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AI / Frontend Development / Software Development

Stack Overflow Adds AI: Will the Community Respond?

Semantic search will make the site more beginner-friendly while preserving what establish users like about the site, Stack Overflow CEO says.
Aug 7th, 2023 7:24am by
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Stack Overflow has a bit of a love/hate relationship with generative AI. It made tech headlines in December for a short-term ban on ChatGPT answers after finding many were outright incorrect. Then its own developer survey revealed that 44% of developers already use AI tools for development and another 26% plan to do so soon. In June, moderators on the site launched a strike, in part due to the company’s policy on allowing an AI post.

In July, some claimed that AI has contributed to a decline in the community site’s use. It’s even become the topic of a research paper, “Are Large Language Models a Threat to Digital Public Goods? Evidence from Activity on Stack Overflow.”

The latest turn of events in the AI/Stack Overflow saga: The company last week announced it will roll out its own AI solution called OverflowAI. Oh, and plot twist: Stack Overflow will use AI to solve one of the Stack Overflow pain points, which is that when beginner developers ask entry-level questions, they are often harangued by their peers.

As computer scientist Santiago Valdarrama remarked in a tweet, “I don’t remember the last time I visited Stack Overflow. Why would I when tools like Copilot and ChatGPT answer my questions faster without making me feel bad for asking?”

It’s a problem Stack Overflow CEO Prashanth Chandrasekar acknowledges because, well, he encountered it too.

“When I first started using Stack Overflow, I remember my first experience was quite harsh, because I basically asked a fairly simple question, but the standard on the website is pretty high,” Chandrasekar told The New Stack. “When ChatGPT came out, it was a lot easier for people to go and ask ChatGPT without anybody watching.”

Semantic Search and Teams Integrations

OverflowAI adds semantic search, built on top of a vector database. OverflowAI then serves up the information from the site’s knowledge base without querying the community directly. Stack Overflow is also adding semantic search to its enterprise Stack Overflow for Teams solution, although that’s in a private beta.

“We really wanted to make sure that we were grounding people in one, trust — trusted answers … and citations of those answers, where they’re coming from,” Chandrasekar said.

In fact, most of the functionality of OverflowAI is aimed at the enterprise tool, such as the ability to ingest enterprise knowledge from existing enterprise content, creating a tagged knowledge base based on a company’s own information. Users will be able to vote, edit and comment on content.

“In essence, the AI efficiently bootstraps your Stack Overflow community, allowing you to take advantage of key documents in repositories that are not being discovered and reused,” Chandrasekar wrote in the announcement post. That could mean documents, wikis, GitHub README files, he told us.

The Teams tool is being integrated with Overflow’s new StackPlusOne chatbot.

Additionally, for Teams, there’s a Slack integration so it can answer questions from the organization’s knowledge base or from Stack Overflow’s community, and do so directly within the organization’s Slack.

But what may be of more interest to developers is that Stack Overflow is now offering an IDE (integrated development environment) extension for Visual Studio Code that will be powered by OverflowAI. This means that coders will be able to ask a conversational interface a question and find solutions from within the IDE.

Stack Overflow also is launching a GenAI Stack Exchange, where the community can post and share knowledge on prompt engineering, getting the most out of AI and similar topics.

Finally, Stack Overflow’s Natural Language Processing (NLP) Collective will now include a new feature called Discussions. This will provide a focused space to debate technical approaches, explore implementation strategies and share different perspectives, Chandrasekar wrote.

Users can sign up to be part of the OverflowAI preview.

As for code generation, Chandrasekar said that’s not a goal for its AI.

“Code generation, to a degree, is commoditized,” he said. “We wanted to do what we really do best, which is really zone in on the best knowledge base on how to do things correctly and to the surface all that 58 million questions and answers as a pair programmer, or an assistant on the right that shows you all this on this context.”

So far, response has been positive, Chandrasekar said. But will it work to resolve some of the challenges created by AI, such as the moderator strike? The New Stack tried to obtain a response from the striking moderators about whether the OverflowAI announcement changed anything — a request was posted for The New Stack in their Discord. However, as of press time, no representative had responded.

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TNS owner Insight Partners is an investor in: Pragma, The New Stack, SingleStore.
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