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A generation of developers has grown up relying on Stack Overflow‘s community approach to answering technical questions and getting a mix of responses.
That model is getting disrupted today with the announcement of an impressive list of generative AI capabilities on both the public Stack Overflow site as well as its enterprise offering Stack Overflow for Teams. The new OverflowAI offerings come on the heels of the company’s annual developer survey that revealed that the majority of developers want to use AI tools but only 40% actually trust AI.
OverflowAI is not a single product, rather, it is a series of initiatives including updated AI search on both the public and enterprise platforms. For enterprise, there is also an OverflowAI Visual Studio code extension as well as a Slack integration.
Stack Overflow for Teams will also benefit from OverflowAI to help with enterprise knowledge ingestion. The overall goal is to help make it easier for developers and enterprises to find and use the information they need.
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“One of the first things that we wanted to focus on is search, because finding information, getting the right answer at the right time and really trusting the answers is really important,” Stack Overflow CEO Prashanth Chandrasekar told VentureBeat. “What we are doing is giving the ability for users to ask conversational questions through OverflowAI, and the generative answers are going to come straight from the 58 million questions and answers from public Stack Overflow, with citations to the very specific sources.”
OverflowAI doesn’t replace the Stack Overflow community, but it might be friendlier
The heart and soul of Stack Overflow is the community based question and answer forums. With OverflowAI, Chandrasekar emphasized that the goal isn’t to replace the community, but rather to complement it in a number of ways.
The OverflowAI model enables natural language processing (NLP) based queries that Chandrasekar said will yield highly accurate generated results. They were trained on the corpus of the Stack Overflow public knowledge base.
Without gen AI, Stack Overflow has long had a lexicon based, traditional type of search capability that has served users reasonably well. In response to a query, users get a set of results and then could dig into specific community answers to find the optimal solution. In many cases, users will simply post a question to a Stack Overflow discussion and then hope to get accurate solutions from the community.
Forgiving to users of all experience levels
The community however isn’t always as kind or as forgiving as it could be to certain types of questions. Chandrasekar recounted an incident when he first joined Stack Overflow in 2019 and he posted a question on the public forums.
“I asked a very poorly worded question and I got completely slapped on the wrist,” he said. “I can’t even imagine the experience for a 17-year-old as an example, or somebody who is very early on in their career.”
OverflowAI will allow users of all experience levels to get a lot more value out of the platform very quickly, because users don’t have to go through the potential hurdles that can sometimes be associated with community feedback. “It just takes a lot of inefficiency out of the system,” said Chandrasekar.
Community-directed responses will however remain core to the platform and will not be going away. In fact, part of the OverflowAI announcement is a new gen AI Stack Exchange, a dedicated forum on Stack Overflow for discussion on AI related issues.
Stack OverFlow comes to Visual Studio Code
An extremely common use case of Stack Overflow developers cut/pasting an answer from the public forums and using it inside of a development tool like Microsoft’s Visual Studio Code.
Stack OverFlow for Teams users now have a new OverflowAI extension for Visual Studio Code that will directly integrate into the developer environment. Chandrasekar said OverflowAI will enable Visual Studio Code users to directly query and generate code.
That code can leverage information from the public forums as well as from an enterprise’s own knowledge base to get the most relevant results. The tool will also be able to help provide summarization and explanation for code.
Not replacing GitHub Copilot
Integrating AI with code development is something that Microsoft has been doing for several years with its Github Copilot technology. Chandrasekar said that OverflowAI is not an attempt to replace Github Copilot, but rather to just provide more information resources to developers and the organizations they work for.
“We’re certainly not looking to replace GitHub copilot, we’re very complementary to what you’re actually going to do writing code,” he said. “You need a really solid foundation on Stack Overflow for Teams to give accurate, validated and curated information.”
Overall across its gen AI efforts, Chandrasekar emphasized that the guiding vision is well aligned with the primary mission of Stack Overflow.
“Our goal is to make us the destination for all things technology knowledge, so that’s what this is all about,” said Chandrasekar.
The OverflowAI capabilities are launching as alpha releases in August, with interested developers and enterprises getting the ability to sign up via stackoverflow.co/labs.
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