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StackOverflow (and other StackExchange sites) are supposed to be collaboratively-edited-and-maintained Q&A networks. As far as my comprehension goes, this means that users:

  • Help other users out.
  • Get help.
  • And subsequently, share knowledge.

Reputation, according to the FAQ, is:

a rough measurement of how much the community trusts you; it is earned by convincing your peers that you know what you’re talking about.

Which is fair. As a user's reputation increases, he/she gets more privileges, which gives the ability to improve the overall quality of the site.

On the other hand, some users have become literally reputation-seekers. You generally see them around the site (usually in a specific tag), restlessly answering questions; deleting answers that get downvoted, and celebrating ones that get upvoted. It's because of the belief that having a lot of reputation will help establish experience for future employers.

Is that the correct, fair spirit? Isn't one supposed to answer a question only when he/she thinks it will be a positive contribution to the community?

On the other hand, isn't a motivation like reputation necessary to 'push' the community?

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closed as not constructive by Rosinante, Lorem Ipsum, Toon Krijthe, Mark Trapp, jonsca Sep 30 '12 at 20:40

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"restlessly answering questions" - as long as the answers provided actually help the OP I don't see why this can't serve the purpose of gaining reputation and contributing to the community. –  Lix Sep 30 '12 at 7:18
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[ethics] is quite a strong word to use here, honestly... –  BoltClock's a Unicorn Sep 30 '12 at 7:20
    
@Lix They might help the OP, but sometimes (quite often), they don't. That's at least in my own experience. –  Chris Sep 30 '12 at 7:24
    
@BoltClock'saUnicorn It is :) What I was aiming at is 'morality of answering' or somesuch. Feel free to replace the tag if you have a more expressive term :) –  Chris Sep 30 '12 at 7:25
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@Abody97 - have any examples of someone fishing for rep and failing to help OP or the community as a whole? –  Mike Sep 30 '12 at 15:20
    
@Mike See this question. (I've had a similar discussion in the comments to the post -- oops :)). The OP recently edited his question, but I hope the point is clear. –  Chris Sep 30 '12 at 15:32
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Meh. Where there's a system, there will always be people gaming it. And sometimes the border between a good answer and "gaming" is very hazy... even for those users generally regarded productive. If you see concrete patterns of users posting real garbage and "earning" tons of rep for it, it might be worth bringing that up specifically (I would be very careful about publicly naming those users, though, unless it's really really egregious) –  Pëkka Sep 30 '12 at 18:03
    
Though I strongly disagree with negative connotations of this questions (yes there's a strong negative connotation that users who reply to questions seeking reputation are committing an inherently immoral act). Even then I think is a good question. I don't see a reason why issues such as intent or motive shouldn't be discussed on a meta which governs all SE websites. –  Shashank Sawant Sep 30 '12 at 19:05
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On a lighter note I find it analogous to a discussion on merits of Socialism and Capitalism. It's like asking is it alright to enjoy success if you work hard? My answer is an obvious yes; but there's nothing wrong in asking the question in the first place. –  Shashank Sawant Sep 30 '12 at 19:10
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See also, my rambling thoughts on the problems I have with extrinsic motivation. –  Jon Ericson Oct 1 '12 at 17:29
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5 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

It would really depend on the person I guess. I'm mainly an SU guy and I've seen 4 different sorts of users. We have folk who get reputation at stratospheric speeds but burn out, people who try to game the system - I've comment-told-off someone who was copy-pasting answers (without sanitizing them or even citing the source), we have folk who come here cause they have a specific problem that needs solving, and there's folk who're there for the long run.

I hang out at SU and SF cause I've learnt lots of stuff. The day I hit 10K on SU, I was a little surprised, then I hit 20, and 30 and... I'm probably gonna hit 40K at the end of the year.

I also hang out on SF. One day I'll have the skills to answer questions there, but I got under 2K rep there.

In both cases I learn new stuff all the time. I've shared knowledge on stuff that wouldn't come up on the main site (like the time we worked out how to reattach a heatsink that had fallen off). We do awesome rubber duck debugging on chat. At the end of the day, Rep is only a number - The sense of community, and the knowledge that I've gained outweighs that - and its a lot easier to get reputation when you play fair, and people know you post good answers. Edits? pah, 2 rep each. Sockpuppeting? Lame. You also risk getting suspended, and even non mods can catch on some times.

I've even stopped collecting badges (granted, I get a lot more annoyed at spammers since I got my Marshall badge. Haven't stopped flagging em though).

If you have the wrong goals, you're probably gonna get bored, or lose interest. After a while, it stops being fun, and that's bad. I just enjoy the ride, and not look at my odometer. It's the journey that counts.

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Stack Exchange designed the reputation system to encourage behaviors that should be repeated and discourage behaviors that are undesired. The goal of Stack Exchange sites isn't just to help the OP. That doesn't scale. Instead, the goal is to help future visitors for years to come.

After all, there is one OP per question, but there could literally be tens of thousands of future visitors who benefit from that single post. So if users are deleting downvoted material -- unhelpful material -- and upvoting and "celebrating" great material, then the system is working.

We do want people to be helpful; the goal shouldn't be just to "get more rep", but if gaining reputation just happens to motivate a person to do great things and contribute positively to the site, then that's awesome!

As far as the belief that having a lot of reputation will put one in favor with future employers, well, let's just say that's a fantasy. What will get one in favor with future employers is demonstrated ability to be smart and get things done, not contribute to a site that motivates its users via gamification.

There are plenty of examples of people on these sites who have high reputation, and who can write great questions and answers, but who are unemployable due to their attitude or inability to get along with others. In short, your reputation only means something to you, to Stack Exchange, and to other people on Stack Exchange while they're using Stack Exchange. Some random HR person couldn't care less.

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+1 for the logical, concise arguments. –  Chris Sep 30 '12 at 10:33
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That's not game theory, but gamification. Game theory is a branch of mathematics. –  jco Sep 30 '12 at 10:35
    
If SO rep doesn't make you any more employable, why does SO have a careers section that links your careers profile to your SO score and best questions? (note, I'm playing devils advocate here - not trying to say it's wrong; just pointing out that it might be a bit more complex and "some random HR person couldn't care less"). –  Spudley Sep 30 '12 at 18:06
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"Is that the correct, fair spirit?"

I'll counter with, does it matter? I'm going to keep this short.

Who are we to judge why a person is on a stack site answering a bunch of questions? The fact is, if the answers they were giving were bad, they would be harmful to the community and down voted, if the user deletes them in this case, who does it hurt? If the answers are good, they will be up voted and it helps the community.

If reputation has become someone's goal, that's fine, because they can't get it without doing something useful, that is the beauty of the voting system on the stack sites.

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Yeah, honestly if someone is helping the whole word for free with easy to locate and correct answers, I don't really care if they're doing it for the "wrong" reason unless they're actually doing something wrong. –  Ben Brocka Sep 30 '12 at 15:29
    
Makes perfect sense. I actually am starting to doubt that my question is really stupid (hence the downvotes). –  Chris Sep 30 '12 at 18:12
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The Goal is different for every one.

If for some one the Goal is to get help and an answer to move on their problem, and an other one Goal is to get reputation by giving this answer, then both Goals archives, the results is what both desires, and I do not see anything bad on that.

At the end "the system works" (and this is proven by now)

To say few more: The goal is not actually the reputation, but what you can gain out of this. You may gain one more line on the CV to get a job, or say that to your friends to get little more respect, or you just feel good that some other recognize what you do, but there are always the cases to not gain anything.

So there is the risk to give so many answers, to spend so many times helping other and at the end, a virtual number on the screen is not use at all in the real life – but, let see that is this truth ?, actually is not because from the other hand by trying to get reputation you force to spend some times thinking on how to give the answer, maybe searching on libraries, on books, on examples, and then if you get down voted you press your self for better answers, better knowledge. So even if you seek for votes, you end up be better giving answer person, even little by little, even step by step, even if you do not understand that at first.

So from one hand we have the reputation, but from the other some positive consequences. Are they any bad ones? Yes maybe they are, if you actually your goals in your life is some other and you stick with that one – but this is personally and one more lesson that you going to get – to actually find you real Goal.

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The way I see it, if you could just trust everyone to share the community values, you wouldn't need a system like the reputation system in place, since people will naturally work together.

The purpose of the system, then, is to try to take the efforts of various people working at different purposes, and sometimes cross-purposes, and have those efforts lead to one unifying goal. Do some people respond only to create a durable Q&A resource? Great. Do some people only care for their rep? Well, assuming the system rewards rep for good answers, then we're still good. The system is there for the people who don't come in the same spirit of fairness.

The system can be gamed, of course, in various ways, by getting rep without contributing meaningful answers. Either by begging for upvotes for mediocre answers, creating fake users that answer and upvote each other, and many other tricks. For of each trick, there needs to be a counter - a way to make that trick less worthwhile, to downvote bad answers or erase fake users. But I'd rather have someone give a good answer just because he wants the rep, rather than have no-one answer because there's no altrust free to give it.

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