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Greetings fellow stackoverflowers. I'm the only programmer in my company, so I thought stackoverflow might be a "fun" way to get some camaraderie. Also, I like to be helpful. I've been using the system actively for about two weeks, asking the occasional question and answering many (rep now=145). The "problem" I am facing is that I find my mileage varies a lot: sometimes people are very grateful and responsive to help. But a couple of times I have given very detailed answers, only to be ignored: the questioner just vanishes without up-voting or accepting my answer. That makes me feel like I'm wasting my time--and I feel "stupid" posting "please accept my answer" comments. Do y'all have any suggestions about how to discern which questioners are to be taken seriously? Or any other comments about how best to participate as someone who is more of an answerer than an asker? I am not so much interested in maximizing my rep as minimizing my frustration, and maximizing my benefit to serious users.

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If you think 5K is high... – John Mar 25 '11 at 3:01
Here are some 'coherent strategies' you may find interesting. – ire_and_curses Mar 25 '11 at 4:24
See also: How do you know when to answer a question? – Brad Larson Mar 25 '11 at 17:25
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Honestly, you kind of answered your own question:

Also, I like to be helpful.

Sometimes very good answers go without upvotes or acceptance. Conversely, sometimes a lot of rep is dished out when half a dozen people quickly give a simple answer to a simple question. There's really no rhyme or reason.

I guess if I were to define my "strategy" it would be that I just like to answer questions. Sure, getting rep is fun. But the real value is in the activity itself. By answering a question, I take a step to refresh (or even further) my own knowledge of a subject. Often I get just as much out of it as the person asking the question.

Though I don't have any stellar answers by measure of upvoting, I like to think I've written some good content on Stack Overflow and have contributed to the community. And, in doing so, have contributed to my own career growth. (I came close to the Unsung Hero badge once, but I think I'm pretty far now.) Maybe I just tend to answer less popular questions? I don't know. But the main thing is to just keep doing it. Answer stuff that's interesting to you. As I said, it helps the person answering as much as it helps the person asking.

Keep in mind also that these questions and answers are saved for posterity. Sure, maybe the person who asked the question has gone on their merry way without any gratitude. But that question and its answer (an answer you provided) is now there for all to see. It's not uncommon for people to search for things on Google and find what they need on Stack Overflow. That answer may help someone else days, weeks, months down the road.

If you enjoy contributing to the community, then by all means keep doing so. There's no shortage of appreciation, even if any given question doesn't indicate as much. If nobody else has said it to you yet... Thank you. Thank you for contributing.

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+1, very good answer! – jachguate Mar 25 '11 at 1:22
Thanks for your answer. Very encouraging. After one month, I have reached the conclusion that the best "strategy" for me to pursue, considering my own temperament, is simply to ignore rep. I just don't like nagging people about acceptance, or "rushing" to answer quickly to get the jump on other potential answerers. I just monitor my tags of interest via rss, and answer when spirit moves. We'll see where that takes me. :-) – George Freeman Apr 6 '11 at 15:30
I just got the Unsung Hero badge. I guess you had me pegged. :-) – George Freeman May 23 '11 at 4:24

People who put effort into their questions will generally take care of them. Ways to recognize:

  • proper spelling
  • well formatted
  • includes all the info you need but not more
  • tends to be longer

If you just want to get reputation there are strategies for that (search here on meta) but they're not too fun. Usually it involves answering easy questions in popular tags very quickly.

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Good point: there's more to life than reputation, just as there's more to life than money. :-) – George Freeman Mar 25 '11 at 3:41

The bottom line seems to me how much satisfaction it gives you. Speaking for myself, I use the Stack Overflow sites chiefly to ask questions. Merely posing them (usually through the blinding anguish of coding-block) forces me to clarify my thoughts and sometimes that gets me to a good enough answer on my own. But the sites have been an enormous help (the tex." subsite especially, in my case). The answers by experienced hands to my direct questions and the larger resource of accumulated answers are both terribly, terribly useful. So before answering, I ask myself: "Can I contribute in a worthy way to that resource?"

Now three other matters you've raised:

  • Whether to write answers? I find I only answer questions that interest me, and those tend to be general (as here) or within my very technical and narrow fields of expertise. In the interest of sharing, I've sometimes looked for questions on the latter, but there aren't too many.
  • Who deserves an answer? You ask "how to discern which questioners are to be taken seriously": I think the primary sign is clarity. But there is also merit in clarifying an unclear question.
  • Coveting reputation points. The rep-quatloos are of limited interest to me. I grant you, it's nice to get useful privileges on the site for having them, but apart from that they're unimportant. And I'll wager you have better things to do with your time than gather imaginary points, too.
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