Stack Overflow used to be every developer’s favorite site for coding help, but with the rise of generative AI like ChatGPT, chatbots can offer more specific help than a 5-year-old forum post ever could. You can get instant corrections to your exact code, optimization suggestions, and explanations of what each line of code is doing. While no chatbot is 100 percent reliable, code has the unique ability to be instantly verified by just testing it in your IDE (integrated development environment), which makes it an ideal use case for chatbots. Where exactly does that leave sites like Stack Overflow? Apparently, not in a great situation. Today, CEO Prashanth Chandrasekar announced Stack Overflow is laying off 28 percent of its staff.
In a post on the Stack Overflow blog, the CEO says the company is on a “path to profitability” and “continued product innovation.” You might think of Stack Overflow as “just a forum,” but the company is working on a direct answer to ChatGPT in the form of “Overflow AI,” which was announced in July. Stack Overflow’s profitability plan includes cutting costs, and that’s the justification for the layoffs. Stack Overflow doubled its headcount in 2022 with 525 people. ChatGPT launched at the end of 2022, making for unfortunate timing.
Of course, the great irony of ChatGPT hurting Stack Overflow is that a great deal of the chatbot’s development prowess comes from scraping sites like Stack Overflow. Chatbots have many questions to answer about the sustainability of the web. They vacuum up all this data and give nothing back, so what is supposed to happen when you drive all your data sources out of business?
OpenAI is working on web crawler controls for ChatGPT, which would let sites like Stack Overflow opt out of crawling. Stack Overflow hopes to get AI firms to pay to scrape the site, but it’s unclear if the company will get any customers paying a sustainable price. As we’ve seen with chatbots convincing each other that you can “melt eggs,” Chandrasekar has argued that sites like Stack Overflow are essential for chatbots, saying they need “to be trained on something that’s progressing knowledge forward. They need new knowledge to be created.”