I have finally fallen off of the first page of Stack Overflow users, and I am faced with a dilemma:

Should I work really hard to get back on the first page of users on Stack Overflow, or try to get a life?

Please give reasons for your answers.


I find that lately, I seem to spend more time flagging questions to be closed than answering them. I don't know if the quality of questions has really dropped that dramatically or if my standards are higher (or tolerance is lower, depending on your point of view).

The desire to help is a primary motivator, and SO is a good mental break from the headache-inducing things that often occur during the day ("procrastination" is the technical term).

It's getting more and more difficult to find questions that I can answer without reading through all of the questions - and I tried that for a while, but my RSS feed was giving me 1000+ new questions per day and reading them all is just not going to happen ;-)

Plus, I don't know what website to go to get a life...

  • 10
    Page two is much more relaxing than page one. – user1228 Jul 31 '09 at 12:39
  • @Steven you'll get your second wind soon. chillax for now ;) – user132619 Jul 31 '09 at 18:20
  • Looks like you made up your decision. You're back on the first page! – Ladybug Killer Aug 2 '09 at 18:42
  • 2
    @[John Smithers]: someone threw me a softball while Jon Skeet was asleep, i couldn't help myself – Steven A. Lowe Aug 2 '09 at 19:50
  • but it couldn't last - back on Page 2. I think I hear birds singing! – Steven A. Lowe Aug 5 '09 at 16:30
  • Please don't try, I fear the >10k rep guys ^_^ – akarnokd Aug 5 '09 at 16:44
  • 5
    Get a life. (Now if I can just convince the other 53 people in front of me...) – mmyers Aug 5 '09 at 17:17
  • i put a bounty on this question just for fun – Steven A. Lowe Aug 5 '09 at 20:42
  • @Steven: You mean just to give Jon some extra points he doesn't need. ;) – gnostradamus Aug 5 '09 at 20:44
  • Steven, you should do that on SO, not here ;) – Ladybug Killer Aug 6 '09 at 6:22
  • As long as your rep is lower than mine... ;-D – Pollyanna Nov 10 '09 at 4:53
  • 1
    Here, this is a good place to get a life: www.worldofwarcraft.com or maybe not. – cregox Feb 18 '10 at 0:25

10 Answers 10


Do you enjoy answering questions on SO? If so, I see no reason to avoid doing it for fun. If it becomes a chore, stop and do something else instead. Of course, if it starts getting in the way of other things which are clearly important (job, marriage etc) then that would be a very good reason to stop...

The whole "get a life" business seems to be predicated on what other people think you should enjoy doing, which doesn't seem like a very good basis on which to make decisions.

On the other hand, I wouldn't particularly concentrate on getting back on the front page. Concentrate on giving great answers. That generally has an effect of generating a lot of rep, but not always. Don't sweat the rep too much - or at least, don't let it get in the way of having fun and helping people.

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  • 46
    Yeah, like you're the right person to answer this question ;) – balpha Jul 31 '09 at 6:45
  • i am soooo tempted to accept this answer...nearly compelled...but i'll resist for a while! @balpha love the comment! – Steven A. Lowe Jul 31 '09 at 6:51
  • of course i enjoy answering the table-scraps of questions left over when you're asleep... ;-) But it's not a matter of avoiding answering questions, its a question of working really really hard to find questions to answer. In the early days, it was easy. Now, not so much. Or going fishing. – Steven A. Lowe Jul 31 '09 at 8:02
  • Right. I suggest you answer questions when you see them, but don't miss out on doing other things which are more enjoyable just for the sake of desperately trying to find a question to answer. – Jon Skeet Jul 31 '09 at 8:29
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    This answer was accepted before Jon hit submit. – Troggy Jul 31 '09 at 14:46
  • I had to accept this answer. compelled. no choice. – Steven A. Lowe Jul 9 '10 at 16:05
  • 1
    but is marriage really that important? – fi12 May 30 '16 at 23:46

The simple truth is that you shouldn't answer questions if you're not getting something out of it. That could be:

  • You're learning something. Answering questions is a good way of doing that. It helped me learn jQuery for example;
  • You want to improve your writing. Communicating an effective answer is a timely manner is a skill. Doing so in a short as post as possible that is long enough is a skill. And a useful skill at that;
  • You enjoy it; or
  • To help clarify your own thoughts. Writing anything someone else will read, vote on and comment on will get you feedback in one form or another. Putting thoughts into words can provide useful reinforcement to your view or expose you to better alternatives. This particularly applies to the more subjective questions.

Doing it just for the rep or ranking is not going to be self-sustaining or advisable.

Personally I decided to answer questions some months after joining the site (December I think it was) and got some motivation at different levels, like hitting 2k to edit and so forth. At that time 10k+ rep got you on the first page and that seemed attainable so I did use that as a goal in part.

It may seem pointlessly competitive but little goals like climbing user ranking (although that's getting real hard now) can be a useful little motivator. That being said, it's not the reason. Enjoying answering questions, learning things and improving communication skills are the real motivations (for me).

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  • 2
    +1, SO also got me on the jQuery bandwagon – Ian Elliott Aug 6 '09 at 0:00

Pick a niche tag that the reputation leaders aren't active in and start studying up on that. This is a great way to pick up some stray reputation points and learn something new at the same time.

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  • 4
    sounds like an interesting SQL query to me. – waffles Jul 31 '09 at 13:10
  • @Sam: I'd ask you to post it here once you've worked it out, but I think it might be self-defeating to publicize it. :) – Bill the Lizard Jul 31 '09 at 13:48
  • was thinking of taking up iPhone development, just to escape the Shadow of the Skeet (plus the iPhone is so...shiny!) – Steven A. Lowe Jul 31 '09 at 16:39
  • Well here you go: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/11386/… , learn cakephp – waffles Aug 3 '09 at 8:52
  • @[Sam Saffron]: my initial experience with PHP was...miserable. I think it's possibly even more of a mess than Perl. Pass. ;-) – Steven A. Lowe Aug 5 '09 at 20:43

Do either because you want to do it, not because you have a goal of keeping up with others rep.

Rep is a moving target, and those at the top are hitting the rep limit every day, so the only way to gain on them is by exceeding the rep limit. (And even then you have to accept that they will exceed the rep limit at times, so you have to exceed it by more than them).

I realised after about 10 seconds on SO that I would never be anywhere near the top. Accept that and just answer because you enjoy it and forget about the rep or your position on the first page.

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  • I felt the same when I joined SO. Turned out it wasn't too right. – xmm0 Aug 5 '09 at 22:26

Imagine Jeff wins the lottery, gets millionaire and is fed up with coding (it's unlikely, just imagine). Now he closes SO today.
In this situation would you have been happier, if you worked hard to increase your rep yesterday, or would you feel better, if you went fishing (real fishes, no rep)?

This real hypothetical scenario should help you, to answer this question yourself.

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  • 3
    If I went fishing in which MMORPG, though? They aren't all the same. – David Thornley Aug 6 '09 at 17:45
  • Fishing, not farming. – Ladybug Killer Aug 7 '09 at 6:39

You better get busy cranking out some answers man. If you fall to page three you have to go topless in your avatar.

Ask Skeet or one of the other Brits if you are unfamiliar with the significance of "page 3"

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  • you do /not/ want to see that! – Steven A. Lowe Aug 6 '09 at 15:36

Wait, you broke your addiction? How is that possible? Even Jon Skeet can't break the reputation addiction (he's now hooked on several sites).

I've been battling my reputation addiction for months now and I can't shake it. I'm only at peace when I've hit rep cap for the day. I've started staying up late at night fighting to hit rep cap so that I can occasionally get a good night of sleep.

People stopped scheduling meetings for me late in the afternoon knowing there's a good chance I will unabashedly spend the entire time answering stack overflow questions on my laptop. Late in the day if I'm not at rep cap, I start to shake a bit and snap at people.

After years of trying I was finally able to quit cigarettes. But there's no patch for StackOverflow. I can't win.

Get out while you still can!

Confession: I hit refresh on the main stackoverflow site 5 times looking for new questions while writing this answer.

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  • 6
    the moment i realized that it would be easier to exceed the speed of light than to catch up to jon skeet's rep score, my addiction was broken. – Steven A. Lowe Jul 31 '09 at 6:53
  • i say my addiction was broken, yet here i still am an hour later! – Steven A. Lowe Jul 31 '09 at 8:02
  • You reply to SO during meetings? that takes balls. I always guiltily background my browser if someone walks by my desk... – Ether Nov 10 '09 at 21:39
  • Oh. Dear. Lord. – Kirschstein Dec 7 '09 at 13:48

Neither. You should sit back and wait for SO to implement "show n results per page" and then we can all be on the first page. It's always easier to change the rules than play by them.

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like a salmon swimming upstream, i leapt once again to the first page, then fell back down and floundered on the rocks.

page 2 is my new home for a while...

I'd like to say I'm wilting in the shadow of the skeet, or i'm worn out from chasing photons... not because it's true but because I like the sound of it - and teasing Jon is always a bonus. ;-)

but the boring truth is that i just can't muster the time and energy to scan the endless stream of questions for things that i can answer any more - there's too many questions and so little time these days.

note that this does not mean that I will automatically get a life... just that less of it will be spent here.

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  • hilarious! downvoted answering my own question! – Steven A. Lowe Aug 5 '09 at 20:44
  • It was difficult for me to tell if you were starting an epic novel or letting us know of your decision. – Ian Elliott Aug 5 '09 at 20:49
  • You're not really answering the question of "should." :-) – Nosredna Aug 6 '09 at 0:24
  • @[Barack Obama]: there has been no decision. But making no decision is also a decision. Just like inaction is a form of action. – Steven A. Lowe Aug 6 '09 at 15:38
  • @[Nosredna]: true. i feel like i should try to get a life but i can't say why - hence this question – Steven A. Lowe Aug 6 '09 at 15:39
  • hey! you can accept your own answer on a bounty question - i thought you couldn't? – Steven A. Lowe Aug 9 '09 at 1:58
  • You can, but should you? – Nosredna Aug 10 '09 at 15:43
  • @Nosredna: probably not but jon skeet doesn't need the points and this isn't a very important question anyway ;-) – Steven A. Lowe Aug 11 '09 at 17:25

On the next rep recalc, a lot of us are going to lose a ton of rep because our top-scoring questions have been migrated to MSO. Maybe the bar will be lower when that happens.

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