Courant Institute New York University FAS CAS GSAS

TeX and friends get the StackOverflow treatment

Friday, October 8, 2010 - 1:57pm

Finding online support for programming has undergone a change over the years. Usenet forums allowed people to organize discussion threads in the pre-web days (now Usenet seems to be only used for file sharing). Email lists were and still are also used, but lack a filter--you have to receive all the questions and answers to be part of the discussion.

With the web came the online forum, with a similar interface to usenet, but slightly prettier. Wikis tend to pop up in the same places to organize established knowledge.

In 2008 StackOverflow appeared, and has a lot of great Web 2.0-ish features which make finding community support pretty fun.

First, it's easy to register--you can link your account to your Google, Facebook, or other OpenID. No extra username/passwords to forget.

Second, it's easy to post and respond to questions. The post editing interface uses a markdown syntax (like wikis) to format code snippets, links, and images smartly.

Third, it's social. Questions and answers can be voted up or down (like digg) and tagged (like delicious). Users earn reputation by participation and getting votes, and for extra too-cute-but-surprisingly-effective motivation, badges are awarded for completing certain milestones.

TeX and LaTeX and their other variations aren't just document preparation systems, they are programming languages. So I was really excited to see that a TeX and friends version of StackoverFlow has appeared. I hope I won't be wasting too much time over there.