Popular useful tools and platforms can cause addiction and become a single point of failure in our workflow when we rely too much on using them. I have been collecting alternatives to Google – as a search engine and as a provider of useful software like Google Maps, Docs, or the Chrome browser.
StackOverflow is another example of a go-to resource that has become too big to fail (although it does in a way, and it has become less popular due to junior devs getting good enough answers to their beginner questions from chatGPT and coding assistance technology like copilot or tabnine).
- You don't want to rely on an external website.
- You want to train your brain instead of lazy copy + paste programming.
- StackOverflow might be blocked by corporate security restrictions.
- It contains misleading or outdated advice due to biased voting, moderation/reputation system and the fact that StackOverflow has been around for more than 10 years now.
- It's no open source community but a business with economic interests.
- Gatekeepers, haters or whatever they are: some people misuse their privileges – maybe in good intentions, maybe not – in a way that is often perceived as "toxic" today. That's been one of the most important points of criticism and ridicule for so many years it's not funny anymore.
- You can ask questions.
- You can get good answers for free.
- Many answers contain code snippets ready to copy and paste.
- There is a lot of useful advice when you can tell good from bad.
- The website has no popups or autoplay videos, and the ads are reputable and unobtrusive, at least compared to many other websites.
- StackOverflow questions and answers are easy to find as they rank very high in search engine results.
The last point is interesting as that's how I first learned about StackOverflow as an alternative to Experts Exchange. Any new alternative would have to be either more popular, recommended, and linked, or more relevant to contemporary problems. It can't be cheaper, as StackOverflow is free of charge, while Experts Exchange required a fee to view an answer.
Stack Overflow founder Jeff Atwood cited Experts-Exchange's poor reputation and paywall as a motivation for creating Stack Overflow. 
Most people use StackOverflow "in read-only mode" so let's focus on this aspect first. Looking for alternatives, what would be our requirements?
We want useful, up-to-date information with ready-to-use code snippets that are easy to find using a search engine.
All of this is true for many official documentation and high-quality tutorial sites. I don't know much about other fields of information technology, but as web developers, we have:
- web.dev, maintained by Google, including posts by Chrome developers and other experienced experts,
- MDN, the Mozilla developer network, features references, browser support stats and practical code examples
- CSS-Tricks has a lot of high-quality content, but some outdated posts as time goes by, so have a look on the post date!
- WordPress.org, reference, support, Q&A for WordPress specific topics, often also with code snippets
- PHP.net dto. for PHP-related stuff
When we don't need quick solutions on the same day, we can take our time and work through tutorials that can be found on many developers' blogs or invest even more time and some money to enrol in a webinar like on FrontendMasters.com.
We might even read a printed book and leverage its unique feature that we can take it to some place without internet and electricity, sit down on a beach, on a sofa or on a bus and just read the book page by page like we would do when reading a fictional thriller.
Look at the beautiful book compared to my small vintage ebook reader. The book cover would look much better in color and on a larger scale!
The Intersectional Environmentalist by Leah Thomas (on the left) and The Opinionated Guide to React by Sara Vieira (on the right), see links below.
As you can guess from the picture, I don't own many printed non-fiction books anymore, but maybe I should. I'm already looking at computer screens all day. Printed books never need to recharge. I could also check out our local library to read more physical books again.
including some books that I have been reading or want to read in the future:
- a Linux bash book,
- a book about software design patterns,
- some responsive HTML basics if you don't know already,
- something more specific like Sara Vieira's Opinionated Guide to React,
- more UX and a11y basics and updates,
- Inclusive Design Patterns by Heydon Pickering
- Resilient Web Design by Jeremy Keith
- CSS Secrets by Lea Verou
- Debugging CSS by Ahmad Shadeed
- What I Wish I Knew Before I Learned To Code by Ali Spittel
- De-Coding the Technical Interview Process by Emma Bostian
- Design for Real Life by Eric Meyer & Sara Wachter-Boettcher
- Unmasking AI by Dr. Joy Buolamwini
- The Intersectional Environmentalist by Leah Thomas
Further reading: more books to read for open-minded web developers.
Now that we have researched some alternative resources for learning and research, what if you want to communicate with fellow developers outside of StackOverflow and "tech Twitter"?
One alternative is right before our eyes (DEV.to), and there are a lot of specific forums, GitHub issues, public boards (or closed slack chats, which I don't find good alternative as the information is not shared publicly), and we could talk to software authors and fellow users and reach even those who don't want to bother with StackOverflow's peculiarities.
Apart from research, learning, and communication, there are some more, probably less obvious, reasons for people to use StackOverflow:
We can showcase our skills anywhere, like on your own websites, contribute to open source and engage in any of the aforementioned communication channels, including DEV.
I have got a few of my business contacts via StackOverflow. They could have found me on other websites as well, and I can say for sure that none of them cared about my SO reputation points. We might be proud of our achievements, but reputation is no accurate metric, and I would say that aiming for them is some kind of superstition.
Neither StackOverflow's tags quantity nor their yearly developer surveys can provide meaningful insights about market share, and they can't provide meaningful advice about what tech will be good for your specific situation, for the same reason that SO doesn't like questions that are likely to attend "opinionated answers".
I have been drafting new questions, trying to anticipate critical inquiries and narrowing down my problem to reproduce its essence in a minimal codepen. Most of the time, I didn't have to finish and publish my question as I had found a solution thanks to this approach.
Alternative: CodePen, CodeSandbox. But in the end, we don't need StackOverflow or any alternative at all to use our brains and analyze the situation. (Further reading: Beyond Googling the Error Message
What is the best alternative to StackOverflow? One good advice that I learned on their site is that it doesn't make much sense to ask for "the best" out of context. "Best" might equal recommend or most popular, but popular recommendations might not work in a specific case.
It seems to be easier to agree on the worst tech websites: Those would state misleading claims using deceptive patterns and inaccessible code UI, show inappropriate ads that spread malware and sell paid subscriptions that add no extra value.
But what's "the best" depends on our requirements, and it can only help to define them before proceeding to find a quick solution for anything.