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I was expecting this to have already been asked, but can't find any clear explanation in the archives. There are a lot of mentions of the phrase "rep farming" in various meta questions, but it seems the people posting are just assuming the readers know what they mean by that. Well I personally don't find it very clear, and I can't find any clear definition either.

So, what is "rep farming" in the context of Stack Exchange?

  • Is it taking advantage of holes or edge cases in the site game mechanics just to gain rep?
  • Is it engaging in troll-like or antisocial behavior for the purpose of gaining rep (for example, down-voting good answers just because they compete with yours)?
  • Is it posting a flood of low quality questions/answers in hopes of gaining rep statistically?
  • Is it regular quality contribution but by someone who happens to care more about reputation than about helping other people?
  • Is it some amalgamation of the above? Something else entirely? Is there a clear definition at all, or is it one of those things that is left intentionally vague?

Finally, is rep farming considered bad/harmful for the community, good/helpful, or neutral?

Update: What's the difference between "rep farming" and "rep whoring" (if any)?

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Anyone have a link to Pekka's Organic Rep Farm handy? Found it –  The Unhandled Exception Mar 26 '12 at 22:18
    
rep farming === rep whoring??? I guess I don't know what it means either. –  Adam Rackis Mar 26 '12 at 22:32
    
We should call that Rep-Turfing –  m90 Mar 27 '12 at 11:32
    
Some examples I’ve seen on SU: • Posting guesses and requests for more information as “answers” instead of comments • Taking info from others’ comments or answers after they’re shown to be helpful and posting it as an answer or adding it to your own answer which did not previously contain that info • Trolling through the bounty page and answering only bounty questions • Posting a wrong answer and abandoning it (but not deleting it) if it turns out to be too much work / the bounty is not “high enough” • Adding a single space to a post to “bump” it –  Synetech Dec 24 '13 at 1:16

3 Answers 3

up vote 12 down vote accepted

Rep farming (or rep whoring) is just like gold farming. Though rep isn't usually sold, the activities are comparable because to make a profit at selling game currency you need to make a lot of it, and the goal of rep farming is to make a lot of rep.

At its most basic, it's participating just for the reputation. This isn't always bad, but when your primary goal is increasing your number, you're willing to sacrifice other things (honesty, playing by the rules, completeness and quality, etc.) in order to gain things more likely to get you rep (trust, sock puppet accounts, the first answer, etc.). So yes, it's "some amalgamation of the above".

You're not going to find one solid definition that everyone uses consistently — rep farming is something that exists on a scale. In general, though, it leads to lower quality content, antisocial behavior, and the decreased usefulness of rep as a measure of helpful participation, expertise, and trust. People who care about the site — and rep farmers who are out-farmed by people more ingenious or evil than they — obviously view this behavior negatively.

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It sounds to me like "rep farming" is not really the issue, it's the other inappropriate behaviors that might go along with it. There's nothing wrong with people trying to amass a Jesusload of reputation, as long as they don't break the rules or do anything unethical along the way. In my mind, calling someone a reputation whore is just a friendly jab, not to imply anything sinister. I feel like your answer conflates the two or at least assumes a correlation that is not necessarily implied. –  Cody Gray Mar 27 '12 at 2:09
    
Matthew, do you believe there's no difference between the terms "rep farming" and "rep whoring" (other than the obvious connotational differences)? I added an update to my question asking this. –  Ben Lee Mar 27 '12 at 3:31
    
@TheEstablishment I said "This isn't always bad", meaning to get at exactly what you said :P –  Matthew Read Mar 27 '12 at 3:32
    
@BenLee Yes, I'd say that the connotation is the difference. Being called a whore is more derogatory than being called a farmer, I would think, so I would reserve the former term for more egregious cases. –  Matthew Read Mar 27 '12 at 3:34

My interpretation of rep farming is totally different, I take it in the agricultural sense.

Rep farming is just sitting back and watching the rep come in from votes on your existing contributions.

For example: if Jon Skeet were to stop contributing today, his rep would keep on shooting up at a much higher rate than the majority of active 'low' rep contributors.

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That's what I thought as well.. I couldn't make the connection to gold farming since gold farming involves a IRL cash profit. –  Manishearth Mar 27 '12 at 11:10
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@Manishearth, and doesn't gold farming involve hoards of clicking Chinese slaves cooped up in sheds? –  Benjol Mar 27 '12 at 11:49
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So you're like Pekka, a sustainable, organic Rep Farmer. Matthew Reed is talking about large-scale, industrial "rape the land" Rep Farming. :-) –  The Unhandled Exception Mar 27 '12 at 12:47
    
@TheUnhandledException, yup, I'm a gentleman farmer me. I leave my SO potatoes to grow in the sun while I chill out here on meta... –  Benjol Mar 27 '12 at 13:49

I interpret "rep farming" as being aligned with "farming" - like "the science and techniques of producing crops". So:

Using up a network of sock puppet accounts whose interactions mimic those of real accounts, and whose (large) number help disguise and dilute their pernicious activities.

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