I love StackOverflow. I spend quite of bit of my free time there trying to help people, and you know – trying to be an awesome community member like everyone else there.
StackOverflow is almost perfect for me, sans one minor detail: the text editor.
The text editor of StackOverflow, and more generally StackExchange, is MarkDown with a few tweaks. This is great as it offers a lot of formatting flexibility, code snippets, and is generally easy to use. However it is more than unfriendly to people just getting started with StackExchange.
I’ll give an example. The MarkDown editor is perfectly happy to accept HTML (within reason) in a post body. So imagine someone asks a question like this:
I’m having a concurrency problem with List<T>
The MarkDown editor will interpret that generic parameter as an HTML tag, so when the question gets rendered, all everyone else sees is “List”.
I raised this question on Meta before, and was met with mixed responses. A commenter pointed out:
Honestly, this just comes across as laziness / lack of effort to me most of the time (sorry for being cynical). If they don’t notice the big preview area (that’s constantly updating below where they type the question) is missing the most important part of their question, I’m not confident that their contribution is going to be worthwhile
I partially agree with this comment. I suppose to some extent it is true, but then I always see cases where people just trying to get started go to extreme lengths to actually get their code to display, and it always boils down to a misunderstanding of the MarkDown editor.
Here’s an example of an asker, despite not being brand-new to the community, still hasn’t figured how to properly post code, and went so far as to post an XML fragment like so:
[authentication mode="Forms"] [forms loginUrl="~/Account/Login" timeout="2880" /] [/authentication]
This is from the question, “IIS express applicationhost.config security is reset every time a solutions is opened in VS2012″.
I see this every day, and it leads to confusion. I could post link after link of this problem, but if you frequent StackOverflow enough, you’ve probably already seen this.
This is frustrating to new users, and to make things worse, people start hammering the question with comments, like “Why aren’t you using a generic list?”, or “That isn’t valid XML”, etc.
I don’t have any great ideas on how to fix this, but I’m convinced that what we have now is simply not good enough. StackOverflow’s community has already been accused of hard to break in to, and I think this is just one small thing that can be improved to make it a more welcoming community.