Reputation is not considered to be the currency of SE, as evidenced by much previous discussion, such as:

The closest that reputation is considered to come to being "currency" seems to be with bounties. Even then, however, it is only considered as being used to "buy" advertisement of a question, to bring attention to it:

Regardless of not being a currency, reputation is, nevertheless, highly valued by users. Users express great concern about the gain and loss of reputation, as is evidenced in popular discussions such as the following:

The value of reputation to users is further reinforced by greater privileges at higher levels of reputation:

Reputation is used for both positive reinforcement and negative punishment. Up-voting positively-reinforces the asking of good (well-researched) questions and the provision of useful answers by adding reputation. Down-voting negatively-punishes the asking of poorly-researched questions and the provision of useless answers by subtracting reputation.

Up-voting both questions and answers is free. Down-voting only questions is free. Therefore, it is free to positively-reinforce both good questions and answers. It is only free, however, to punish poor questions. (It may become effectively-free to have punished a poor answer, if that answer is subsequently deleted, however.)

A user who has been punished for a useless answer is relatively freely able to delete that answer, and remove the negative consequences that they received as a result of it. A user who has been punished for a poor question, however, may be restricted from deleting that question if someone else has already been positively-reinforced for a helpful answer to it. Good answers, even to poor questions, are regarded as having value for the community:

Does the reputation system increase the likelihood that registered users will take greater risks of providing useless answers than of providing poor questions?

(Note that feature-request questions on meta sites are a different beast... especially with regard to the purpose of voting.)

  • 3
    An interesting question, although I strongly suspect the various cultural norms that have developed in order to combat specific patterns of low-quality posts will distort the results exceedingly; to name but one, a fair number of voters deliberately downvote otherwise passable answers to questions they consider should not be answered (usually after downvoting and flagging/VtCing the question, of course). Awareness of this in some fashion would then likely tend to reduce, however slightly, the incentive to answer questions that are likely to attract such punishments to all answers. Jul 15, 2015 at 7:07
  • Good points, @NathanTuggy. I do expect that the situation is more complex than just the obvious, up-front, "carrot and stick". Some of those "cultural norms" that you mentioned take a while for new folk to learn... so, it's good to hear about them.
    – David
    Jul 15, 2015 at 7:19
  • 1
    My take is that questioners, by and large, ask because they have sincere questions and they genuinely want answers. Very few questioners are chasing rep. People chasing rep are almost always answerers. And in general, the community is bifurcated: questioners question, answerers answer, and very few users (relatively speaking) swing both ways. That said, SE is "optimized for pearls, not sand" and does reward great answers at twice the rate of good questions (though again I don't think this is necessarily why rep hunters answer: they answer because they don't have any sincere questions).
    – Dan Bron
    Jul 15, 2015 at 10:39
  • Yes, Dan Bron is right - good questions are hard to fake, and good answers are rewarded more. You get -2 for both at a down vote, but +10 not +5 for an answer - so you can see the risk is reduced with answering.
    – Tim
    Jul 15, 2015 at 11:15
  • 2
    "useless answers" - are you by chance aware of a fastest-gun problem? That's when answerers crowd in easy questions, "behaving like hyenas" and doing their worst to get a chance to squeeze a bit of rep points for being the first to dump an answer. As far as I know, it is not even considered too risky. "Stack Overflow technology makes me write bad answers"
    – gnat
    Jul 15, 2015 at 12:59


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