A clever use of GitHub

3 min read
Christopher Carfi

Discovering an unexpected use for something that you've always taken for granted is a unique kind of buzz. In the same way that hearing a familiar song done in a different style scratches an itch, seeing a familiar tool used in a novel way gives off a little spark of delight, at least for me.

When I typically think about GitHub, it's in the context of being a code sharing and publishing service. We've written about GitHub before in the context of reputation, as well. Now there's a third facet to check out: GitHub as a Q&A platform.

This new angle came in via Mark Jaquith, a lead developer on the WordPress® platform. According to Mark's post, he had the idea inspired by Zach Holman, who set up a feedback repo for GitHub. (Memetics in action. Cool.)

Q&A is a really interesting application of the system, as it checks a large number of boxes in a very scalable manner.

It's asynchronous.

For questions that fall into the "important, but not urgent" box, this model works really well. An individual can post a public question to another, and the recipient can get to it in the queue when time permits.

It enables arbitrary length of response.

Although some questions can be answered in 140 characters, others require a lengthier and more thought-full (as opposed to thought-free) response. This works wonderfully for that.

It's persistent, one-to-many and public.

Both of the points above could be applied to email as well. However, engaging in Q&A using this mechanism enables the interaction to be indexed by search engines and enables it to be found by others in the future who might have a similar question.

It's threaded and conversational.

If there are follow-up questions or clarifications needed, a comment thread can form around the question. Additionally, others can chime in with their expertise.

It builds reputation and community.

All of the Qs and As that gather engagement not only show up in the Q&A thread, but also show up in the activity history of the individual participants. This gives a pulse to their activity over time when they participate. GitHub also highlights the group of individuals who have participated in the topic thread, giving the conversation a human face.

Example: Mark Jaquith's feedback repo on GitHub

GitHub Page - Feedback

Example: A thread from Zach Holman's feedback repo on GitHub

GitHub Page - Feedback

In some ways, this overloads the "issue" functionality of GitHub and enables it to be used as an extremely focused forum, where threads can be created that tap into the expertise of the tagged individual. However, as opposed to traditional forums, the root of the forum is an individual, instead of a topic or a particular piece of software.

So what do you think? Would you ever solicit Q&A on your expertise in this way?

Image by bebal via Flickr cc