A Cacaphony of Explanations


I’m programming for a living for the first time in ten years. I’m enjoying it, but I’m finding some parts of the job more frustrating than I remember, and I think I’ve figured out why.

Mike Caulfield invented the term “a chorus of explanations” several years ago to explain why sites like Stack Overflow are useful. Where a lesson typically explains something once, SO and similar sites present several explanations with different levels of detail, different assumptions about the reader’s background, and quite possibly different solutions to the original problem. Most readers may be satisfied by the top answer, but others can scroll down to find one that’s a better fit for who they are, what they are ready to understand, and what they’re trying to do.

That’s great, but only as long as the underlying problem stands still: if your question concerns something that is evolving over time, many of the “solutions” you find are out of date. It takes some time to figure that out; I’ve only kept sporadic notes, but I’ll bet that the first few answers I do more than skim over are no longer relevant at least half the time.

This is a time-wasting annoyance for me, but a source of real friction for my junior colleagues. What is merely an out-of-tune chorus for me is a cacaphony for them; I’d be curious to know how often those sites send them down a no-longer-productive path.