“For the community. By the community.”
On the surface, these six words — the tagline of the Codidact project — are simple and rather dull. Yet these two short sentences are what set Codidact apart from anything else, and the reason Codidact might yet prevail in its mission where others have failed.
But what mission is that? And what is it about these lines about community that makes it so special? What even does “Codidact” mean in first place?
So what is Codidact?
The name “Codidact” comes from the prefix “co-”, meaning to do something together, and the word “didactic”, which means something designed to teach.
Plainly put, Codidact is an open-source question and answer platform, for all kinds of different topics — or at least it will be, once development has reached the point where it can go live.
But that’s an oversimplification. To get some idea of what Codidact plans to be, what sparked its development, and what sets Codidact apart, we’re going to have to dig into a bit of history.
All the boring history and background information
If you’re a programmer, or, really, anyone interested in tech-related subjects, you’ve probably heard of Stack Overflow and the wider Stack Exchange network.
For those who haven’t heard of those previously, Stack Overflow is a question and answer site for coding questions, where users can submit questions about programming and receive answers. Stack Overflow has previously described their goal as creating a repository of high-quality questions. The Stack Exchange network is a network of sites that work the same way as Stack Overflow, on a multitude of subjects that range from Science Fiction & Fantasy to Aviation to Raspberry Pis, with the same goal of creating a repository of information.
It has to be said that Stack was at least mildly successful with implementing question and answer software — Stack Overflow is one of the top 40 sites by Alexa rank, and you don’t get there easily. For over ten years, people were, on the whole, content with the way Stack was running things, and managed to shoehorn the platform into suiting their needs, even if it wasn’t perfectly suited to their needs. It was good enough.
Of course, there were plenty of copy-cat sites that cropped up over the years. They tended to be small sites that simply tried to copy the question and answer format that had made Stack so successful. None of them really took off. People were sticking with Stack.
That is, until late 2019. When the network imploded.
This is not the place to get into what happened then. It’s a long, complicated story, with several different incidents all combining into one massive blowup. Suffice it to say, a large percentage of the core Stack userbase — people who had written thousands of answers and spent years working towards the goal of creating a repository of useful information — had a falling out with the company that runs Stack Overflow and the Stack Exchange network, with many of them ultimately deciding that they could not in good conscience continue to contribute to those sites any longer.
So now you have a group of people, many of them talented software developers, others experienced community moderators, all experienced in how a question and answer site works… with nowhere to go. Nowhere to go to continue to provide help and information in the manner they know and love.
And thus, amidst the drama and anger, Codidact was born.
What if Stack, but better?
The original plan behind Codidact was simple: A Q&A platform that wasn’t Stack.
With all the people angry at Stack, there was suddenly a chance for an alternative site that none of the other copy-cat sites that had cropped up over the years had had: There was a community that wanted it.
Software is all well and good, but the real value of Stack was never inherently in the platform itself. It was in the community of people that were willing to invest thousands of unpaid hours into helping answer questions, edit posts, and moderate sites… that same community that now was quite angry at Stack.
Anger is a great motivator. It gives you a fiery, burning drive to do something. But a project founded purely on the basis of anger isn’t going to survive very long. Anger burns brightly, but fizzles out quickly. To build something that will actually have a chance at surviving and growing, you need something more than anger to build on.
What if Q&A, but better?
And so, the team behind Codidact had a radical idea: What if, instead of simply copying the question and answer format from Stack, we take that model and improve it?
Every community builds itself in their own special way, and develops their own needs. Not every community fits the exact same mold.
With that thought in mind, the Codidact team finally had their vision. They would create an open-source network of question and answer sites, where each community can find their niche and adjust the software to fit their specific needs — whether that’s by forking the code and running their own instance, or by working with the main Codidact installation to create a site perfect for their community.
Community over profit, always
A quote from Codidact’s home page sums up what the project thinks about for-profit companies:
“…Q&A communities should be free from the politics and shenanigans of private, profit-focused companies.”
Codidact wants nothing to do with making money and worrying about being profitable. Money isn’t the goal.
And that brings us back to what we started with: “For the community. By the community.”
Codidact understands that it’s not the software that will decide if they succeed. Their success will depend on their ability to take a community and to have that community flourish. Community is the backbone of the project. Without the community, Codidact is nothing.
After all, it was Stack’s falling out with their community, motivated by revenue, that sparked Codidact’s founding. Codidact is determined not to repeat Stack’s mistakes.
Codidact is set apart because its main selling point is not the unique software that it plans to run on. Codidact’s focus is and always will be on the people behind the screen, and the needs of different communities. It has something that previous attempts at competing sites did not: An experienced, motivated community willing to spend the time to create something new, principled, and a focus on community that can be found almost nowhere else.
What does it mean to be a completely community-oriented platform?
Saying you’re entirely community-oriented is all well and good in theory, but how does Codidact plan to create itself in such a way that will insure that they actually follow through on that bold premise?
The first way, and possibly the largest, is the structure of the organization behind Codidact. The organization is composed entirely of unpaid volunteers — at the moment, they’re not even an official organization, but simply a group of people working together.
Eventually, they plan to form a non-profit, that will be responsible for the main instance of Codidact — sites running on the “codidact.com” and “codidact.org” domains. This non-profit will be composed of people who participate in the sites. Along with “employees” of Codidact, the members and leaders of the sites will have input on the organization’s actions, with the “community” as an entity having equal status to employees of the non-profit.
This way, as a non-profit, Codidact never has to worry about being profitable or making enough money to pay back investors; with a Wikipedia-like model of maintaining a knowledge base funded on donations, Codidact doesn’t aim for money to play any part in shaping the sites or decisions made.
Another way is in the planned level of support for different communities’ needs. Codidact recognizes that not every site and topic needs to do questions and answers the exact same way; different communities will have different software needs. Codidact plans to support different communities using different features — for instance, some communities may want blog posts in addition to Q&A, or slightly different question organization systems. Every community gets exactly what they need.
A third way is by making the platform entirely open-source. When your software is entirely open-source, there is no such thing as keeping people around because of the system; anyone who wants can go spin up their own instance of the system whenever they want. For such a platform to survive, they need to keep a community sustained and growing. Without the community, Codidact truly has nothing.
The project distinguishes itself from any previous attempts at setting up a Q&A site with its unique focus on community and community alone.
And so, with sights set on a platform that will truly put community above all else, Codidact is now under development. Decisions are made on a Discourse installation for the project, and a Discord server serves as a way for contributors to more casually interact with each other. While it’ll take some time until Codidact is up and running, contributors are hard at work developing the platform and planning the roadmap for the future of the project.
It’s with an eye towards the future that Codidact is being developed, hoping to soon provide support for a diverse range of communities across a range of topics with very different needs, on a open-source, non-profit platform, always keeping that most important idea in mind: “For the community. By the community.”