IMHO, I think there is a flaw in the reputation system. Say there is a user who is not the most technical and are on the site mostly to learn, but is highly enthusiastic about the community. It seems the only way to become part of the community here is to gain reputation points. The problem comes from the fact that the only good way of gaining reputation points is to answer questions.

Should there be a way for these users to gain points slowly somehow (i.e. Gain 1-2 point per day they visit the site)? Or should the SO community be only made up of those that are technical and can answer questions with great explanations?

I am a student that has been programming in Java and various other languages for a couple years now, but I find myself being dwarfed by other users that seem to know every intricacy of these languages. This is great for learning but I don't see a way for me to ever become part of the community here.

  • 6
    The way for you to become a part of the community is to learn. The more you learn, the more you will be able to contribute.
    – Jeff Yates
    Jul 9 '09 at 15:28
  • 3
    I agree, and would vote the question up if I could, but I am in exactly this situation. It's not about the functionality or cred of "reputation" though, it's about wanting to give something back. If I could be given a menial way of adding value to the site, I'd jump at it, reputation or no reputation.
    – mblackwell8
    Aug 19 '09 at 0:29

There are a number of users who have gained a fair amount of reputation solely from asking questions, lots and lots of questions (one example from a quick search through recent question in c# tag). Additionally, I know for me personally, my involvement in the site has nothing to do with the features exposed by gaining more rep. Certainly I am interesting in increasing my rep, but I don't do a lot of editing or any of those features that are now available to me. I enjoy trying to answer questions and reading good questions and answers to learn new things.

  • 8
    To be fair, some of the users who have amassed large reps from questions alone are not the kinds of users we want to encourage.
    – Pops
    Dec 3 '11 at 19:25
  • What about Skeet? Jul 18 '13 at 0:41
  • @PopularDemand Why not? Questions contribute to the site as well as answers. If they don't, they won't get upvoted so the user won't gain rep points. Why would we want to discourage those users? Jul 18 '13 at 0:51
  • @phoenixheart6 Some questions are both inappropriate for the site and very popular (i.e. "upvote magnets") when they show up. These days, such questions tend to get closed fairly quickly, but in the past, that wasn't always the case.
    – Pops
    Jul 18 '13 at 2:53
  • @PopularDemand Oh ok, that's true. I thought you meant users who don't answer questions and only ask. I've seen a number of users with lots of reputation from only asking questions, but it seemed it was well deserved because they were very good questions. Jul 18 '13 at 2:57

I've been a professional software developer for 26 years now and I still don't know every intricacy of languages I'm supposed to be an "expert" in & I struggle to answer some of the questions here.

Just keep persevering reading questions looking for ones you can answer.

Think about questions you want to ask. I've gained more reputation on Meta from asking questions than I have answering them (or at least I did in the first week). This will give you enough reputation to participate a little more and gradually gain the more reputation.

Alternatively, don't worry about it. Just use the site as a place to ask questions or search for answers.

  • 1
    Good advice. I think that's pretty much how most of us have gained rep. Quite often it can be out of blind luck that you get to a question that you can answer and be the first to post.
    – Jeff Yates
    Jul 9 '09 at 15:36
  • @JeffYates yep! And lately I'm trying hard to optimize looking out for questions I can ask and diversifying into multiple tags (10k being my ultimate goal) but even at the rate I'm going its going to take so many months! I don't know how you high rep guys find so many questions to answer so well!
    – gideon
    Feb 23 '12 at 16:12
  • 1
    @gideon: If you make your goal providing high quality answers, the rest will follow.
    – Jeff Yates
    Feb 23 '12 at 20:10

Think of it as an invitation to learn. Pick a question that interests you, and research the answer. Maybe you'll come back and find out that the answer you were going to post has already been provided - no worries, you still learned something.

Another way to learn is to ask questions. Get good at it, and you can accumulate rep that way too...

  • +1, this would have been my answer. A slight addition to it would be to look for questions lower down the list that haven't gotten as much attention. Sometimes they take a little research or experimentation in order to come up with the answer and a lot of people don't take the time to do that. You will learn more from the research than you will by reading an existing answer or even asking your question here!
    – lnafziger
    Jul 17 '13 at 23:14

Why should you get a good reputation for doing nothing? So you think that my doctor's reputation should grow when he doesn't actually practise medicine? That makes no sense.

Reputation is there to encourage participation and to reflect (to some extent) a users ability, knowledge, and discipline. Just handing it out for being there seems to go against that.


I actually think it is a good idea to allow the ability to retag questions and to edit the community wiki questions, as I could see someone who has been a member for a couple months knowing enough at that point to be able to contribute in those ways, but still not have enough reputation yet.

However, I don't really think that you should be allowed to go much past that as the reputation is also a measure of how much you know within the knowledge domain. For example, on StackOverflow, having 2000+ reputation could also be interpreted to mean that you know a thing or two about programming and likewise with ServerFault. As such, there is a bit of an expectation that you may be able to identify a poorly worded question and help the asker out in clarifying what they meant.

One way that the bar might be lowered a bit, in regards to retagging questions and editing community wiki questions, might be to add a time frame to the items, for example:

  • Retag questions - 500 points, or 250 points and three months as a user.
  • Edit community wiki posts - 750 points, or 325 points and six months as a user.

I think the problem you're highlighting is a bit of a fallacy. While it's true, there are people on here that know more than you, even the great Jon Skeet doesn't know everything (sorry, Jon). The community, together, knows nearly everything about the topics discussed, but only collectively.

Most of my knowledge comes from having screwed it up in the first place. If I see somebody making the same mistake I did, then it's very easy to swoop in and get the answer out, because it's automagic. You can still earn lots of rep (there are a ton of unanswered questions) by providing thoughtful, well-explained answers to problems, even if a technical solution already exists. Although it may seem like it, nobody on here knows the answer to every post. The people answering are likely just as intelligent as you are, but just have had the experience of running across a problem before.

Also remember that Java is a remarkably pervasive language (and yet I've never used it, haha!), so the audience for it is huge. However, I'm a mediocre C# guy (I do mostly SQL/database work), but I've still answered C# questions. Find questions you can answer, don't worry about the Fastest Gun in the West, and just keep plugging away. It took me nearly a month before I was able to get a rep cap day (that may be slow, but I'm not ashamed to admit it). I spent the first month getting my bearings and figuring out how to answer questions so that they helped people. Some days I do a good job of that, and some days I don't. C'est la vie.

In a large group, there will always be barriers of entry, but StackOverflow does a fantastic job of giving everybody equal footing to become part of the community. So long as you contribute any way you can, you'll find yourself more and more a part of that.

  • 2
    -1 for saying that Jon Skeet doesn't know everything. ;-)
    – lnafziger
    Jul 17 '13 at 23:16

How about creating a new stack exchange for newbie developers. I am finding that new developers are asking a question and word it weird and get slammed hard on downvotes with no explanation. They clearly state they are newbies. I whenever I can try to help out and let them know how to gain rep and ask questions better. I was a newbie once too.

The downvotes are getting to be almost epedemic IMHO and some of it is uncalled for (some is absolutely valid). So maybe like students.stackexchange.com that can be programming students helping each other out with experts from stack going on their and mentoring when they can. I can even propose it on Area 51. I see this as maybe a message to new users that if this question involves their class school project or they are just learning a language then visit students.stackexchange.com.

  • 5
    Stack Overflow IS for newbie developers. And experienced developers. And expert developers. However, it is for people who at least try to answer their own question first, and ask a question that is within the scope of the site. Good questions are welcome from anybody!
    – lnafziger
    Jul 18 '13 at 0:24
  • I realize that but I still think that the downvoters need to be a little more forgiving the 1st time around. People dont always understand how it works. You can get "kicked off the island" for a bad choice of words in the title. Jul 18 '13 at 0:27
  • 3
    FWIW, lack of knowledge is not the main thing that's attracting downvotes; it's the lack of research effort and not making the effort to ask a good question (e.g. what have you tried, what error message you get, what output do you want) Jul 18 '13 at 0:28
  • Well, perhaps people take downvotes harder than they should. I think that if you have a question that garners downvotes (along with the comments that the downvoters have hopefully left) it should spur you to improve the question. If you keep getting downvotes, perhaps a little research into how the site is supposed to work would be warranted. Don't get me wrong, I personally think that SE could be a little more clear on what is expected in a question when a brand new user asks one for the first time, and that would help considerably.
    – lnafziger
    Jul 18 '13 at 0:32
  • @doubleDown: Well said. The fact that they are newbies doesn't mean that they shouldn't be able to ask good questions. Just that they don't know the answers!
    – lnafziger
    Jul 18 '13 at 0:34
  • LOL! Case in point... An answer about unwarranted downvotes gets 2 downvotes without documentation. Jul 18 '13 at 5:07

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