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I'm not sure how I would answer this question even if I had the data, but I wanted to throw it out there and see if anybody has any ideas.

It seems to me that the highest scoring users on SO are those that answer questions in just a handful of technologies (.Net only, for instance). My guess would be that if you work in many technologies, you have to look more stuff up, which slows you down (in general).

Are the highest scoring users multitechnologists (on SO) or do they focus?

Edit - as Olaf points out, it may not be speed but rather expertise that makes the difference. It might also be that single-technologists spend more time on SO, or some third factor that we're not even talking about :) However, the question is not "why" but "whether."

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Ólafur short is Óli. But it's fine :P – Ólafur Waage Aug 1 '09 at 11:06
Lies. It's Olaf and don't you dare deny it. – TheTXI Aug 1 '09 at 18:40
+1 "the more you know" @Óli – Pops Jul 29 '10 at 15:10
up vote 3 down vote accepted

I think an interesting way to look at this is what proportion of questions answered are tagged with the top tag(s). It gets a little hard to get actual percentages from the user pages since questions can have multiple tags, but let's look at just the top tag. For example (snapshot as of 8/1):

Jon Skeet:  4728 answers, 2336 tagged C# = 49% 
Marc Gravell: 3635 answers, 2427 tagged C# = 67%
Tim VanFosson: 2726 answers, 456 tagged C# = 17%
S. Lott: 1863 answers, 927 tagged Python = 50%
JaredPar: 2062 answers, 870 tagged C# = 42%
Greg Hewgill: 1373 answers, 177 tagged C++ = 13%
Joel Coehoorn: 2274 answers, 641 tagged C# = 28%

It's certainly not definitive, but I think you can safely say that, with the exception of me, the top 5 tend to be more specialist (at least in their answers), answering more questions in their top-tagged area. Personally, I feel that I tend to be more of a generalist and I think the numbers bear that out. Even if you combine and to make it my top "tag", my percentage of questions answered in that "tag" only rises to 27%. If you extend that to the top 7, Greg Hewgill would also appear to be more of a generalist, while Joel Coehoorn seems to be somewhere between.

Probably more important are the sheer number of questions answered. With a couple of exceptions the scores reflect basically the number of questions answered with everyone (except S.Lott: 2.7; Greg Hewgill: 3.3) averaging ~2 upvotes per question. It's really the number and quality of answers that you contribute, not specialist/generalist that has the biggest impact on your score.

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It doesn't matter if you are either a specialist on a popular technology or a generalist. Specialists in obscure technologies will not get that much rep ever. – John the Seagull Aug 1 '09 at 13:29
Being a generalist has the advantage that there are more questions that you can answer, but being a specialist in the most prevalent technologies trumps being a generalist if you are missing those technologies. – tvanfosson Aug 1 '09 at 14:09
Awesome analysis and consideration of the question. Thanks a lot for that, Tvan (excuse the abbreviations). I agree with Vinko's point, too. But MY point, if I have one, has to do with my general suspicion that being a generalist (I mean working between many frameworks and languages) kind of precludes one from being an expert, in SO terms... probably in the real world, too :) – Dan Rosenstark Aug 2 '09 at 1:38
I don't know. Three out of the top 7 (as of Aug. 1 2009) could arguably be termed generalists in SO terms. My guess is that all of them are knowledgeable in many areas to a greater or lesser extent, but some just tend to limit their answers to fewer tags. It's hard for me to see how you could become very knowledgeable in a particular subarea of programming without knowing a fair bit about a lot of other things. – tvanfosson Aug 2 '09 at 14:54

I'm very lucky, as my "specialist" subjects are .NET and Java - which are the most popular technologies in terms of questions. Within those subjects, however, I'm a reasonable generalist: I'm happy to talk about LINQ, threading, floating point, character encodings, occasionally ASP.NET or WinForms, C# as a language, occasionally VB as a language, Java as a language, servlets, etc.

Heck, I've even answered Ruby and Python questions on occasion - it's nice to try to dabble in a few things outside one's comfort zone.

Speed certainly is important, but not to the exclusion of everything else. A fast "good enough" answer will usually get a lot of votes, but a slow, really good answer will generally do a lot better than a fast bad answer.

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Cool, thanks for the answer and for considering the speed angle fairly. – Dan Rosenstark Aug 2 '09 at 1:31

From what I've seen, the highest users are focused users of the most popular technologies.

The users below them are a mixed bag of multi techs and focused people of the 2nd-3rd most popular techs.

It's not due to speed. They provide well done detailed answers which will in the end garner more reputation and an accepted answer in most cases.

Top 7: (I'm just going by their top 3 tags)

Skeet: C# .Net Java
Marc: C# .Net Linq
Tvanfosson: C#
S.Lott: python django subjective
JaredPar: C# .Net C++
Greg: C++ Python C
Joel Coehoorn: C# .net

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Thanks for that. I believe it's also speed: just as a starter, it's not the best answer that wins. It's the FIRST best answer that wins in terms of points and best-answer. After a few days, even an amazing answer will not float to the top. So it pays to know stuff without having to look it up, and to know it deeply and in all its consequences. – Dan Rosenstark Aug 1 '09 at 10:52
I do not agree with that. I've seen great answers come along later and blow the competition away, time and time again. – Ólafur Waage Aug 1 '09 at 11:07

Speaking for myself, I'm a multi-technologist but largely within the Microsoft stack; I'm not just C#; I'll also happily dabble in things like xslt, tsql, vb, mono, etc. My main focus is probably more .NET than C# - simply, the framework is orders of magnitude larger than the language, especially if you include things like winforms, wcf, etc.

I do play in other technologies (F#, python, etc) - but unless I think I can add significant value I'd rather leave such areas or people who specialize in it; plenty of other people can give much better answers than I can.

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It's probably hard to generalize from SO participation to actual skills except in very general terms. Personally, I don't feel particularly proficient in much of anything. I just happen to be interested in, and willing to opine on, a lot of things. Probably more of the latter, than the former. :-) – tvanfosson Aug 1 '09 at 12:33
Nice, thanks for that. – Dan Rosenstark Aug 2 '09 at 1:33

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