wisdom of the programming community. But, like any platform, it has its strengths and weaknesses.

My Journey with Stack Overflow as a Contributor

My relationship with answering questions on Stack Overflow began unexpectedly.
I stumbled upon this question when I tried to find an answer to a problem I had.

The thing was, it had no answers...

Once I cracked the problem, I felt an urge to share my solution. Why? So that anyone who encounters this in the future doesn't have to start from scratch. And there it was, my first contribution to Stack Overflow.

The Bugging Problem

No platform is without its flaws. The biggest recurrent criticism of Stack Overflow is the perceived toxicity within its community. While I've observed certain users who could certainly tone down and be more understanding towards new users, that's not the crux of my concern.

I've noticed an unsettling trend among users, especially those with low reputation (often indicative of newer accounts): a reluctance to upvote or accept answers.

The Data Speaks

To validate my observations, I dived into some quick data analysis, the results of which can be accessed in this Jupyter Notebook on Kaggle. In analysis, I've looked only into users created after 2019-01-01 who asked questions that had at least one answer.

The findings were intriguing though not surprising:

  • Users (created since 2019) with a reputation of 11 or below constitute the largest user group.

  • This group is the second most active in terms of asking questions.

  • However, they have the lowest average number of upvotes (0.03 upvotes per user) cast per user and the lowest percentage of accepted answers (28% of questions with accepted answers).

The Implications of Silence

This trend is concerning. When answers aren't upvoted or accepted, it undermines the motivation to help. Answering questions, especially from newer users, becomes a gamble: Will my efforts be acknowledged?

While the act of helping should be altruistic, on platforms like Stack Overflow, upvotes, and accepted answers aren't just digital badges; they're affirmations. They convey gratitude, acknowledge effort, and, most importantly, guide other users to trustworthy answers. When these affirmations are missing, it creates an environment of hesitancy and undervaluation.