What did people use before Stack Overflow?

Mostly Usenet.

I guess young people do not know what Usenet is any more. It is a distributed internet forum system that predates StackOverflow, Reddit, etc., and in fact predates the World Wide Web itself by more than a decade. It is divided into sections, called “newsgroups”, similarly to how reddit is.

In the early part of my career I used usenet for programming questions a lot. This was the mid-90s so the World Wide Web existed but was smaller and quirkier than it is today. There used to be a web site called Deja News that archived usenet and allowed you to search and post questions . (I thin

Mostly Usenet.

I guess young people do not know what Usenet is any more. It is a distributed internet forum system that predates StackOverflow, Reddit, etc., and in fact predates the World Wide Web itself by more than a decade. It is divided into sections, called “newsgroups”, similarly to how reddit is.

In the early part of my career I used usenet for programming questions a lot. This was the mid-90s so the World Wide Web existed but was smaller and quirkier than it is today. There used to be a web site called Deja News that archived usenet and allowed you to search and post questions . (I think … you may have needed a news reader to post, I can’t remember any more).

Anyway the kind of odd thing is that it all still exists. Well Deja News doesn’t; Google bought them for their archive around the turn of the millennium, I think, but you can still search Usenet in Google Groups and Usenet itself still exists although most of it is dormant or taken over by spam, like an abandoned city reclaimed by wilderness.

For example, in the 90s I was a Windows desktop programmer so I would follow and post this group comp.os.ms-windows.programmer which rather surprisingly looks somewhat alive.

Stack Overflow was not the first ever technical Q&A site, it’s just that it is the best by a wide margin which is why it more or less has a monopoly on programming Q&A now.

Before Stack Overflow, you could still google a technical question and you would get a number of hits. Some of them would be from specialist Q&A sites, some from forums, some from web sites devoted to the technology and some from manufacturers or suppliers’ web sites. The quality of the hits was much more variable than it is now with Stack Overflow, but usually, with a bit of perseverance that might even include looking at t

Stack Overflow was not the first ever technical Q&A site, it’s just that it is the best by a wide margin which is why it more or less has a monopoly on programming Q&A now.

Before Stack Overflow, you could still google a technical question and you would get a number of hits. Some of them would be from specialist Q&A sites, some from forums, some from web sites devoted to the technology and some from manufacturers or suppliers’ web sites. The quality of the hits was much more variable than it is now with Stack Overflow, but usually, with a bit of perseverance that might even include looking at the second page of Google results, you’d get the answer you need.

Before the World Wide Web, we had to use books. I remember many an unhappy hour trawling through the Ingres 6.4 SQL reference or the DEC Ultrix programming guide desperately looking for answers to problems I had. An alternative would be to talk to experts either in person or on the phone. It’s amazing how much we used to be able to get done without the Internet.

Books and references and of course, they thought about things a bit more.

In 01, when I was at college we had a couple of tasks to do in C and there was no Stack Overflow. We literally sat down and worked through the code with the information we had. If we had Stack Overflow we could have probably done those tasks in half the time but at least we knew how our code was behaving.

Software development did not start with Stack Overflow, people were programming successfully well before it. Even if we lost Stack Overflow tomorrow, we’d find our way. Things would take longer and be harder, but we’d fin

Books and references and of course, they thought about things a bit more.

In 01, when I was at college we had a couple of tasks to do in C and there was no Stack Overflow. We literally sat down and worked through the code with the information we had. If we had Stack Overflow we could have probably done those tasks in half the time but at least we knew how our code was behaving.

Software development did not start with Stack Overflow, people were programming successfully well before it. Even if we lost Stack Overflow tomorrow, we’d find our way. Things would take longer and be harder, but we’d find our way.

O’Reilly books were reliable resources, the web more generally via Google, books too, college was interesting. I remember the IE team came from MS. They were an unusual group, and unfortunately not particularly helpful, as with the majority of my MS experiences (thats only changed recently as they make their products available for Linux for development).

As partly mentioned on the wiki page Stack Overflow - Wikipedia (launched 2008) notable earlier predecessors include:

  • Experts Exchange - Wikipedia (1996): killed because you need to pay to see answers
  • Yahoo! Answers - Wikipedia (2005): killed because there was no reputation system that led you to getting jobs/respect
  • Usenet - Wikipedia (1980): equivalent to a mailing list I believe. Killed because no way to vote on best answer, so you have to dredge through threads to find the gold nugget rather than see the best answer on top.