Who's Your Arch-Enemy?

I didn't fully understand 37 Signals' advice to Have an Enemy until recently.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at: http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/2009/03/whos-your-arch-enemy.html

Shame your login mechanism is broken. Admittedly I haven’t visited the site for a couple of months but now when I log in with my Google ID it describes me as unknown and has lost my history…

Be careful when posting general Google Queries lol. This one was posted just a few hours after your post.


My blog is the #1 search result in Google for stackoverflow sucks! Hooray for me!


Stackoverflow does really suck, for the reasons described there.

Stackoverflow’s users are too quick to close topic for something they deem inappropriate. An offtopic folder would be a better solution than outright censorship.

Put it in double quotes for great justice:

Search results: 7
a href=http://www.google.com/search?hl=enq=%22stackoverflow+sucks%22http://www.google.com/search?hl=enq=%22stackoverflow+sucks%22/a

Search results: 457
a href=http://www.google.com/search?hl=enq=%22experts-exchange+sucks%22http://www.google.com/search?hl=enq=%22experts-exchange+sucks%22/a

The type of censorship on SO being complained about is merely an extension of our politcally correct society, which includes programmers.

The past 15 years or so have witnessed a large shift in how one should think and speak, and who not to offend.

For example, you can criticize hetero-sexuals, Christians and Moslems, and those who smoke cigarettes. But you are headed for hell if you criticize homo-sexuals, Jews, or globalism. Gone are the days where you are allowed to disagree, and yet not be hateful.

In other words, fit in, or you will be flagged for deletion.

I think that’s why the movie Matrix did so well; people literally are walking around programmed, and not knowing it. That’s why I find the label on this blog, programming and human factors so appropriate in this instance.

Currently stackoverflow has all the experts and not the kids trying to achieve an expert level by posting useless answers. hope it stays that way, otherwise I’d have to add it to my hide these sites from search results list.

Experts-Exchange is most certainly evil and still plays a lot of games with search engines and referrers.

For example, if you just click here:


you’ll see some generic PHP question with NO answers on the page. However, if you click here:


and click the first (or whichever) link that takes you to the EXACT SAME PAGE, you’ll find all the answers hidden at the very bottom of the page. However, even this isn’t always true. If you have Javascript enabled, you sometimes find the answers hidden via a script so even via Google you can’t see the answers. Adding the domain to IE’s Restricted Sites or using something like NoScript works pretty well to bypass that, however.

I’m sure referrer sniffing is against Google’s TOS (or whatever you want to call their rules about blacklisting misbehaving websites), but EE has been doing it for years now.

It’s too bad really. I remember when EE first started: free accounts, free points, nice site, smart people. It was a nice enough community that I actually played expert for a while helping people out. Now, however, they still have smart people but it costs you your soul and a paycheck to really use the site.

One can hope Stack Overflow (which I’m seeing more and more in my Google search results for technical problem) won’t tread a similar path.

Indeed, this is a very useful way to both punt your project across to potential consumers and keep the development team focused around the goal of making your product the antithesis of another product.

However, it also begs the question: as hard as it is in today’s world, where almost EVERYTHING has been mechanized and software-ized, what happens when you’re trying to develop something that, in the most literal of senses, has no opposite to it? =p

Bit hard to know where to focus your efforts when you find yourself in that situation. =)

Just a lil’ bit of thinking fodder.

Absolutely – what if your competition isn’t evil, but actually competent and producing a decent, generally liked product?

EE makes it very very VERY easy for us. If anything I should be sending them gifts and flowers and thank-you letters.

Surprised it took you so long to recognise E-E as the anti-You. Marketing blind-spot, eh?

Roughly speaking, QA websites (and we’ll restrict ourselves to tech questions here, because, although there’s not much difference, they outnumber non-tech sites by a hideous amount) over the last ten years divide themselves into three broad categories:
(1) Pay me now, sucker.
(2) Play the Signal/Noise Game! Send Meh Teh Codez!
(3) At least faintly useful.

The economic drivers here are (a) do I want to run a site that makes money up front? and (b) do I want a quadrillion send-me-tehs subscribers?

Google rankings distort this process, but I think it’s fair to say that (1) is a legacy of pre-Internet subscription-based services, and they’re both dead and ivery very annoying/i and (2) is an unfortunate consequence of letting every dippy QA twerp post their results in an inappropriate place. Consequently, (3) becomes interesting. Possibly more interesting than you currently realise.

Stack Overflow is, at the moment, faintly useful. Not much more than that. Not a bad beginning, in fact.

@Dennis Forbes: And just wait until someone makes a competitor to StackOverflow, but allowing for the entire database to be open (similar to Wikipedia, which Stackoverflow often draws comparison to. I can download every single bit of data from Wikipedia, the entire history of changes, and so on. Given that it is user contributed content, it makes sense that it should be open). Suddenly StackOverflow will be the evil player, and someone else will play the good game.

Category error. The ability to download every single sodding byte of Wikipedia does not make it open and does not make it free. Only a masochist would subject themselves to filtering through all this garbage – after which, said masochist istill/i has to make decisions like which bit do I believe? or which bit do I look up elsewhere? or is it time for my Dramamine now?

Bottom line: Editing is important. I’m pretty sure that any QA site will bfail/b without editing.

Maybe StackOverflow is different. I very much doubt it. Meanwhile, at least it’s free.

Thank you, Jeff! This is so, so true and your examples are excellent. When we started out we were positioned as NOT your expensive POS system (insert names of 2 competitors) – now we’re having to look harder for enemies, but the principles remain the same.

This is analogous to the tech talk about git that Linus Torvalds gave at google. In short , he said that his design goal behind git was : not to do whatever cvs did as a version control tool.


Another point to consider is the opposite idea and say we’re just like XXXX but better, that one always seems to fail. (Replace XXXX with something like World of Warcraft for fun results)

spokt.com’s rival is myfamily.com

@Fernando: what happens when you’re trying to develop something that, in the most literal of senses, has no opposite to it? =p

Then you have found the motherlode - a niche :slight_smile:

Reminds me of the old way of pitching TV shows to people - ‘It’s like Big Brother crossed with Scrubs’ or somesuch. It gives people a mental model of your idea by starting from a known base.

@Fernando I’d say that in that case you should look for where your product DOES differ from, and improve on, the market leader (and if it doesn’t, why are you building it at all?) and exploit that. E.g. ‘Git is like SVN but with distributed repositries’*

  • May be a complete misunderstanding of Git.

Mine is popular opinion. However this has a habit in some circles of making me somewhat unpopular.

We’re like experts-exchange, but without all the evil.

Spot on!

Our evil evil arch-enemy is Adobe, but we survive just because flash exist in the first place :-/