Stack Overflow plans to launch generative AI products, as well as data monetisation plans. The move could challenge ChatGPT, which has become the go-to developer-assistance tool since its launch in November 2022.

The battle between Stack Overflow and ChatGPT to become the ultimate developer-assistance tool will be heating up in the next few months. The former will be launching its own range of generative AI products.

In December 2022, less than a month after the launch of ChatGPT, Stack Overflow announced that it had placed a temporary ban on the use of ChatGPT-generated text for posts on the platform. According to a statement released by the company then, many users were trying out ChatGPT to create answers to coding questions, which they then posted to Stack Overflow “without the expertise or willingness to verify that the answer is correct prior to posting.”

“…because the average rate of getting correct answers from ChatGPT is too low, the posting of answers created by ChatGPT is substantially harmful to the site and to users who are asking or looking for correct answers,” said Stack Overflow’s statement continued.

Now, according to the financial results of Prosus, Stack Overflow’s parent company, the platform will be investing heavily in its own range of generative AI products. 

“For Stack Overflow specifically, we believe GenAI will be an important evolution in how developers will work and learn in the future, enabling them to be more efficient and better able to maintain their flow state. The developer community can play a crucial role in how AI accelerates, ultimately helping with the quality emerging from GenAI offerings,” the company said in its annual results released today.

Although it did not get into the details of the generative AI products Stack Overflow is working on, there will be a significant amount of investment going into them. The company has devoted 10% of its workforce to work on the products and also incurred an impairment of $560 million and trading losses to finance the project. It plans to officially announce the generative AI products, as well as its data monetisation plans, “in the coming months”.

The data monetisation issue

With regards to data monetisation, Stack Overflow follows Reddit’s route in charging large-scale AI developers for access to large swathes of data which are used to train large language models (LLMs) like ChatGPT. The latter’s move to monetise the data has led to protests by its community, so it will be interesting to see how the Stack Overflow community will react.

“LLMs are trained off Stack Overflow data, which our massive community has contributed to for nearly 15 years. We should be compensated for that data so we can continue to invest back in our community. This also boils down to proper attribution. Our data represents significant effort and hard work stored across our site and LLMs are taking those insights and not attributing them to the source of that knowledge. This is about protecting the interest in the content that our users have created as much as it is the fight for data quality and AI advancement,” said CEO Prashanth Chandrasekar in a blog post.

According to analysis by web traffic monitoring platform SimilarWeb, traffic to Stack Overflow has been down by an average of 6% every month since January 2022 and was down 13.9% in March 2023. SimilarWeb attributes the dip to the rise in popularity of AI tools like ChatGPT and GitHub’s autopilot. Meanwhile, the company laid off 10% of its personnel in May, a move which Chandrasekar described as a result of the company’s renewed focus on profitability due to macroeconomic concerns.

Stack Overflow, which claims to register over 680 million page views monthly, was acquired by Naspers-owned Prosus in June 2021 for $1.8 billion, a deal both companies described as mutually beneficial.

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