Why I Want to Delete My Stack Overflow Account, Even if They Won’t Let Me

If you’ve never heard of it before, Stack Overflow is a website where people post software development questions and other people answer them. It follows all the fine traditions of the software development community; strangers freely helping strangers, the open sharing of code, and the occasional sarcastic response or “why would you even want to do that?” moment. It’s helped me out many times and, whenever and wherever I can, I’ve posted answers to other people’s questions.

That’s all about to change.

Stack Overflow had made all the right noises when it came to generative AI. It had openly complained about ChatGPT stealing away its traffic, actively blocked Open AI’s crawlers from scraping (stealing) information for the site, and banned the use of generative AI to create answers to questions. Like Zion in The Matrix Trilogy, it was a hold-out of human resistance against the machines.

That’s all about to change too.

In an incredible and unexpected volte-face, Stack Overflow has inked a deal with Open AI to share the information on its website. Open AI gets access to Stack Overflow’s vast library of questions and answers. Stack Overflow gets access to Open AI to build its “Overflow AI” product. ChatGPT will begin to cite Stack Overflow in its answers, which might just be the start of Open AI acknowledging that it only has a product when it’s allowed to ingest massive amounts of other people’s (copyright-protected) information and the developers who spent their time answering questions and building Stack Overflow’s community get… annoyed.

Angry developers have been trying to remove their posts from the site or alter them to include protest messages against the Open AI deal. I suspect a large number of bogus posts are now being uploaded, creating the very real risk that developers will pick up and reuse code that contains security issues or bugs that have been placed there to poison the Open AI knowledge base. Stack Overflow’s response to this community outcry? They’re blocking accounts and locking down content.

Why am I unhappy?

Software developers and people in the IT community are probably the most “plugged in” when it comes to understanding generative AI and what is really going on with tools like ChatGPT. These systems are not “magic”, no matter what the marketing people might say. They take original content, chop it up, and return the average. It’s not rocket science, it’s just predictive text running on the biggest phone you ever saw. I’ve yet to see an example of an AI solving a problem that it hasn’t already seen the answer to, or where the “answer” isn’t derived from simply running endless combinations and permutations against test criteria until you find a “winner”.

Despite this, there are creatives who are fighting for their very existence against a tsunami of homogenised regurgitations of their own work threatening to replace them.

Stack Overflow, like Zion, was a beacon of resistance and hope but, facing the possible downfall of their site as ChatGPT stole their traffic, they sold out.

When I wrote “The Truth About SEO”, I explained the risks of becoming over-invested in someone else’s platform. “When the product is free, you are the product” as the saying goes. Stack Overflow knows this. When they sold out, it was their users that they sold.

It seems like the dominoes are starting to fall and we are heading quickly towards a situation where anything you create online will soon be consumed, digested, and defecated back out as the most bland average of itself to be sold back to you.

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