Last week a colleague of mine was looking for a way to edit a large XML file; what he needed was to change the value of numbers appearing within a particular tag throughout the file by adding a 0.04 to the existing value. This was required to effect a rate table change within his client’s incentive compensation system. I was not sure of how to make this change so I performed a web search, the results of which directed me to a post on a site called Stack Overflow. I shared the link with my colleague. Though the question and answer did not exactly fit, they seemed like they might help him solve his particular problem.

When I checked back later, my friend informed me that he had posted his exact question on Stack Overflow and almost immediately received four good answers with one that was an exact solution to his problem. Amazing! Wondering what encourages its users to monitor and respond so quickly, I decided to go back and see what makes the site tick. Stack is a collaboratively edited site on which users post computer programming and related questions and answers. Users can perform other actions as well including leaving comments, flagging offensive posts, and leaving comments but users have to earn the right to do more advanced actions. The free (and nearly ad free!) site tracks a concept called Reputation for registered users. Generally when users post good (useful) questions or answers, they earn reputation points. The number and type of actions allowed increases with users’ Reputation point total until users are very much like moderators of the site. Read more about Reputation and the site at its FAQ. Essentially, users are encouraged to help others and make the site better to improve their Reputation which allows them more ability to help and make the site better; it’s a vicious and wonderful cycle that capitalizes on human nature to help one another and to be commended for doing so. Something to think about when formulating incentives for employees and while nurturing your company’s culture.

By the way, due in March is the introduction of an IT focused Stack Overflow site.

-Michael Stus