The future of StackOverflow?

What happens when you have a great knowledge-sharing site, where people can freely ask questions and other people are willing to answer them?

Let me ask again, what if you have “pioneered a unique web service that offers its members fast, qualified answers to questions … from a network of qualified technology experts”? And not just that, you also have a “patented knowledge-sharing process, combined with the advantages of the Internet”? And if it’s not enough, let’s imagine for a moment that you “received a $5 million first round investment commitment from  <drum-roll> J.P. Morgan Capital“?

Well, mostly likely you end up being www.experts-exchange.com. The text in bold above is quoted from the site and from a Business Wire article.

The company is 14 years old now. It’s an eternity by the internet standards. The site was once the largest network of qualified technology experts, or so they claim. What lessons can we learn from its fate?

First, a few observations:

1. Is its traffic going up or down?

2. How does it compare to competition?

3. Was there an IPO or sale to a strategic investor?

I couldn’t find any traces of it in the internet. OK, this is certainly not a hard fact, and if you send me a link about the event, I’ll update the post accordingly.

What can we learn? Perhaps, that Q & A sites are too easy to build (say hi to StackExchange!). That the competition in the area is too fierce. That even patented IP and “smart money” from the investors won’t let you scale the business enough. You may be the leader one day, and a new kid on the block leaves you biting the dust the next day.

 

Update: despite struggling traffic, Experts Exchange is running well, apparently with enough revenue to support itself. See comments to this post for more details.

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2 Responses to The future of StackOverflow?

  1. Disclaimer: I am one of Experts Exchange’s [volunteer] administrators. I am not an employee, but I’ve been a member since 1999, so I’ve seen a lot of ups and downs.

    As noted accurately, JP Morgan put up $5 million in 1999, and hired its own management team, taking over from the three people who built the site. By mid-2001, they had burned up all of the money on fancy offices and a marketing strategy (essentially, “partnerships” and advertising) that had no hope of succeeding. The company was broke, and was sold at auction to a former employee (who has since left the company) and a partner. If you want to call that a “strategic investment”, then so be it.

    EE’s traffic did take a nose dive in 2007, when it changed the URLs for its questions/pages. Without getting into the technicalities of how Google’s systems operated at the time, suffice it to say that its visibilty dropped like a rock. It has gained back about half the traffic it lost due to the change — if your measurement is what Alexa measures.

    I appreciate stackoverflow.com’s traffic numbers; there is little question they’ve done a great job of developing that, just as Twitter has done. Its owners have the added benefit of being very good at tooting their own horn to the media (which is fine — I spent over 30 years in it, and while the method of delivery has changed, the fundamentals of getting attention have not), and the bloggers and reporters have made certain that stackoverflow.com gets a lot of “ink”, while EE has just gone about doing what it does.

    So stackoverflow.com now has $6 million in venture capital that allows it to rent fancy offices in Manhattan, and hire a bunch of new people (as I recall, Joel posted that they have about 20 employees now). Experts Exchange has modest offices in San Luis Obispo, CA — where it employs about 50 people, and pays them off current revenues (which aren’t going down, either, despite the impassioned rants of people who won’t answer a couple of questions a month so they don’t have to actually pay money to be members).

    EE isn’t beholden to anyone; it has no “advisers” looking over its shoulder. It has a proven business model that actually works, as opposed to the dissembling I’ve been seeing from stackoverflow.com. They may well be the new emperor of the Q&A world — but they have no clothes.

    • Oleg Kokorin says:

      Eric,

      Thank you for your insight about Experts Exchange. My point exactly is that one doesn’t need huge (probably any) investment for a good Q&A site.
      It’s nice to hear that EE is doing well! Actually, I paid EE for a subscription some years ago, when our company desperately needed some answers about MS Sharepoint Server. It was only once though, but it was totally worth it.

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