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I think the weighting of answers to questions is too lopsided in favor of answers.

I routinely pose questions such as this one: naming primary keys "id" vs "something_id" in SQL, which gets many upvoted answers but then my question doesn't get upvoted. That doesn't make sense to me.

Can somebody explain this Q/A weighting imbalance?

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See:… – Al E. May 3 '12 at 18:30
What does "I routinely pose" mean? – Arjan May 3 '12 at 18:31
@Arjan Posing a question. It's a thing people say. – a cat May 3 '12 at 18:34
Yes, but routinely, @lunboks? Sounds like making up a question just to, ehh, be able to post it. But I guess that's not the case... – Arjan May 3 '12 at 18:34
I will also say that I've seen plenty of ridiculously upvoted questions whose answers do not get nearly as many votes. – Wesley Murch May 3 '12 at 18:35
Your question is about best practice, which is usually subjective. – Dennis May 3 '12 at 18:39
hi Dennis, that question was just used as an example. I speaking more generally about the Q&A weighting. – tim peterson May 3 '12 at 18:42
I put a vote on your question for you, since it's been asked multiple times on this site, programmers, and dba! It's probably not the vote you wanted, though. – JNK May 3 '12 at 18:44
Best explanation I can give is that the majority of questions I see are junk. I upvote those that aren't, but I see way more good answers, which is reflected by my vote ratios on SO. – Cody Gray May 4 '12 at 4:18
up vote 8 down vote accepted

The value of Stack Overflow (and the other SE sites) is mostly in the answers - people come to get answers, after all.

Questions are important, but a question without an answer has little value to visitors who are looking to solve a problem.

Since the currency of Stack Exchange is reputation, this value proposition is reflected in the reputation amounts given for questions vs answers.

See Important Reputation Rule Changes from the SE blog:

Item the first: question upvotes will now grant only +5 rep instead of +10.* There is no change to answer upvotes. This will apply retroactively to all users.


  • While we value good questions (and asking a great question is absolutely an art), we want to explicitly encourage people to provide the best possible answers. Without people interested in providing good answers, the questions are moot. We know that answers have more intrinsic value than questions, and the reputation balance should reflect that.

  • The question asker already enjoys a substantial benefit beyond reputation gain from upvotes on their question — namely, they get great answers to their question! Thus, the asker shouldn’t need as much reputation gain.

  • There are a few users who ask hundreds, sometimes even thousands of questions. Over time, these users generate a fairly sizable reputation entirely through the tiny trickle of upvotes gained by these questions. In a sense, we want to discourage question asking a little bit, and make sure that people who ask questions are doing it for the right reasons and not to generate reputation.

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Is there a black market? :) – BoltClock's a Unicorn May 3 '12 at 18:27
Though TBH, it's much harder to come up with a legendary question than a legendary answer. – Mysticial May 3 '12 at 18:28
@BoltClock'saUnicorn - I think there is - something to do with bounties. – Oded May 3 '12 at 18:29
hi Oded, thank for your answer. i think SE blog's justification is a better explanation than how you started your answer, which seems more to reflect your personal view. Would you mind reversing the orientation of these two text blocks in your answer? – tim peterson May 3 '12 at 18:33
Ha, I spent several minutes copying that same blog post to my answer before I decided to change direction slightly. (Although we still ended up with similar answers.) Nice! – Pops May 3 '12 at 18:40
@timpeterson - I was aiming at what that blog post was saying, though possibly in a more harsh way... – Oded May 3 '12 at 18:42
still not a fan of your, @Jeff(Atwood's), and @PopularDemand's sand/pearl comparison. Think only fair explanation is the outcome for the questioner vs. answerer in doing a good job, and not the intrinsic value of a Q vs. A. Focus should be on the output for both parties, not input. – tim peterson May 3 '12 at 18:55
hi Oded, thanks for editing your answer with more objective language. I appreciate that! – tim peterson May 3 '12 at 19:00
@timpeterson - No problem. The fact is that SO (and SE) are trying to get answers from people, more so than questions, so the mechanisms in place rewards accordingly. – Oded May 3 '12 at 19:01

Jeff addressed this in the blog post Optimizing For Pearls, Not Sand.

Consider the question Does torture work well as an interrogation technique? on Skeptics. Is this a brilliant question? Is it even an original question? No, it’s just a mundane grain of sand question that could have been asked by anyone at any time. What makes it remarkable is the incredible answer on that question by Larian LeQuella with over 100 upvotes.

Sand, meet pearl.

(Emphasis and link original.)

It doesn't take much skill to have a problem. It does take some skill to communicate effectively about a problem.

It takes some skill to solve a problem. It takes quite a lot of skill to solve a problem well, write the solution out, describe how the solution works and explain why the solution is better than other solutions.

The weighting seems about right to me.

EDIT: adding a completely unscientific diagram to illustrate and support my comment. It's based on my own observations, not any real data.

[--Worthless junk---------------------------------------------Pearl of Lao Tzu--]
         (---Typical question quality---)
                               (---Typical answer quality---)

Note also that the system awards a badge, Reversal, that honors great answers to terrible questions. Producing an answer like that is an achievement, after all. There's no such recognition for great questions that get only terrible answers. Those are just reminders that the system has failed.

* Never heard of the Pearl of Lao Tzu? Neither had I, until I was writing this answer. See Wikipedia.

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i disagree on the sand/pearl analogy, think both can be pearls. What seems more fair is what @Oded points out in the SE blog, "The question asker already enjoys a substantial benefit beyond reputation gain from upvotes on their question — namely, they get great answers to their question!" – tim peterson May 3 '12 at 18:40
Yes, the can both be pearls, but pearl answers require more subject matter expertise and time investment than pearl questions. As I commented under Oded's answer, I was originally going to reference Important Reputation Rule Changes myself. I changed because I thought you were focused on the community's voting tendencies rather than the system's point value differences. Are you asking about both? – Pops May 3 '12 at 18:44
hi @PopularDemand, while pearl questions can require more expertise in programming, pearl answers can require more expertise in communication. Again, depends on who you talk to. For example, I know that many teachers and doctors would disagree that asking a good question requires less expertise (i say this cause both are my actual jobs). I think the voting tendencies are an outcome of the valuation SO has placed on Q&As. Therefore, I don't see hope for re-weighting if the people in charge think its a sand/pearl situation. Seems to me to be supoptimally handling half of the userbase. – tim peterson May 3 '12 at 19:12

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