As of 12:30 EST on November 15th, there were 30,658 registered users of Stack Overflow, of whom 1,458 had at least a 750 reputation and could therefore edit Community Wiki posts.

I suggest that if only 4.75% of the community can edit a wiki, it is neither "Community" nor "Wiki". The average technical question or answer seems to get one or two upvotes, and so a user who wants to become "trusted by the system" would have to post around 40 questions and/or answers before becoming "trusted". This can take longer if the user's expertise is in a niche, since people can't vote for questions and answers they don't read in the first place. The bar should be lowered to 250 points.

This would be a silly argument on slashdot, where karma only means your posts get a bonus point. But on SO you need reputation to take full advantage of the site. The intention of SO is to serve as a reliable repository of programming and programming-related knowledge, but the reputation system incents people to post frequently and quickly so they can "earn the system's trust". It also encourages people to add to the cacophony rather than to the community, because you only get points by having non-CW questions and answers. A quiet comment may add just as much value, but a whole new answer might result in 10 points and being able to take advantage of more of SO's features.

Meanwhile, a person with niche expertise who monitors, maintains, or adds valuable information to older questions contributes just as much to the site, but gets rewarded less for it. That's not very wiki.

Another point I'd like to make is that there is an aversion to discussing SO on SO, especially if it's for reputation points. Why? First of all, the user interface of this website is the balls. There are a few things that could be added or tweaked, but overall it's one of the best interfaces I've ever used. Second, this is where the SO community will see it. Uservoice is not nearly as popular and it has a lot of limitations (like needing to have votes to ask questions) that SO doesn't have. Third--and this is the important one--I think that participating in the community SHOULD earn reputation points. For all its warts, the people who have the most juice on Wikipedia are the ones who care most about Wikipedia; not the expert on banana slugs who keeps the Banana Slug article up-to-date.

I really like this site. I've been pleased to get quick answers to some programming questions. I've read some really solid advice about design and project management. And the other users are generally smart and nearly always friendly and helpful. I'm not whining about the site or complaining about it; I'm just trying to help it become what it was intended to be because I think it would be a net gain for us all.

And I'm not making this community wiki, either. I invested a lot of time in writing it, I believe in what I said, and if the SO community agrees with me then there's no better way for the system to indicate that it "trusts" me then to increase me authority on the site. (And if they disagree I'll lose points and authority; so the reward is balanced by the risks.)

[Note it's tagged appropriately so if you don't like these types of "questions", just filter out the tags.]

EDIT: This "question" has received 13 net votes in the last 12 hours. My other questions (well, 4 out of 5 of them) are specific questions about programming issues and they haven't received more than 5 votes in the last month. This illustrates why there are so many soft questions (or "questions with broad appeal"), as well as points out that there are a lot more people on SO with an opinion about SO than there are people with an opinion about--say--XSLT.

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    It is not hard to get a 750 reputation. Yes it takes a little effort but I would suggest that a niche expert could also answer some general questions too. That said, there's no doubt that the soft "What's the best cartoon" questions should not go towards rep Commented Jun 24, 2009 at 8:27

12 Answers 12


Nice rant.

I agree completely with your first point - the bar is far too high for wiki editing. There is an almost schizophrenic attitude towards wiki editing on this site, paying lip service toward the benefits but features actually implemented heavily in favor of strong "ownership" for posts. The "community wiki" option is a baby step in the right direction, but the fact is that the vast majority of posts on this site require users to attain >= 2K rep points in order to participate in editing. At one point, I was hopeful that the bar would be lowered - "community wiki" mode could be triggered by a relatively small number of edits - but instead CW-mode appears to have been *de-*emphasized.

The aversion to discussing SO on SO is simple: a discussion such as this is utterly useless to the vast majority of potential SO users. Even the most obscure programming topic might well have a fair number of people searching for it over a long enough period of time, but SO discussions are relevant only to hard-core SO users. The general consensus then has been to discuss only topics that might be relevant to a large number of SO users (FAQs), and to put them in CW mode so that the largest possible number of authors and editors can contribute. Site suggestions may be discussed here, but should always be cross-posted to UV since the discussion here will be deleted once it has outlived its usefulness (and rightly so).

As for this:

And I'm not making this community wiki, either. I invested a lot of time in writing it, I believe in what I said, and if the SO community agrees with me then there's no better way for the system to indicate that it "trusts" me then to increase me authority on the site.

You want authority on the site for posting a rant? Bah. I think your rant is worth reading, but I won't up-vote it now because it is not generally useful. The time you invested in writing this could have been spent answering questions that would continue to benefit others for months or years to come, but instead you blew it on a laundry list of gripes and complaints that will be quickly forgotten and probably deleted. Tell me again, why do you think voicing complaints shared by many others who have opted to direct them in more productive directions (UV, emails to site admins) should net you community cred?

I'm putting my reply in CW mode, not because i think anyone will want to edit it, but because I recognize that regardless of who agrees or disagrees, it benefits only my own ego, and therefore the approval of others should not be reflected in my site ranking. If you disagree, vote it down - unlike a corresponding down-vote for your "question", it won't affect anyone's reputation.

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    "You want authority for posting a rant?" It worked for him, and it seems to work really well for other people, too...
    – womble
    Commented Nov 15, 2009 at 17:02

Ok, I initially posted this as a comment to the question, but in the spirit of the question I'm going to post it as an answer and not set it to community wiki.

I agree with you about needing votes on uservoice to ask questions being a nuisance. I've currently got a list of 5 suggestions that I don't have the votes to submit.



Thank you for your thoughtful critique. Here is my reply:

Everybody has the authority to rant. You don't even need to register to ask a question. And I have the authority to edit CW posts, so I'm not in need of any more rep points. (I waited until I hit 750 to post this to make sure of that.) I chose to not make it CW to emphasize that the site should trust you because you have chosen to support and nurture the site--not because you're an [insert your favorite technology here] guru.

Basically, there is a difference between "community" reputation and "content" reputation. The authority to edit the wiki should indicate that you will handle the responsibility responsibly. A good steward will only edit the wiki if he or she has something to contribute. But I know plenty of very technically-savvy individuals who--if given edit powers--would act like abusive jerks and would shut down any dissenting points of view. The effect on StackOverflow is that people get trusted based on contributing popular content, rather than on being trustworthy.

Lowering the bar will, I think, allow more of the quiet stewards in while still keeping out the spammers and l337 hax0rs.

Which brings me to your other point about discussing SO on SO. If you believe (as I do) that SO has an excellent user interface, and that discussions about the community should take place within that community, and that people who participate in those discussions should earn the system's trust, then SO is the place to do it. Your concern about the "vast majority of potential SO users" is misplaced because a) if they're looking for specific information they won't even see this question and b) if they really like the site and would like to participate in the community it's discussions like this one that will bring them up to speed on the culture.

I appreciate your point about clutter. Perhaps people should earn 100 points before they can see or use the "stackoverflow" tag. But I believe that these discussions are what build communities and trust.

I'm also posting this answer as CW to demonstrate that I'm not just rep-whoring.


750 rep required for Wiki.

You have a maximum of 200 reps/day. In 4 days you can edit Wiki post... (4x200=800reps). This is mathematic fact.

In practice, 200 reps is only 20 vote up... it takes about 3-4 good answers (good quality answer get over 6 votes see Jon Skeet answers) to get 200 reps.

So, if you write about 3-4 good answer for 4 days you get the 750 reps required. That isn't that much high if you are interested to edit wiki post. My point of view.

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    If you answer a very specific question, you can do it as well as you can, but only a few users can vote you up because the majority don't understand your answer. The problem here is that as more difficult and specific is an answer or question less people can voted it up. If you dont believe me just check how many votes has a programmer joke or quote, and compare it with the best answer about asymetrical encryption you can find (or any other complex topic) Commented Jul 5, 2009 at 20:06
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    It is even worse with specific questions where the 'large majority' is wrong. I've seen quite a few correct answers with negative votes (and also written some, yes)
    – Stephan Eggermont
    Commented Jul 24, 2009 at 14:20
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    You might be able to get 6 votes for a good answer if you happen to be first to post, or other answers are egregiously wrong, but post an answer which pulls together several, older, partial answers, or post a new answer more than a few days after the older, less good answers have already been voted up, and you will languish at zero upvotes forever. Alas we will always suffer the tragedy of the commons, but that should not stop us trying to make SO answers better anyway, we just have to accept we will never be rewarded for it.
    – Mark Booth
    Commented Apr 20, 2010 at 17:54

When I first joined this site, I saw the list of rep points required for most actions. I thought it would be completely unreachable for somebody like me. So I decided to just lurk and answer an easy question if it came along.

The first time it calmly went like this, and it took forever to reach the 100 rep mark. But that won't discourage me. And when I finally reached the 100 mark, I felt I knew what kind of answers where valuable and which are not. So I kept answering, editing and deleting a lot, until I am where I am today.

I have enough rep points to do anything at the site possisble for non mods. But still the main focus to provide usefull questions. But now I can help a bit more to keep the quality as high as possible. And that's in my opinion the heart of SO. Providing quality without central authority.

And I agree that there is a need to provide a space for more discussion. But I'm also convinced that that space will be created. Because we are a creative kind of people. And we are all trained to find solutions.

I onced did a suggestion to start such a site. But made the mistake to call it a social site, so my question was closed early. But then again, if a couple of people of SO are joining hands we have a discussion site up and running n no time.

These where my two cents for now ;-).


It doesn't seem like the Wiki aspects of the site are really taking off. I know Joel and Jeff have suggested that people edit posts, consolidate responses, and try to turn questions into more concise documents.

But I haven't seen this happening much, and it may just be at odds with the Q-and-A format. A discussion thread isn't an article, and there's no reason or incentive for people to turn it into one. They're two entirely different formats, with different styles of writing, and different goals.

So unless there are significant changes, I don't see the "wiki" features being used for more than just correcting typos and tags.


There'll never be a perfect system, but I like the vision behind SO. You have to give people incentives, and the reputation (with its downsides) does that pretty well. SO might consider adding up votes to user profiles, but that might be adding too much complexity to such a simple and elegant system.

All I know is I like getting great answers (which I have) and I like the feeling of giving a good answer (which I'm working on - only got a few so far).


I'd like to begin by saying that this post was a TL;DR for me, so I'm probably missing the point of the original post. But that's not going to stop me from posting my opinion anyway. :-)

I don't necessarily know if Community Wiki needs to go away. But I do feel that it's a bit of a disincentive for me to vote on a post that has good content. After all, why should I waste one of my 30 votes a day voting on something that isn't going to reward the person who wrote such a great post? That's not to say that I don't think such posts shouldn't be voted up anyway, it's just a matter of priorities.

Here are several thoughts:

  1. There should be some way of getting rep off of community wiki posts, even if it's not as much as what you would get off of a regular post or it isn't as easy to get. Like suppose instead of voting up the post itself, you can upvote individual edits to that post. That way people will have incentive for improving the quality of community wiki posts.
  2. Votes on community wiki topics shouldn't count towards your 30/day limit. After all, the point of introducing the vote limits was to prevent automated voting. Since you can't get rep off of these posts anyway, there's not any possibility for this abuse.

For those of you who had the "But do we really want people getting rep from topics like 'What's your favorite programmer cartoon?" reaction to number 1: I think we're using the community wiki designation when we really should be using something like "off topic" instead. Maybe it's time to investigate this as an alternative to the Community Wiki designation. I'm not fond of people being able to rake in rep by posting off-topic stuff either (as much as I like the programmer cartoon thread).

So those are my thoughts. I think I may post one of the two ideas above on uservoice. If you have any thoughts, feel free to post them in the comments.


Uservoice introduces itself with the following phrase, presumably a statement of purpose:

If you've participated in the Stack Overflow beta, perhaps you've found a bug, or you've got an idea for new or enhanced Stack Overflow functionality. This is the place to tell us!

It sounds like it's a retired site now, right?


Also of note, I probably would have invested more time in converting the community faq to modularised questions if it wasn't convention to have sofaq questions as Community Wiki. There'd probably be a lot more work on the faq if people could gain reputation for it.


It would be cool if the 'accepted' answer is cloned to the top rather than pinned to the top, and the accepted answer is automatically community wiki and editable by more people, and the person who wrote it is not credited, and there is strong reputation incentive for editors to organize and update the answer. The whole tie between answers and people is counterproductive to the community paradigm.

high rep incentives for good editing, equally high rep penalties for bias editing.

disclaimer: I haven't fleshed this thought out too well / IANJA.


Just a few points/observations:

  • There are less than 7000 users with a rep of 100+, the majority of the 30k+ users you mentioned are those that just came here to ask a question or two and don't actively participate. So about 20% of even semi-regular users can currently edit CW posts. The rest can accumulate enough rep to do so in under a week with moderate participation.
  • I agree about discussing SO on SO, the audience is much wider than on uservoice and you can get a feel for the support of your idea quickly. If there is enough support you can post the request on uservoice with a link the the original post on SO and then indicate you have done so in the question so that people that support your idea can vote for it at uservoice.
  • Regarding reputation gains on questions that some people think should be CW, I personally don't care. I think that some people may be more likely to post a response if there is the opportunity for them to receive rep from it so doing so may help attract more answers. There are plenty of ways questions can become CW, those that people feel should become CW usually do anyway, I don't see anything wrong with getting rep from the question until it does.

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