Small Business Spotlight of the Week: Stack Exchange and Super User Amanda | February 22nd, 2012

Got a technical, software or programming question like, “Is a function larger than an array [in Javascript]?” Or, do you just want to know when the first use of a secret identity in a comic book was? Either way, I’ve got your answer.

Well, I don’t, but Stack Exchange does. There’s a lot of user- generated question and answer sites out there, finding information you want isn’t necessarily difficult on the internet.  What struck me when I was browsing through Stack Exchange was that the quality of the questions was far better than your average Yahoo! Answers.  This is not a venue for “how du u kno wen ur in luv?” It’s smart people needing information from other smart people.  The homepage is an endless scroll of questions, most of them interesting enough I found myself browsing the site.  If you’re interested, the gent that founded Stack Exchange also founded Super User, a Q&A site that focuses only on technical questions.

Founder Jeff talks more below about creating a super exchange (see what I did there?):

How would you explain what you do to somebody’s grandmother?

If you have a technical question and type it in to Google, we want Stack Exchange (and Super User) be the page with the best answer!

What are some industry specific challenges you faced?  

There are a lot of sites and forums that already offer technical answers to computer questions. Getting heard above the din takes time and effort, but our focus on simple, clean presentation and a relentless dedication to quality pays off, particularly on new topics where there aren’t as many web pages out there.

If you could go back, would you do anything differently? If so, what and why?

We kind of screwed up by not having a special “meta” site for community members to discuss Super User until very recently. If we’ve learned anything, it is that “the place where you discuss the place” is an essential ingredient in any community. I wrote about this on my blog:http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2012/02/listen-to-your-community-but-dont-let-them-tell-you-what-to-do.html but it finally exists now athttp://meta.superuser.com , although we should have had it from day one.

What was your biggest learning curve/experience?

Cultivating a community is much harder than building software. People are complicated! We spend a lot of time making sure we’re making our community happy, while still keeping a laser focus on quality. We also have a culture of moderation, where experienced users and democratically elected moderators can assist new users in learning the values of the community and what our goal is — to make the Internet a great place to get answers for your questions.

What made you use crowdSPRING? 

At the time, we didn’t have any designers on staff, and we believe in letting the community have visibility and input into all the things we do. Why not do the same thing when coming up with a logo for Super User? We even voted for the winning logo on our blog: http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2009/07/logo-contest-winner-for-superusercom/ and for the record, I think it’s a fantastic logo!

What’s the craziest story you have from starting your own business?  

Our software is very good at letting the community screen out griefers and trolls, but there was one user who was so peculiar in his habits that I couldn’t tell if he was honestly a troll or not. I’ve been on the Internet for a long time and I’ve seen a lot… but I actually called this user on the phone to talk to him because I couldn’t believe he was for real! (He was.)

How do you see your company growing in the future?

The Stack Exchange network at http://stackexchange.com/sites has grown a ton! since 2009 we’ve gone from 3 people to 50+, and we’ve taken two rounds of venture capital. http://superuser.com has grown to almost 200k visitors per day since it launched in August 2009 http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2009/08/super-user-now-public/ — it’s by far the largest site in our network beyond the original site we started with!

Six words of advice to those looking to start their own company.  

Be prepared to work long hours. :)

Super User’s call for a new logo received 474 entries.

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