[TUHS] history of community help for unix users everywhere

Will Senn will.senn at gmail.com
Thu Feb 9 04:58:35 AEST 2023

Hi all,

Today, as I was tooling around on stack overflow, I decided to ask a 
question on meta. For those of you who don't know, stack overflow is 
supposedly a q&a site. There are zillions of answers to quite a few "how 
to do i do x" style questions. Folks upvote and downvote the answers and 
the site is a goto for a lot of developers. I've used it  since it came 
online - back in the late 2000's. I have a love hate relationship with 
the site. When there's a good answer to a question that I have, I love 
it. When they downvote fringe cases that I care about to the point where 
they effectively become gray literature that is near on impossible to 
locate - I hate it. Meta is supposedly where you go to ask questions 
about the stack.

Yesterday, I asked this question:

    Do you know of any studies that have been done around downvoted
    content, specifically on stack overflow or stack exchange?

    By way of background - I find any questions or answers that are on
    the border (+1, 0, -1) as dubiously helpful, but when the downvotes
    pile up, much like upvotes, the answers become interesting to me
    again as they give me insights I might miss otherwise.

After a slew of why would you think that was interesting, there's no 
value with upvotes and downvotes, and your question is unclear responses 
along with, as of now, 31 downvotes net, the question was closed for 
lack of clarity. My answer, which was informed by some of the comments was:

    There don't appear to be any papers on downvoting specific to Stack
    Overflow. You can find a good list of known academic papers using
    Stack Exchange data in the list hosted on Stack Exchange Meta
    (link). It is an attempt to keep a current list of works up to date.

    The Stack Exchange Data Explorer (link) is an open API for doing
    data research, if you want to dig into the data yourself.

Which was quickly downvoted 9 times net.

To see the entire debacle:


Anyhow, other than what I perceive to be a decidely hostile environment 
for asking questions, it is still actually a useful resource.

Wow, have times changed though on the hostility front.

So, it got me thinking...

What was it like in the very beginning of  things (well, ok, maybe not 
the very beginning, but around and after the advent of v6 and when it 
was at or around 50 sites) for folks needing answers to questions 
related to unix?

The questions... and for the love of Pete, don't downvote me anymore 
today, I'm a fragile snowflake, and I might just cry...

What was the mechanism - phone, email, dropbox of questions, snail mail, 
saint bernardnet, what?
What was the mood - did folks quickly tire of answering questions and 
get snippy, or was it all roses?
When did those individual inquiries get too much and what change was 
made to aggregate things?

I'm thinking there may have been overlap between unix users and 
usenet... Also, I remember using fidonet for some of my early question 
about linux, but that was 1991, many years after the rise of unix.


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