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Being new to Stack Overflow, I am wondering about the restrictions placed on new users. I completely agree with what I perceive to be the guiding principles behind them: restrictions on newer users reduce the noise they create while progressing through their learning curve.

But there is one thing I worry about. If you need to post good questions and helpful answers before being able to contribute fully, and if you take things seriously enough not to answer or ask questions that have already been decently answered, then there is a steep slope to climb to become a full contributor. As the content in the site increases, this slope becomes ever steeper.

There are so many accomplished users on this site that there is only a tiny window of opportunity to gain reputation, while in the past, when less of the easy questions had been answered, gaining reputation must have been easier. So am I correct in thinking that as the wealth of information and the quality of the userbase of the site progresses, it becomes increasingly hard for new users to contribute new content? Is it unfair that new users have to do more work for the same first few reputation points than members who joined earlier had to do? Is there anything that should and could be done about this?

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I initially read the title as "Are the demands of new users continually increasing?" and was happily grumbling to my self that it sure seems that way (present company excluded, of course) before reality intruded. –  dmckee Sep 16 '09 at 21:16
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7 Answers

up vote 3 down vote accepted

The thing to remember here is that plenty of established users hit the 200 point rep cap every day like clockwork (or nearly so). There's nothing except perhaps experience and voter-psychology that gives these established users an advantage.

The point is that if the "wall" is getting higher in this fashion, it would impact established users as well, and that doesn't seem to be happening.

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Yes, demands are increasing equally for all users. But there is a difference: reputation is relatively more important to new users because of reputation restrictions. Also, shouldn't demands on new users indeed be lower than demands on other users, to give them time and leeway to adjust? It makes more sense to me to have demands for new users in the past and new users in the future to be equal, than to have demands for new users to be equal to other users at any time. –  Joren Sep 16 '09 at 21:51
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What I'm saying is that earning reputation is not harder now than it was before. We know this because if it were, it would be harder for everyone, and that doesn't seem to be the case. So do we want to make it easier to earn for new users? I think not, because the current thresh-holds for new privileges work pretty well. –  Joel Coehoorn Sep 16 '09 at 21:58
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I've considered testing this before now - creating a special, secret account (with Jeff's knowledge of course) which I'd use to post answers. No clue that I'm me, and obviously no cross-voting. Maybe a couple of comments from the "real" me to allay suspicion. It would be interesting to see how easy I'd find it to get to the rep cap each day... –  Jon Skeet Sep 16 '09 at 22:04
    
@Joel Sorry, I clearly hadn't read your post carefully enough. I didn't notice you said no increase in difficulty seems to be happening. I'll trust your word on this, so I suppose this answers my question. –  Joren Sep 16 '09 at 22:11
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By the definition of these sites' goals, I can see this point to an extent. After all, if a site is defined as being the canonical location for the answer to x, then once x is answered, effectively, that question's pretty well put to bed.

However, having been around a while, and more importantly having been in the industry a while, I have to agree with both Lance and Jon B -- the questions really are infinite, or close to it.

As technologies evolve, more questions will sprout.

As you work on more projects, you will have more cause to ask questions.

And there are always other people's questions to answer -- although I'm finding fewer & fewer I'm personally interested in these days (across 3 of the 4 sites) ...

Yes, the barrier is somewhat high. But if it makes you feel any better, it was high for most of us, too. I have a Beta badge on SU, and just over 700 rep there. It took me many months to get to 3,000 rep on SO. I've been using Meta almost since it started, and check how low my rep is. :) We all deal with it. Patience and hard work are the answers, as they were for us.

Keep asking, keep answering, and your rep will eventually flourish.

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I think it is getting harder to acquire reputation. Part of the issue is that everyone tries to get the first answer in for the 'easy' questions because the first to answer tends to win the votes. And the definition of 'everyone' is growing, reducing the window of opportunity.

I think the answer to this is finding a niche where you have more depth of knowledge, and seeking out questions that have been around for a little longer (say, an hour) that don't have a good answer. Those are going to be harder questions for the most part, so you have to put more thought into them, but you will also have a lot less competition. You may be able to acquire more reputation per answer to compensate for fewer answers.

The SO interface doesn't lend itself to mining for things you can answer for reputation though. I find myself wishing for a query interface more like Trac's custom query page. Perhaps a query like 'all questions >1hr old, with at least one of my interesting tags, no accepted answer, and no answers with more than 3 upvotes' would probably be a reasonably rich reputation vein you could take your time mining.

But this is largely speculation... :)

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Pick a tag you know something about. Watch it. Provide good answers to good questions. You'll get rep. IMHO, it's actually a lot easier to get rep now than when the site was young, simply because there are more users viewing and voting on answers. –  Shog9 Sep 16 '09 at 21:23
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And ''now'' I figure out how to see newest-by-tag. It's a single tag, but it also appears to have an RSS feed... maybe I can build that interface I want afterall... –  retracile Sep 16 '09 at 21:46
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For all practical purposes, No.

The expectations when the site started were this: contributors should ask good questions, and/or provide good answers. That's still true. Do those two things, and the site will treat you well.

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There is one yardstick to measure this by: Jon Skeet has over 100 Enlightened badges. Now I don't know when he earned them but I would hazard a guess that it was primarily in the first few months of SO. With how quickly questions get answers now, being first and being accepted is a bit of a challenge. In the beginning the lower volume/speed of answers probably made it a little easier.

This is somewhat similar to Are power users creating a vacuum on SO?

Ultimately though, as useful as it is to answer early, slower but better answers can and do prevail.

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Taking a new (more egotistical) example, I've been here 7 months and earned 7 Enlightened badges. One was this month and another one was last month, which seems to run rather contrary to your conclusion. –  Super Long Names are Hilarious Sep 16 '09 at 23:43
    
Not really. For one, your sample (7) is exceedingly small. For another it could well be argued that you're now better/quicker at answering questions than you were when you started. Lastly, 7 months ago I think puts it in the same (current) window (vs say the first 2-3 months). –  cletus Sep 17 '09 at 0:09
    
Also you can look at the ratio of Nice Answer to Enlightened. Mine is 5 to 1. Jon's is about 3.5 to 1. –  cletus Sep 17 '09 at 0:17
    
My Nice/Enlightened is about 3.4, but I agree that my sample's too small. Off to check someone who's been around longer... –  Super Long Names are Hilarious Sep 17 '09 at 0:21
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As languages and technologies evolve, new easy questions will appear. For example, when C# 4 is ready the site will be slowly flooded with new C# questions.

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True. But what do you think about the main question: Are demands increasing and is it an issue that might be relevant to how the site works? –  Joren Sep 16 '09 at 20:46
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@Joren - if there are no more questions to answer then there is no need for additional contributors. However, I doubt that will ever be the case. I do see your point, though. I've also noticed that every now and then pretty basic/easy questions still appear. –  user27414 Sep 16 '09 at 20:53
    
@Joren: I think this means that some steady-state rate will be achieved regarding basic questions. However another issue is that there may be more users to answer them as time progresses. –  yairchu Sep 16 '09 at 20:57
    
Yes, I agree. For purely the quality of the site there is no necessity for new users. Is quality of content the only major importance, or should there also be a focus on generating a userbase that grows in size? >I've also noticed that every now and then pretty basic/easy questions still appear. Yes, indeed I've seen a few myself already. But as they were answered excellently in minutes of being asked, there was no need for me to contribute. Of course if a user sticks around long enough, he will find questions to be the first to answer. But this gets increasingly harder as the userbase grows. –  Joren Sep 16 '09 at 20:58
    
@Joren: This is called The Fastest Gun in the West (TFGIW). To an extent there is luck of the draw on being one of the first few to get a good answer in -- but that's more timing than anything. You'll get there. :) (And this often is why I'm not answering as much as I used to.) –  John Rudy Sep 16 '09 at 21:55
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There's an infinite amount of content, programming has no limit to the number of hard problems it has.

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Yes. I was talking about easy problems. You know, something suitable for new users. –  Joren Sep 16 '09 at 20:44
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There's even more of them, I myself have an infinite number of easy questions I'd like to know the answer to. –  Lance Roberts Sep 16 '09 at 20:51
    
I don't think the amount of content is infinite, because many of them will be proven equal to P v. NP. Or at least, I don't think the amount of new non-duplicate questions is provably infinite. –  devinb Sep 16 '09 at 20:51
    
Yes, it would be hard to prove (though hard to prove me wrong also). –  Lance Roberts Sep 16 '09 at 20:53
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@Joren: I don't think new users need be limited to "easy" problems. Just because they're new to the site, doesn't mean they're new to programming. And if they are actual new programmers, we'd all be better off if they spent some time reading before trying to post them! –  Shog9 Sep 16 '09 at 21:25
    
It is physically impossible for there to be literally an infinite amount of content. We can't create an infinite amount of anything. –  Super Long Names are Hilarious Sep 16 '09 at 23:41
    
There's an infinite amount of content that can be added, it just will never be all put into the site, therefore we have no fears of running out of questions. –  Lance Roberts Sep 16 '09 at 23:56
    
No, there's not an infinite amount of unique content. It's a physical impossibility due to entropy. We can create anything, but we can never create an infinite amount of it, because we've only got a finite amount now. –  Super Long Names are Hilarious Sep 17 '09 at 0:08
    
Actually, since content starts as thoughts and idea which have no mass or energy, and therefore aren't affected by entropy, there is an infinite amount of it. We just don't have the infinite time to input it, and there isn't enough space in the universe that SO can access to store it all. –  Lance Roberts Sep 17 '09 at 5:17
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Thoughts and ideas have mass and energy. They are electrical impulses in the brain. –  Super Long Names are Hilarious Sep 17 '09 at 6:53
    
Since when does someone have to think about a problem for it to exist? Of course there is an infinite number of problems, and it's trivially shown. Every statement of the form "What is n + 1?" for n some natural number is a problem. Since there is an infinite amount of natural numbers, there is an infinite amount of such problems. But why is this discussing going on? This has nothing to do with the original topic. –  Joren Sep 17 '09 at 13:53
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It's meta, that's what we do here. –  Lance Roberts Sep 17 '09 at 15:14
    
@Joren - An infinite amount of content can potentially exist, but you can't create it all. We can never think up every possible problem because there are infinity of them. So okay, I was wrong - there is an infinite amount of content, but we'll never get it all posted on SO. –  Super Long Names are Hilarious Sep 18 '09 at 4:14
    
@Chris: I can fully agree with that :) –  Joren Sep 19 '09 at 23:08
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