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Podcast 60


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Atwood: One of the rules of StackOverflow is a little bit Fight Club like in that
we don't, we prefer that people don't discuss StackOverflow on StackOverflow.

Spolsky: Yeah.

Atwood: And...

Spolsky: You can tell by the meta site exactly why we prefer that.

Atwood: Well, really you think that's true ? I actually had one user comment on Twitter ?.com added "Man I really fought you on this meta thing and now that you've opened Pandora's Box I see what you were talking about". Why do you say that then Joel ?

Spolsky: Well the reason I don't like having meta on any discussion group is that it's something for, well, a lot of it is something for newbies right like. The first thing that happens is a newbie comes into the discussion group and starts hanging out and like "Wow this is really fun, I like this discussion group".

Spolsky: <laughs>

Atwood: But they have all kinds of feature requests and ideas and stuff like that and the first thing they want to do is start reorganising it in their image. You know...

Atwood: Really ?

Spolsky: You know they start discussing like "Why can't you sort the things here by color ?" and whatever maybe.

Atwood: Right.

Spolsky: And now because they're newbies they're noticing the same thing that all the other newbies noticed and brought up as subjects of conversation and because they're newbies they don't know that these things have been talked about endlessly. And they're boring to the people that actually live in the newsgroup and use it, for news...

Atwood: I see.

Spolsky: And discussion or whatever.

Atwood: Well isn't that the point in which you, the grizzled veteran, would point to the FAQ.

Spolsky: Yes.

Atwood: And force the user to go...

Spolsky: Read the fricking FAQ.

Atwood: Yeah.

Spolsky: Uhh.

Atwood:  I have noticed that, and actually that's something that came up on UserVoice a lot was that you would get the same stuff over and over and over.

Spolsky: Sure.

Atwood: And some of it was bugs. If there was a bug and it came up over and over, something we could fix, then I would definitely fix it.

Atwood: My strategy towards bug fixing is just to keep people from emailing the same stuff over and over.

Spolsky: Right, cuz it just gets boring. But also think about what happens when you have all these people inside the forum or discussion group, and all they're talking about is the actual way that it works.

Spolsky: Let's say that you become a podcaster, so you get really interested in podcasting gear. You're going to buy some mixers, and want to know what kind of headphones to use, what kinds of microphones, when should I do the A/D conversions, all that kind of stuff.

So you find this awesome podcasting gear website. And you go on there, and the first subject of conversation is who's going to be elected to the podcasting gear website board of directors. And the second subject of conversation is whether the election that was done last year was orthodox, or was it slightly ... was there something suspicious about that whole thing. And you find a whole bunch of people arguing about that. And then you find a conversation about whether all the people who came in last year from South America and don't speak very good English should be allowed to hang around or should maybe be read-only users for the first six months.

That's all you find there, and you want to talk about mixers and mics. That's why you came to this site!

But they're bored talking about mixers and mics -- they've already had the full mixers and mics conversation all the way to the end, to its logical extreme. They all have, now, the perfect podcasting setup. Except for there's this one minor little thing about whether you should use Monster Cables that people still argue about.

So all they're talking about on this so-called "podcasting gear" website is the podcasting gear website itself.

Atwood: Yeah.

Spolsky: You see what I'm saying?

Atwood: Yeah, no I do and actually I made a comment on Twitter that I had been thinking more about the meta-stuff as we launched And part of the reason that I wanted to launch it was that the community needed an outlet. There was a certain section of the community that really, really wanted this and they went to such lengths that they were actually setting up their own phpBB forum, which I appluad...I mean that kind of initiative. Rather than complain about the problem - try to solve it, and I totally support that. But I couldn't take phpBB anymore.

Spolsky: No, that's just unacceptable.

Atwood: The paradigm is just broken.

Spolsky: Absolutely.

Atwood: I mean, I've been using traditional web-discussion boards for more than ten years now and I'm just...I'm done, I'm out. I feel like there's problems they don't even attempt to solve and the noise factor is just to high. And then the other factor that that was one factor that motivated it was just like helping the community get off phpBB because I don't feel like it's a good solution. Plus, I mean, they know Stackoverflow engines, so's a logical thing to move forward on. Then the other thing is there is still a lot of people that didn't like UserVoice. I like UserVoice. I still like UserVoice, actually, but I recognize there's a huge contigent of the community that doesn't like it at all. Like it kind of actively pisses them off.




Spolsky: There's one thing I think we should mention - and I think this is a little bit off-topic - you've got to check what your relationship was at your current gig. A lot of people get jobs as programmers and don't sign any kind of contract at all. If you have a gig as a programmer and you've not signed the contract, then you own the code that you wrote and they merely have a license to it. That's surprising to people, but if you get a job as a programmer and you never signed anything, then, by default, any code that you write for that employer, the copyright is owned by you. Which is why almost every gig you're going to get as a programmer is going to make you sign a contract that says this is a work for hire, and work for hire is a legal phrase, a magic abracadabra that means the employer owns the work that you do, and you're merely doing it for hire to get paid. And the reason you need that contract is that in the United States, and just in general, the way the law defaults the ownership, even though you got paid and that was your job, if you don't have any other agreement, you're giving them code and they merely have a license to use it. It's the same thing that surprises people about photographers. If you hire a photographer to take pictures at your wedding and you don't sign any contract, the photographer comes and takes pictures of your wedding, you get to use those pictures but you don't get to sell them. The photographer still owns them, and they're going to show up in Wedding Photography Illustrated next month, and the photographer making money off your wedding photographs, and that's completely legit.
Atwood: That's a great point, and I think you should understand the law even if you don't agree with it. I think that's important - it's the whole "ignorance is not a defense thing".

Spolsky: It's also important if you're hiring programmers to make sure you get them to sign a standard employment agreement. And the easiest way to do this is to go to Nolo Press and get their book on software development, and get their standard or web development one. It comes as a CD-ROM, you can download it actually, it's got all these standard contracts, and you can take a totally standard contract and amongst other things it explicitly says the work that you do is work for hire, and that's really important. And that's why, unlike McDonald's employees, software developers are almost always working under a contract, as opposed to just common law. It's really important for the employer to own the code the employee writes. 


Atwood: So, the topic I wanted to talk about was, what came up was, open-sourcing Stack Overflow code.  Now, to be clear, this is not something that's happening tomorrow or even next week, or even this year or even maybe next year.  But eventually, I am very much for it, because I feel like that is how code... if you want code to survive in the larger world, eventually I believe in the current climate you have to open source it.  The only path is open.

Spolsky: So Windows ... is dead.

Atwood: Essentially, yes, I would agree with that.

Spolsky: The iPhone operating system ... dead!

Atwood: Mm, well, the iPhone is a little bit different because it's such a closed eco-system.  But in an eco-system where anybody can build it and where anybody can jump in and participate, there's essentially no cost to entry — a cell phone market is [not even?] a no-cost-to-entry market, it's pretty much a close eco-system, but a PC is definitely a anybody-can-play, there's-no-charge eco-system.  I think in that eco-system, open source is kind of winning.


[67:27 ends]

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Last Modified: 8/9/2009 5:00 PM

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