I'm taking up a new programming language, and I'm stumped on a daily basis. Then I go on a Google-guided tour of dark recesses of the Web, where something useful may have been written about my problem. The most fruitful browsing often occurs on Stack Overflow, so I now go there directly with my everyday programming hassles.

That doesn't mean that every single answer on Stack Overflow is equally valuable to me. I might need to work through multiple questions with all their answers, before I find the strikingly clear explanation that is just spot-on. Or sometimes I'm clueless on such a basic level, that I need some less-popular answer to resolve my confusion, whereas a smart insight on the same topic has gotten all the votes from the regulars.

This scenario happens several times a day, and it can be quite time-consuming. I would like to save the next newbie this effort, by pointing them directly to the "great" answers. In other words, I would like to upvote, which I can't because of the 15 reputation requirement.

I wouldn't dream of writing any answers - it might take at least a year before I feel that I wouldn't make a complete fool of myself. I don't even feel proficient enough to write good questions : everything I struggle with, has already been discussed in one way or another, before me. I am just a lurker, which I believe is the appropriate behavior for an absolute beginner.

So I can see myself having reputation 0 for at least a year, which seems entirely right. The FAQ defines reputation as "having proven that you know what you're talking about", while I just have no idea. Still, I can make a distinction between those answers that have helped me advance in my daily strife, and the others that have just cost me the time of reading them. There is no way for me to provide this feedback for the benefit of others.

In the FAQ as well as here on Meta, there's a deafening chorus how easy it is to "just get started" and gain 15 rep. But as a matter of principle, I refuse to invent a superfluous question, or to nitpick on somebody else's spelling or grammar, when the intent is clear enough, just for gaining reputation. While the philosophy of the Stack Exchange rules is to encourage creation of more content, this contrived jumpstart will just add more clutter.

Could this deadlock be alleviated by introducing a "cheaper" form of upvotes? Part of the problem is that upvoting currently has two major effects : it elevates one answer among the others on a certain question - AND it gives the author higher reputation. I can see that taking away the threshold for this upvote opens the door for many problems, like conspiring gangs of robots, meaningless banter from a connected group of humans, etc. What I would propose is an "upvote-lite" that only raises an answer among the others, while having no reputation effects.

The nice thing about forums with feedback, is that quality content gets promoted by a Darwinistic mechanism of "survival of the fittest". With the way Stack Exchange is implemented now, an important part of that feedback loop is broken. On most any forum, a login is required to place a "vote" or a "like" or whatever, which is fair enough. But by demanding reputation as well, Stack Exchange shuts out a silent majority of lurkers.

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    15 rep == 3 upvotes on a question, 2 on an answer, 1 accepted answer or 7 accepted suggested edits. It is just about the lowest bar we have for participation. – Oded May 27 '13 at 17:20
  • Is the anon/low rep feedback system removed now? – Flexo May 27 '13 at 17:22
  • @Flexo - Nope, it hasn't (AFAIK) - and if an anon user registers, their votes will be counted as proper votes. – Oded May 27 '13 at 17:23
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    @Flexo - I believe the interface has changed from its initial introduction and now the feedback is collected by pressing the up down arrows rather than a separate "Was this post useful to you? [Yes] [No]" – Martin Smith May 27 '13 at 17:29
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    So if I understand you correctly, you refuse to show any kind of involvement in or committment to the site, just for the sake of showing your involvement and committment? OK then. You won't get the capabilities given to those who involve and commit. Dismissing involvement and committment as "gaming" doesn't make it so. – Kate Gregory May 27 '13 at 17:30
  • it's a community, I was a member for over a year before I asked a question. It never bothered me not to vote, as I used this as a resource. Now I am an active participant. If you aren't prepared to put in the effort, how can you expect to have the privileges that everyone else has worked for.. Why don't you put this energy into asking programming questions and then you will be voting in no time – Yvette Colomb May 27 '13 at 17:31
  • @KateGregory great minds think alike! – Yvette Colomb May 27 '13 at 17:31
  • If the anonymous feedback system means that votes from unprivileged users are recorded (albeit differently), somebody should post that as an answer instead of just lecturing the OP. – Jeremy Banks May 27 '13 at 17:39
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    @JeremyBanks - I am not sure what exact form this now has, so didn't answer. – Oded May 27 '13 at 17:44
  • @JeremyBanks: Just ran a test in IE. If you click a vote button, you get a "register" popup. So it looks like anonymous users can no longer vote. (Registering is also pretty tough, unless you're into advanced cookie settings.) – Andomar May 27 '13 at 17:47
  • @Andomar - But it still sends an AJAX call and thanks you for your feedback. – Martin Smith May 27 '13 at 17:49
  • @Andomar Yes, you get a registration popup, but your "vote" is still registered as anonymous feedback, nothing changed there. – yannis May 27 '13 at 17:50
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    The only real problem I see here is that you seem to have an utter lack of confidence. Just dive in and participate. It's not all that hard. – Bart May 27 '13 at 17:50
  • @MartinSmith: The popup is pretty clear that you can't vote: "This site is free and open to everyone, but our registered users get extra privileges like posting, commenting, and voting." Perhaps the information is written somewhere, but it doesn't look like it's being used. – Andomar May 27 '13 at 17:52
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    @Andomar stackoverflow.com/tools/post-feedback (10K+ link) – yannis May 27 '13 at 17:56

Lurkers are just that, lurkers; this extends to voting.

15 reputation is about as trivial a requirement as possible. Step up to the plate and play. Doing so doesn't require anything contrived or particularly uncomfortable.

If you believe it'll take you a year to make any meaningful contribution, I (respectfully) suggest that this has more to do with your opinion of yourself than any objective reality.

I'll add that doing anything in public can feel risky, and dealing with that can be interesting. There's a certain psychology to "posting like you know something."

I occasionally get a sinking feeling when I post: Am I right? Am I so far behind that my answer (ergo me) is no longer relevant? Do I really have anything to contribute? Should I just go shopping instead?

Add the occasionally vindictive, and less-occasionally arbitrary nature of the SO process and you're participating in a peculiar form of public discourse that neither always plays by "the" rules nor is always the uplifting experience you're hoping for.

Like everything else, you have to decide if the risk is worth the reward. I'd argue that you're only cheating yourself by believing it isn't, but we all come from different places.

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    +1: If you expect your first contribution to be of Jon-Skeet-level quality, I think you might have set yourself a slightly lofty goal. – Joachim Sauer May 27 '13 at 17:52

First: I find it good that you take the effort to search before you post, some take it to the other extreme.

But: you are allowed to ask questions. If after searching for some time you still don't have found the correct answer, post your question! Tell us why other answers didn't help you (with links!) and what additional information you need.

Alternatively: once you have found your answer and understood a subject, re-visit the question that you initially found and add your newly-found understanding as an answer! Sometimes a little duplication doesn't hurt (especially if it's in the form of re-phrased understanding to slightly different questions).

With (one of) those two options, you'll have the reputation to reward good answers (and questions) pretty quickly.

Last but not least: given the amount of thought you have put into this question, I'm pretty sure that you'll easily produce questions that are well above the average quality.

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