17

I wonder why some of the top answerers (> 1000 answers) on Stack Overflow have so few questions (< 100 questions). Has anyone ever caught them using multiple accounts?

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    More importantly, why do the top askers never answer questions? – belgariontheking Aug 10 '09 at 20:03
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    Oh, dear. I seem to have bludgeoned myself to death by banging my head against my desk. – Hilarious Comedy Pesto Aug 10 '09 at 20:03
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    stackoverflow.com/users/51816/joan-venge and stackoverflow.com/users/22656/jon-skeet must be the same person!!! – jjnguy Aug 10 '09 at 20:08
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    People who answer do not know every topic out there. They might be very knowledgable, but they have questions to on topics they might not know enough about. Do you know everything? – Troggy Aug 10 '09 at 20:09
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    I've never seen a question more worthy of the vampire tag. – Welbog Aug 10 '09 at 20:09
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    @Troggy: Yes. That is why I've never asked a question on SO. – Hilarious Comedy Pesto Aug 10 '09 at 20:11
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    @Pesto: No way! You must have a secret account! – GEOCHET Aug 10 '09 at 20:12
  • It is more fun to answer and see if the community loves or hates you. – Troggy Aug 10 '09 at 20:15
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    @Troggy: We hate you... – jjnguy Aug 10 '09 at 20:21
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    Seems to me like you always win. – devinb Aug 10 '09 at 21:38
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    I thought that said "stubborn steak" – TheTXI Aug 10 '09 at 21:41
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    Why didn't you make those points in your original question? – jjnguy Aug 11 '09 at 3:57
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    @Jader: To answer your second point in your last comment, I've done exactly that. I've asked a lot of questions outside my comfort zone and I don't think it's affected my credibility. We all know that everyone here is constantly developing their skills (well, most of us are), so no one is really going to look down on you for asking even the newbiest questions in a new area you're exploring. – Bill the Lizard Aug 11 '09 at 12:45
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    I have currently 258 answers and 3 questions on SO. I like answering, I do it for entertainment. I only ask a question when really necessary. I don't think a ratio of 100:1 is bizarre. I don't have any other accounts on SE. – AndrewC May 30 '13 at 18:21
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    I don't think so. They just google thoroughly and don't ask help on main site for even an obvious Null Pointer (Just an example.) – MysticMagicϡ Dec 30 '13 at 9:59

11 Answers 11

81

This is my secret account. Have I been doing it wrong?

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    +1 - this made me laugh. – duffymo Aug 11 '09 at 0:00
65

Yes. Indeed, this is the dirty little secret of SO...

As you're well aware, the question/answer ratio for human beings is fixed at 283/7. It is physically impossible for anyone to answer more than seven questions without having first asked at least 283. Therefore, any user with a smaller ratio is undoubtedly maintaining one, if not several, shadow accounts used only to ask questions and thereby maintain their obscenely unnatural Q/A ratios.

The exception to this is Jon Skeet, who is not human.

52

Generally speaking I would say because they know more and need help on less. Additionally, I would anticipate that the people who can answer many questions, can do so because they've become adept at learning quickly, and therefore do not need to ask questions as frequently to learn more. And finally, it may simply be a matter of choice, that they're choosing to be involved in the site via answering rather than asking. I expect you would find a similar trend in the reverse, that people who have asked a lot of questions, have answered relatively few. Regardless, I definitely do not believe this suggests they're using a separate account to ask questions from.

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    @Welbog, so you're implying that people asking (more than just a few) questions on SO are idiots? Hmm. – Jonik Aug 10 '09 at 20:55
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    @Jonik, not necessarily. But, you are assuming that he is implying that...you know what assuming does? – jjnguy Aug 10 '09 at 20:59
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    @Jonik, His was not an exclusive statement. It simply states that FOR ALL users (u) IF (u does not ask many questions) AND (u answers many questions) THEN it is NOT the case that (u is an idiot) – devinb Aug 10 '09 at 22:54
  • @jjnguy Are you assuming he knows? – Fund Monica's Lawsuit Dec 26 '16 at 16:19
  • You guys must have some inner issues!(the commenters) – yukashima huksay Jan 1 '18 at 21:52
40

If they'd been caught, they'd no longer be secret accounts...

But seriously, when I need to ask questions, I do so. I just don't need to very often.

27

I can guarantee you that even with my ♦ powers, I have never caught myself using a ghost account.

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    I guess you're even more clever than you knew. – Hilarious Comedy Pesto Aug 10 '09 at 20:48
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    Have you perhaps paid off one of the moderators to turn a blind eye? Perhaps convinced your wife to seduce "Marc Gravell" in order to gain this additional power? – devinb Aug 10 '09 at 20:49
25

Yes. Yes they do.

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    Jeff Atwood's known aliases: Eggs McLaren, Sneakers O'Toole – Kyle Cronin Aug 10 '09 at 21:33
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    @Kyle: There are a few more too! "The programmer of the night", "the world's nerdiest vampire" come to mind. – GEOCHET Aug 10 '09 at 21:46
  • welbog.homeip.net/glue – GEOCHET Aug 10 '09 at 21:47
  • @Rich B: You forgot "computerscience-est Nosferatu". – Welbog Aug 11 '09 at 10:31
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    Alright, the gig is up. Jon Skeet is my alternate account. Please merge my Jon skeet account into my Adam Davis account on SO. I'm tired of living the lie. – Adam Davis 'ze-zir-zem' Nov 5 '09 at 16:15
14

Most of the people who try to use multiple accounts on this system are too stupid to be good at it and get a decent sized rep.

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    Good to see you breaking the mold, TXI. – Welbog Aug 10 '09 at 20:34
13

I don't use any secret accounts for asking questions. One primary reason is that it's better for me rep wise to ask questions than to use a secret account. Secret accounts don't have any rep benefit :).

I ask few questions because I primarily use StackOverflow.com as a distraction tool. Whenever I'm waiting for a build, running suites, or I just need to let my mind wander I head over to stackoverflow.com.

I do actually ask lots of questions (how else do you learn?). But due to Visual Studios current place in the release cycle most of my day to day issues are dealing with my day job working on Visual Studio. Typically about strange component interactions, old and new API issues, performance etc ... These are answered quickest by emailing various teams or digging through source control and bug logs.

9

I'm mostly on another site than SO (I have about 5K on SO, about 180K on another site) but I think my answers will be relevant to what goes on there.

I wonder why some of the top answerers (> 1000 answers)

So this is me, I have nearly 4000 answers on the SE site I use most (more than 4K if you count the meta of that site).

have so few questions (< 100 questions).

Again, this is me, I have considerably fewer than that (17 I think -- and some of those aren't my questions so much as other people's questions that I posted in order to answer them, so I could point still other people to the answer)

Actual genuine questions asked by me because I wanted the answer are quite few -- and many of those remain unanswered.

Here's why I ask few questions: I can mostly answer my questions myself. I'm a researcher in my area of expertise, so I know how to find things out. If I don't know the answer already, usually I can figure out an answer from scratch; sometimes I have to go looking, and sometimes a little of both -- but nearly all of the time I can answer the question to a sufficiently satisfactory level.

I do sometimes have a question I can't immediately answer and sometimes prepare to post a question, but in doing the search and research (as required in [help/how-to-ask]) suitable for a good question, I figure out the answer anyway. I've aborted at least ten half-asked questions because I found or figured out an answer to it while preparing to ask. The discipline involved in preparing a question in order to be clear and specific and to present what I've tried already often makes the question much easier to answer, and since I'm pretty good at answering questions, it shouldn't be very surprising that it often suffices to just prepare to ask it.

I expect something similar will be true of many other high-rep answerers -- they'll mostly be experts in their area and will either have few questions they can't answer with a little effort, or will find that their questions are so esoteric/difficult that they don't expect they could get an answer. (As a researcher the questions I can't answer are often questions nobody has answered before; that's kind of what research is about.)

I wish I could come up with some more good questions. I do post them when I can.

Even though my posts on SO are considerably lower in amount than the site I mostly spend time on, the pattern there is similar (133 answers, 3 questions, almost all in the r tag), and for the same reason -- when I need to I can mostly answer my own questions.

I also answer questions in forums outside the SE network and my record there is similar -- or even more skewed. I think I'd have generated over a thousand answers for every question I've asked on other forums.

Has anyone ever caught them using multiple accounts?

Having a second account is not specifically against the rules, but doing certain things with multiple accounts is (like voting for another of your accounts). It's highly inadvisable to have a second account because it's easy to inadvertently break a serious rule that way (I have many times been reading an old answer and thought - hey this is a pretty good answer - and clicked upvote to discover it was an old answer of mine that I didn't recognize (if you do it from the same account it tells you that you can't). If I instead did that from a second account it would tell me nothing but I just broke a rule and breaking that one can have very serious consequences.

In spite of the fact that I would much rather NOT have a second account, I do have one, with about 50 reputation (garnered from answers made from there). It has exactly one function, which is to let me check for sure what a low reputation user is seeing when they're having some kind of trouble with the site.

I have explicitly posted a question to meta asking that mods be able to lower their reputation temporarily so they don't need to risk screwing up with a second account but the response was underwhelming. Apparently we have to take the risk of using a second account if we want to see what a low rep user sees.

[I use other systems that let people set their privilege to lower privilege-roles (aside from retaining the ability to then raise it again) in order to see how the system looks like for them; it's very useful.]

8

This is my subjective observation from answering Python questions for less than two years:

About 90 percent of the questions coming in today are simply lack of efford or lack of knowledge resulting from trying things like

Hey I gonna do webscraping (by copying this code I found elsewhere and replacing the url)

without needed base knowledge about

How to create a csv for the data I scaped by copying a tutorial code?

Even if you look for duplicates and don't "farm" reputation by answering all posed questions, you are accumulating reputation and answers fast.

I am less than two years on Stack Overflow and got ~1.5k answers with 9 questions.

I don't need a second account for asking questions:

If I have a professional question, most of the time researching it gives me what I need without me needing to post questions the umpteenth time because I was too lazy/inexperienced to get to my goal.

If we somehow could ensure that people read the documentation of the feature they are using (but not understanding) we would cut down questions by 2/3.

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    If only we could replace the "Ask a Question" wizard/button with a resource that has a 100% success rate of teaching people how to solve their own damn problems – user400654 Jan 25 at 21:03
  • @KevinB So... you want to make it so the site doesn't even need to exist? – Catija Jan 25 at 21:37
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    That would be great! – user400654 Jan 25 at 21:38
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    @Catija No the site is a great resource - but I would rather have ppl use theire brains before they blindly put questions on SO. It is already a great ressource for most of what one could ask and there are still good questions coming in .... but seriously - how often do you need to answer "how to format a float in a string" ? You know the "give a man a fish - you'll feed him a day ... show him how to catch fish and he can feed himself a livetime"? 100% is too high though, but cutting 3/4 of the questions that nowadays are just dupes if you look deep enough would be welcoming to me ... – Patrick Artner Jan 25 at 21:40
  • And SO does not teach how to fish - if provides fish - sometimes vegetables and sometimes you'll get an old used boot of questionable worth for your question. This is a StackOverflow - heavy "world view" though - non technical StackExchange sites might not get that much "repetetive" questions coming int – Patrick Artner Jan 25 at 21:44
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    The problem i have with SO, and the reason i stopped actively answering, is I've gotten to a point where i can pretty much answer any question i come across by making a few google searches. It frustrates me to see someone asking questions that are so easily solved that i can solve them for languages I've never used before in a just a few minutes. I understand not everyone is capable of that due to lack of terminology and/or language barriers, but that doesn't make it any less frustrating. – user400654 Jan 25 at 21:53
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    @PatrickArtner I'm 100% with you on that. :) There are a lot of complications that we can address to fix that. For example, a lot of the time, when you have millions of questions, finding the right one is difficult. We can definitely work on improving that. – Catija Jan 25 at 21:53
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    @KevinB Your skills aren't the same as everyone else's. It's awesome that you know how to find the right answer but you can't assume that everyone knows what you know. They may be lacking some of the terminology to know what to search, for example... I've been surprised at how difficult finding the right answer can be if you're clueless. There's also the problem that many people know "SO is where I can get the answers, I'll just ask there"... and they try to search on site rather than using a search engine... and our onsite search isn't as good as Google's is. – Catija Jan 25 at 21:57
  • Right, it's totally understandable. It's a me problem. Actively answering on SO is a rather quick way of getting to that point, and without questions to answer... – user400654 Jan 25 at 22:00
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    @KevinB It's both, really. SO is difficult because of the extreme volume of questions and the dearth of really interesting ones. Before M&TV banned ID questions, using the site became a drain... something like 70% of their questions were ID questions and 70% or more of those had almost no content that made identifying the movie possible at all. Using the site became a drag. The number of questions that I had any interest in answering was... near zero... They had an... "easy"? solution... just ban the questions entirely... but I don't think there's an easy solution for SO. – Catija Jan 25 at 22:13
5

There is no evidence of this.

A user has nothing to gain from asking questions on separate accounts from the answering ones.

Any serious gaming of the system will be automatically detected and shutdown.

Also, if a user chooses to ask questions on one account and answer them on another, there is no reason why this should be disallowed. (unless they are gaming the system)

And, think about this: If they have all of the answers to everyone else's questions, why do they need to ask their own?

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