For many years now, the NICAR-L email list has been the online home for journalists doing data analysis — the people doing "computer-assisted reporting" or "precision journalism." Though email lists are an old technology, this one continues to thrive — just in the past week, there have been 277 posts to the list. Beyond the numbers, I can personally testify to the importance of NICAR-L
as a place to get practical problem-solving advice and to meet and interact with professional peers.

When Aron Pilhofer and I proposed a "Hacks and Hackers" community — for people doing software development relevant to journalism, its future or its role in society — our idea was based on NICAR-L. But we wanted to use updated technology — a Web-based community with good reputation-management features designed to encourage participation. Whenever we mentioned our idea to an experienced software developer, they’d say, "You mean, like Stack Overflow?"

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Yes, in fact, that’s just what we had in mind. And now it’s more than just an idea — it’s a website called Help.HacksHackers.com. And it uses the same software that powers Stack Overflow, a thriving community for software developers. We hope you’ll check it out.

We’re launching in "bootstrap mode," which allows all registered users to post questions, post answers, comment, tag and rate questions and answers. Everything you do on the site is factored into the site’s reputation management system, which lets you earn points/prestige by participating actively in the community.

For the past week or so, a few of our friends and colleagues have begun participating on the site, and you can see a sense of community beginning to emerge. We’re seeing a nice mix of questions, some of them related to hard-core coding (tagging and structuring an XML document), some to more accessible topics (WordPress customization), and some to cosmic questions (what we should call a programmer-journalist). Aron, I and our "Hacks and Hackers" partner Burt Herman are administering the site, and we have Joe Germuska, Greg Linch, Brian Boyer and Chrys Wu as volunteer moderators.

We do have one little problem: The team behind Stack Overflow has just suspended Stack Exchange, their hosted service for other sites. This caused us a small amount of panic last week, but as we read about the company’s plans, it seemed clear the goal was to keep thriving StackExchange-based communities up and running — and without requiring them to pay for the service.

Currently, our site is guaranteed to stay up through July 13. On the Stack Exchange blog, the team writes: "Community is hard to build, and we want to work with you to preserve it if you’ve already done that with Stack Exchange." To keep this site up and running, it looks like the best approach is to demonstrate to the Stack Exchange team that we’re meeting an important need and building a thriving community.

Please register at help.hackshackers.com, post a question, post an answer, or just rate some posts.