The other day I happened across a new Q&A community forum for project managers called AskAboutProjects.com. This site is built using the Stack Overflow Knowledge Exchange Engine, the same platform that is used to host the popular software development Q&A site Stack Overflow and Server Fault, a similar resource for IT system administrators.
The Stack Overflow engine is an effective and low cost platform for quickly building communities. It has some quirks, many of them around its security model, which make it awkward to use at times: for example it is difficult to enter links in answers or profiles (sometimes it works well, sometimes it doesn’t). I haven’t taken the time to figure out why, and I shouldn’t need to: the UI should be more seamless. And Firefox’s NoScript plug-in (I never leave home without it) occasionally catches XSS problems on some of the sites.
But the community experience is addictive – I find myself spending way too much time scanning the boards and offering help where I can. Some of the programmers on my team have found StackOverflow handy when working with new technology or debugging obscure technical problems.
There is something of a gold rush going on, with people hurrying to setup new communities using this engine: there are communities being launched for gamers, amateur radio, technology support forums, sports betters, dating, industrial robots, the iPhone, travel, diving, professional stock traders, musicians, real estate, organizational psychology, aerospace engineering, startups, world cup soccer, natural living, electronics, climate change, mountain biking, money, moms, spirituality…. you name it.
Another one of these sites that I am following is SecurityCrunch, a new community focused on IT security issues.
Of course there is no guarantee which communities will catch on. AskAboutProjects is new and the community is still small. Many of the forum questions so far are either homework assignments (which plague Stack Overflow as well) and seed questions from the founders of the community. Although it appears to be intended as a general resource for project managers, it is clearly focused at the moment on IT, and more specifically software development, projects and related issues, reflecting the founders’ backgrounds.
It will be worth keeping an eye on these communities over the next few months, to see which, if any of them, can replicate the success of Stack Overflow.