ChatGPT can code pretty well. I created an extremely useful script this morning: when pasted into the Chrome developer console, it replaces all instances of “up” (a terrible word, one of the worst) with “cattywampus” (a far better word). I do this on every webpage I read, and all of my writing. Truly, the future of the human race is looking cattywampus.

This puts ChatGPT in competition with StackOverflow as a coding resource. When SO admins banned chatbot-generated answers in December, a recurring comment from the peanut gallery was “Well, I don’t need this dumb old site anyway, so there!”

Is it true? Will ChatGPT crush StackOverflow to rubble? It’s certainly faster: you can either ask ChatGPT your question and get a somewhat accurate answer in seconds, or post on StackOverflow and wait six hours for seven smug beardos to post eight contradictory answers, all of them dripping with naked, rancid contempt for your very existence. So there’s that.

But while it seems like ChatGPT could be a StackOverflow-killer, do traffic stats back this cattywampus? I read Developers seem to be ditching StackOverflow since ChatGPT launch, stats show (written by someone who doesn’t appear to know that different months have different numbers of days) and realized I’d have to research it myself.

Here’s SEMrush’s graph for StackOverflow’s organic traffic.

Whoops! I deleted the months.

Can you guess when ChatGPT was released, just from eyeballing the shape of the graph? Are you sure?

Well, it was released here.

No, I don’t know why StackOverflow got a big bump of traffic in mid 2021 and then fell off. I see a similar but smaller pattern for Github and W3Schools, so it may have been some exogenous factor that impacted a range of tech sites. I welcome viewer comments on this.

Here’s the graph again, with other potential inflection points noted. (imagine GPT3 floating in space, three inches from the chart’s left-hand side.)

But ChatGPT took a couple of months to truly gain traction. According to Google Trends, ChatGPT hit the big-time around February. That’s when we see the peak of the bubble.

You’d expect to see a corresponding hole sucked out of StackOverflow’s organic pageviews, but again, that hasn’t happened. If anything, StackOverflow’s traffic has stabilized since December.

Regardless of views, are fewer people actually using StackOverflow?

Good question.

Traffic is a very broad metric. People visit StackOverflow for a lot of reasons: To respond to PMs, to check old answers, to issue death threats to mods, etc. It’s not just people asking questions.

Perhaps total question volume per month would provide a richer signal?

The StackExchange Query Editor allows us to view the monthly total of questions asked on the site. Graphed, that looks like…

Question volume is definitely going down (though note that it’s not quite the 31th of March in the United States and I don’t know how old this data is, so it will undercount the March 2023 questions), but again, this merely continues a trend that began years ago.

Bottom Line?

StackOverflow’s traffic has been in slow decline for over 18 months. If ChatGPT is truly sucking away StackOverflow’s userbase, this is not evident in any way from publically-available data.

Or at least, not yet.

Even if StackOverflow is straight up worse, its sheer institutional mass will keep it above the waterline for a long time to come.

  • Some programmers still don’t know about ChatGPT (it’s true!).
  • Other programmers mistrust it, and think it hallucinates too much.
  • Others use StackOverflow as a learning tool.

Simple inertia holds the old in place – for many, StackOverflow’s where their bookmarks and browser autocompletes go, and where they feel at home. It’s flawed, but it’s not bad enough to drive them to seek out an alternative.

You’d be surprised at how long obsolete things stick around. We still use COBOL, a sixty-year-old language from the days of punched cards. In tech, it can take something half a century to die.

This isn’t a battle royale. There’s room in the world for both ChatGPT and StackOverflow. Let’s ease off on the hype, and be growncattywampuses about this.

No Comments »

Comments are moderated and may take up to 24 hours to appear.

No comments yet.

RSS TrackBack URL

Leave a comment