I'm taking up a new programming language, and I'm stumped on a daily basis. Then I go on a Google-guided tour of dark recesses of the Web, where something useful may have been written about my problem. The most fruitful browsing often occurs on Stack Overflow, so I now go there directly with my everyday programming hassles.
That doesn't mean that every single answer on Stack Overflow is equally valuable to me. I might need to work through multiple questions with all their answers, before I find the strikingly clear explanation that is just spot-on. Or sometimes I'm clueless on such a basic level, that I need some less-popular answer to resolve my confusion, whereas a smart insight on the same topic has gotten all the votes from the regulars.
This scenario happens several times a day, and it can be quite time-consuming. I would like to save the next newbie this effort, by pointing them directly to the "great" answers. In other words, I would like to upvote, which I can't because of the 15 reputation requirement.
I wouldn't dream of writing any answers - it might take at least a year before I feel that I wouldn't make a complete fool of myself. I don't even feel proficient enough to write good questions : everything I struggle with, has already been discussed in one way or another, before me. I am just a lurker, which I believe is the appropriate behavior for an absolute beginner.
So I can see myself having reputation 0 for at least a year, which seems entirely right. The FAQ defines reputation as "having proven that you know what you're talking about", while I just have no idea. Still, I can make a distinction between those answers that have helped me advance in my daily strife, and the others that have just cost me the time of reading them. There is no way for me to provide this feedback for the benefit of others.
In the FAQ as well as here on Meta, there's a deafening chorus how easy it is to "just get started" and gain 15 rep. But as a matter of principle, I refuse to invent a superfluous question, or to nitpick on somebody else's spelling or grammar, when the intent is clear enough, just for gaining reputation. While the philosophy of the Stack Exchange rules is to encourage creation of more content, this contrived jumpstart will just add more clutter.
Could this deadlock be alleviated by introducing a "cheaper" form of upvotes? Part of the problem is that upvoting currently has two major effects : it elevates one answer among the others on a certain question - AND it gives the author higher reputation. I can see that taking away the threshold for this upvote opens the door for many problems, like conspiring gangs of robots, meaningless banter from a connected group of humans, etc. What I would propose is an "upvote-lite" that only raises an answer among the others, while having no reputation effects.
The nice thing about forums with feedback, is that quality content gets promoted by a Darwinistic mechanism of "survival of the fittest". With the way Stack Exchange is implemented now, an important part of that feedback loop is broken. On most any forum, a login is required to place a "vote" or a "like" or whatever, which is fair enough. But by demanding reputation as well, Stack Exchange shuts out a silent majority of lurkers.