The point system makes new users "addicted", in a sense, Stack Overflow becomes like a role-playing game (RPG), you stay here, try to earn points. Points are important, they're labeled "reputation", as if they indicate your level of expertise, as if it's a testimony to your skills.

Another Stack Overflow user, jgormley, discussed a downside of this system in another post, so I'm not going to repeat his argument, but I will present another downside, which I notice in myself, and in many answers:

People make half-assed not-well-informed answers to questions just so that they get points. Even if the answer is not really what the OP is looking for, it's as if they skimmed the question and didn't really get the point.

This, of course, is a side effect of trying to get points in any way, even by gaming the system.

The problem here is that a question will get many half-assed answers, none of which truly satisfies the question. Some readers will up-vote questions, 'just because', it looks like a good answer, even if it isn't. I also suspect that newcomers might 'sympathize' with their peers, thus voting for their answers as a curiosity to help them earn points, and probably expecting others to do the same for them (This is just a hunch on my side).

Anyway, even if no one up-votes any answer, you'll still end up with a question that has 10 answers, none of which really answers the question at all. The question will drown in a sea of questions and no one will notice it again, so it never gets answered.

The proper way to fight that is to down-vote stupid half-assed answers, but that's where the other problem comes in:

The system punishes you for downvoting, as if you shouldn't do it! It also doesn't punish the poster enough to prevent him from posting a stupid answer. This happened to me once, I made a half-assed answer to a question, and it got downvoted! You know what? I didn't delete my answer, because my ego tells me "shutup dude, my answer is good!", and it got downvoted again, but who cares, -4 points won't hurt, so my ego still insisted to keeping the not-well-informed answer. Now if it was -5 or -8, then I would've probably deleted my answer, or at least gave it a bit more thought.

  • 3
    Just a comment. Not only "new" users are addicted. The top three of SO have been struggling really hard for the 1st place this last weekend. so I think they're quite addicted by know. They're answers are terrific, by the way, but still they fit in the "addict" profile
    – OscarRyz
    Commented Dec 15, 2008 at 0:04
  • 2
    *their answers — G.N.
    – Anton Tykhyy
    Commented Jul 11, 2009 at 15:10
  • 2
    A side-note: The StackApp StackRating.com presents an alternative rating system that reflects users actual skill.
    – aioobe
    Commented May 3, 2015 at 17:21
  • 1
    Does this answer your question? The Stack Exchange reputation system: What's working? What's not? Commented Apr 30 at 16:21
  • @KarlKnechtel That suggested duplicate seems to be an inventory of problems, and wouldn't help the OP in any way.
    – Joachim
    Commented Apr 30 at 18:55

11 Answers 11


Due to this being a community wiki I almost didn't respond. I'm addicted to points and this doesn't help me.

Okay, back to reality.

Every system has flaws. One of Stack Overflow's is peoples' greed and need for points. This has been debated numerous times. Most notable in the Fastest Gun in the West question. The bottom line though is it works. If it doesn't, then why do so many answers get "accepted"? The shorter answer may not be the best, but often times it's enough.

If people truly want this problem to go away then there is a simple two-step process:

  1. Don't vote for quick answers
  2. If you see a quick crappy answer, write a better one

Stop complaining about the problem and take action.

  • "Works" primarily means it works for those already up the rep scale, unfortunately. BUt they can probably have a reasonably diverting conversation with each other.
    – le dorfier
    Commented Dec 13, 2008 at 0:45
  • I classify "works" as people get reasonable and helpful answers to their questions. Points come second place
    – JaredPar
    Commented Dec 13, 2008 at 0:47
  • 5
    If you see a quick crappy answer, vote it down! After ensuring there's a better one, that is.
    – Ant P
    Commented Dec 13, 2008 at 0:50
  • Good answer. Just so you know, you can uncheck the "community wiki" checkbox when posting to gain rep from an answer to a Community Wiki question.
    – Robert Gamble
    Commented Dec 13, 2008 at 0:52
  • The site penalizes you for voting an answer down. Obviously they don't want you doing it. If they wanted you to objectively review and evaluate, they would reward it. Why waste your points in addition to your time?
    – le dorfier
    Commented Dec 13, 2008 at 2:35
  • There's nothing inherently bad about a quick answer. Not every answer needs a giant code listing associated it. Sometimes the right answer is "just do X".
    – Dustin
    Commented Dec 15, 2008 at 0:08
  • 2
    Not penalizing down-voting could generate a really negative atmosphere. One of the things I like most of SO is that answers usually come in really fast. Even half-assed answers can give me a different look at my problem within minutes and get me out of a dead lock. Commented Mar 9, 2009 at 9:02
  • 4
    @Ant P: why should I wait for a better answer to downvote a crappy one? If it's crap, it's crap. Commented Sep 15, 2009 at 17:13

I have seen similar things happen but things almost always work themselves out, i.e. someone notices the answer is wrong, posts a comment and downvotes the answer, other people notice the comment, read the question more carefully and remove their upvote or downvote the answer. It isn't a perfect system but it does work pretty well.

If you really wanted to "game the system" it seems to me the way to do it would be to just create a dozen accounts, get enough points to vote on each of them (pretty easy), answer a question or two every day and upvote them from every account as needed. I doubt this is happening though because there seems so little incentive to do so.

Regarding the RPG-like element, I think that most people recognize that reputation has little to do with skill level and take it for what it really represents: a gauge of useful participation on the site. Lastly, regarding the addiction element, of all the things to be addicted to, learning and teaching doesn't seem to be a bad one.

  • Great idea for getting reputation! :D
    – Vilx-
    Commented Dec 13, 2008 at 0:56
  • "Lastly, regarding the addiction element, of all the things to be addicted to, learning and teaching doesn't seem to be a bad one." I've been justifying my addiction in much the same way. Thank goodness for the rep cap...
    – Thomas
    Commented Apr 7, 2010 at 11:54
  • Accounts can be closed. When someone's account is closed the people who they gave points to loose those points (unless they are a major contributor to SO). So your idea of gaming the system would not last in the long run, but nice try ;D Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 1:58

The system actually works pretty well when you consider that the "race" for reputation (if that's what you'd call it) generally draws in people and attention because of its nature. Even if that race makes for occasionally sloppy results, it functions to draw attention and thus increase the scale of the community, which in turn increases the availability of overall knowledge.

Therefore, in a roundabout way, it does work. And, because of human nature, that may really be the only way it could work if you don't want to lose out on that effect.


I don't think the site would be anywhere near as successful without the points system or something similar, karma, mana, whatever.

It gives people motivation to answer questions, rather than just ask questions or look for answers.
Peer acknowledgement is a powerful thing, humans will go a long way for it.

There will be some that take on the air of a parking inspector once they attain more "powers", there will be that in any system, it is a product of human nature, and no system of government or management has ever eliminated that, but the good ones have safeguards to mitigate the risks.

It is an imperfect but functional system, just like democracy, have not seen any significantly better ones yet, and it generally gets the desired result.


I think the reputation system is pretty good.

I guess this site has been built for accumulation of a vast question and answer database, because we are discouraged from repeating questions.

Shouldn't we then find a way of rewarding someone who takes time to answer a question that has gone a long time without an answer?

What can be done about members that ask a question, get perfectly good answers, but accept none of them? This behaviour deprives other members of deserved reputation, and clutters up the unanswered-view.


Seems fine to me - I don't care about the points, but I've got more than 100 or 150, which means I can downvote (which I do quite often, actually), but if I answer questions I easily get back above that threshold. (The penalty for downvotes is almost nothing, seriously)

While any system can be manipulated, I think the biggest disadvantage is that controversal or surprising answers tend to get downvoted by the majority. - That is difficult to resolve, other than by putting substantially more effort into not only answering the OP's question, but also providing far more proof and references to the answer - which is partly the point of the SO system, except that downvoted answers might forever be ignored...


It's based on the well-demonstrated fact that behavior conditioning is real. If you measure it, they will come. What you measure is what people will do. So be really really careful what you measure. And then don't blame the people when they try their hardest to do it.

And then they provide negative reinforcement if your evaluation is not positive. So the two acceptable behaviors seem to be to vote something up, or ignore it.

What I wish is that they would require people to accept responsibility for anything that damages someone else's reputation (or closing their question). The way it is now, it's a drive-by shooting.

  • Yes, a drive by shooting with no chance for a subsequent trial.
    – Charlie Flowers
    Commented Mar 28, 2009 at 19:45

Do I get points for this answer if someone likes it? If so, I have lots to say...

Kidding aside, the points do provide an incentive for some folks to check often for things they might be able to help with. That is a good thing.

Of course, there are a variety of topics where people have earned an enormous number of points (e.g. the "Favorite Developer Cartoon" entry) that aren't really warranted if you think of "Reputation" as synonymous with "Expertise." Similarly, sometimes snarky or funny answers get voted up even though they do little to actually answer the question.

In all, though, awarding points is a pretty good strategy for prompting people to help others. Just don't confuse "Reputation" with "Expertise."


(i'm going to post an answer posted in another question (which indeed extended the original scope of the question there, as did the other answers btw), before it is deleted.)

The reason is that this is an important issue and clarifications or even changes should be proposed.

"Accidentaly stumbled upon this question searching for sth else, but since i have already tackled issues related to this on SE sites, i would like to post an answer as well and clear some mis-conceptions."

This will encourage users (probably new on Stack Exchange) to downvote VLQ/SPAM/incorrect answers

I see a lot of value in this idea because any idea to encourage downvoting of really poor quality answers is a good one.

Both views cited above, as reasons to downvote are actually missing the point. They urge users to downvote wrong/incorrect posts. Incorrect / Wrong posts should just be deleted instead of propagating false information. Plain and simple.

So when should i downvote? Good question.

One has to understand and remember that voting does not indicate correctness but popularity (see above point). As a matter of fact, many votes on SE are misleading since they down/up-vote actually correct/wrong posts, as a supposed sign of (in-)-correctness while at the same time propagating their own ignorance.

Exactly because of ignorance votes (up or down) should be thoughtful and well-articulated / explained if and when this is needed. Votes by speechless by-passers mean nothing except their own ignorance (at the best of intentions, if not plain use of voting for manipulation purposes).

The very rules of SE sites demand posts, comments, closing/opening votes etc to be actually justified and constructive. Some people using the terms "poor / good quality posts" are actualy nothing but empty words. Nowhere in SE rules, is a definition or criterion of what "poor or good quality" means, so using this phraseology as kind of justification, means simply nothing, than lack of good reasons.

To sum up, among correct posts (as explained in previous sections), feel free to up / down vote those you like more in terms of content / articulation/ references and so on (and be able to articulate this if needed) and let them float freely.

If post is correct but may need refinement or editing, suggest an edit either yoursekf or through a comment (that is why they are there, use them constructively).

Do not try to indicate wrong post by downvoting (or conversely upvoting) if post is simply something:

  1. you do not like / understand / appreciate / whatever
  2. authored by someone you do not like / is not in your group / whatever
  3. you will not be there to amend, when you find out it was your mistake

The above points although may seem to some as overly summer-of-love-ish, do in fact maintain the reputation and (original) purpose of the whole SE endeavour as such:

  1. people seeking correct answers will find them and indeed be noted as such
  2. people will not find correct answers, yet signalled as incorrect either by ignorance or (petty) reasons not related to the actual problem at hand
  3. people will not find wrong answers, yet signalled as correct either by ignorance or (petty) reasons not related to the actual problem at hand
  4. people will be more willing to participate and/or learn and do this with greater sense of responsibility and quality
  5. trolls and other malicious users, can be addressed to the point and take actions pertaining to the issue at hand, instead of dubius and vague (if even that) excuses which tend to generate more issues from ones they tend to solve

Especialy going into the negative realm of votes, as this propagates a wrong hint at in-correctness, while it is about poopularity at best).

As far as using approaches like "Winter of Death" (see for example, https://meta.stackoverflow.com/a/252049/3591273), this is a main-staple of people advancing the position that authoritarianism (to say the least) can actually solve problems, especialy kowledge-based, technical problems (and of course is never the problem itself). Something like "beating out hunger with a stick, as keen students of fundamental human-nature of course know". A part of this position (and those advancing it) is based on a false dilemma, that one is "either authoritarian or submissive", "either heavily-moderated or broken-site" which is incorrect, but will not pursue this line further here, just make a small notice.

Finaly, remember that the SE sites are not sites like, for example, Facebook, where people like cute photos. These are for the most part knowledge-based sites and need solid argumentation and reasons to post / answer / comment / vote.


if one searches around the interweb for "stackoverflow" criticism, one will see a fair amount of critic (by actual seasoned users of SE sites) and this critic was attempted to be addressed (for example, How should we fix or refute the charges made in "Why stackoverflow sucks and participating there is impossible"?). So this is an issue (even if not always spelled-out explicitly) and it can be addressed with proposals and changes.

ps2, personaly i dont hunt for reputation, but hunt for answers (which is the original purpose the reputation system is supposed to achieve, and not the other way around).

my 0.234 cents and cheers


The reputation system ensures that questions will be answered, and there's no denying that this website is probably the best resource for getting a question answered quickly.

Of course, the points system is also Stack Overflows biggest problem, for obvious reasons. The system will be gamed and points will be awarded for stupid answers that the tech crowd wants to hear.

One solution I've mentioned in another Wiki topic is to reset the reputation points now and again (every 6/12 months) for every user. Sure, it'll be frustrating to build up all those points again, but it'll remove issues with certain users being too eager to close questions they believe to be stupid and in the future many users having the power to do what they wish. All it takes is one 5,000+ user to go off-the-rails at a quiet time of the day and everyone will suffer.


I also just discovered that you need 5 to 50 reputation to comment, but 0 to answer...

They have even written try to get comfortable writing answers first in the information about reputation requirements for comments, which is rather ironic since that's literally the other way around from how it actually is

However, commenting on other people's posts is a privilege gained from earning reputation - if you haven't earned it yet, try to get comfortable writing answers first.


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