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There has been a lot of talk about the daily reputation cap and what counts and what doesn't count and so on. But why is there a cap at all? I've seen lots of questions about whether the cap number should be changed, or whether certain things should or should not apply to the cap, but I've never seen any reasoning behind why it exists in the first place.

If I write a great answer to something and get 30 upvotes in a day, why should I be deprived of 100 reputation points? What is the difference between getting 30 upvotes today and getting fifteen yesterday and fifteen today?

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See also: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/3709/… –  Troggy Sep 17 '09 at 17:58
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Podcast 65, the first thing they learned about SO over the last year "First, never have any unbounded behavior in your website." –  Troggy Sep 17 '09 at 18:20
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@Troggy: Your duplicate is not really a duplicate. That's a request for raising the cap and this is asking why there is a cap. –  Eric Sep 17 '09 at 18:41
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I didn't say it was a duplicate. Just something I thought that the OP might want to read through. –  Troggy Sep 17 '09 at 19:48
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My mistake then. –  Eric Sep 18 '09 at 9:29
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A simple rationale: to prevent newcomers having more reputation than you have. Control freaks don't like losing the control... (Anyway I never ever made more than 50 rep a day.) –  Calmarius Jul 18 '13 at 17:08
    
The rep cap hurts SE since it results in a decrease of user participation. Many users stop posting Qs/As once they hit their rep cap, and won't post again until the next day. So perhaps they only spend a few hours per day on the site. But if there was no rep cap, then they might spend 18 hours a day on the site and the site would have a lot more user participation. –  pacoverflow Nov 12 at 20:42

6 Answers 6

up vote 103 down vote accepted

It stops the site from being gamed

A user like Jon Skeet will gain 1000+ points in an hour if this didn't exist for example. Jon objects to the cap himself for other reasons. PS: I am using Jon as an example that we all know

It is to level the playing field

It allows for others that won't gain reputation as quickly not to fall behind. Also considering that the reputation is based on how much you are trusted, it avoids having users gain ability without them having spent some time on the site to understand how it works. I would not want someone who has been on the site for 2 days to suddenly have the ability to close questions, or edit my posts, if he hasn't had time to understand the nature of the sites.

The latter unfortunately has been proven to not work so well, some users still don't understand SO after a year.

Courtesy of AnonJr:

A better example of gaming is posting dozens of (generally poor quality) questions in rapid succession and rapidly gaining rep through they typical drive-by voting and/or sympathy voting. (I'm all about voting questions up when they're good, but some questions just seem to get votes for no apparent reason...) Since rep is a measure of trust, this type of rep-farming could garner enough rep for someone who is most likely not trustworthy to do things that they probably ought not to be able to do. (IIRC that was listed in a blog post/meta topic related to the caps)

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I find it extremely sad that I keep hitting my rep cap on Meta, but can barely get a vote on any of the other sites. I should seriously get a hobby. –  Diago Sep 17 '09 at 17:51
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A better example of gaming is posting dozens of (generally poor quality) questions in rapid succession and rapidly gaining rep through they typical drive-by voting and/or sympathy voting. (I'm all about voting questions up when they're good, but some questions just seem to get votes for no apparent reason...) Since rep is a measure of trust, this type of rep-farming could garner enough rep for someone who is most likely not trustworthy to do things that they probably ought not to be able to do. (IIRC that was listed in a blog post/meta topic related to the caps) –  AnonJr Sep 17 '09 at 17:52
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Why can't Meta be your hobby? ;) –  gnostradamus Sep 17 '09 at 17:52
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Welcome to the club of Meta sadness Diago. But at least you're on the first page on SU. –  random Sep 18 '09 at 1:11
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If you've legitimately earned enough votes to get 1000 rep, I wouldn't say you've gamed the site. –  Joel Coehoorn Oct 2 '09 at 15:01
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It doesn't level the playing field, it maintains the status quo. It is not possible for a new user to catch-up to Jon Skeet unless Jon stops contributing. He gets his 200 points per day and, as nobody else can exceed that (other than the few holes in the cap), he will always stay ahead. –  Dan Dyer Oct 3 '09 at 15:38
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+2 or more, if possible for that insightful comment, Dan D., but I don't want to push you over your cap. But suppose there was no cap. On average, the legacy of left answers and questions, will someday average on or over the 200 and will only increase. First-timers that are continuously active always have a large advantage. Weighing a vote based on the question's age is the only (?) way to balance that out and keep the system fair. –  Abel Nov 4 '09 at 23:28
    
I've been wondering what the intention of the reputation cap was for a couple weeks now, and finally found this. Thank you for a clear explanation; I now appreciate the reputation cap. –  antiver Feb 11 '10 at 1:15
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Mentioning "stopping the site from being gamed " and "levelling the playing field " right next to each other seams a bit funny to me :) –  Kos Dec 4 '10 at 15:59
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@Diago So do you have a hobby yet? ;-P –  Adam Davis Mar 10 '11 at 21:45
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How has Jon Skeet gamed the site? He's a legitimate contributor. –  Andrew Grimm May 12 '11 at 0:04
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If somebody know where Jon Skeet objects to the cap, could the link be edited into this answer? –  Thorbjørn Ravn Andersen Aug 18 '11 at 20:19
    
He can edit your posts. He just has to have it be reviewed first. –  Cole Johnson Feb 12 '13 at 20:46
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@ThorbjørnRavnAndersen This about covers it I think. –  Dukeling Feb 22 '13 at 17:34
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@DanDyer OK, Jon gets 200 rep/day and no one can exceed it, but without cap he would simply get a LOT more. Now Jon and some other people are at constant distance, progressing by 200 / day. Without cap Jon would leave them behind even more. So yes, cap maintains the status quo in a way, but removing it would not help new users to catch up. It would "help" them to be further behind each day. –  Mołot Oct 9 '13 at 8:14

Addiction.

I'm not sure if Jeff has done this intentionally but it has a major role in having resources (procrastinating programmers) available on a regular basis and making it a habit for users to come and answer questions everyday rather than having irregular bursts of answers some of the time and a bunch of unanswered questions other times.

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Trust.

The system learns to trust you based on your reputation, and gives you new abilities as your rep increases. Part of the trust relationship you develop is not just reputation, but also time: that you've used the site over a period of time, and over that period you should come to understand the community and accepted procedures for how it operates.

So the reason the reputation threshold for certain abilities is set at a particular level is because, thanks to the daily cap, the system can assume that even a well-qualified user who hits the cap every day from day zero has spent at least a certain number of days actively using the site. A particular threshold choice equates to at least certain number of days actively using the site.

For example, vote to close at 3000 means you've actively used the site on at least 15 days (accepted answers aside) — hopefully long enough to understand what closing a question really means. It gives the community a chance to assimilate the user.

It's not fool-proof. If you're Alan Kay, for example, you could post twice, come back a year later, and find you've earned quite a few privileges. But it's a pretty good measure.

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I'd argue Alan Kay is "trusted" by the community... –  LeakyCode Nov 12 '09 at 19:50
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Wow, with 133 more votes he'll get four silver tag badges for his one answer. –  mmyers Nov 12 '09 at 20:56
    
Apparently, even in 2014, he still hasn't returned. –  impinball Mar 1 at 21:38

A major reason for the rep cap is to get people to come back daily. If you miss a day, you cannot make back that rep you might have gained on that day, so it increases user participation. Further, you can't simply participate once a month for a day or two and get thousands of rep.

Far from preventing or limiting addiction, it feeds the addiction by forcing users to come back every day to get their hit.

It is, quite simply, a feature designed to grow the community by encouraging frequent small amounts of participation, rather than infrequent binges.

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Your reputation should be based on what you do, not how often you are on the site; many people do not live on stackoverflow and may not be able to spend time exept on perhaps one day a week. I would rather see such people give quality answers once a week than be encouraged to rush through a few answers everyday. –  Hawken Mar 25 '12 at 14:57
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That's a good retention method by playing hard to get. –  Zinan Xing Feb 19 at 23:23

Due to the Bike Shed Problem answers to easy questions tend to get more votes since more people are able to recognize the correct answer when they see it. Without the rep cap those that answered simple questions would gain rep a lot faster than those who answered an equal amount of difficult questions.

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That's a very bad example actually. That user actually got those upvotes slowly over a long period of time. I don't believe that answer ever got more than 20 votes in a single day. –  Mysticial Feb 12 '13 at 20:26
    
@Mysticial - I agree that is a bad example for this question and I have removed it. The link (stackoverflow.com/questions/477816/the-right-json-content-type/…) would be a better argument for introducing a per post rep cap. –  Blaise Doughan Feb 12 '13 at 20:31
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The problem with per-post caps is that it's unfair to answers like this: stackoverflow.com/questions/231767/… –  Mysticial Feb 12 '13 at 20:33
    
@Mysticial - Depends on who you are being fair to. An equivalent answer on a different tag may gather much fewer votes. Should one answer alone put someone in the top 1000 rep holders, regardless of how good the answer is? –  Blaise Doughan Feb 12 '13 at 20:44
    
Yes I believe it should if it's good enough. This site isn't just about quantity. Quality is important as well - and yes it is possible for a single post to be better than 1000 crappy ones combined. The point I'm making is: There's no way you will get a system that is fair to everyone. The per-post cap was already discussed and rejected. The fairness of stuff like the JSON question is discussed here and here. You may want to voice your ideas on those questions. –  Mysticial Feb 12 '13 at 20:51

To control your addiction.

If you reach the rep cap it is time to return to your real life. It works for me. And I really think it is a good thing. If we would not have it some people would just go on and on and maybe could not stop chasing that rep all the time.

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+1 Though I understood, do you refer addiction towards points? –  Praveen Nov 20 '13 at 16:38

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