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I am still new to this website but I am curious, what is the incentive for people to answer questions? It seems like there is a much higher time effort of people to answering versus asking, which surprises me (from a pure utilitarian perspective).

For me the answer has boiled down to a few basic categories:

  1. To gain reputation (this was novel at first and wore off after the first few days of using the site). Also rep can always be gained by asking questions, with the benefit of also obtaining information.
  2. To give back. I find myself doing this whenever I come to SO to search for/ask a question, and see something on the landing page I can answer.
  3. To correct the answer to an existing question. This happens when I find the answer on SO and after trying it find it to be incomplete/not fully correct.
  4. Boredom.

I'm surprised how many people are willing to contribute so much time in answering questions with seemingly minimal reward. Is it just that the community is that friendly and people are acting out of the goodness of their hearts?

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migrated from stackoverflow.com Aug 26 '09 at 17:51

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15 Answers 15

I think it is like a game to many people.

The reasons… (in no particular order)

  1. So they can climb up the user pages
  2. So they can gain reputation to be able to have more ability in the system
  3. So they can gain badges, just for the fun of having them
  4. So they can help others because they like helping others
  5. So they can help themselves; because, they often learn things by having people criticize their answers
  6. Makes them feel good about themselves by helping others
  7. Because they want to promote their own products or services in their 'about' description block.
  8. Because they want to be known in the programming world
  9. Because they want to expand their world of known topics
  10. Because they want to get more in depth knowledge of topics they already know
  11. They like to be heard, it's a good alternative to having a blog
  12. It's fun to be higher in user rank than Jeff and Joel.
  13. Because they want to be the one that dethrones Jon Skeet when he finally takes an extended vacation.
  14. Because it improves your writing skills.
  15. Because people like to be re-assured that they are right.
  16. Because people like to know when they are wrong.
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I won't be happy until I have more XP than Jeff Atwood. :-) –  Paul Tomblin Nov 15 '08 at 15:31
    
Damn you, Paul. I thought I would finally be able to quit at 5K, but you just gave me a new goal. :) –  MusiGenesis Nov 15 '08 at 16:55
    
haha, nice added as #12 –  Brian R. Bondy Nov 15 '08 at 19:17
    
I would also add: Challenging yourself to beat Jon Skeet :o) –  Ascalonian Mar 12 '09 at 15:28
    
@Ascalonian: I added something to that effect as #13. Nice suggestion :) –  Brian R. Bondy Mar 24 '09 at 21:19
    
I overtook Jeff Atwood on my birthday, which was nice. However, even if I could get 10 more points than Jon Skeet every day it would take me nearly 9 years to catch him! –  Paul Dixon Mar 24 '09 at 21:38
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Regarding #16: There's a group of people who DON'T like to know when they are wrong, but they sure like to let others know when they are wrong! –  Eddie Mar 25 '09 at 12:40
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17. Because the guys getting their answers today might be productive co-workers tomorrow. –  DevSolar Mar 27 '09 at 11:41
    
+1 For writing skills –  Paul Bellora Dec 10 '11 at 17:49
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Engineers like to be right. They like people to recognize their skills. Stackoverflow is shrewdly designed to reward and reinforce these tendencies. That's why people answer questions here.

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That's a bit callous! What about the desire to help your fellow programmer? –  Mitch Wheat Nov 15 '08 at 14:42
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I agree about helping fellow programmers, essentially, donating to charity. I think the reputation system is a much bigger incentive, though, and explains SO's popularity. –  Ned Batchelder Nov 15 '08 at 15:39
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Because deep down we all want to fix problems, be it out friends's problems, spouse's problems, other random people's programming problems. We fix things, that is what we do. And really this is a positive outlet rather than meddeling where we are not wanted.

We also probably have at least a small bit of know-it-all in us, that is trying break free.

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Trying to break free like an Alien baby inside Sigourney Weaver. –  MusiGenesis Nov 15 '08 at 16:57
    
Much to the chagrin of our friends or spouses. –  vfilby Nov 15 '08 at 18:24
    
They should make a site like stackoverflow where people just complain about their tech problems. Wanting your sympathy but not the solution. –  windfinder Mar 24 '09 at 21:38
    
"Trying to break free like an Alien baby inside Sigourney Weaver." Priceless. That one made me laugh real hard. Thanks! –  Gordon Potter Sep 13 '09 at 21:23
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As a programmer, I always enjoy running into "atomic" problems that are mostly self-contained (like how to draw multi-colored text in a label or how to get live GPS data from a Garmin PDA), because I can focus on the problem without having my attention distracted by the bigger picture. In my day job, unfortunately, these encounters are actually kind of rare for me, because most of the technical challenges of my platform have been solved and because I usually turn these tasks over to junior developers.

StackOverflow is a never-ending stream of these atomic problems, kind of like Sudoku for programmers.

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It can also be a way to "validate one's profile":
I am a "development architect", supposed to assist 400 programmers in their development process. SO is a good way to test myself ;) And to learn lots of new topics.

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Most people just aren't utilitarian :)

What makes some kinds snap their fingers and shout "Oh, I know I know!" when the teacher asks a question? What makes some people angry at inefficient processes on illogical solutions even if they don't have to pay the price?

For me, that's the gist of it, even though there are some more possible explanations, that could be interpreted utilitarian:

It's leaving a mark in this place – some people plant a tree, some teach you how a garbunkulator works. It's seeing your name in print. It's gaining status in a community of peers.

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agreed :) as the social sciences have shown, people are much less 'homo economicus' than many would assume. which is nice. we are explorers and 'heureka' events make us happy! –  markus Mar 12 '09 at 15:32
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I can only speak for myself and why I am replying.

My first reply was a quick and dirty answer that was (correctly) voted down. That made me put more effort into answering other question just to show that I can. And yes, the scoring system also help on the motivations to spend time on my answers.

Getting a positive vote also helps on the motivation. It's not the points itself, but the feeling that someone actually find my answer useful.

Another thing is that I am learning more from trying to answer. There have been a lot of questions I have tried to answer, spending time to search up more information, and ended up not posting any because someone else have given a much better answer before I was finished with mine. :-)

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I like to answer questions in here and on irc programming channels, to improve my answers for questions by other people. By looking at what answers get accepted and how many reputation one gains, one can notice what answers were too advanced / too short / off-topic or something else.

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Because we like to help each other.

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Because it beats answering questions on Yahoo Answers.

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For the same reason it's fun to click on monsters in Diablo. They've done a good job making the site fun.

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I agreeing with the rep-collecting and badge-collecting answers.

Additionally, anyone who has benefited from a Question or Answer on the site most likely wants to keep it a useful resource. It's also a breath of fresh air and genuinely better experience that Experts Exchange and all the random sites you used to get when googling for an answer to your own question.

I'm embarrassed to admit that I also enjoy editing questions :P

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+1 fore better than Experts Exchange, et. al. I have no problem with the monetary mondel of other sites. But the design of those sites is atrocious. Stackoverflow is simple and gets out of the way without a lot of cruft. Aka good use of whitespace which appeals to the minimalist aesthetic in me. –  Gordon Potter Sep 13 '09 at 21:29
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I'm here because I'm trying to improve my English writting skills and learn more about ASP.NET MVC and when I'm doing nothing, I like to answer questions that I know.

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There are lots of reasons, but my primary reason is to learn. Whenever I give an answer, I want it to be wrong so that someone else can correct me. To believe I have some knowledge and learn that it is wrong is an extremely valuable learning process which is best achieved by answering questions in a public forum. Also, I tend to give overly brief, incomplete answers, both an SO and in real life and SO gives me a chance to practice verbosity.

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Subconscious ego.

People like to share their opinions, and people like to be right.

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