Meta Stack OverflowWhat Experts-Exchange thinks of Stack Overflow
[+251] [9] Adam Rackis
[2011-05-25 14:05:32]
[ discussion experts-exchange ]

After noticing a $10 Experts-Exchange (EE) fee on my credit card, I realized I've had an idle EE account for quite a few years. I sent them an email asking for instructions on how to close it, and mentioned that they were great, but that they couldn't compete with Stack Overflow (which is true; I got a lot of help from their experts when I was first learning).

Anyway, they emailed me back with cancellation instructions, as well as some extended commentary about Stack Overflow. I thought some members here might get a kick out of reading it, so I reproduce here for your amusement.

We are sad to see you go, and we are always open to feedback from our members. Our site is definitely set up differently than Stack Overflow, so feel free to explore Stack Overflow and just know you will always be welcome back at Experts Exchange.

While Experts Exchange offers expertise on any aspect of technology, Stack Overflow has a much narrower field of attention, focused only on issues related to programming.

Stack Overflow is collaboratively edited, which means that others can edit your work on their site. Though Experts Exchange is a moderated forum, your work will never be edited by other users of our site.

Stack Overflow and Experts Exchange use different systems to select an answer. On Stack Overflow, the community votes for the best answer; on Experts Exchange, the person who asked the question is prompted to choose the most complete solution. While both methods have their plusses and minuses, we think your best chance of getting the right answer is having the asker tell you “yeah, this worked for me.”

The way our accounts are created ensures that our users are kept up to date on the status of their questions. Experts Exchange users are informed of possible solutions to their problems by email, so they don’t have to keep checking the site for updates.

(56) +1: interesting - Pops
(117) It looks like the author of that email isn't familiar with the SO concept of an "accepted answer"... - badgerr
(5) You mean that other question-and-answer site. With the hyphen in the name?… - M'vy
Does the SW of Expert Exchange comes from SO? I so far thought it is one of the 1.0 SX sites which got sold. - Martin Scharrer
(1) This is ancient history; EE blogged about this months ago and as I seem to recall, it generated a lot of comments here on meta and also on Reddit and HN. - Aarobot
(18) I agree with @Popular Demand, it's an interesting read, but I also have to ask: Who cares? I'm also tempted to vote to close, because it is not a question, but a mere subjective discussion. - Time Traveling Bobby
(5) +1 @Bobby, although it's amusing, it's not ultimately useful. - Pops
Thanks @Aarobot, I'd never seen that blog post. It actually wasn't bad until they took that unnecessary, childish dig at Joel. - Pops
(1) @Pop: I finally managed to figure out where this topic first came up, it was here in What is Stack Overflow's business model? - Aarobot
I'm incredulous that EE spent so much time talking about SO out of the blue. Who mentioned SO in a communication about cancelling EE account charges? - KatieK
@KatieK - I mentioned that the reason I was cancelling in my email was because they were great, but couldn't compete with SO. But yeah, they do otherwise talk a lot of trash against SO—they seem quite scared. - Adam Rackis
(8) I think they were actually wildly profitable before launched. If companies aren't renewing their subscriptions to EE, it would be a very painful spot to be in after being so accustomed to making so much money with very little overhead. - Michael Pryor
(42) @JCL1178 is right on one point: There is a lot more "Trash talk" about EE on SO, than vice versa (I know, I have participated in it). Maybe we as a community need to tune down the EE hating a bit - they have a business model most of us don't like, but that's why we're here and not there, right? Plus ultimately, until SE is profitable, there is no knowing for sure whether it will work out. I have great trust that it will, mind, but until it does, I tend to have some respect for competitors who decided that they need a paywall model to pay their bills - no matter how much I think it sucks. - Pëkka
(7) @Pekka: You're right, but never forget that the reason that SO was created was that EE was so crappy. SO's main reason for being in existence is to be better than EE, so it's not a big surprise that many people here have a low opinion of it. - Gabe
(1) @Adam Rackis: I don't think EE are talking trash against SO. I think they know very well SO and they prefer (or at least they are defending) their model in an educated way. - Francisco R
(3) "Our site is definitely set up differently FROM Stack Overflow". I blame my high school English teacher, 'different than' really sticks out at me whenever I see it :) - John Ferguson
(2) @John You can take revenge. Start using "irregardless" in front of English teachers and their ilk. I can almost guarantee they'll develop a twitch :) - JCL1178
(6) I think that the letter was as polite and neutral as they could have made it. It sounds very much like a resumé, trying to turn negatives into strengths and explain why they left the last job without bad-mouthing the previous boss. Clearly it misses some points and gets some wrong (possibly on purpose). - Synetech
(1) EE and SO have a lot of overlap, but I find EE to be closer to Yahoo! Answers. Either way, the whole ask-others-on-the-Internet-for-help concept has gotten widespread enough that there is no longer as much money to be made as in the past, at least not without somehow trouncing the competition (just like with social network sites). Years ago, my mother asked me to set up a site for her where she can sell advice for different topics, but I explained that there were already plenty of such site with more people and more topics. - Synetech
@Synetechinc. That's funny. We think Quora is closer to Yahoo answers. - JCL1178
EE has a lot of solid stuff on it. Alexa lists it as ranked 3000+ so it's still a major site... - Adel
(5) I always thought expertsexchange is a gender reassignment site... :) - George Duckett
(3) Adding another data point, I've been running into DCMA takedown notices lately when googling programming info. They don't always have enough details, but the ones that did were always filed by EE. Well, not a CC kind of site. - Uphill Luge
(1) @UphillLuge holy crap, that is evil. Like, more evil that usual. By EE standards. That's pretty damn evil! - Ben Brocka
(6) @UphillLuge The DMCA takedowns relate to someone who was scraping complete content and republishing it without any attributions whatsoever. Yes, we are not a CC type of site but that sort of thing wouldn't stand in most places. We tried to work with the guy but he refused so a DMCA was the only possible recourse. - JCL1178
(1) @Jey - surely "bully" is a bit hyperbolic, no? They offered to give you the answer you were looking for in exchange for getting paid for their services. I'm more happy with SO's business model than EE's, but let's not pretend that charging money in exchange for services rendered amounts to "bullying" - Adam Rackis
[+252] [2011-05-25 21:55:15] JCL1178 [ACCEPTED]

Sorry about that. We actually don't have a canned response for people who cancel their membership if they specifically state they prefer Stack Overflow. That was a new customer service representative being a little overzealous.

We wish Stack Overflow nothing but the best of luck going forward. We think the Internet is big enough for many players in the Q&A space and you guys are doing a great job in yours. Keep up the great work.

To address some of the other stuff above:

  1. We don't hate you, nor are we spending a lot of time "talking trash" (one blog post, sheesh people). Certainly, the comparative levels of hate from your user base towards ours far exceeds what, if anything, "trashy" has been directed from us to you. Also, a quick trawl of the history of Stack Overflow blogs reveals a fair amount of anti-Experts-Exchange posts, but let's not turn this into a "but Moooooooom, he called me a bad name first" thing.

  2. Experts-Exchange has never been "wildly profitable". Enough money is made to keep the lights on, the servers running, the bandwidth flowing, and the employees paid. No one is lighting cigars with hundred dollar bills and taking baths in caviar. We're still making money, still hiring, and still here and plan to be so for quite some time.

Thanks, and enjoy your discussion.

Jason C. Levine aka WhackAMod /
Experts-Exchange Site Administrator

(14) Has your new customer service member been suitably briefed on his apparent misconceptions about SE? - Robert Harvey
(69) Yes. Feel free to sign up for an EE account, let it ride for a while and then cancel via email to test :) - JCL1178
(61) Personally, I yearn for the day when I can light hundred-dollar baths with caviar. - Shog9
(18) Shog9, when you figure it out please, please post video. - JCL1178
(42) I wanted to edit the signature out, but I don't think this is a post to make jokes on. Thank you for your response and for showing us the other side of the coin! - jmfsg
(10) I understand and typically I wouldn't have posted it (since I know you guys don't like it, just like we don't like at EE) but we felt that leaving it in there is helpful since this is somewhat of an "official" response. - JCL1178
(3) Thanks Jason. For the record, I've never hated EE, as I hope the original question made clear. You guys were a godsend when I was first learning, but somehow SO has been able to do what they've done. - Adam Rackis
(2) "Levels of hate?" I must be missing all the flame wars because I haven't seen any of this and find it quite surprising that this is even happening. I've only ever heard of the fighting during and after the split between the Joomla and Mambo (listed alphabetically) projects, but that's the only one and it didn't seem to go on for very long as I recall. I do hope this idea of hatred centred around these (and other) helpful web sites is just a myth. - Complicated see bio
(8) @Adam...Wasn't saying you specifically :) Just noting that there is a crowd that seems to equate "paid" with "evil" and we don't think that's healthy dialog in the short or long run. As above, I think SO/SE has done some wonderful, impressive things. But EE has value too and having multiple healthy Q&A sites ultimately makes getting answers easier for everyone no matter what the business model is. @Randall...we wish it was a myth but we hope it dies down. - JCL1178
(46) +1 for a grown-up response. And as Pekka says on his comment on the question, there is a lot more 'trash talk' here. We need to grow up on that point, and your calm response will help. - Benjol
(12) +1 And as one of the people who has thrown some stones in the past (including a comment on this question which I've now deleted) your response has made me reevaluate my attitude. Thanks for taking the time to post. - squillman
(10) I wish I could give you another +1 for mentioning how a lot of techies equate paid with evil. I've never been able to understand that. Somehow knowledge of software development seems to make people behave silly when it comes to basic economics. See also the response when Redgate started asking people to—gasp—pay $35 for reflector. - Adam Rackis
(10) "Certainly, the comparative levels of hate from your user base towards ours far exceeds what, if anything, "trashy" has been directed from us to you." I've never seen any hate at all directed at your user base. It's always the platform. - Bill the Lizard
(14) Bill, fair point. But when the hate is directed at the platform, the people who are heavily invested and involved from the community can't help but take it personally, to say nothing of the employees. If we used similar language to describe SO the software, I can only imagine a similar feeling and response from YOUR community and the employees. - JCL1178
(7) @squillman. Dude, we ALL do it to some degree or another. Be it sports teams, Mac vs PC, PHP vs ASP.NET or whatever. Humans like to pick a side and then go after the "other" (guilty). But this case seemed like a good, non-flamey way to reach out and finally try to clear the air. - JCL1178
(23) @JCL1178: Don't take this the wrong way - but DAMN is it annoying to click on an answer the question which is partly listed in Google to find out it is an EE site. That's what drove me to SO. I understand you got to make a buck, but is there any other way to make it a little less frustrating? - staticx
(8) @Changeling. Yes, a couple. 1) All inbound links from Google or Bing do have the full question/answer post visible. You just have scroll (a long way) down to get to it. 2) There is a free (no credit card) registration link which I probably shouldn't post here since this isn't our playground...can you get in touch with me via profile? There's more, but I'm not authorized to be public with it yet, but changes are coming. - JCL1178
@JCL1178: Have you considered a different business model to counteract SO influence? In college expert-exchange was valuable to helping me with programming problems though I haven't used it in almost 7 years due to the paywall. - staticx
(3) @Changeling Yes. Contrary to (what may be) popular belief, EE is constantly looking at different systems and different ways to generate revenue. It's just that having been around longer, EE has also tried a lot of the possible models and the current system seems to work best for us. Will it always be this way? I can pretty much guarantee the answer will be no. Can you still use EE for free? Yes! Answer a few questions per month (every two months in reality) and you'll never pay a dime. Write articles if you don't want to answer questions...those are always free for everyone to view... - JCL1178
(1) @0A0D that's why Google gives you the option to block sites when you Back button your way out of them! EE no longer exists! - Ben Brocka
(3) @BenBrocka Just curious here. If EE changes the business model and opens up the site, would you ever be willing to try it out? Or is there literally nothing that can be done to change your mind? (If this comment is out of bounds, please tell me and I'll delete it myself). - JCL1178
(2) Experts-Exchange should be destroyed because they follow the dark pattern of bait and switch. Google searching for a result that leads to EE lets you think your going to a link with the answer, and then surprise! get out your credit card. Dark pattern companies are parasites. - Mark Rogers
(6) @Mark Or you just scroll down past that stuff and see the answers. Not hard. - JCL1178
@JCL1178 : Thank for your answer. I had given up on EE for quite a while now, and, in more ways than one it is quite evident EE's primary purpose of being a Q&A site first is defeated by blurring out the answers... But yes, I see your side of the coin now... The society needs its share of villains to see its heroes in a better light. - Harsh
(1) @Harsh Please. There is nothing particularly heroic or villainous about either company. - JCL1178
(1) @JCL1178 : of course not. Sorry, Its my fault, I could have worded that sentence in a better way. Please don't think that i'm calling EE a villain in itself. EE came up in results a few years back, but seeing that EE hid the answers, so many programmers got pissed off and left the site, and won the war. But when I discovered (recently) that The Answers Were There All Along, i felt really angry and started loathing EE even more. Don't u think its underhanded to make the unsuspecting users PAY for using ur service when they could as easily have gotten answers just by scrolling down? - Harsh
@Harsh Any site that wants to protect their content but still have it listed in Google has to abide by First Click Free which is why you can see EE answers just by scrolling down. EE feels that it puts enough friction in the process so that someone who comes back to EE over and over again will sign up. When EE was surviving on ad revenue and funding, the experience was different. - JCL1178
(1) @JCL1178 Then wouldn't it be better to serve different content to the GoogleBot and users instead of making the unsuspecting users pay for something which was only a PAGE-DOWN press away? Show the content as such to the Bot, and lock it off for all unregistered users. As I understand, you used to do this earlier, but have stopped now. FirstClickFree says "In order to successfully crawl your site, Google needs to be able to crawl your content... configure your webservers not to serve the registration page to our crawlers..." or maybe I'm not clearly understanding Google's FCF policy. - Harsh
@Harsh You're not clearly understanding the policy and this isn't the place to get into it in great depth :) - JCL1178
(1) @JCL1178 : yes, I thought so too, I mean you guys are in this field for a lot longer, so I think you'd know these stuff better :) and btw, the best thing EE did was 'that hyphen'. Cheers. - Harsh
[+148] [2011-06-15 22:37:25] mbarbir

As Experts-Exchange's resident historian, I'd like to put our story in context, introduce some of the human beings referenced, and put things in an accurate sequence:

Experts Exchange was developed in 1996 by Clint Staley, a California Polytechnic State University [1], computer science professor in San Luis Obispo [2], California, along with his former student, Matt Wormley (who went on to author the editable type tools used in Adobe Photoshop) as a departmental pet project. They envisioned a better system than Usenet [3] by inventing Q&A mechanics like points, rewards based on difficulty, accepted solutions, ranks, etc. that would help educate both asker and answerer. These basic concepts are still in use by most Q&A services today.

Experts-Exchange originally launched as a free service (and remained so for eight years), but it took 2-3 years for the site to reach critical mass. California Polytechnic State University computer science students participated as the first Experts-Exchange's original experts, developing programming skills while answering questions. Dan Gardner was brought on as the business mind and several folks were hired. I was hired as employee number five. Austin Miller (the future owner referred to in Jeff Atwood's post [4] and a former Apple VP) was brought in to mange operations in 1998-99.

Those were exciting times. We obtained 5.5 million dollars of VC funding from JP Morgan and built a small and talented staff in San Luis Obispo. The VC money came with a catch. Most start-ups at that time were unprepared without the VC lessons we take for granted today, and (of course) we gave JP Morgan a 51% interest in the company. Within months, they opened an enormous office in San Mateo [5], California, and filled it with sixty additional employees along with brand name executives from Electronic Arts, NASA, etc. James Gosling [6] served on our board. We inked deals to provide internal Q&A installations to companies like Oracle and Sun Microsystems. External instances were sold to clients like Alta Vista. Experts-Exchange's member base and traffic were growing exponentially. We kicked serious ass and slept on cash pillows. The sky was the limit.

But less than a year later the honeymoon ended. The founding office in San Luis Obispo became increasingly irate with the lack of output from our San Francisco Bay Area peeps. We also disagreed with the company's direction. After a few months of conflict and whistle blowing, we arrived to work one morning and were greeted by a security guard who escorted us into the office to collect our belongings. We were then instructed to meet at a local hotel conference room to discuss next steps in front of a long table headed by our new executives. They flew down and laid us off in an effort to save face to our investors. Our labor of love had ended. Or so it seemed...

Eight months later, the exorbitant burn rate for the San Mateo offices/salaries exceeded what was in the bank. The dot-com era was coming to a close in early 2001. Cash was running out. There were no second round VC suitors. The San Mateo team rushed a shoddily built Java version of the site which experienced days/weeks of downtime. The expert community was in revolt. The company plunged into chaos. It looked like the beginning of the end of Experts-Exchange.

Then ironically, JP Morgan then decided to hire some of the original team as contractors (myself included) to keep the site afloat so they could either sell or liquidate Experts-Exchange's assets. We were unemployed, gaining weight, and still living off severance packages, so we shamelessly took the work and drove to San Mateo with a U-Haul to collect computer equipment, assuming the office was already empty. As we walked in at 8:00 a.m., we watched the CEO walk out. It turned out the executives never told the staff what was happening. They simply left. We were then tasked to lay off sixty people - the same folks who'd laid us off only months before. You can't make this stuff up.

By late 2001 Randy Redberg (Experts-Exchange's current owner) and Austin Miller purchased the site. By late 2002 we rewrote the code base. Uptime was steadily improving. Most of our competitors became part of the dot-com dead pool. But co-location costs, staff costs, and ad revenue alone couldn't keep the lights on. After a lot of experimentation (think of New York Times' pay permutations, only years before) nothing really worked (like New York Times), so Randy went with the controversial decision to go with paid subscription. We really had no choice. We could either offer paid subscriptions or close the shop.

Some of our community didn't want to shift to a revenue model (imagine if Stack Exchange went from free to paid, the sentiment expressed in Jeff Atwood's post) and we experienced a lot of turnover with both members and community volunteers. But after the dust settled, the thousands of members, experts, and volunteers that hung around laid the foundation for what we have today. In fact - after the dot-com bomb, with no corporate entity to speak of, our community volunteers and experts self-organized, built their own offsite tools (with no API) and essentially kept Experts-Exchange alive. After that Randy led the company to profitability after nine years in 2004. Since then, we've had the resources to maintain an ongoing service that's stable for our community and staff.

Experts-Exchange is still a labor of love. We have a great story. We're proud of where we come from. We're proud of how we got here. Now we're going to talk about it. A lot. Paid does not equal evil. A business model does not mean we're bad folks.

We're happy to continue this conversation wherever/whenever.


(38) "EE is still a labor of love. We have a great story. We're proud of where we come from. We're proud of how we got here." Thank you so much for sharing the history - it's very, very interesting. - Adam Davis
(21) "imagine if stackexchange went from free to paid..." All of the content posted by users on Stack Exchange network is licensed under CC-BY-SA. If SE ever blocks free access to the content, anyone can host it elsewhere. Pulling EE-like shenanigans is not practical in SE. - LeakyCode
@Mehrdad: Again, this is why EE will never understand SE. - staticx
(11) @Changeling You're attributing things that just aren't there. We understand you just fine. Your model is working and we respect it. The "if went from free to paid" was an attempt to illustrate something, not a prediction of what you have to do survive. EE made the choices it did based on its situation at the time. Hopefully you all don't have to make that choice if/when the time comes. We have a different business model. You don't have to like it (and obviously most of you don't :) but it does work for us and hardly qualifies as "shenanigans". Lots of things can happen in 15 years... - JCL1178
@JCL1178: I agree except the data is open source. If EE dies, the data is gone, especially if the past happens again. - staticx
(1) @Changeling Since we're not dying anytime soon, it's somewhat of a moot point. It's like us saying "ZOMG, SE is not profitable and a pay wall is coming! Everybody panic!" Since neither condition is a true statement, we're just engaging in wild speculations or accusations. While I admit it's fun to do and would be more fun if some adult beverages were involved at a face to face meeting, it's still just a lot of what-ifing at the end of the day. - JCL1178
(2) @JCL1178: I welcome the beverages :) However, I was simply responding to the hypothetical point mbarbir made and your response by stating that the data is open source so what he said wouldn't happen because the data is propagated already. - staticx
(1) So now we understand each other. First round is on me. - JCL1178
(21) I'm still baffled at the outrage techies express at things online not being free. Goodness. People lost their sh!t when Reflector starting charging less money than a tank of gas for their amazing product. EE is great. You all helped me immensely when I was a newb in 04-05, and for a monthly cost just over what I pay for lunch at Panera on any given day. That SO does a better job at the same thing (no offense), for free, and in a way that's fun speaks to how incredible SO's creators are, not how evil EE is. Get a grip everyone. - Adam Rackis
(25) Who is making the argument that paid equals evil? It's the scammy Google shenanigans that made me stop following EE links. Nothing more. - Bill the Lizard
@Bill I'm confused. Are we evil or aren't we? - JCL1178
(17) It wasn't the "not free" the bothered a lot of us -- it's the teasing result in a google search that ultimately leads (or at least used to lead) nowhere. That really pissed a lot of people off. - Joel Coehoorn
(7) ...continuing that last thought, with all the noise Jeff has been making lately about optimizing for answers, putting limits on questions, you can see this heading to where you need to do something like pony up a few dollars after your first few questions to ask more. But what SE is unlikely to do is obscure answers or stuff three printed pages worth of ads between the question and the answers. Oh, the editing and formatting features are much nicer at SE, too, though that's a matter of opinion. - Joel Coehoorn
(1) @Joel Well, it should work correctly now. Coming from Google or Bing, you just have to scroll down to see what you wanted to see. I can't unpiss people off based on past actions but I can apologize for it if it would help. re: Editing and formatting. Formatting appears more or less the same to me. An argument can be made for allowing for editing at EE just as an argument can be made for not allowing it. But we can agree to disagree on these :) - JCL1178
(5) @JCL - It works coming from Google - unless you middle click to open search results in a new tab, to quickly try several links at once. EE is sometimes broken in that scenario. I made it up to Wizard rank in one topic and Guru in a couple others at one time on EE (still have some ugly t-shirts to prove it ;) - seriously, move the design from the back to the front and leave the back empty). I moved over to SO when it opened because I'd followed Jeff&Joel's blog for a long time, liked supporting the easier access to information, and because that's where the answerable questions went. - Joel Coehoorn
(1) One final item - it's not so much editing other's stuff that I like; it's the ability to go back and fix my own stuff after the fact when I find a typo or other error that really makes me happy. That could be added to EE, but IIRC it was never an issue because my memory of EE etiquette is that it felt rude (like poaching) to respond to a question once another expert had engaged the asker. The reduced the potential expert audience for questions, hurt the exposure among experts themselves, and greatly reduced the feeling that anyone else would see my content. This is much less pronounced on SE. - Joel Coehoorn
(1) EE always had a competitive aspect to it and the "rudeness" of multiple people participating in one question is kind of misunderstood. We want multiple solutions posted and strong discussion. What we don't want is one person tearing down another person's answer unless they can do it in a professional, instructive, non-flamey manner. That somehow got twisted into what you say above. I'm sure the SE culture is not that different than ours. - JCL1178
@Mehrdad, everyone says that, but I think it's disingenuous. Look at SEDE, yeah, the 'data' is there, but anonymized to the point of being unusable if you want recreate a living community. All you could do is just build a static relic. - Benjol
@Benjol: First, I don't really see something like that on the horizon; it's just for the sake of argument. Second, you cannot do that with EE data. The point is at least the content we're contributing will be there and can serve as a foundation of the potential future community. I agree that you cannot recreate the users/votes directly, but it's far better than what EE is. If they really want to say they have a point, they can agree to release their own data under CC-BY-SA as well, and we'll talk :) - LeakyCode
@Mehrdad, ok, I just wanted to clarify, because I worry that people really do believe that Stack Overflow could continue to live without Stack Overflow... - Benjol
@Benjol Stack Overflow will not. Its content will. Look at all the content farms currently around you... - LeakyCode
@mbarbir, thanks for a very interesting piece of EE history. - tombull89
(4) @JCL1178: How is my statement in any way confusing? I never said EE was evil. Nobody here is making the "paid equals evil" argument. It's a straw man. - Bill the Lizard
(2) It's interesting to me hearing other people's perspectives. When I used to find Google results with the precise (EE) question I was looking for, I guess it just kind of made sense that I would have to pay to access their content, which I didn't seem to be able to find elsewhere. It's interesting to me that some people consider that evil. I was getting paid for doing what I was doing, I guess I never thought twice about paying EE for what they were doing. Having questions show up on Google just seemed like common-sense advertising to me; how else could they get their content out? - Adam Rackis
(1) @Bill C'mon...don't be naive. Do I really need to start posting links to every thread here where we are called evil? Just look no further than to the list on the right of this question to start... - JCL1178
(15) @Adam: Once again, no one here is making the argument that getting paid is evil. Google doesn't index content that's behind a paywall. In order to get their pages indexed, EE let's you see their answers if the referrer is Google, but they still display a banner saying that you have to sign up to see the answers. They also display one version of the answers that are obscured above one clear text version, so if you don't scroll all the way down to the bottom of the page, you might not know that the answer is there. It's basically a scam to get around Google's no index policy. - Bill the Lizard
(1) @JCL1178: I'm being very clear here. No one is equating getting paid with being evil. Others have called you evil (on one other page linked in the sidebar), and I think that's a bit too strong, but I haven't seen anyone here call you evil for getting paid. If you need to trick users into signing up for your site then you're doing something wrong. - Bill the Lizard
@Bill the Lizard - ohhhh. I didn't know the thing about Google not indexing paid stuff (not sarcastic). I guess I can see why that would annoy some people. Like I said in the original email that started this thread, EE was great (and relatively cheap) for me, but SO is just in another (awesome) league. I just (honestly) hope Jeff and Joel can still have this site running on their existing business model in 5 years. - Adam Rackis
@Bill: That's just the one in the title. I'm on an iPad and have to start work soon so I'll leave it as an exercise for the interested reader to find the others.'s more than one. But I apologize for not being clear, I was not going after you specifically but since you engaged and are a leader in the community I kind of focused in. - JCL1178
(4) @JCL1178: It's quite alright. Spirited discourse is always welcome. Also (and on a completely unrelated topic), "WhackAMod"... Damn, I wish I'd thought of that. - Bill the Lizard
@Bill: Heh. Thanks :) It's not even the best mod name in the current group. But I sense this is wandering even further off topic... - JCL1178
(1) @Joel: Just happened to me today at SO - someone answering after me basically hijacked the question and got the accepted with code identical in essence to mine but with much less involvement. Asker just got overwhelmed and noone backed off when they saw they did not bring anything new to the table. - mplungjan
(1) "Labor of love" -> Terrible UX. ಠ_ಠ - Ben Brocka
(1) Paid is not evil indeed. I'm happy to pay for my online newspaper. But this is a service where all the content is provided by non-payed experts. Basically, the only thing that you should pay for is site maintenance and new developments. And the experts should not continuously feel threatened by loosing their login rights. I don't work well when threatened by anything, especially if I'm doing something voluntarily. - owlstead
@owlstead If you answer you get "paid" in the form of free membership and no one loses login rights, just some of the enhanced privileges. Answer just 2 questions and it all comes back. It's not quite the exploitation of the masses you portray it to be. - JCL1178
[+51] [2011-05-25 14:13:18] Bill the Lizard

If this is recent and legit (no offense), then it's a bit shocking to see how EE just fundamentally do not know their competition.

While Experts Exchange offers expertise on any aspect of technology, Stack Overflow has a much narrower field of attention, focused only on issues related to programming.

Technically correct, but the Stack Exchange network has so many other technology sites that I have a hard time keeping up with them all.

Stack Overflow is collaboratively edited, which means that others can edit your work on their site. Though Experts Exchange is a moderated forum, your work will never be edited by other users of our site.

This one is 100% true, and I've seen a handful of complaints about it on Meta. I think the vast majority of SO users prefer collaborative editing, but it's even in the FAQ [1] that it's not for everybody, so they do have a valid point here.

Stack Overflow and Experts Exchange use different systems to select an answer. On Stack Overflow, the community votes for the best answer; on Experts Exchange, the person who asked the question is prompted to choose the most complete solution. While both methods have their plusses and minuses, we think your best chance of getting the right answer is having the asker tell you “yeah, this worked for me.”

Stack Overflow has had this from the beginning.

The way our accounts are created ensures that our users are kept up to date on the status of their questions. Experts Exchange users are informed of possible solutions to their problems by email, so they don’t have to keep checking the site for updates.

This option is in your profile on the prefs tab.


(6) Definitely recent—I got it this morning. - Adam Rackis
(3) This all came up ages ago when they had that blog post about how SO will run out of money and EE will reign supreme. People took the time to carefully explain everything to them, particularly how accepted answers work. Apparently they just ignored it - Michael Mrozek
EE sends emails (if so told) immediately there are comments on an answer. SO sends once a day. At least until recently. I stopped ticking the email and instead reloads the SO page once in a while to see the red dot. - mplungjan
(5) Another huge difference between EE and StackExchange - if you dare ask a question that is deemed off topic, e.g. a server related question at SO instead of whatever the server related site of the day is called, then you will be wacked very hard over your fingers, if you are lucky, the question will be moved to a site where you have no or less rep, if not, just plain closed as off topic. If you ask a server related question in the programming zone at EE, some friendly soul will re-tag and re-zone it for you and that is it. Disclaimer: I am as much at EE as I am at SO. Room for both IMNHO - mplungjan
(6) @mplungjan from what I can see (also from your very insightful comment at EE on the nature of both systems), SO and EE follow a fundamentally different philosophy. I personally much prefer SO's approach - if I'm going to give away some of my time for free, I want that askers get forced to invest some amount of own effort and discipline (but not necessarily money). But if there is an functioning ecosystem that works with a more lenient approach (and askers paying), that's fine. As I said in my comment above, I think the EE hating in our community is starting to get really old. - Pëkka
(9) @mplungjan: I don't really see any difference between EE and SO with regards to slightly off topic questions. "server related site of the day"? It's always been Server Fault. "wacked very hard over your fingers"? I have no idea what this means. We vote to migrate to SF, which sounds exactly like "some friendly soul will re-tag and re-zone it for you and that is it" to me. Also, rep doesn't really matter when you're asking a question on SO or SF. You still have full privileges to edit and leave comments as long as your account is associated (which you can do post migration). - Bill the Lizard
(4) @Bill: Then you have been lucky. My negative experiences with closed and down-voted questions across the SE network stems from personal experience and by direct observation of non-native English questions being hammered into the ground when they with a little effort from people with a better grasp of English could be made into acceptable questions. Call it "tough love" or whatever. It felt extremely rude at the time. Such rudeness as I have seen more than once would earn a suspension at EE. Do NOT get me wrong. I LIKE SO very much. Just some things are not optimal (ditto at EE) IMO - mplungjan
(6) @mplungjan: I think what you're describing is the exception, not the rule. I'm a moderator on SO, so believe me I've seen the worst. :) But I also know that there are lots of people who make thousands of edits to improve questions so they don't get hammered by the less enlightened minority. I do agree with you though, there's plenty of room on the internet for both EE and SE, and neither site is perfect. - Bill the Lizard
[+34] [2011-05-25 14:58:05] Michael Pryor

It sounds like they've gotten a few questions related to this and set up a standard reply to people asking about it.

I don't begrudge their points (Bill pointed out why most of them are irrelevant). They're right about the collaborative editing, but we consider this a strength of our system. MSN Encarta probably said the same thing about Wikipedia. "You can't trust any old yahoo on the Internet for your research. Our system is better!" -- and depending on the context, they could be correct.

In the end, I think the Internet is the true judge of the merits of each system:

Daily reach of Stack Overflow versus Experts-Exchange.

Postscript: Note that even though Panda [1] hit our site according to Alexa [2], our Google Analytics statistics show very little drop in traffic (not the case for Also, you can see from this chart that our traffic rank barely budged (even with Alexa's perceived fall in Daily Reach).

daily traffic rank of stackoverflow versus experts-exchange


(3) Notice though, that even though our traffic fell in April because of Panda, our quantcast rank went UP (well, down, it went closer to number 1). The sites that were better than us in the quantcast rankings got punished more... meaning the content farms that were ranking well in quantcast (and hence Google) for traffic, lost a lot of traffic. - Michael Pryor
(19) Interesting. Shouldn't the team add <meta name="food" content="bamboo"/> then? [idly reflects about the simpler times when your traffic didn't depend on pandas] - Piskvor
(4) I bet we would absolutely kick ass if they switched to a Unicorn algorithm. - gnostradamus
(9) @gnost: I'm afraid Meta would be the new #1 Q&A site on the Web if they did that. :) - Bill the Lizard
[+29] [2011-05-26 08:04:17] Eric_Pete

[Disclaimer: I'm one of Jason's fellow admins; feel free to edit the signature if it's appropriate to do so.]

@Randolf Richardson: Jeff Atwood has been calling SO the "anti-Experts-Exchange" for as long as SO has been around.

@Bill The Lizard: EE probably knows as much about SO as SO knows about EE. A customer service rep who has been on the job for about a week does NOT know much about SO. If you want to rip her about it, that's fine -- but there are a lot of assumptions made and repeated about EE that show the same kind of ignorance. We're just not going to engage in what Mr Spolsky referred to recently as "Well, Actually".

@Michael Pryor: The Alexa charts notwithstanding, I think a lot of what they show is that there are a lot of people who are willing to accept something that doesn't cost them anything == hardly a surprising revelation. One of the significant differences between EE and SO is that EE is, as Jason noted, an ongoing profitable business; everyone pays, either by answering a couple of questions a month or by doing what he and I do (voluntarily) or with a credit card -- but everyone pays. SO has chosen to forego the issue of generating revenue and instead gone the VC route; EE did that in the last century, and only time will tell if it works out any better for SO.

I don't pretend to think EE is "better" because it pays its bills on revenue it generates from the people who actually use the site. I do think it's a lot more honest than saying SO is "free"; someone wrote a check that is being used to pay for rent, salaries, equipment costs, donuts and bandwidth. I think the fact that EE has been doing what it does for 15 years during which time the site (not the company) has been managed by volunteers who rely on a minimal set of guidelines speaks for itself in terms of the strength of its foundation. And, like you, I'm not convinced Alexa's numbers are any more valid for SO than they are for EE -- but I'm not an SEO expert by any stretch.

I agree except the data is open source. If EE dies, the data is gone, especially if the past happens again.

My friend and colleague Mr Barbir referred to a period of time when the community built its own tools to manage the site.

One of those tools allowed us to download the entire Q&A database as it existed at the time -- before Mr Redberg and Mr Miller purchased the site. We were fully prepared to reverse-engineer it, host it, and continue to manage it. EE won't go anywhere; the community won't let it. One hopes that SO doesn't have to find out the hard way if its membership is as loyal.

Jeff -- congratulations on finding COBOLdinosaur's site [1]. He left the site when he decided he could not live up to the demands of the systems he insisted EE create (specifically, what EE calls the Zone Advisor program). Whether his allegations of greediness, obfuscation and/or deliberate falsification, and unknown parentage on the part of Mr Miller are accurate or not isn't really relevant; simply put, Cd& couldn't cope with what was a brave new world.

However, despite his account of the history [2] he was not one of two people "asked to form" the EAB; there were six members, three of whom are still regularly active (Mr Waldron isn't one of them). Mr Miller wanted a sounding board; instead he got a gaggle of idea people. He can be faulted for being more of a marketing person than a techie, for making promises he couldn't keep, and for not understanding the amount of time and resources it would take to fix the problems Mr Barbir described.

To their credit, Mr Redberg and Mr Barbir have taken a poorly conceived and badly executed idea and turned it into an reliable and meaningful system for managing our "labor of love" that involves the membership at virtually every level. However, that EE doesn't have to worry about how it's going to pay its bills shouldn't be a reason to envy -- and therefore vilify -- it so much.

Eric Peterson (aka Netminder / EE Site Administrator)


(19) Your main point is factually incorrect: According to the site owners, itself has been running profitably for quite some time. The venture capital was for the development and maintenance of the greater Stack Exchange network. - Pëkka
(11) I pointed out some factual errors, I wasn't "ripping" anyone. Besides that, my post was 7 hours before Jason pointed out that the email was from a new hire. Posts here aren't in chronological order like on some other sites. ;) - Bill the Lizard
(2) @pekka -- If you want to make that distinction, you're welcome to do so, but frankly, that's disingenuous. They're not distinct companies -- just distinct websites. - Eric_Pete
(1) @bill -- noted; perhaps "ripping" was a bit strong. And I'll admit to being used to reading things in an order that is logical, if not always necessarily sensible. - Eric_Pete
(5) @Eric_Pete "SO has chosen to forego the issue of generating revenue and instead gone the VC route". I don't see how these are mutually exclusive. We ARE generating revenue! Lots of it... as well as having a bunch of VC cash to spend. Even if you have a private profitable company (like we did), you can still sell shares to outside people (VCs) if the price is right. - Michael Pryor
(3) @Eric: SO has a slew of volunteers - US! Every user is a volunteer. - staticx
(2) you can simply edit your existing post to add more; please don't provide multiple "answers" to the question. - Jeff Atwood
[+24] [2011-06-14 06:05:18] Jeff Atwood

Some fascinating bits of Experts-Exchange history I stumbled upon today:

The codebase for the site started out in the late Summer of 2000. The whole site was converted from a mix of static page, perl, and a patchwork of pieces. Everything was converted to JAVA and Oracle databases, by a bunch of contractors hired by the former owners who managed to blow 5 million dollars in venture capital on the project.

In November 2000 a group of us beta tested it... we told them flat out it did not work. It was full of problems and was no where read to go in. However they were just about out of money so they put it in anyway.

In November, 2001 Austin Miller and Randy Redberg bought the site out of bankruptcy. They hired Ken Bell, who set about getting experts back on the site by spending time out on the alternate sites discussing it with us. Austin promised to fix the site, and give the experts input into what was going on.

In January 2002 Austin asked Dennis Waldron and I to form and Experts' Advisory Board; which we did. Jansuper and Brian were brought in as site engineers to fix the site. That is one of the really amazing parts of this. The two of them completely re-built the codebase. What we have today is that codebase extended and enhance; and they did it on the fly. Plus they were willing to work for a fraction of the going rates because they believed in the site; just like those of us who stuck it out and kept this site from dying.

By Novenmber 2003, we were ready to switch to the new format of generating everything from the database and return HTML pages (primitive then compared to the way it is done today). That was necessary so that Google could fully index the site. That was the big boost that the site need in less than a month we went a 10000th rating on Alexa to the top 1000 and we have been there ever since; and in our market(tech help/support) we are the number one.,printpage/topic,1033.0/

I am fairly active on EE.... I recently spent some time looking through some old dialog in some of COBOLDinosaurs later postings and "conversations" with the mods..which eventually led me here out of curiosity....My question is simple, whilst I am taking no sides at all, I wonder exactly what the issue is with people firing up at EE?

Everyone who has left did so for various personal reasons. I left quite simply because the owner of the site is a lying greedy son of a bitch.

When he bought the site out of bankruptcy [ed: Nov 2001] he asked me to form an Experts Advisory Board to help him get the site back up. In exchange for that he made promises and commitments about the treatment of experts which he did not keep. He made promises about the quality of the free version of the site that he did not keep. He screwed Ken Bell, the guy who put together the Google connection that gave us the traffic we needed. He lied to the Board, the experts, the community, and the paid members.

When the Board refused to endorse unlimited points for paid premium, he terminated the relationship, but did not let the Community know until two months later, tht they no longer had any representation.

(12) Interesting... and the fact that they 'hide' the answers to questions that would always rank high in Google was particularly annoying. I eventually started ignoring EE pages on Google altogether. - uɐɯsO uɐɥʇɐN
(7) By the way, the "owner" referred to above is no longer the owner. But don't let that stand in your way, Jeff :) - JCL1178
(1) @George Edison: I so fully have the same behavior. - cweiske
[+12] [2012-08-25 12:16:04] owlstead

The reason I stopped being an "Expert" on Experts-Exchange is because of the pay wall. I hated it when my own answers could not be viewed by other persons; these were answers I gave to the community for free. I hated it when I walked into a wall after not answering questions for a mere two months.

But most of all I hated the company subscriptions that overloaded the site with clueless developers asking questions without any research, and expecting an answer because they paid for it. There are a lot of such ill-researched, ill-written questions on Stack Overflow as well, but I can at least edit or close those questions.

I still have my "expert" T-shirt somewhere, but at work it has been replaced by my Stack Overflow mug and pen. It would be even better if you could get a T-shirt with the nickname and reputation though, even if paid for.

(3) I was going to make a feature request for Stack Overflow T-shirts with rep on them, ie, Stack Overflow 1K / 5K / 10K / 20K / 100K User, but, alas, the store is shut down :( - Adam Rackis
@jadarnel27 thanks for the edit jadarnel - owlstead
[+1] [2012-02-04 00:05:50] nico5038

I would advise Adam Rackis to check older receipts, as the 10$ is a monthly payment and an idle account for several years will cost a lot more.

The fact that Experts-Exchange changed from a free site into a paid site can be seen as "business" and would be fair when the experts would have been informed on forehand and would get a share of the revenues. The change however was a small step-by-step, and it was after several years, when trying to add a friend as a member, that I found out how the site had changed into a PAY PAY PAY site.

The experts are rewarded with worthless "expert-points" and are” hypnotized” by scoring as much as possible and now can add status by collecting as many followers as possible.

I've been an expert for six years and a moderator (modulo and GranMod) for four years and was suspended as Experts-Exchange didn't support me when trying to improve the quality of another experts "F1-Help" comments. The “quality Q&A” talk is only advertising talk and when you check the questions you’ll find out that a lot of questions are trash.

Now I see Experts-Exchange from the outside and have found out that they are over protective to their Q&A’s. Links to other Q&A sites in solutions aren’t allowed and critical comments towards them are removed. They even succeeded in getting my Yahoo account disabled as I’m too critical.

So be warned before using (or worse anticipating in) Experts-Exchange. Like CobolDinosaur and many other “old” experts I’ve experienced Experts-Exchange’s true nature.

(8) I don't know if this is the proper place to be sharing this sort of opinion. It comes across as rather bitter, and expecting some sympathy since this is the 'competition'. - Andrew's a Unitato
(1) Hi Andrew, I posted to warn Adam to check his payments as many of the EE customers aren't aware that they start a monthly payment routine and forget to unsubscribe in a timely manner. Additionally I added the history how the "old" experts (like me) were lured into a new situation most wouldn't have chosen for when they started. - nico5038
(6) @nico5038 Nico, it's time for you to move on from your EE obsession. Your only contribution to Stack Overflow has been to add yet another soapbox for your anti-EE rants. Move on. - brettdj
[0] [2012-03-21 23:16:20] Darkly Pure

My experience with Experts-Exchange came when they decided that we should have an account at work in case we ended up getting stuck with stuff. The long and the short of it is that I ended up using it about four times with three of those four times ending up with me answering my own question as none of their 'experts' could.

That was a long long time ago.