Possible Duplicates:
How can we make SO reputation more realistic
How do we make sure the hard questions get as much rep as the easy questions?

By counterproductive, I mean "discourages answering difficult questions in difficult subjects"

After answering questions on Stackoverflow for a few days and learning how things work, my first impression is that the reputation system is profoundly broken. Initially I was excited to build a high reputation, but now I'm feeling like the SO rep score isn't that meaningful. A few reasons:

Reputation is more easily earned on "easy" questions rather than "hard" questions. Race to answer "what does this keyword mean???" and get 20 up votes. Answer a subtle and difficult template metaprogramming question and get 2.

Reputation favors speed over accuracy This is pretty well understood, I imagine.

Reputation is more easily earned on subjects with broad appeal, rather than on expert level subjects I'm starting to suspect that if I want 10k reputation as quickly as possible, I should brush up on my PHP and CSS.

I think the reputation reward for an answer needs to be a more complex measurement than it currently is, taking into account the difficulty of the question (answer harder question = more rep), the popularity of the topic (answer a less popular subject = higher rep) and make changes to discourge quick, short, and wrong answers (perhaps have the rep rewards scale with time; downvotes count more the first n minutes, upvotes count less, etc).


4 Answers 4


Reputation is not a measure of proficiency or intelligence. It is a reflection of the contribution you have made to the site. Yes, broadly appealing questions have a greater impact. Perhaps that's a problem, perhaps not. One could argue that your impact was greater with a broadly appealing question than an interesting niche question.

  • 4
    Well, I thought it seems self evident that it is in the SO's interest to reward and retain people who can answer difficult questions on all sorts of topics. Instead, it is (in my experience) discouraging to do so. To do otherwise risks a downward spiral of the quality of both the questions/answers/overall content of the site. Dec 29, 2009 at 19:23
  • 2
    I would add, it's also pretty discouraging to ask an on topic and what I felt was a pretty constructive question, and be immediately hit with a bunch of downvotes. Makes it seem like this place isn't open to feedback or criticism. Dec 29, 2009 at 19:24
  • 1
    @Terry - on MSO people downvote you if they disagree. That's just how it works here, and it happens to all of us.
    – user27414
    Dec 29, 2009 at 19:25
  • On Meta, downvotes mean people disagree with you. Welcome aboard.
    – John Rudy
    Dec 29, 2009 at 19:26

Reputation also rewards speed, which is one of the primary things new users praise about Stack Overflow. "Wow, I posted a question and got answers within minutes!" This is seen as a good thing, and is perhaps even more valuable than correct answers to hard questions.


You are right. Reputation is never meant to be an exact measure of knowledge. Unfortunately, there's no algorithmic method to measure one's knowledge. The difficulty of a question is another algorithmically unquantifiable attribute (and it is probably a different value for every user).

Overall, the reputation system, has worked pretty well: In my opinion, in general, the quality of answers on Stack Overflow is much better than most other communities (perhaps with the exception of very specialized communities of experts in a particular area).

  • 1
    I realize there is no perfect measure of knowledge, but I posted some suggestions that I felt would help move in that direction. Dec 29, 2009 at 19:25

Either you enjoy answering questions on so.com or you don't. If you do, and you provide useful answers, your rep will grow. Perhaps more slowly if you labor in obscure corners, but inexorable.

If you don't enjoy it, well, don't do it. Building a rep get you some tools, but mostly it's the external tip of an internal iceberg of the warm feeling of helping your fellow sufferers. How's that for a mixed metaphor?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .