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First of all, let me say that I've searched for an answer to this question, but I couldn't find it. As I believe it has been asked before, this probably only serves as an opportunity to demean my searching skills, but anyway:

Is the following true?

The top contributors of stackoverflow earn more than the reputation cap on old answers and questions alone (from people finding or browsing old questions). Hence they will stay ahead of "the competition" no matter what they do, even if they tire of participating.

Please note:

  • I am fully aware that for the people in question, participating is probably the main point at their level, not gaining reputation.
  • I am not offering any opinion about anything, in particular not about the reputation cap. I just had this thought and wanted to confirm it.
  • This has nothing to do with my own ambitions at SO (being at a mere 500 rep) :)

EDIT:

Reading the current, well-written, answers I feel could have been more clear. What I was asking about was if my statement was theoretically true, from how the reputation system works. Many has answered about what SO is about and what will be the best way of participating.This is interesting and important too, of course.

Anyway, it has been more or less implied that the reputation cap does not apply to accepted answers and bounties. This clearly makes my statement false, so the answer then clearly is: "No, you are not right.". Thanks everybody! I think Michael Mrozek's answer together with Ether's comment best captures this.

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Wow, my edit earned me a down vote. I wonder why... –  Peter Jaric Jun 21 '10 at 7:36
    
(-1) for the reasons in my answer –  devinb Jun 21 '10 at 7:40
    
I am trying to find your answer, but can not find it. Hmm. What am I doing wrong? The word 'devinb' only occurs in your comment above when I search for it on this page. –  Peter Jaric Jun 21 '10 at 7:43
    
After several reloads it appeared! Great, now I'll read it. –  Peter Jaric Jun 21 '10 at 7:46
    
@devinb: Your answer states about the same as I did in my edit. I don't care much about my reputation level here on meta, but anyway: what do you mean with "(-1) for the reasons in my answer"? Your answer can be summarized with "No" (I think). Why does that make my question bad? –  Peter Jaric Jun 21 '10 at 7:51
    
On Meta, votes are used to indicate disagreement. Your question, although marked as discussion, clearly indicates (pre-edit) that you believe that "No, the top contributors cannot be challenged". I disagree that it is the case, and so I downvoted. –  devinb Jun 21 '10 at 9:00
    
@Peter It does not mean that I don't respect you, or your very well written question. It also does not mean that I think you can "improve" the question, I am simply stating (with a downvote) that "This (your issue) is not a problem, and therefore we should not start looking for a 'solution' to it" (which would be the next step if the issue was a problem). –  devinb Jun 21 '10 at 9:02
    
@devinb: OK, I see! You learn something every day. In the case of SO and friends, you learn many things every day. –  Peter Jaric Jun 21 '10 at 9:10
    
(Although I did phrase it as a question, just because I wasn't sure at all that I was right, but that doesn't matter :) ) –  Peter Jaric Jun 21 '10 at 9:11

8 Answers 8

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I made an effort to put together a query that determines how much rep a user gets from old answers versus new ones, and ran it on the top five people:

While Jon Skeet generally gets at least 20 upvotes/day on recent answers, and Alex Martelli gets an unbelievable number of recent upvotes, I was surprised to see that the other three do actually earn a significant amount of reputation from "old" posts. I defined "old" posts in my query as more than a week, which might be a bit low, but it looks like there's actually more to this than I thought.

It'd be nice to pick an arbitrary date in the past and exclude all posts from that point on and see how much rep the top guys would've gotten had they just not answered questions anymore. EDIT: Kind of like this: http://odata.stackexchange.com/stackoverflow/q/4711/?UserId=22656&Date=2010-05-01

So it looks like Jon Skeet could stop answering completely and still get about 24 upvotes a day, just past the cap, but it wouldn't keep him at his ~296 reputation/day average, and if the #1 person is just breaking 20 daily votes on old posts, there can't be many others who could keep hitting the cap on old answers alone

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Agreed; one can only surpass the reputation cap by bounties and accepted answers, each of which can only be awarded once per answer. So at some point all old answers have been exhausted, and one has to post new answers to surpass the cap. –  Ether Jun 21 '10 at 4:19

This new user, pointed out by a Stack Exchange Data Explorer query, has been soaring in reputation. Today, he has been around for 54 days and has 13k reputation, an average gain of 252 reputation per day if I just use traditional math. Which is amazing, really, for a completely new face.

As for whether a perpetual motion of voting will simply sustain the growth of the current high reputation users, I'd say no because their station is based primarily on the fact that they are continuing to work at it. The sheer volume of answers they have gives them a lot more hits that can be voted on, so they have a distinct advantage, but it's the bonuses of accepted answers and bounties that bring in the extras, and those can only be gotten through constant activity. Every day that passes means a more solid grasp on the current reigns. If they tire of participating, they will eventually fall because of the reputation limit that people like mdma are surpassing daily.

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Wasn't skeet planning to logon in-cognito to prove people vote for the quality of his answers instead of 'the brand'? We may have discovered him –  Toad Jun 21 '10 at 5:00
    
@Toad Nope, definitely not. And mdma actually gained a lot of rep from bounties (his answers are definitely good, but still). –  Pascal Thivent Jun 21 '10 at 16:53

The top contributors of Stack Overflow earn more than the reputation cap on old answers and questions alone (from people finding or browsing old questions). Hence they will stay ahead of "the competition" no matter what they do, even if they tire of participating.

You have a misunderstanding of what Stack Overflow is. It's not a game or a competition. It is a way for programmers to get answers and questions. Reputation is basically the amount of trust the system has in you, not how awesome of a programmer or a measure of how much you're "winning".

Jon Skeet use to participate in Usenet before Stack Overflow. Jon just wants to give back to the community and to help fellow programmers. He is not aiming to be "ahead" of everyone or to be "the best".

You need to stop thinking of reputation as a number for how much you know on a subject and think of it more as a measure of how much the system can trust you with moderation tools.

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-1 because it doesn't answer the question. I fully agree with what you are saying, but theoretical thoughts about the reputation aspects of the SO ecosystem must be allowed without getting lectured. –  Pëkka Jun 20 '10 at 22:08
    
With all respect, I was trying to avoid this kind of answer with my point "I am fully aware that for the people in question, participating is probably the main point at their level, not gaining reputation." Furthermore, surely there are many many users who do see SO more or less as a game. Why else are there terms as "vote-whoring" and "reputation addicts"? I probably need lectures in many areas, but not in this one. –  Peter Jaric Jun 21 '10 at 6:47
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And another thing: I've read of employers asking for SO rep. I do not think they are looking for good moderators, I think they view the reputation as a measure of knowledge. –  Peter Jaric Jun 21 '10 at 7:08

The top contributors of stackoverflow earn more than the reputation cap on old answers and questions alone (from people finding or browsing old questions).

I doubt whether this is true except for numbers one, two and three maybe. Is there detailed data for this? Also, this applies to the reputation cap maximum of 200 points a day. That limitation means that any very active user will gain reputation at a faster pace than an inactive Jon Skeet.

Hence they will stay ahead of "the competition" no matter what they do, even if they tire of participating.

I don't think so: If they tire, others will quickly catch up, with the same effect setting in for those members (if they provided truly sustainable, quality content instead of solely hunting for reputation points).

SO reputation is not built like a normal economy, where at some point, you start accumulating more than you put in work - through profit generated by people you hire, profit generated through real estate you own, interest, using your capital to keep competitors down etc. etc. Your reputation gain is always down to questions answered well by you, personally. The people with the most reputation have the most reputation because they continue to provide quality input every day. If they stop, they will sooner or later be overtaken by other, more active members.

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Your hypothesis implies that a new user cannot become a high rep user. Well, I wouldn't say it's easy to achieve a high rep. It has never been. But is it impossible? No, I don't think so. There have been cases that prove your hypothesis wrong. For instance, Neil Butterworth, an exceptionally talented contributor who's currently in the second column has joined Stack Overflow when there were users with a handful thousands of rep in the system.

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And Alex Martelli, who's UserID is #95810, was a relative late-comer. (stackoverflow.com/users/95810/alex-martelli) –  David HAust Jun 21 '10 at 1:25
    
I noticed this with BalusC (he contributes in many of the same topics) - > 60K rep in under 8 months. stackoverflow.com/users/157882?tab=reputationhistory#tab-top –  McDowell Jun 21 '10 at 12:23
    
@David Yes, indeed Alex is an excellent example. –  LeakyCode Jun 21 '10 at 12:53

The top contributors all gained their reputations by putting many many hours into StackOverflow. For someone to challenge them, they would need to put in more hours, because as you noted, the top users have such an enormous catalogue that they will continue to gain reputation. However, old questions can only gain up to a maximum of 200 pts a day because of the reputation cap. This is different from answer new questions, because new questions that get the checkmark are exempt from the reputation cap, as well as any bounties that might be won.

No, it is not easy to challenge the top users. But, if someone is willing to put in as much time as Jon Skeet has, then they can definitely make it into the top three.

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Thanks for your answer, it expands on what I wrote in my edit. –  Peter Jaric Jun 21 '10 at 7:49

Theoretically users might get 20 upvotes (=200 rep) on old answers each day, but I guess we are still a while from that point. For example see Neil Butterworth's reputation graph when he went away for three months. His reputation was still increasing, but much less then when he is actually posting new answers.

For more discussion on this topic see "How much reputation do you get while idle?".

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Those pages are very relevant. Had I read the last one, I wouldn't have posted my question. +1 from me. –  Peter Jaric Jun 21 '10 at 13:57

You can check my reputation.

I was on leave between January end to mid February 2013. And till date. I started on Stack Overflow in full flow from October. However, my first answer which got an upvote was posted on 22nd September 2012. Roughly 180 (including a few long vacations) days and 18K points.

And I have overtaken a few Stack Overflow friends in my interest areas Objective-C, Cocoa, iOS, Xcode, etc. So surely anyone can reach and challenge the toppers.

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Do you know how much reputation Jon Skeet earned during that time frame? I didn't add up the numbers, but I can tell you that it was more than you earned, by quite a lot. Jon hasn't not hit the rep cap since Sept 27 2009! And he very rarely is even close to the rep cap; he is usually exceeding it by quite a bit. So while you can easily improve in the rankings at first; eventually you get to the point where everyone is earning more than the rep cap each day, and earning more rep than them by enough to surpass them is...very hard. –  Servy Apr 13 '13 at 18:14
    
@Servy: yes i know these. I think I need to create 25 accounts to mine to match up with him. And one thing...I get downvotes even for correct answers, while he gets +5 for incorrect answers :p –  Anoop Vaidya Apr 13 '13 at 18:44

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