The majority of questions are answered by say the top 200-500 users disproportionately more so as you get closer to Jon Skeet :). Now while the ratio of "askers" to "answerers" is expected to favour "askers" I have to wonder if this has perhaps gone too far. It's at least raising as an issue to talk about I think.

I started answering jQuery questions late 2008. At the time there were quite a few of them, lots of simple ones and not all that many people answering them. This was useful to me as I used it to help learn jQuery. Real-world problems from programmers beat made-up problems from books, particularly in a forum where others will vote you up or down if you're right or wrong.

I'm not sure if it would be possible for someone to do that now. jQuery questions get jumped on like a feeding frenzy. It's not the only tag like that either. Between Jon Skeet, Marc Gravell and others, it'd be damned near impossible to get an answer in on any C# question unless you instantly know the answer and are lucky enough to see it first.

Now while the efforts of those guys should (rightly) be applauded I have to wonder at the long term effects. To borrow an analogy, it's like a handful of predators have been so successful in this ecosystem that they've crowded out every other predator to the point of near-extinction.

This is one of those "where is the next generation coming from?" scenarios.

Anyway I'm not saying it is a problem. Nor am I making a suggestion how to fix it if it needs fixing but I am curious to hear some other opinions on it.

  • 6
    Cletus, maybe this ties into your other answer meta.stackexchange.com/questions/1466/… , which was "is the daily rep cap designed to reduce participation"? Commented Jul 2, 2009 at 2:59
  • 6
    If I ask a question I actually hope for an answer by Marc or Jon Skeet, it's almost a priviledge and certainly going to be reliable. 90% of developers don't really know what they're doing so having a few high quality individuals who share their time and knowledge is invaluable. The last thing I'd want is a system to discourage these two.
    – flesh
    Commented Jul 2, 2009 at 22:29
  • 2
    It's important to note that Jon himself is not a very old user of SO. He doesn't own a Beta badge (I haven't been on SO in its private beta days but there are enough evidence that it was easy to get high number of upvotes by posting and answering subjective and more fun oriented questions). Jon himself started at rep 1 and reached #1 spot. As soon as you stop contributing to SO, your rank is going to eventually decline. That's how rep should work. I really don't expect to see a new user who has contributed very little compared to Jon to take the #1 spot. He deserves that position.
    – mmx
    Commented Jul 3, 2009 at 0:11
  • Is it fair that Bill Gates has more money than thousands of people combined? Is it fair that everyone wants to marry Ines Sainz and not Rossie O'Donald? Is it fair that Angelina Joulie intimidates other female actresses? I do not like Jon Skeets humor, and a lot of his rep come from Jon Skeet trademark (more users follow him). However, life is competitive. I applaud his efforts for capitalizing on his fame and working on a second book. Why not? The world would not be better off if Jon stopped trying. Competition is a damn good thing! Please agree or join a programmer's Cobol'89 union.
    – Joe Polski
    Commented Oct 3, 2010 at 20:15
  • Higher level users likely get noticed of questions first too. Commented Mar 16, 2013 at 22:47
  • It's also worth knowing that, like a prophet who never fails, I predicted that this state of affairs would get worse. The only solution is to expropriate EXP. Commented Mar 16, 2013 at 22:48
  • @EvanCarroll - how is it that after all these years of being a prophet who is never wrong, you still can't get that it's "reputation", not "experience" - there's a subtle but important difference. Commented Mar 18, 2013 at 21:29
  • It's never been explained to me.. It's just been declared to be different every now and then. Commented Mar 20, 2013 at 15:50
  • Not true, I can still answer C# question before the come along. However much better to pick C# AND anther tag you know about, .e.g WinForms Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 17:57

32 Answers 32


Second problem...

Do I make it hard for other users to feel they're contributing?

I can see that my frequent answers could be somewhat intimidating to some people. (If only they knew me in real life, I suspect that would make all the difference. I'm about the least intimidating person in the world.) There are competing demands here:

  • I want the best answer possible to be available
  • I want the questioner to get a good, accurate answer quickly
  • I want other people to contribute too (and improve their own skills in doing so)

Obviously this smacks of arrogance - but I really don't contribute an answer if I don't think it would add anything to what's already posted.

Possible personal solutions that I (and others) could apply:

  • Stop posting entirely
  • Don't answer a question until it's 5 minutes old
  • Don't answer a question which already has a "reasonably good" answer (maybe just add comments suggesting improvements)
  • Don't answer "easy" questions

I'm open to all of these things. I love answering questions, but I'd hate for that to become a "net negative" for the community.

I hope the situation isn't actually so bad, and that really people like the idea of competing with me (and others like Marc).

One thing to note: it's pure coincidence and somewhat unfortunate that the two topics I know most about (C# and Java) are probably the biggest topics on Stack Overflow. I suspect if my languages of choice were Perl and Haskell, no-one would have heard of me.

  • 4
    Perhaps your 3rd solution is one we could all adopt. After all the goal of the site is to get the best answer to any programming problem. So why give people 3 or 4 equally good, but subtly different answers to choose from?
    – ChrisF Mod
    Commented Jul 1, 2009 at 15:08
  • 3
    The trouble is that I might often add quite a few paragraphs of detailed explanation - that could end up being painful in comments. Might well work in many cases though.
    – Jon Skeet
    Commented Jul 1, 2009 at 15:11
  • 7
    Right, ChrisF, the goal of the site is the best answer. Jon keep on going! Commented Jul 1, 2009 at 15:12
  • If you need quite a few paragraphs then perhaps it means that the answer wasn't that good after all, but I do see your point.
    – ChrisF Mod
    Commented Jul 1, 2009 at 15:12
  • 3
    Sometimes it's the difference between getting the original questioner past their current problem, and providing a Wikipedia-like "all you would want to know about this topic" answer. But there are plenty of cases between the two :)
    – Jon Skeet
    Commented Jul 1, 2009 at 15:16
  • 1
    Another possible solution is to answer the "hard" questions first, and then come back and answer the "easy" ones.
    – pgs
    Commented Jul 1, 2009 at 15:21
  • 4
    It took quite a while before I ever heard of you, mainly because I'm interested in Perl. Commented Jul 1, 2009 at 15:21
  • 1
    Nicely written. There's definitely a C#/Java warping effect, and micro-communities evolve around certain tags - certainly I've no idea who some of the front page guys are just because I don't read C++ questions.
    – bananakata
    Commented Jul 1, 2009 at 15:32
  • 14
    Jon - I don't think you should change/restrict your posting habits, that would be unfair and detrimental. What would be nice to change (but hard to implement) is how people vote. What I quite often see are answers that are as good as yours (sometimes better dare I suggest :) ) that don't get anywhere near the upvotes as yours. The cause of this I think, and don't take this the wrong way, is fanclub herd mentality.
    – Kev
    Commented Jul 1, 2009 at 15:40
  • 3
    I usually go with Don't answer a question which already has a "reasonably good" answer (maybe just add comments suggesting improvements) for c++ questions. If after a while they don't agree fixing stuff, i could still post some own answer and see what the crowd says. I also wonder whether it wouldn't look some kind of "offensive/arrogant" to put a comment on many answers saying "hey this should really be that way, and ..." (may look nitty). Maybe it's better just to open up an own answer saying what one thinks is right/better? Commented Jul 1, 2009 at 16:41
  • 1
    You know, I always wonder about "Super Posters". I'm on MrExcel a lot, and the "Jon Skeet" is a really smart guy named Aladin Akyurek. He now posts about 14-15 times a day, and like you they are pretty quality posts, not just forum spam. But it takes me about 10-15 minutes to make sure I understand the question, test and verify my answer is accurate and construct an example. If I posted at the same rate as you guys, I'd easily have 3 hours plus per day in it. And that's not counting the time it takes browsing questions. So my question is, how much time per day do you spend on this anyway?
    – Oorang
    Commented Jul 1, 2009 at 17:32
  • 3
    To be fair I'm generally in the Python/jQuery/HTML/PHP tags and don't often see answers by Jon - the ones I have seen have been of high quality. I'm not convinced that having good knowledgeable users is a bad thing.
    – Rich Bradshaw
    Commented Jul 1, 2009 at 18:42
  • 4
    Jon, don't change your pattern. Users like you, Mark and others make SO what it is. It's what really contributes to what's special that's happening here.
    – JP Alioto
    Commented Jul 1, 2009 at 19:14
  • 2
    Jon - you answering questions can never be a net negative, the amount of knowledge you have spilled from your brain is a gift to us all. Please don't stop... :)
    – flesh
    Commented Jul 2, 2009 at 22:31
  • 1
    @JonSkeet : I'd believe if you had interest in Perl and Haskell, then people never would have heard of C# and Java. #JonSkeetFacts..:)
    – Roy M J
    Commented Jan 8, 2014 at 9:58

You have to remember SO is not about being a game. It's not a "competition". I'm sorry some people see it that way. It's about getting help to real developers who are out there doing real work and are stuck on a problem. Changing the patterns of the "power users" (i.e. the users that answer quickly and correctly) would change the nature of the site and make it less of a resource for people. You would see a reduction in the importance of the site and as a result a reduction in questions being asked. The entire reason people ask questions is because of the quality and speed with which they get answers. Messing with that formula would be a big mistake.

If you're here for rep. or to treat it like a game, here's a game for you: Answer a C# question faster and better than Jon, Marc, Jared and etc. It's a game I play every day and it's damn fun. But, it's also about getting real answers to real people doing real work.

  • This is exactly what I was going to say...after all, what is the intent of SO...to help get proper answers to people's questions, or for people to get higher karma? Although, I feel your pain....when I go trying to answer some questions (to "give back" as much as to score points), I find it damn near impossible to find something not answered, that I am capable of answering. But then, that just shows how healthy the ecosystem is doesn't it! :)
    – tbone
    Commented Aug 21, 2009 at 16:15
  • 26
    lol, if it weren't a game it wouldn't have points! :-) Commented Jan 10, 2010 at 8:53
  • +1: Reputation is not a score that defines a winner and a loser. The rep you have is earned based on quality of participation and value of the answer. Rep should be what others use to gauge correctness, reliability, and standards of implementation.
    – IAbstract
    Commented Feb 8, 2010 at 18:38
  • +1 for making it a game "to improve yourself" by answering ~ a) correct, b) honest, and c) concise ~ answers faster than Jon Skeet or Marc or whoever else. I've found that answering questions on SO has made me a better developer, so that's nice.
    – jcolebrand
    Commented Jun 2, 2010 at 14:49
  • 1
    I concur with JP's thinking!.. I see SE as a way to ask questions, obtain answers, and answer other users questions, if I feel I know something that can contribute to helping solve the problem. I'm not a sophisticated or even average developer, so I may not be of much help, but I'm trying to do my best to learn more!
    – Joe R.
    Commented Jul 22, 2012 at 3:55

This is all very silly in my opinion. If someone is faster, smarter, more knowledgeable, and more eloquent than others they will, by definition, achieve a higher reputation on stackoverflow.com than those who are slower, less intelligent, less knowledgeable, and have trouble expressing themselves.

This is how life works. I think the ecosystem/predator analogy is a good one. I really would not like to see anyone deliberately handicap themselves. The only thing this would do would create a perception of equality between all members of the site that does not exist.

There is a reason that Jon and Marc are the leaders in the C# arena by a great margin:

They are faster, smarter, more knowledgeable, and more eloquent then everyone else who is answering C# questions.

Any attempt to level the playing field to make those of us with less reputation feel better will only result in a degradation of the credibility of our most prominent users. And it is the credibility of any user along with the correct substance of the answers that they provide that makes the site worthwhile at all.

  • +1 indeed. I don't say it's easy for new users to get to first page but it's certainly possible. The real question should be: "can a new user that contributes more than Jon compete on SO?" Looking at SO first page, we can see Neil stackoverflow.com/users/69307/neil-butterworth who has been with us merely for 4 months and among the first 15 people on SO, only a third hold a Beta badge.
    – mmx
    Commented Jul 2, 2009 at 23:58
  • 3
    Think of this analogy: at work you can always get the same person to do something because they know it but at some point they won't be there or they'll leave and then what do you do? Sometimes you get someone whos more junior or newer to do something just to spread the knowledge so when something happens to that first person you're not completely screwed.
    – cletus
    Commented Jul 3, 2009 at 0:13
  • @cletus: There is more than a single, say, valuable, position on SO. There are 350 people on top 10 pages, tag-based rankings. Indeed as soon as you start contributing heavily on SO, other people will start recognizing your talent regardless of rep. There's only one thing I don't like: it's harder to get votes when you have little rep (which is not a problem as all users start with 1 rep and they have been in that situation too).
    – mmx
    Commented Jul 3, 2009 at 0:20

I'm a "first page power-user", but I frequent less heavily attacked topics than C# or Java - predominantly C, SQL, Unix-y tags. Many of the answers that have cost me the most effort have only been rewarded with just a few up-votes and the accept tag. Some of my more casual answers manage to get many more up-votes. That's life on SO. There is an element of hit and miss as to when you get to see the question. I don't mind that I live on the fringes; maybe I'm just eclectic.

There's ample room in the less frequented areas to provide useful answers. You can make a decent reputation doing so. It amuses me that I have the fewest badges of anyone on the 'first page' (though there's one with 4K more reputation and only 3 more badges). I have provided lots of answers (though nowhere near as many as Mr Skeet), but they seem to have less average worth than many other people's answers. (I know someone who went out and deleted their answers if they didn't garner up-votes; I only usually delete my answers with down-votes, or ones which are flimsy enough given answers that arrive later that a down-vote is likely.)

I do get votes from old answers - at the moment, more of my points for today are from old work than from answers given this week. That's useful; it is a side-benefit of having provided a lot of answers.

All the people with high reputation scores are also generous with their votes - having voted thousands of times each. Although you can't track who voted, there is a clear correlation between own reputation and voting record.

  • 2
    Being the "other one" you are talking about I've had my share of lengthy, time consuming answers with only few up-votes. Not doing the popular topics is a recipe for a low badge count on SO, that's a fact.
    – Tomalak
    Commented Aug 2, 2009 at 1:11

I don't think there is much that can be done without alienating the current power users.

There of course will be new tags that will be cold for a while and after some time will have users jumping on them (as per your analogy)

New users will get discouraged by the rep count of the super users thinking that they will never achieve something like that. But I think the system isn't designed around getting the top spot.

Take an example.

In EVE Online skill training is done in real time. So a user that started when the game came out and has trained the whole time will always have higher skill points than you.

But the catch is that the gain he is getting past a certain point is minimal. And for you to get to a point where you are a viable opponent against him does not take a long time.

The same applies there. It's a brutal world, if you don't have the answers quickly someone else will answer them but you don't need that much rep to get some abilities on the system.

  • 1
    Agreed. If you are a new user, you're just NOT going to pass someone who is a prolific user and has been using the system since it's inception. That doesn't mean you can't beat them in terms of answering individual questions and outperforming them on a "head to head" basis, if that is what you are after.
    – TheTXI
    Commented Jul 1, 2009 at 14:48
  • 2
    Exactly, just answer well and you will get rewarded. Commented Jul 1, 2009 at 14:48

There are two separate problems here, and I think they need to be considered separately. I'm going to talk about it in terms of me (Jon Skeet) rather than in general, as it'll just make it easier to write. Feel free to chalk that up to arrogance if you want; a lot of it would still apply to many other high-rep users.

This answer will only address one issue - I'll look at the other in another answer, to make discussion easier.

How can a new user compete with me?

With the current rep cap limits, a new user would take a very long time to get near the top of reputation. Let's take a "best case" scenario:

  • I decide to give up on SO completely.
  • No-one ever votes on any of my posts again.
  • The new user is able to get 350 points per day (200 limit and then 10 accepted answers per day after hitting the limit, every day). 350 is a "pretty good day" for me. It happens reasonably often, but it's fairly tough.

With my rep today, it would take that uber-user just over 7 months to catch up with me.

More realistically, I'm going to keep posting. Even if I drop my involvement significantly, I'd expect to get 200 a day fairly easily, partly due to old answers. At that point the new user is only gaining on me at a rate of 150 per day, and it will take them nearly a year and a half to catch up.

I can't see that happening, basically - and the longer I keep going actively, the worse that's going to get.

First off: is that a problem? I honestly don't know. Would I have been quite as active if I'd started late enough to see little realistic chance of getting to the top? Probably... but I can't honestly say for sure.

Some potential system-wide partial solutions:

  • Monthly rep league
  • Periodic rep reset (say to Max(10000, CurrentRep) to avoid losing rights)
  • Rep decay

The first is the most appealing to me, and was a popular choice on UserVoice. You can see it now on a per-tag basis, but I'd still like to see it done on an holistic basis too.

An individual solution:

  • I ask Jeff to somehow set my rep back to 1 without losing the existing answers.

That just punts the problem down to Marc, etc - the high rep users are going to be hard to catch until you get down quite a long way.

Thoughts on this - including how important it is - are very welcome.

Right, on to the other topic...

  • 3
    I know I've only been around for 5 months, but I'm not seeing any real gain in rep from old answers. I might get 10 or 15 points once a week or so.
    – ChrisF Mod
    Commented Jul 1, 2009 at 15:05
  • 2
    @ChrisF: I get quite a bit from old answers. I'd guess between 20 and 50 per day, depending on the particular day. (For instance on weekends I often can't post until the evening, by which time I could sometimes have 100 rep from old posts, if I'm really lucky.) I do have a pretty large bank of answers though :)
    – Jon Skeet
    Commented Jul 1, 2009 at 15:07
  • @Jon Skeet - Thanks for the numbers. It does look like it's a function of number of posts, rather than the "Skeet effect". I guess I'll just have to keep on posting ;)
    – ChrisF Mod
    Commented Jul 1, 2009 at 15:10
  • I admit that I sometimes get "SO fatigue" because my areas of expertise are heavily populated and so getting rep seems tough, but then I come to my senses and realise that it's not the rep that leads me to post, it's the desire to help out and to learn myself (which sounds arrogant, now I've typed it, but I mean it sincerely). I've been on page 5 of the users list for a while and I'm slipping to page 6, but I'd hope that the quality of my posts is the measure people take of me rather than the number of votes they get.
    – Jeff Yates
    Commented Jul 1, 2009 at 17:44

I would assume that the current crop of people answering jQuery/C#/Java/whatever questions would get bored and move on or specialize eventually, and others would take their place. I mean, how often can you explain a child selector before the fun goes out of it?

But, if by chance that doesn't happen, then so what? A machine that never tires of answering newbie questions isn't such a bad thing to have around...

  • 2
    You mean "how often can we tag as duplicate?" - quite a few ;-p Commented Jul 1, 2009 at 21:11
  • Well, ideally that's how it works out... ;-)
    – Shog9
    Commented Jul 1, 2009 at 22:13
  • "how often can you explain a child selector" that made me laugh out loud. I ask myself that daily... yet I keep doing it. Commented Jul 2, 2009 at 9:09
  • You're a jQuery-explainin' machine, Paolo ;-)
    – Shog9
    Commented Jul 2, 2009 at 18:52

One thing I've been able to do to sort of mitigate the effects of super high users (although I am now well above the 10k threshold myself) was to focus on other tags which didn't get much attention such as Reporting Services.

I also think that as technology moves forward, there is going to be new subject matter that comes around and allows for more users to jump into the fray and answer questions there. As hard as it may be to believe, I don't think Jon Skeet can truly be in all places at all times, so as the site opens up to more technologies, you'll see more users flocking to the areas that don't have the overpowering of the super users.

  • Next big tech is wave, Mr Skeet ideally positioned for that one also!!
    – redsquare
    Commented Jul 1, 2009 at 14:42
  • 1
    redsquare: Curses! Foiled again!
    – TheTXI
    Commented Jul 1, 2009 at 14:43

I was thinking about this topic the other day - and wondering how it was anybody could ever get a Skeetian-Reputation with all of these monsters running around gobling up all the questions. But then I started thinking about duration, and the fact that old answers get up-votes, regardless how old they are.

If you start answering questions en-masse, your solutions will exist for all eternity! Anytime anybody finds one, you may get an up-vote. So in reality, if you have a massive base of solutions, and relatively-few accepted answers, you could still compete with those getting their solutions accepted.

The summary, just keep solving other people's problems.

  • I've noticed in the past couple of months an up-surge in the number of votes I collect daily from old questions. This would illustrate your point pretty nicely (and it is something that the Skeeter has talked about in the past as well as something that almost makes it hard to answer new questions since all his rep seems to get eaten up by older answers)
    – TheTXI
    Commented Jul 1, 2009 at 14:46
  • @TheTXI: That upsurge of upvotes on old questions may be due to the newish random-bump feature, whereby the Community randomly picks old questions to bring to the front page. Commented Jul 1, 2009 at 15:37

Consider Wikipedia Approaches Its Limits:

While Chi points out that this does not necessarily imply causation, he suggests it is concrete evidence to back up what many people have been saying: that it is increasingly difficult to enjoy contributing to Wikipedia unless you are part of the site's inner core of editors. Wikipedia's growth pattern suggests that it is becoming like a community where resources have started to run out. "As you run out of food, people start competing for that food, and that results in a slowdown in population growth and means that the stronger, more well-adapted part of the population starts to have more power.""

This is the nature of my concern.


Personally, I (like theTXI) have been trying to do more commenting, editing, and answering on subjective or esoteric (xslt!) questions. No altruism involved at all, I'd just rather keep myself off the front-page of users when I'm trying to find a job - don't want to look like a slacker!

Obviously that's not the SOP with the 200-500 you mention, but anecdotally I have to say I'm not sure I agree with your premise. I'd actually say that ultra-majestic-users (i.e. skeet and gravell) aside, it's the ~1000 rep users who make the bulk of answers.

  • Did I mention I'm a big fan/user of xslt? ;-p Go for yer (answering) guns... Commented Jul 1, 2009 at 21:13
  • <heresy> personally I had enough of his girlfriend issues and math bigotry years ago :) </heresy>
    – bananakata
    Commented Jul 2, 2009 at 5:33
  • There have been days where I managed to get 200 rep out of XSLT answers alone (hough even this niche topic did become a lot tougher lately). I think how good you are is only 1/3, the rest is how much time you invest.
    – Tomalak
    Commented Aug 2, 2009 at 2:02

Reminds me of Aliens vs Predator. They should become Aliens :-)

Joking aside: Farming rep is highly exaggerated. Then they can't compete with Jon Skeet, so what? As long as someone answers the questions. The only bad situation would be, if he is gone one day and no-one fills the gap. But how likely is that?

SO is a Q/A site, no rep farm. Reputation points is bonus, fun and used for moderation status. But really, please, don't drive it to death.


Without people trying to post good answers, and others trying to outdo them, the tool that is StackOverflow would cease to be useful.

Without people to "compete" with, the MMORPG named StackOverflow would cease to be fun.


It took quite a while before I ever was interested in a question that Jon Skeet had already answered. Mainly because I'm more interested in Perl, and he in C#.


Thanks to the rep cap, it is extremely rare for me to answer more than four or five questions in a day. If I get a couple of easy questions, I'll cap out anyway--why should I hang around and try to snag any more easy ones? Let the new guys get them!

If I am a representative sample, I think this is as strong an argument as any for keeping the rep cap in its current form.

  • 1
    That depends on your view of whether "letting the new guys get them" is a good thing or not. There are two sides to that: we want to encourage participation of course, but if more people are contributing to answers (whether by answering or commenting) then that should mean better answers.
    – Jon Skeet
    Commented Jul 1, 2009 at 16:50

I compete with myself, not others. If the large reps are the issue (making it look impossible to compete), level them a bit... or let us purchase some platinum badges at (say) 10k each...

OK - scratch the badge idea; but I'd be happy-ish with a rolling flatten/drain - perhaps elastic back towards 20k (so high rep users lose rep more quickly)

  • 1
    Cute idea, the purchase idea reminds me of CoD4's reset option. But surely for SO trading rep for platinum badges just makes the platinum badges the chase item instead?
    – bananakata
    Commented Jul 1, 2009 at 15:35

I really think this is a total non issue, SO is about answering coding questions and the rep system is just a way of judging how reputable (duh!) a member is and getting a right guess at the worth of his (or her) answer.

I answer questions not for the rep but because it's fun! It's nice to help people, rep is a nice way of knowing people appreciate my answers but I think I'd keep on answering if it wasn't there, and I suspect that would apply to most people who use SO.

  • Which is why you have only 1 rep =) (kidding) Commented Jul 2, 2009 at 12:23
  • hehe, I only just registered on meta, and I'm fairly new to SO itself
    – Martin
    Commented Jul 5, 2009 at 21:29

I find it interesting that my highest rep scoring answer was one of the most trivial (and easy to verify) Protected Classes in .NET

compared to Heightmap generation algorithm? and Why is F#'s Seq.sortBy much slower than LINQ's IEnumerable<T>.OrderBy extension method? (ok newer but I can't see it getting much more) which were both vastly more effort to do but also much more rewarding in terms of learning about it.

Essentially the site's about how you want to use it, to me it's more about extending my knowledge by forcing me to really get deeper into something (and then being told when I'm wrong). I'm not going to stop because I am incapable of getting near the top, I suspect many others aren't.

Sites like this inevitably get the sort of power users we get here (some people just are that much better). Hopefully the tag system will help those within a smaller niche achieve the (deserved) fame the more main stream people do.

What will get interesting is when a power user leaves (or dies) since their living history will become that bit more ossified. If your answer was right once but is now outdated and someone comments to that effect you stand a good chance of fixing it. Now the comment would do into the aether.

For all that questions and answers can be 'community wikied' the owner in terms of notifications is still very much the original author.

That's a point: should someone who has edited a community wikied entry be able to get all the notifications that the original author would. Hmm I'm straying from the original question


Hopefully they would be creating something cooler than a vacuum.
Like a time machine or something.


I would also suggest for people wanting to provide value, but also wanting to feel rewarded for that service, that instead of trolling the home page, that they also go through the Unanswered Question list.

There are lots of questions out there that need answers, that don't have them. Of course, many of those are non-trivial in that you might need to do a bit of research yourself, or its in an area where you don't have the answer at your immediate fingertips.

However, most questions there are past the "John Skeet" filter... he either missed them, or decided not to answer... so have at it!


I think this relates to my anonymous poster idea. If you were just judging the answer on it's own merits then you might get an evening out effect. Unfortunately without running experiments I can't be sure about this.

It has been pointed out that it's sometimes nice to know that Jon Skeet (or other guru) is answering your question because you can have confidence in the answer almost before you read it. It's also true that the purpose of the site is to get good answers to problems and if the current mechanism provides them then there's nothing wrong with the current system.

  • 1
    The only potential problem to the mechanism is that if super users manage to force out "younger generation" users, then once the super users are gone, it may be too late to attract the new generation back again.
    – TheTXI
    Commented Jul 1, 2009 at 14:45
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    @TheTXI - I don't see that; "we" were the noobs once, too. Commented Jul 1, 2009 at 17:21

Quick answers to questions? Yeah I'd say this is a good thing. The 'next generation' will be there when the Skeets of the world leave and/or move on.

I can say, however, that I'm often discouraged from attempting to answer a question, because I assume someone quicker/smarter will get to it first. Whether this is good or bad - I don't know.


I believe that while rep is an incentive to post, it can sometimes lead to "SO fatigue" as one tries to keep up. Some of us, hopefully, realise that it isn't about the rep and I think those are the ones that we really want to keep around anyway. The important aspect is that people respond to others with the answers they need and while it would be ideal if rep actually directly corresponded with the quality of a response in all cases, it never will.

I think that as long as we're willing to recognise the abilities of those who contribute to the site, regardless of the rep they have acquired, then the site will always have a good amount of contributors. After all, I'd rather have 20 posters who each give one extremely good response than 1 poster who gives 20 mediocre ones, even if that means there are 20 guys at 5k rep instead of 1 at 50k.

And that isn't intended as a dig at those at the top - your answers are usually just the kind of quality we should have on the site and an example of how rep can indicate quality as well as contribution.

Quality Votes

One potential balance could be to give reasons for up votes, like have an upvote for completeness, another for informative, another for formatting, etc etc. That way, your rep is a combination of different attributes.


Jon Skeet does sleep (no really).

Seriously, there are times of day when there a lot of unanswered questions on popular tags. Particularly at weekends.

Also, if you try and make sense of some of the plzsendcodez questions you can gain a lot of rep that way.

  • No, he never sleeps. The entity known as "Jon Skeet" is actually a group of thirty people sharing the same account 24/day, 7/week :-)
    – bortzmeyer
    Commented Jul 2, 2009 at 11:46
  • now that's just MMO grinding... Commented Aug 13, 2009 at 16:41

"it's like a handful of predators have been so successful in this ecosystem that they've crowded out every other predator to the point of near-extinction"

Isn't that what always happens? It's just the nature of ecosystems, there will always be a dominant predator. I don't think there's a way to avoid it. If Jon and Marc stopped answering questions you'd just find that the next best answerers would fill the void they leave.

You're always going to have some people that are just that little bit more knowledgeable about a subject, who are good communicators, a little quicker at putting together a cogent answer, that everybody else will struggle to answer questions as fast or as well as them. That small advantage probably gets exaggerated over time too, as they get more feedback and more practice their answers will get better.


One possible solution would be to have reputation leak with some constant amount (same as "rep decay" mentioned by Jon Skeet above?), but with the high water mark visible and some more elaborate statistics if one digs deep enough on the user page. Statistics could show total rep earned, best day/week/month, etc.

This would perhaps make it less "intimidating" to newcomers since the actual rep shown under the user name would be lower than the total earned. Keeping statistics would make it possible to get the full picture and "real" rep of the person for anyone interested (such as fans and employers).


First off disclaimer, I'm not complaining about the current state of the site. I actually enjoying facing off with everyone to see who can get the highest answer, and I would feel cheated if they held back, or the system handicapped them. This is what I think is or could potentially happen long term. For me it's great.

I don't think the problem is people's reputation being intimidating. I would guess if there is a problem, it comes from up voting answers (or lack there of). Short term, I don't think there is an issue. Long term, the site may start to have difficulties maintaining a solid user base.

If Cletus is correct, quite possibly SO is slowly starting to migrate to two types of user.

  1. High performing users. People who hit the site everyday, reach the reputation cap etc.
  2. Non-performing users. People who come to the site to get questions answered (and maybe not even asking questions, just using Google), but don't really participate in contributing answers.

The third type of user, the people who are caught somewhere in between the two might be getting slowly squeezed out. The problem occurs when the person wants to contribute to a highly knowledgeable area within SO, like C#, that person's answers are probably not as complete as others and gets little to no votes, because another answer is better. Couple this with the fact that many times questions don't get a lot of attention due to the number of questions being asked, and users have to post quite several answers to get recognition that what they posting is acknowledged to be correct. It's a possible positive feedback (or lack thereof) issue and a possible punishment issue where they are being down voted for a post which isn't totally correct.

Competing for top answer against people like Skeet, Gravell and several others is great. It really forces you to think and know what you are talking about off the top of your head. You can't research a question for an hour and make a post. Generally, it's too late at that point. The problem is that most people don't function at that level, they aren't aggressively trying to post the right answer and so miss out on getting rewarded for posting.

SO could start to have problems when the top posters start to leave in pursuit of other things. It'll happen eventually, people change their daily behavior for various reasons. That's ok. The problem will arise if too many leave at the same time and it leaves a knowledge vacuum. Can SO recover? Sure, it may be there are enough other users to handle the high performing users leaving.

What's the answer? I don't know. I certainly don't think that it is handicapping people who are really good at posting answers. The only thing that might work which comes to mind is giving one rep for posting an answer, or 10 rep for every 4 answers? That way you have multiple feedback mechanisms working to encourage people to post. Another possible fix is if top posters started up voting answers more. I don't think this is good idea though, because it is counter to how people use the site (If it wasn't they'd be doing it already). I'm not a fan of telling people to change their behavior on using a system, because, long term, I don't think it is a viable option. This is even if there is a problem, which without looking at that data I don't know.


Someone has to be the #1 rep user. If it's not Jon, then it's going to be someone else. Even if Jon's account and every one of his answers was deleted, people would still whinge about 'not being able to catch up' to whoever was at the top.

To change the system to prevent any one user from being too far ahead of other users is pandering to people who are more concerned about gaining rep and competing than participating 'for the greater good'.
And while I don't think at all that it's bad or wrong for people to want to gain rep and kick ass competitively, I do think it's a problem when those people want to change the rules because it's currently too hard for them to 'win'.

The person who is at the top (be that Jon or someone else) got there because they know their s**t and worked their behind off giving great answers to tons questions.
Why penalize them for their efforts?

That said, I definitely agree that it is way harder to participate now than 'back in the old days' (uh, last year) due to there being so many amazing big brains on SO .
And while this is a bit of a hit to the ego, I don't think it's a huge problem for the system (at this stage).


I would like to be able to "rep farm" also, but I don't have the time to produce a Neil Butterworth-quality answer, or the knowledge for a Skeet answer. It's also a speed question: when I see a question I could answer, someone else has, usually. :o


I'm agreeing somewhat with cletus's premise.

My concern now is that the higher rep users seem to be given upvotes just for having higher rep. I've definitely had answers where higher rep users have come in much later than my answer, post the same answer with more information, and have that be the accepted answer.

The problem with reputation is that the more reputation you gain, the more rep your answers generate, in many cases to the detriment of the correct answer from a lower rep user.

So the 5-10 minutes I spent working out the answer, researching to see if I was right, gets me 10 rep, and no real recognition that my answer was correct (other than it's the same as the accepted answer).

Essentially it feels like stealing, though I'm sure it's not.

It's becoming a major frustration for me with the site. I answer questions, with the correct answer and I'm not receiving recognition or reputation.

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    "same answer with more information" is probably the nugget.
    – random
    Commented Jan 10, 2010 at 8:10
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    I don't know if I agree with this -- I actually tend to favor new posters over those with higher reputation, if the information is similar. Obviously, if one post is objectively much better than the other, then the distinction is clear... Commented Jan 10, 2010 at 9:02

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