Stack Overflow Announces AI-Powered Features
Written by Sue Gee   
Friday, 28 July 2023

Stack Overflow has unveiled its plans for incorporating generative AI into both its public and enterprise platforms. OverflowAI is a series of initiatives including AI-enhanced search, the most significant being an OverflowAI Visual Studio code extension in Stack Overflow for Teams. Given the way users have abandoned Stack Overflow, will this be enough to attract them back?

We've previously reported on the phenomenal success of ChatGPT and on its damaging impact on Stack Overflow. This was three-fold. Initially users flooded the QA platform with untrustworthy ai-generated answers triggering a ban on any content originated using ChatGPT. While ChatGPT saw an exponential surge in visits Stack Overflow's traffic, dwarfed by comparison, experienced a corresponding fall.

Then at the end of May when Stack Overflow recsinded the ban it effectively instructed moderators to take no action against ai-generated answers something which the majority of volunteer moderators of Stack Overflow found unacceptable and they went on strike in protest. An interim solution has now been implemented, subjecting AI-generated content to a set of heuristics to determine its suitability for publication.  

An analysis of Stack Overflow's traffic presented last month on https://observablehq.com by Ayhan Fuat Çelik shows that in fact the declining trend predates ChatGPT by a matter of years. This chart is of Answers posted since April 2018. Notice the short-lived upturn at the start of lockdown, the annual cycle of the end of year holidays and the recent marked acceleration of the trend.

SO2018-present

Our coverage of the 2023 Stack Overflow Developer Survey highlighted the finding that 77% of respondents feel favourable towards using AI tools as part of their development workflow, but only 42% trust the accuracy of those tools. Accuracy is likely to increase over time so it was obvious that Stack Overflow needed to embrace generative AI and in May we reported a hint from CEO Prashanth Chandrasekar that he would soon be unveiling

"something big on this topic". 

He made good on this promise yesterday in Berlin at the WeAreDevelopers World Congress where he announced  OverflowAI, a set of offerings that will be rolled out in limited Alphas beginning in late August 2023. This video showcases an early preview:

On the Stack Overflow Blog, Chandrasekar explains that the first goal is to create a conversational, human-centered search, saying:

We want to make it possible for public platform users to receive instant, trust-worthy, and accurate solutions to problems using conversational search powered by GenAI. We’re looking at ways where responses generated can be attributed and cited, using the highly trusted knowledge from the more than 58 million questions and answers in Stack Overflow, with the ability to query the knowledge base for more personalized results. 

The same enhancement to search will also made to Stack Overflow for Teams and on this premium platform customers will also benefit from a new capability referred to as "enterprise knowledge ingestion". As shown in the video, when creating a new instance or bringing on new teammates, this will enable users to curate and build a knowledge base in minutes from existing accurate and trusted content. AI/ML will create the first drafts of a tagging structure and recommend questions and answers by identifying the areas where your team is most frequently asking for good documentation or solutions.

Chandrasekar comments:

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. This frees up developers to focus on adding value by curating and refining the content to validate accuracy. All knowledge will be discoverable and reusable by the internal community—and it’ll include the quality/accuracy indicators to make sure it stays relevant and accurate (votes, edits, comments, views, etc.). As your organization and tools evolve, this capability allows users to easily integrate new documents in the future.

Given that 73% use Visual Studio Code a new OverflowAI extension for Visual Studio Code that will directly integrate into the developer environment, enabling users Visual Studio Code users to directly query and generate code, is under development. That code will be able to gather information from public forums as well as from an enterprise’s own knowledge base to get the most relevant results and will also be able to help provide summarization and explanation for code.

Will this be enough to attract developers back to Stack Overflow? Well curiosity may tempt them to try out the OverflowAI capabilities and if you want access to the alphas releases you can sign up  via stackoverflow.co/labs.

stackoverflow

More Information 

The Fall of Stack Overflow

Announcing OverflowAI

Related Articles 

Stack Overflow Traffic Slumps As Devs Turn to ChatGPTP

 Stack Overflow Moderators Take Strike Action

Developers Positive About Using AI Tools

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Last Updated ( Friday, 28 July 2023 )