Reputation is a rough measurement of how much the community trusts you; it is earned by convincing your peers that you know what you’re talking about.

I believe that the term "reputation" was not chosen on a lark, but was done with purpose and reason aforethought.

I'm not aware that Martin Fowler or Douglas Crockford have profiles on the Stacks, but I know that they are some of the most respected voices in computer science and programming, at least in their respective niches. For what it's worth, I don't think there are any Stack Overflow users who don't know of at least one of those two gentlemen.

Sometimes a person has already put in the effort in their field to achieve a level of mastery and recognition that it would be nice to recognize in them without asking them to have to answer a slew of questions to begin with. If you were to ask the SciFi or Literature crowd if they had someone with the reputation of John W Campbell Jr. or Lester del Rey*, or for that matter if Sheila Williams were to join their site today, that they would want to hear that person's opinion right away.

And there is no contesting the fact that reputation does impact a person's immediate view of an asker or an answerer. That's been proven on Stack Overflow and on many of the other sites.

Having said all that, the point:

I want moderators to be able to nominate/assign honorary rep to a user to give them an initial boost in visual rep on the stacks, at least for starting off.

Yes, just like how honorary degrees are given by colleges. Well, mostly like that.

Here is the process I envision: A person of status can be nominated by the moderation team (the volunteers who help keep the sites tidy, hereafter "mods") for a site and presented to the StackExchange Team ("team") with a suggestion from the mods for a certain rep level and documentation of some sort to back up the suggestion. Then after review, the team can assign this rep or send it back to the mods.

This once again relies on the fact that the community is really the one driving the sites. They are the ones who would best know that a person is indeed worthy of such effort.

That could be the extent of it, but I'm not quite done yet, not in my own eyes anyways. The idea is that we all have to earn our way, and they, while having earned their ways in the rest of the field, have not quite earned their way on the stacks. So I propose that to be a "virtual rep" that gives them a minimum baseline, but which they have to build up to to surpass.

Here's a pseudo table to explain it:

User       MFowler
Date         Act. R  Hon. R  Shown R
2011-01-01       1       1        1
2011-01-05      16       1       16  --a user notices that this is _the_ Martin Fowler, flags the Q for a mod.
2011-01-06      21       1       21  --a mod system messages to confirm _the_ MFowler
2011-01-09      41       1       41  --MFowler responds yes, indeed
2011-01-10      81       1       81  --Mods ask Team to endow Honorary 3k
2011-01-15     141    3000     3000  --Team endows 3k honorary
2011-06-01    2485    3000     3000 
2011-06-30    3001    3000     3001  --Notice he has finally overtaken his honorary rep
2011-07-01    3001       1     3001  --Not needed anymore, so it reverts by the system

Notice that actual rep is still tracked the same way, so they can't really use that rep to do things like give rep bounties, etc. The idea is just to say

hey, this person has some notoriety and reputation, they are a figure worth listening to, we as a community already respect them.

I also chose 3000 because that seems to be a point at which users start listening to people, anecdotally. If it werent' for the anecdotes I might have chosen another number.

*All these names chosen because I'm pretty sure all the elder geeks and people of influence on the stacks have heard these names before.

I know a lot of you are going to tell me right off that this is a crap idea, or that those people should be able to get a lot of rep really quickly, but that's not true, not on the lower volume sites. I also think this should only apply to sites with elected moderators, nobody who is a pro-tem should be able to do this. However, if you have feedback after that then I would love to hear it, especially constructive feedback on why this doesn't encourage "normal stack users" (which none of you reading this are) to listen to the advice of someone who we're giving an honorary status to.

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    I'd rather just have a feature similar to Twitter's Verified User. Part of the reason why you gain privileges over time is so that users who are new to the site can become familiar with it. While your veterans may be experts in the field, it doesn't guarantee they know how the SE sites function. – Brandon Sep 23 '11 at 22:03
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    I see what you're saying here @jcolebrand... I don't agree, so -1. But +1 for making a great argument for your point! – The Unhandled Exception Sep 23 '11 at 22:04
  • @TheOyNotFoundException so a null vote for me then? :p – jcolebrand Sep 23 '11 at 22:04
  • @Brandon that's a good idea too, and one that I considered as an alternate to this, but I wanted to see just how much the community hated this idea first. So far it's not as hated as I expected. But that just means I posted it early on a Friday. – jcolebrand Sep 23 '11 at 22:07
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    @jcolebrand Yup ±0 :-) – The Unhandled Exception Sep 23 '11 at 22:09
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    You know you can't earn the Peer Pressure badge more than once, right Cole? ;-) – The Unhandled Exception Sep 23 '11 at 22:17
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    All else aside, there is very little difference (if any) between pro-tem mods and elected mods in terms of their ability to select appropriate candidates for such a bonus. I think the "sites with elected mods only" restriction is odd. – Adam Lear Sep 24 '11 at 3:06
  • @AnnaLear because by that point things have gone golden, that was all. – jcolebrand Sep 25 '11 at 5:04
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    Pretty entertaining idea. Hmm, since this current form isn't as well received as it should be... how about allowing us to simply donate points to one another? So if I know that Bill Gates joined, I can lop off 50 points and give it to him? Sometimes I'd also like to donate points to the newbies from India and overseas. Thank You So Much! – Adel Oct 16 '11 at 6:18
  • But you can do that @Adel with a bounty on any of their posts. – jcolebrand Oct 17 '11 at 16:14

I'll reiterate and expand Fabian's point and give a few examples.

Reputation on a Stack Exchange is mostly a measure of participation on that site. It doesn't even really measure expertise (it's a well-known phenomenon that easy questions generate more rep than difficult questions). So how does some out-of-site measure relate to SE rep?

SE reputation has two consequences.

  • You get privileges related to using features of the site. Apart from unsupervised edits, the privileges are primarily related to experience about the site, not to competence in the topic. The first 100 points are supposed to be generic (mainly voting and commenting), which is why you get them from Stack Exchange experience and not from any domain-specific measure.
  • You get a number displayed prominently next to your name. Now you could imagine other indicators next to someone's name (a bit like the ♦ for moderators). For example, if you've published a book in the domain of a site, you can put ✍ next to your name. If you've created your own business, you can put ⚚ next to your name on On Startups. If you have a Fields medal, you can put ⊝ next to your name on Mathematics. Hold on, isn't this getting a bit ridiculous? And yet I contend that this would be much better than using reputation to convey out-of-SE recognition.

I promised examples, so here are a few. There is absolutely no intent for my list to be representative, these are just examples that first came to mind.

  • Alan Kay surely counts as a “field veteran” for Stack Overflow. He has a Stack Overflow account, and this has been amply noted. Yet his one question does not conform to general Stack Exchange guidelines and would undoubtedly have been deleted (maybe not then, but in recent times) if it had been asked by someone else. Alan Kay has almost reached the reputation to close questions, but do you think he knows (or cares) what makes a good SO question?
  • Sam Hocevar has done far more about unix that you'd tell from his profile; he was the Debian project leader and is the author of many cool hacks. By all rights, if reputation was not tied to Stack Exchange participation, his should be a lot higher than mine on Unix SE.
  • Patrick Nielsen Hayden has ventured on Writers SE and Science fiction & Fantasy SE. He's a prominent science fiction editor and his blog is one of the most influential on the subject. He can make or break science fiction authors, so I suppose that means he should have a reputation boost.

Note that none of these three people even stuck on Stack Exchange. Do you think giving them an artificial rep boost would have made a difference? Because Alan Kay was very well-known and his question and answer gathered a lot of views, he has amassed roughly that 3000 reputation you're proposing as a bonus. Do you think if he were to return to Stack Exchange, he would be perceived differently if he were to start with a new account?

If it bothers you that “reputation” could be taken to mean real-world reputation as opposed to Stack Exchange reputation, or that it evokes expertise rather than activity, then lobby to have the word changed. (There have been proposals to call it “experience points”, for example.) But don't try to reconcile a near-meaningless number with some meaningful definition that it won't meet anyway.


I don't think the primary purpose of reputation is to actually represent the knowledge a user has in the field, it is really more of a meausure of participation and familiarity with the SE system. The reputation is a very coarse and flawed measure, it is not a reliable measure for competence, but it is a reasonable approximation for familiarity with the whole Q&A system.

The main use of the reputation system is to grant the experienced users additional privileges, granting those privileges to knowleadgable users in the field, who don't have experience with the SE platform is pretty dangerous and not really necessary. What those users can do best is provide excellent answers, and you don't need any reputation for that. The technical knowledge doesn't mean they understand the SE system well enough to vote on closing or deleting questions, so I don't see any reason to give them those privileges from the start.

You're proposing to establish a secondary reputation system, the users should get visible reputation but none of the privileges associated with it. I think this vastly overcomplicates the system, but it also misses the point of the reputation system. Stack Overflow and StackExchange always put the priority not on the user, but on the post. Theoretically it shouldn't matter if the answering user has 1 rep or 100k rep, the content of the answer is what counts.

The reputation system can never be an accurate representation of actual knowledge, so I don't think we should try to make it something like that. It serves it purpose as a measure of familiarity with the SE system and as a barrier to the moderation functions, but we shouldn't try to extend it beyond that.

  • Yes yes, I know the applied purpose of reputation on the stacks is to enable them to participate more, but it IS a sign of community respect as well. Just hanging out on Stack Overflow doesn't give you that appreciation. Go visit the lesser/newer stacks and you'll see that a higher rep does mean someone who is known and knowledgeable in their field. – jcolebrand Sep 23 '11 at 22:16
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    @jcolebrand A user's positive activity results in both rep and respect. No matter how much I respect Fabian, my +1 on this answer gives him exactly 10 rep. Eric Lippert gives the most informative and knowledgeable posts I've seen on SO, and many people feel the same way -- that's why he has high rep. If he was posting crap like "I designed it that way so get lost" he wouldn't have any rep, regardless of doing the same work outside of SO that he is known for. I simply don't trust people on SO just because they've done something notable outside SO, and I'd think the majority of people agree. – Matthew Read Sep 23 '11 at 22:34
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    I like your point here @Matthew, and I agree with everything except the part that I think that showing them an extra bit of respect here is a nice thing. +1 to you again sir. – jcolebrand Sep 23 '11 at 22:37

TL;DR: This idea is terrible and I am against any version of giving any user extra status or privileges for any reason other than their participation in a site. Normal rep from normal upvotes etc. already rewards good content and participation, and that's enough.

You really haven't given much of a rationale for this. Why rep and not a little gold star next to their username, or something? I'm also totally against that, but it would make a lot more sense.

If you were to ask the SciFi or Literature crowd if they had someone with the reputation of John W Campbell Jr. or Lester del Rey*, or for that matter if Sheila Williams were to join their site today, that they would want to hear that person's opinion right away.

That's why you don't need rep to post an answer. I sure as hell wouldn't want any of these people to come and start editing or close voting without first having learned how Stack Exchange works. They don't need, nor should they get, extra rep.

This also wouldn't draw these people to SE. "I get 3000 imaginary points if I join your site? No. Way." And giving it to them after they've joined on their own is bad/pointless, as I've already said. You could make a Meta post announcing they've joined, but this is bad too. They should be recognized for their contributions to the site (that's what rep is too), not for who they are.

  • I don't want them to have close or edit votes, hence the table in the middle showing "actual" vs "honorary", and I also don't want them to start on day one with that rep bonus, they would ostensibly already have created an account and filled out their profile to get that far. I probably should edit somewhat to include "that the purpose of this is to show the respect that we already have for them" – jcolebrand Sep 23 '11 at 22:06
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    @jcolebrand So it's like a little gold star except way more confusing. Making this a rep thing doesn't make sense. You're also assuming mods can accurately and fairly determine who the community as a whole respects, and that there will be a consensus to begin with. If you need to convey appreciation to some person you respect, maybe write them a nice email or something? – Matthew Read Sep 23 '11 at 22:09
  • Making it a little gold star is also confusing. Making their name bold is also confusing. Asking them to come and get lost in the shuffle is also confusing. Facebooks constant UI changes are also confusing. The addition of the red blog link to the top of the nav bar on the stacks is confusing. The concept of flagging on here is confusing. As to your edits: It's not about enticing them in, per-se, it's about showing respect and lifting them above "the general masses" at least a little bit. – jcolebrand Sep 23 '11 at 22:14
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    Sorry, -1... I think a gold star bothers me almost as much as "honorary rep", because it's the concept of what do these people do to deserve special treatment and who gets to decide that that bothers me. I like how we all start off equal on StackExchange. – The Unhandled Exception Sep 23 '11 at 22:15
  • @TheOyNotFoundException I am categorically not proposing that we do anything to encourage this terrible idea. Just pointing out that some other marker would make much more sense than 3k rep. I've edited to clarify that, you can un-downvote :P – Matthew Read Sep 23 '11 at 22:24
  • @MatthewRead: Okay, done :-) – The Unhandled Exception Sep 23 '11 at 22:26
  • For the record, it's not the 3k I'm proposing, it's the concept. It could be 101 rep, 100k rep, 63 rep. The 3k is not the proposal, it was a handy number. – jcolebrand Sep 23 '11 at 22:34

I commented that I didn't agree, and I wasn't completely sure why. After giving it a little thought it occurs to me why I have a gut reaction to be very opposed to this idea:

Who qualifies for this honary reputation and why?

I understand you say that the mods should be able to assign this. But what does one need to do to qualify? How "famous" is famous enough? What achievements qualify a person? It seems very vague and possibly very detrimental ... what if a particularly valued member of the community is not given the "Honorary reputation" they feel they deserve? This could cause them to have a bad taste about the site and leave.

It seems to me this can do nothing but cause fights, divide people, spread bias and generally detract from the quality of the sites.

If they're well known in their fields, let them use their real names on the site and see what the community thinks. Let the community judge their merits themselves.

I like how we all start off equal on StackExchange. I really don't want to give anyone special treatment.

  • I left it vague because I can't see all options. I don't know everything that may transpire, but I do agree that it's nebulous. But that's just it, I only know science fiction (to an extent) and computer programming. I don't have a clue about cooking or finances or boating or mapmaking or any of that. So I can't say that I know exactly how to award this. But I do know that the mods of a site are usually very well connected to a site, and they would know who the community experts are. So that's why I say that the mods would do the legwork and verify it, and if the mods say it's so, that's that – jcolebrand Sep 23 '11 at 22:11
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    I think the problem is, unless you can make it absolutely definite (like upvotes are right now) then it's going to be plagued with problems... – The Unhandled Exception Sep 23 '11 at 22:12
  • Aye, exactly my thought. – squillman Sep 23 '11 at 22:12
  • Yeah that "feature" occurred while I was on hiatus and I am not too thrilled with it!!! – The Unhandled Exception Sep 23 '11 at 22:19

Personally, I think that any of these high-profile people would more interested in just providing great answers to the community and not necessarily with all of the site mechanics that gaining more rep gives anyone.

With that in mind, I find it hard to envision honorary rep as much of a benefit. The well known people are going to be recognized, and certainly the quality of answers and other content will tend to be above par.

How long did it take Jon Skeet or Marc Gravell to get to 3000? Heck, it took me less than 2 months on SF where I started in the private beta and also where there isn't anywhere near the velocity of SO. I don't think that honorary rep is something we need to be offering.

  • One would think so, but that has not yet been my perception. Additionally, I see it as a mark of respect. – jcolebrand Sep 23 '11 at 22:04
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    I see more respect by the continued attention / mentions they get within site content, in the blogs, at DevDays, etc. – squillman Sep 23 '11 at 22:08
  • I'm confused (+1 tho) as to how mentions of them in other site content earns them respect. – jcolebrand Sep 23 '11 at 22:12
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    I didn't say it earned them rep, I said it earns them more respect than some arbitrary score on a Q&A site. Higher rep can also mean that you have just been around for a while, like me. The fact that people repeatedly point them out in their posts is nearly always a sign of respect. That, to me, goes way farther than my total rep. – squillman Sep 23 '11 at 22:14

If you have a full profile and shared accounts, that's +100 honorary reputation. That's enough.

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