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I want to start by saying this is not an attack on anyone, regardless of rep level. Seriously, I'm not trying to start a flame war here.

But I am curious. Meta opened up, and there are already dozens of questions dealing specifically with rep. A few examples:

I'm not knocking these questions, nor their posters, nor the answerers. (Yes, I just invented a word. Shakespeare did it, too. :) ) And I will note that ALL of those links came just from the suggestions based on my title -- I didn't even have to do a search here.

I'm interested in others' opinions about rep in general, and why we all seem so fascinated by it, and if perhaps some of us take that fascination too far.

Since meta is the place for this kind of navel-gazing ... Are we too rep-focused? Should we be? Is rep just a fun game for some of us, or are there those of us who take it really seriously?

EDIT

I would like to add something which I've already placed in a comment. I'm not proposing we get rid of rep, hide rep, destroy rep, nor anything else. I like the rep system. I consider it to be a very clever way to create a self-moderating system, by providing end users who have contributed value a way to keep the site clean and serene.

The question is not about StackExchange the software, nor StackOverflow/ServerFault/SuperUser/MetaStackOverflow the sites. The question is about we, the people, the end users. Are we, as individuals, too focused on achieving rep scores?

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'Answerer' was already a word. Other than that, rock on. –  Telemachus Jul 14 '09 at 18:23
    
Awesome -- I learned something new today! (Firefox, which has a notoriously bad spell-check anyway, flagged it as incorrect.) –  John Rudy Jul 14 '09 at 18:24
    
Answerer is, but apparently answerers is not according to my firefox spell checker. –  TheTXI Jul 14 '09 at 18:25
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This is the reason you don't want to become dependent on computer programs for spell checking. All they do is give you a false sense of security. I've had students give me the craziest nonsense, and then say calmly, "But Word said is was ok." –  Telemachus Jul 14 '09 at 18:45
    
I didn't say get rid of rep; I said are we too focused on achieving it. :) I like having rep, I think that on the whole it's a good system and a way of enabling self-moderation of the site -- a very clever implementation, in fact. This question isn't a technical question, it's a human question: are we, as users, too focused on it? :) –  John Rudy Jul 14 '09 at 19:36
    
@Issac: Don't let the door hit you on the way out. (By the way, you can consider this a confirmation of my response to the "Should sarcasm be forbidden" question.) –  Telemachus Jul 14 '09 at 19:39
    
@Telemachus: forbidding sarcasm doesn't fix the problem –  John the Seagull Jul 14 '09 at 19:54
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@Vinko: Touché - if that's a joke. Huh? - if it's not. –  Telemachus Jul 14 '09 at 21:22
    
this comment is a lie –  Rich Seller Sep 16 '09 at 16:20
    
Life is a game, whomever ends up with the highest score or most toys wins right? :P –  Mottie Sep 22 '09 at 15:03

7 Answers 7

up vote 12 down vote accepted

If you don't have a carrot on the stick, you're going to lose a lot of your audience. This entire site was developed with the idea of reputation in mind. It's a central tenet to what makes StackOverflow StackOverflow (and the other sites as well).

Never overestimate the altruism of your fellow man, and never underestimate what some of us will do for a big number next to their name.

Note: This IS a game, as well as a Q&A site. The fact that it is a game is what keeps people like me coming around and hides the fact that I am sitting here wasting my day answering questions.

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This really does sum it up. (And if I ever ask another question on meta, I want my accept rate nice and high. :) ) –  John Rudy Sep 11 '09 at 3:04

For what it's worth, here are my two cents. (Which, in the vein of the site, I didn't want to put in as part of the question itself.)

I personally don't care too much about my rep. (I find it somewhat ironic that I am myself guilty of posting yet-another-rep-question while using it to find out if we're too focused on rep-questions. I find it doubly ironic that this question was directly responsible for me being able to vote on answers, and triply ironic that it garnered me at least badges.)

I care, especially in the early stages, about gaining the abilities I didn't have before. Not that I necessarily want to be able to vote to close questions (I do it sometimes, but rarely, IMO), nor be able to get it into edit wars (don't think I ever participated in one), but more -- as others have said -- that feeling of accomplishment.

But I don't really navel-gaze my rep. For example, this question got downvoted. Whoever did that had a good reason to do so, I'm sure (quite possibly the raw irony of me asking it!), so que ce ra, ce ra.

I do think some folks come off as wanting/expecting "too much," or "too soon." I tend to agree with folks that comments such as "why did you downvote me" and "I don't think you're upvoting enough" are somewhat silly, and tend to create negative ramifications.

At the other end of the spectrum are folks who optimize their participation to garner the most rep. I'm OK with this, believe it or not. (Like I said in the question -- I'm not trying to tick people off, I'm just asking if we navel-gaze too much!) I'm OK with this because these folks are still providing value to the community -- in fact, much moreso than I, as I've been fairly inactive on SO of late.

So at the end of the day ... I guess some people do take their rep too seriously, others see it as a game (and by virtue of playing it, contribute effectively), others don't care ... And it probably simply doesn't matter, since the sites are generally stronger for all the participation.

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Pedantic note: it's "sera", one word. (It's a verb, though depending on exactly how you spell or accent it, it's not clear from what language. Wikipedia has an interesting discussion concerning the language of the song the phrase comes from: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…) –  Telemachus Jul 14 '09 at 21:27
    
I must be having an off day, usually I'm the pedantic one. :) (Please take no offense; I'm only using that term because you used it first. I'm about to go hit that Wiki link because language discussions like this intrigue me more than is probably healthy -- in fact, moreso than programming often does! And yes, I'm being serious. :) ) –  John Rudy Jul 15 '09 at 1:35
    
Holy cow! It dates back to Marlowe and Doctor Faustus?! –  John Rudy Jul 15 '09 at 1:36

Vote me up and I'll tell you the answer.

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Nope. It accomplishes what it sets out to do, and that is get people to participate on the site. People complain about using it etc. that's true, but it still accomplishes the underlying goal. The question you have to ask is whether the site would be as popular without the reps and badges. My guess would be no, so if you start downplaying it, people will get bored with the site and leave. Look at other tech sites which have (had) huge followings. SO is quickly gaining ground, because it has features others don't (and it's not the ability to vote on answers). People see rep as a goal and actively work to get a higher score, and obsessing and being concerned gets activity on the site.

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+1, that's a fair enough point. –  John Rudy Jul 14 '09 at 19:45

In a word, yes. The thing that bothers me the most lately is the whining and begging:

  • Why the downvote? (I.e., if I bug you, will you take it back?)
  • Have we not answered your question satisfactorily? (I.e., select my answer as the solution.)
  • You don't seem to be upvoting answers. (I.e., WTF?)

These are all paraphrases of actual comments from SO. The last one really threw me for a loop. A respondent actually chastised a questioner for not upvoting enough. The OP then had to offer a public apology and explain that he hadn't been back to the site since he left work. (At which point of course it was upvotes for everyone.)

(For the record, none of these comments were directed at me, and, no, I won't give sources. I have no interest in public shame fests. But the rep-whoring is pretty amazing and increasingly tedious.)

Edit: I'm also unconvinced that without the reputation, the site wouldn't be what it is. I participate regularly on two Linux-related sites without any such system (well, one has a minimal "Vote to thank someone" thing, but (a) that's recent and (b) nobody pays attention to it). They both get good traffic and are filled with regulars.

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Guilty of that here..... –  jjnguy Jul 14 '09 at 18:31
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"Why the down-vote" is a request for more information so the post can be improved. The other two do smack of whining and begging though :) –  ChrisF Jul 14 '09 at 18:32
    
@ChrisF: I concede that the down-vote one might be a request for explanation, but - honestly - it often seems like grade-grubbing to me. @Jinguy: Repent! :) –  Telemachus Jul 14 '09 at 18:34
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The reason I ask why I was downvoted is because I wonder if my answer is wrong. That way I can fix or delete it. –  jjnguy Jul 14 '09 at 18:39
    
"Why the downvote" can be prevented by the downvoter commenting and stating why. However, that can (with the wrong person being downvoted) lead to worse issues for the downvoter. –  John Rudy Jul 14 '09 at 18:40
    
@Jinguy: I thought you meant you were guilty of asking the OP why he or she wouldn't vote up. @John: True, but it can also lead to petty comment debates. At the end of the day, someone either comments or not. I can't imagine that nagging is likely to get a helpful response. –  Telemachus Jul 14 '09 at 18:50
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"have we not answered your question?" is (also) about knowing what is missing from answers to make them more complete. –  John the Seagull Jul 14 '09 at 19:51
    
@Vinko: That's a theoretically possible, yet exceedingly unlikely reading. I cannot believe that that many people are that desperate to make their answers complete - out of sheer goodness and butterflies. –  Telemachus Jul 14 '09 at 20:37
    
I'm glad I looked before I posted almost the same thing, best line is "rep-whoring is pretty amazing and increasingly tedious" I look at rep as a way for the community to say how correct an answer is. It's not the communities job to tell you what to add to your post to tell you why it's wrong or incomplete. If I did I'd answer the question myself. If I get downvoted I look at my answer and what else has been upvoted and if I think I missed something I add it. –  Jim B Jul 14 '09 at 21:50

Reputation is a way of providing recognition. Psychologically, it's very valuable for people to perceive that they are valued in some way; in short, reputation provides that feedback for people, in a distinct and quantifiable way that something such as message board posts do not, even if they achieve the same goal (answering people's questions).

As such, the usage of reputation on SO (and SF, and meta, and SU eventually, and on any stackexchange platform) is a very canny way to attract and reward users for contributing (and adding to the value of the underlying platform).

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Yes. Rep seems to make people forget that this site is a Question and Answer site.

Reputation is meant to help aid that process, not hinder it.

I think that the rep system is great. People worry about it way too much though.

I am fairly obsessed with my reputation...and that is a good thing because it drives me to answer lots of questions to the best of my ability.

It only becomes a problem when people forget that the purpose of this site is getting good answers to questions.

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Except when I'm close to a rep threshhold. Then it's about getting more rep, which is best done by providing the best answers I possibly can. –  David Thornley Jul 14 '09 at 20:09

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