While looking at the SO question How can I make a redirect page in jQuery/JavaScript? It occurred to me that this was an extremely simple question with an extremely simple answer. And yet, it has garnered the OP thousands in upvote points, simply because he was the first one to ask this question in the early days of SO. There are many examples of these simple questions and I believe they don't accurately model a user's participation in the SO community. People shouldn't be getting thousands or even tens of thousands of points from a question just because they were lucky enough to get it in the system a while ago.

Another related issue is that the non-expiring point system rewards users for seniority. Simply put, the longer you're around SO, the higher your score will be. While there's some merit to this, it seems to have a disproportionate effect. So what can we do to limit these effects? I'm just brainstorming but here are a couple ideas:

  1. Automatically close voting on questions after a certain time period. Good questions will still be rewarded, but they won't give disproportionately large rewards simply because they are really old questions.
  2. Expire users' points after a certain time period. If you expire users' points after, say 3 months, then this will force them to stay active and their points will be more a reflection of "How much have you participated lately"? It forces old users to stay active rather than resting on their laurels, and allows junior members a chance to catch up to senior members of the community by putting in a lot of effort. Currently, there is no chance at all for junior members to ever catch up with senior members and their only 'sin' is that they didn't register 5 years ago.
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    I'm fairly sure this has been proposed in a few different ways over the years. Something about your wording isn't bringing up any immediate dupes on the 'Related' sidebar, though... Mar 17, 2014 at 21:05
  • Yeah, I can't imagine I'm the first to raise issues of this general variety but the question search didn't really show any good dupes so I posted anyway.
    – T Nguyen
    Mar 17, 2014 at 21:06
  • It would seem that you care about your reputation rank way more than you should. You're essentially suggesting that the "game" be made more fair at the expense of the value that reputation actually gives, namely an indication of how much the system can trust the user. Gamification is nice, yes, but you need to keep it in perspective. Gamification is useful only so much as it help provide actually useful content.
    – Servy
    Mar 17, 2014 at 21:08
  • To your first proposal, closing a question doesn't revoke any reputation, it just prevents answers, and I see no reason to prevent answers to questions for no reason other than that they're old. So this provides no benefit, and noticeable harm.
    – Servy
    Mar 17, 2014 at 21:09
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    Expire users' points after a certain time period COMMUNISM! SEND ASSASSINS!
    – Pekka
    Mar 17, 2014 at 21:12
  • @Servy: But does it actually give an indication of how much the system can trust the user? If someone asked an easy question 5 years ago and has been milking it for points for years, does that really indicate that their contribution is more trustworthy? As for closing a question, I probably used a poor term. I mean, prevent the OP from collecting more points from it after a certain point.
    – T Nguyen
    Mar 17, 2014 at 21:12
  • There've been suggestions of a per-question rep cap. That sounds more feasible to me and I'd totally support it, even retroactively - but it's unlikely to happen because surprisingly, it wouldn't affect big-rep users as much as pretty much everyone else. See e.g. Revisiting the rep cap (yes, again)
    – Pekka
    Mar 17, 2014 at 21:13
  • @DavidRobinson: "those answers continue to be of great value to the community" That's exactly the point that I'm raising for debate. What exactly measures a question's value to the community? The fact that a lot of people thought it was a valuable question. But that value should be finite. Is there a good reason why the passage of time should increase the value of a question?
    – T Nguyen
    Mar 17, 2014 at 21:18
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    Well, is there a good reason that it doesn't? Should it matter whether an answer was useful to another user four months after the fact, or four minutes? Why?
    – Pekka
    Mar 17, 2014 at 21:19
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    @TNguyen if an answer helps a million people it doesn't seem too much of a leap to say it's more valuable than one that helps 10 Mar 17, 2014 at 21:23
  • @Pëkka. Yeah actually, I think there is a good reason. Take the example of Descartes, who said cogito, ergo sum. - and introduced the idea that we are sentient because we question our own sentience. That idea was extremely valuable and is a timeless idea. The questions it poses are as important today as they were when he posed them 400 hundred years ago. BUT they are not more important today than they were 400 hundred years ago. Well, maybe their importance to society has changed but it's not as a function of time.
    – T Nguyen
    Mar 17, 2014 at 21:24
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    I agree - but they are also not less important, are they? Why should an upvote when the question is four minutes old be worth 10 points, while the upvote four months later should be 0? Basing this on time makes no sense to me.
    – Pekka
    Mar 17, 2014 at 21:29
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    @TNguyen that would probably exacerbate a problem I observe already; answers to easy (semi duplicate) questions get lots upvotes. My answers to unusual problems often get no upvotes except from the the OP. However; I eventually get a few upvoted from people googling for the same problem Mar 17, 2014 at 21:39
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    No I mean your modification would make this much worse. I've tried to explain a bit better in my answer Mar 17, 2014 at 21:48
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    Early adopters... 1 million views.. Don't hate, appreciate.
    – Travis J
    Mar 17, 2014 at 22:53

3 Answers 3


Automatically close voting on questions after a certain time period.

This will not create the utopia you hope for. There are two kinds of common questions:

  • Easy, highly specific to the OP, questions. Answers to these tend to get lots of upvotes in the short term then none ever again.

  • Hard, specific but generally applicable questions. Answers to these tend to get very few initial upvotes because people just browsing the site aren't familiar with these topics. However, these questions are much more useful and people find them on Google. They have a long tail of upvotes.

By cutting off the long tail you penalise the really valuable Q&As; the ones people search for and find answers to.

Of course there's also the super rare first basic question on a particular topic. These are super rare so not worth worrying too much about but they help a lot of people so I'm okay with this as a situation

Expire users' points after a certain time period

This is quite unkind to members who've taken time to help people; you spent years helping people but you had a few busy weeks at work so back to the start for you.


I totally agree with your basic premise: it seems super unfair that anyone should earn thousands of rep points for a cheap answer from 2009.

However, your remedy has been suggested before and the math on what the effects would be has been done by Kevin Montrose here. It shows interesting results.

  1. We don't know how widespread the actual problem - users gaining tons of reputation points from trivial answers - is. But in any case, it is going to be much smaller than one might anticipate:

    A total of 4,843 users have at least one post that has earned them >= 500 rep.

    That's 4,843 users out of about 60,000 users with more than 500 reputation points. Out of these 4,843, some have earned some significant undeserved points from a single post. (Keep in mind that there are some legitimately highly upvoted answers on SO - answers which took the authors days or weeks to research.)

  2. Correcting this by putting a limit on both the maximum rep from a post, and the time frame, would affect a significant number of users across the reputation spectrum.

    The premise in the other suggestion is to remove the daily rep cap, and to limit the amount of earnable rep to 100 per question instead. Also, rep can be earned only 6 months after the answer was posted.. The results are such:

    Reputation Band    # Users    Average Change In Reputation
    [1000, 5000)        22,723                            -486
    [5000, 10000)        3,070                          -1,670
    [10000, 20000)       1,549                          -3,034
    [20000, 30000)         488                          -4,681
    [30000, 40000)         178                          -6,986
    [40000, 50000)          81                          -7,133
    [50000, 60000)          52                          -8,079
    [60000, 70000)          39                         -11,072
    [70000+]               125                          -6,511

    Lower-reputation users would be disproportionally affected by your suggested change, some possibly seeing half their reputation go.

    These numbers are also an indicator that the rep gain from these kinds of posts has not gone only to the "super rich", so to speak, and that at least the top users made it to the top despite the current system, not because of it.

    If the suggestion above were implemented, the top ten users of Stack Overflow would gain between 12% and 219% additional reputation points, while a total of 101,727 users would lose reputation from the change.

  3. Your suggestion would not actually create a fair playing field; it would simply disadvantage different groups of posts.

    Because it makes a post's rep gain entirely dependent on the traffic it sees after it is posted, "timeboxing" would disadvantage posts in low-traffic tags, while favouring posts in high-traffic ones. That is an imbalance that is already a problem anyway. Older posts would also be at a massive disadvantage because they stem from times when SO's traffic levels were a fraction of what they are today.

While perhaps creating some improved fairness in some cases - but probably much fewer than you and I think - "timeboxing" would very likely cause great distress among users on all reputation levels. Previous, much smaller changes in the reputation system have provoked protests and wailing on such an epic scale than no one wants to remember them. The expected backlash from this would be way worse, which makes this unlikely to ever happen.

Also, it wouldn't really create actual fairness, either.


We already have a daily upvote cap which circumvents outrageous reputation gain.

It's life I'm afraid. Just like the founders of a firm have the majority of the equity. But you're in the tent now and, by your own arguments, you have it easier than future contributors.

Programming is a rapidly developing field so there will always be opportunities to make an impact.

But you're holding reputation in too high a regard: and drawing comparisons with other folk is not constructive for anyone. We're trying to build a knowledge base here. Too bad that the "what's the difference between a struct and a class" has already been asked and answered!

Why not concentrate on answering questions and watch the points trickle in?

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    I think people seem to have the perception that I care about raising my own reputation. Actually, I'm more interested in having other users' reputation be a more accurate reflection of their contribution to the community. When I look at someone's reputation, I want to understand what that reflects. Right now, I don't think it reflects much of anything at all and therefore it's a useless construct to me.
    – T Nguyen
    Mar 17, 2014 at 21:27
  • I disagree (but am glad that you don't care too much about your reputation - suffer the -7 here with dignity :-) ): I think reputation is a reasonably good statistical measure. You don't really want to overcomplicate the calculations.
    – Bathsheba
    Mar 17, 2014 at 21:29
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    @TNguyen I think you will find that the cases where reputation does not accurately reflect skill are not the high-rep users who have been active from day one, with the occasional sensational mega-upvote answer - it's rather those who have reached 20k, 50k, 70k answering trivial, easily Googleable "how to do x in y" drivel to this day, reaping 10 upvotes for each answer. Check out the link I posted above about the suggestion for a per-post reputation cap, look at the stats. Even if that cap were implemented, and mega-upvotes thus cancelled out, the playing field would not change significantly.
    – Pekka
    Mar 17, 2014 at 21:30
  • @Pëkka: That's true but I take less issue with those users because, if you're willing to spend the entire day doing 5 minutes researches, then that still reflects some contribution to the community. SO would be much less useful if there weren't those people answering all the easy questions. In other words, I think they've earned it a lot more than people who simply have old questions.
    – T Nguyen
    Mar 17, 2014 at 21:38
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    @TNguyen oh. I thought you were looking to make reputation more meaningful as an indicator of deeply researched, quality answers. I must have misunderstood you then.
    – Pekka
    Mar 17, 2014 at 21:51

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