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I've tried to find the answer to this on several occasions, and haven't been able to. I really want to consider SO a useful tool, and to contribute to the community, but the system is rigged against me.

My first exposure to SO was google searching for an answer to a problem. There were 3 answers (with votes > 0) given for the same question I had... the highest rated (>15 votes) was subtly wrong, the middle one (~10 votes) wasn't really applicable (along the lines of telling someone to buy a new car when they asked how to change the oil), and an unloved +2 voted answer at the bottom was spot on correct and far better than the highest rated solution. I wanted to vote that answer up, so I created an account to do so... only to learn that I couldn't do anything that advanced yet. OK, fine, I'll leave a comment on that better answer saying that it was much better than the top voted answer and solved the particular cases that it failed in. Oh, I can't do that either? WTF?!

So it seems the only way I can participate is to write yet another 0 vote answer that's just a duplicate of, or a pointer to, the better answer. Which is never going to be seen because the better answer has managed to get 2 votes already. Or the next time I have a question I can ask it, and wait for someone to post a snarky answer saying "that was already answered you idiot" maybe with a link to the previous occurrence. Either way seems like a silly exercise in gaming the system just to get enough rep to say that an answer that already existed was a good one.

So I walked away from SO with my problem solved, and some doubts about the community. Repeat a similar experience a few months later. And again a few months after that. And now you're moving into an area I care about, photography, so I'm going to try once more to understand how this system works.

I'm not going to ask you to change the system... I just want to understand the mentality behind this. Can anyone shed some light on why the system is so newb-hostile?

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SO tries to prevent spammers from (guess what) spamming the system. If every 1 rep user can comment, they can spam it (yes, spammers can still use answers). If 1 rep users can vote up, it's easy to create sock puppets to game the system. Jeff believes that it is good to have restrictions all over the place (because one wannabe hacker kicked his ass during private beta). The details can be looked up here on Meta and on the SO blog. Have fun! –  Ladybug Killer Oct 29 '10 at 19:45
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Have you tried, instead of putting focus on existence questions and answers, trying to find new or unsolved questions to provide your own answers to? It's quite the ticket to speed and enough reputation to upvote without "silly exercises in gaming the system". –  Grace Note Oct 29 '10 at 19:50
    
Provided you believe that you will eventually get enough reputation to upvote, this question may be helpful: Pending upvotes and downvotes? –  Robin Green Nov 2 '10 at 8:44

3 Answers 3

up vote 4 down vote accepted

I'd like to point out one fact you may have glossed over: you found the answers you needed right away!

Even though the perfect answer for your problem was at the bottom of the list with only 2 votes, you still found it and it still helped you. Granted, it's a little disheartening to see the best answer not getting the love it deserves, and we'd all like to help that guy out when we can, but you did still find it and that's what counts. It says to me that the system, while not perfect, is still working. People are still able to get the answers they need rather quickly.

In the situation you describe, it can be frustrating for someone just starting out who wants to feel like they are making a significant contribution and correcting the "voting wrongs" that they see, but truthfully it isn't very hard to get the 15 Rep needed to upvote. Just 2 upvotes on an answer or 3 on a question earn you that.

In those months that you walked away from SO in frustration, you could have probably found a question or two to ask or answer. Then you would have had more Rep and been well on your way to being able to influence the system more. But you did choose to walk away instead of putting in the effort, so honestly (and I mean no offense) that tells me that the system works! "Drive-by" users probably shouldn't be allowed to have much influence. Only those who take a vested interest in the site and have earned the privilege by participation should. Sometimes this leads to new users posting non-answers because they don't understand the way the site works, but these are usually tidied up easily by flagging it for a mod to deal with.

An aside...

As an additional solution to the specific problem above, you can still mark questions as a favorite no matter what your Rep level. These favorites will be listed under a tab on your profile, so later on when you have earned more Rep you can easily find your way back to the question that helped you and vote up the deserving answer.

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Or even just getting an answer accepted. Solving someone's problem can easily earn 25 reputation from the upvote and accept. –  Grace Note Oct 29 '10 at 20:20

So it seems the only way I can participate is to write yet another 0 vote answer that's just a duplicate of, or a pointer to, the better answer.

There are a million other questions on SO that you can participate in to gain reputation. Quite a few of those are unanswered, so there's definitely another way to participate than leaving a duplicate (or otherwise non-) answer. We'd welcome the contribution.

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One of the reasons SO seems a little "newb-hostile" is that SO represents a paradigm shift away from the well-established and widely understood newsgroup/forum model. If SO didn't restrict new users from participating more fully, it would run the risk of being "taken over" by people who don't get "get it".

Once you've had a little bit of exposure to how things work around here, the community will trust you enough to let you participate more (via reputation points).

It's not perfect, and if you have suggestions about how it could work better, you just so happen to be in exactly the right place to express them.


I'd also like to address your question title a little more directly. SO specifically discourages writing redundant answers. The voting mechanism allows users to downvote poor answers. If you simply regurgitate someone else's answer, you will be downvoted.

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Yeah, I'd see that behavior as well (down voting redundancy), which is what led to the very conflicted interpretation of the "what are they trying to do here?" reaction I had. –  cabbey Oct 29 '10 at 21:36

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