Investing in a Community

Posted on April 24 2012

When I discovered Usenet in 1986, I fell in love immediately. It was fascinating to have access to so many people in so many places with so many different perspectives and experiences. It was a vast bank of knowledge that was as receptive to questions as the main computer on Star Trek. It was full of creators, fecund and unpredictable. It was bizarre and entertaining, and in many cases, a community. Even when it sank into legendary flame wars and jackassery, it was a community, and that is fundamentally why it was so addictive.

Over the years, I became less-and-less of a presence there, drawn elsewhere by the changing priorities that come with age, career and the emergence of new technologies, but I never forgot that feeling of membership in even the most anarchic of groups that was Usenet.

It wasn’t until I started visiting StackOverflow in 2009 that I found as compelling an experience. I originally came across it while using Google to find an answer to a tricky programming problem. In addition to getting a solution to my pressing issue, I found that my experience with AppEngine allowed me to contribute rather quickly, and I got sucked into the experience of acquiring reputation and badges. Yes, it felt a bit juvenile; it was something of a guilty pleasure, but I decided that there was no harm in combining game play with helping other developers.

Two years and four months later, I’ve crossed two significant milestones on StackOverflow: I’ve crossed the 10K line in reputation points, and I’ve earned the google-app-engine Silver badge, making me one of six to have done so. I’m going to bask in pride for a few minutes and then move on. There are other milestones to look towards, even though they may be far away, but in the meantime, I’ll derive a lot of pleasure and enjoyment from answering questions and helping out just because that’s the right thing to do. It’s good to be part of a community again. They are worth investing in.