I have noticed that if you have a very popular tag and a less popular tag, inevitably answering questions in the more popular tag will garner you more reputation, because there are simply more viewers. But if SO is to be a place where you can get an answer on any problem a person can dream up, then we need people who answer esoteric questions.

I pondered different schemes that might compensate for low views while still only rewarding good answers without completely unbalancing the system and relized you would have to be pretty careful. My own suggestion (and I am open to others) is this:

You can ascertain the quality of answers somewhat by considering the number of views, vs the answer's upvotes. So if a question has been viewed by 100 people and 10 upvote it, you know 10% of people reading it thought it was good. Likewise if an answer was read by 3 people and all 3 people upvoted it, you know that 100% of readers thought the answer was good. But of course question 2 has 3 votes and question 1 has 10:)

I think giving some form of rep bonus for a high view/upvote ratio would help reward those toiling away in obscurity and those in the spotlight equally, but make giving quality answers still paramount.


  • Is there really a problem that needs to be addressed here? Are there tags where getting answers is hard? Reading the answers here certainly gives me the impression, but an example would be welcome.
    – innaM
    Dec 18, 2009 at 22:29
  • @Manni: Example for Mac OS X: authorization framework, IOKit and launchd. Those are well known framework but few people have worked with them for a long time. Jan 7, 2010 at 10:11

8 Answers 8


I like the idea of rewarding people who toil away in lesser known tags, but I think adjusting the rep system is a bit too heavy. It seems like a badge (or set of badges) might be a more appropriate incentive.

  • How do you envision such a system working?
    – Oorang
    Dec 18, 2009 at 16:51
  • Well, if you create a tag and toil away in that tag enough, you do get a badge for it Dec 18, 2009 at 17:13
  • 4
    I like the idea of basing it on upvotes/view within the tag. This would ensure that people probably won't get the badge for C# and Java. Unfortunately that would also make it possible to get a badge for one good answer in a really obscure tag, so you'd also have to set a minimum number of total upvotes, like the current tag badges have. So maybe once you hit 400 upvotes in a tag, if all questions in that tag have less than 4000 views, you should get the 'Obscurity' badge. (Adjust the numbers to taste.) Dec 18, 2009 at 17:17
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    Am I the only one who doesn't care the least about stupid badges?
    – innaM
    Dec 18, 2009 at 19:12
  • 1
    @Manni: If you really didn't care the least about them, you wouldn't care enough to comment. A lot of people do like to collect the badges, so it's a good way to incentivize positive behavior. Dec 18, 2009 at 20:11
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    Please don't speculate on my true motives, Bill. I was trying to say that badges don't provide any incentive to me. Really. None at all.
    – innaM
    Dec 18, 2009 at 21:27
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    @Manni: So why are you commenting on this question? Seriously. Some people like badges, some don't care. For those who do, providing an additional badge for something we want to encourage may be a good thing. Dec 18, 2009 at 21:40
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    @Manni: I'll not speculate further, but just say that "badges don't provide any incentive to me. Really. None at all." sounds a lot less like sour grapes to me than "Am I the only one who doesn't care the least about stupid badges?" Dec 18, 2009 at 21:58
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    @Manni: I don't care about rep or badges. Others do. Personally, I'd be a lot more motivated if I got a beer for every good answer I post, but the system is built to reward users with intangible rep and badges - so I accept these trinkets and move on.
    – Shog9
    Dec 18, 2009 at 22:01
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    @Shog9: I'd happily accept a beer for each answer I give. My answers may decline in quality as the day goes on, though. :) Dec 18, 2009 at 22:11
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    @David: Err... Well obviously I was commenting on this question because I don't care for badges. I was questioning whether they are a good incentive. Seems they are for some people.
    – innaM
    Dec 18, 2009 at 22:24
  • @all: Badges are good for reinforcing good answers and questions.. I'm pretty sure that if there was no badge or rep system, the site wouldn't be as good as it is now. Nothing wrong with meaningless positive reinforcement... only downside I see is jealousy or people whining because of a question getting downvoted, but that's another discussion :) Dec 18, 2009 at 23:48
  • @Manni: If you are answering questions on SO for the "incentives", you are doing it wrong.
    – perbert
    Jan 6, 2010 at 18:41
  • Accepted as the answer as this suggestion is pretty much what ended up happening.
    – Oorang
    Jul 27, 2010 at 20:23

As someone who does toil in lesser known tags:

  • We definitely don't want to complicate the rep system with ratios, scaling etc. KISS.
  • I like badges, they are shiney and precious. If badges were added that encouraged my existing tendency to loiter in minor tags, fine.

But we really don't need to do this. There are existing benefits to hiding in the darker corners of the StackOverflow world:

  • Not so much the Fastest gun in the west, instead a most sober sloth analogy is more appropriate. You can take a little time on your answer without nagging fear that seven equally accurate answers will appear moments before you submit.
  • The SO denizen in a quiet tag is motivated by the potential for supremacy in said tag. 5,583 rep to oust the master of the python tag might be out of reach, but a humble couple of 100 rep might be enough to rule some lesser tag (WITH AN IRON FIST).
  • Rep cap ? What the hell is that ? Get of my lawn dammit !

We might not have the glamor, women and fast cars that mark the superstars of C#, Javascript and .net tags, but we do make some rep eventually. So if you like the quiet life ...


  • 4
    lol - google-maps? Luxury! Why in my day we'd take five page views a year and consider ourselves lucky, AFTER walking two miles across snow to answer (hoping that the Monty Python reference both makes sense, and doesn't offend).
    – David Hall
    Dec 21, 2009 at 5:56
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    +1 For stoic (even cheerful) acceptance. It doesn't speak to encouraging good response to lesser known tags though (Thereby improving response to questions). But I appreciate anyone who keeps a stiff upper lip.
    – Oorang
    Dec 21, 2009 at 15:49
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    I like to rule my niche with a Nerf fist and a steel-toed boot... it keeps people guessing. ;) Dec 21, 2009 at 17:59

Life in a lesser known tag is not that bad. What would be really bad is if the reputation system became less transparent. The single thing that makes it less transparent now is the reputation cap and my feeling is that we get at least two questions about the reputation cap every week here on meta.

Don't ruin the system by making it opaque and hard to understand.

  • 7
    I disagree. Providing high-quality answers in lesser-known tags is a mostly thankless task. It has definitely put me off answering algorithm questions, for example. It's not the rep that's the issue - it's the community recognition that the answer is a good one which is the buzz. The rep system as designed preferentially rewards popular questions, and contributors to popular tags. The OP correctly points out that we would like to encourage good answers in the slightly more niche tags. The system doesn't do that. I don't have a good answer, but it seems clear to me that the system is flawed. Dec 18, 2009 at 18:09
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    Agree with ire_and_curses here - it can be quite discouraging to put a lot of effort into an answer and get very few views on it and few upvotes. I'm not going to stop answering questions in my niche tags but it does bother me that some of the answers I am the most proud of didn't even pass 5 votes, while answers I've given in tags like C# have fared much better. The rep system is actively encouraging me to provide adequate answers in popular tags in favour of great answers in other tags.
    – David Hall
    Dec 19, 2009 at 0:03

Some points:

  • In the small group of users active on those tags, it is relatively easy to become known and respected by your peers (and the tag view, stats tab works nicely there). It doesn't show in your rep, but you can know that there are some people who know. ::gives a shout out to Will of [latex] fame::
  • The generalist badge, if implemented correctly could give some recognition to people who work outside the most popular tags (one suggested implementation)
  • How could a badge possibly give reputation?
    – innaM
    Dec 18, 2009 at 22:26
  • 2
    I believe he means reputation in general, not reputation in the context of SOFU numerical pixel trophies.
    – snicker
    Dec 18, 2009 at 23:08
  • @Manni: Thanks for calling that to my attention. It was a wordo. I meant recognition, which is to say that snicker had the right interpretation. Fixed. Dec 18, 2009 at 23:30

Things to consider:

It would be a good thing to encourage people to answer obscure questions with rep and badges. Other things being equal, giving rep and badges to people who do things we like is good.

Whatever scheme is devised should be simple and clear. Transparency is important in rewards.

One downside would be that badge/rep hounds might descend on less popular tags, writing lots of decent answers and hoping to drown out the few good ones.

So, I don't know.


Maybe the problem here (if indeed there is a problem) is not in the motivation offered to answer niche tags but in the motivation offered to upvote niche answers.

Beyond the silver Civic Duty badge there is no encouragement offered for upvoting and certainly not for taking the time to find underappreciated answers and upvoting them.

That observation aside, perhaps, sadly, this is a real problem with no practical code based solution?

Which is where my modest proposal of International reward a toiler day! enters.

This day falls on every day of the week that ends in y. All you need to do to participate is to choose a lesser known tag that you are not already active in but have knowledge about, and actively go searching for good answers that haven't attracted upvotes.

For me, my Perl and algorithm knowledge are both too rusty to answer questions but for a lot of answers I can spot something that is correct.

Another suggestion for this day is to find one good accepted answer with zero upvotes, or a good answer where the question asker never came back, and give that answer some love.

That is a slightly tongue in cheek suggestion - I'd be interested to see though what percentage of SO users regularly upvote, and what percentage of those users are active on Meta?

I feel that the people who are involved enough with the SO community to frequent Meta are the ones who can really influence the way the site dynamics work. If enough people here think that there are answers going unrewarded on SO, then perhaps the answer is for those people to go reward them?


One thing to consider, is that low number of view does not neccesarily mean the question is of a obscure tag. You can see good C# or Java questions asked in the middle of the night that get 3 views, but are buried by the time the bulk of SO users are active, so they dont see it.

Perhaps identifying "obscure/lesser known" tags should be by the total views/question ratio WITHIN EACH TAG. Perhaps the lowest 20% of tags using this ratio.


I do agree that it's easiest to get popular by writing well-formatted (eye-catching) answers to obvious questions in popular arenas.

If the goal is to encourage tag diversity, and to get obscure questions answered, there could be a scaling factor or rewards for toiling away in less-frequented tags, something inversely correlated to the popularity of the tag. (With an algorithm that avoids disproportionate effects from dividing by small numbers.)

However, it may not be beneficial. One of the goals of a folksonomy is to boil down to a shared vocabulary that is visible to all and used by all. Putting a community pressure on participation in rarely-mentioned tags may interfere with this. So it's a balancing act.

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