(Venting about the change to the rep.)

In the end, SO sells ads. That is how it makes money. People pay for ads that developers will see.

Who is the primary ad viewer? You? Me? Nope. It is the random Joe out on Google trying to find an answer to his questions. He gets a link to SO where it has been asked already and gets his answer. SO then hopes that he sees an interesting ad and clicks on that too. Money made.

Key to this is that users know that they can get good info from SO and the question has the key words they are searching on. I good answer is clearly key to this. But a well crafted question, with examples and key words makes a big difference too.

If the question is poorly worded, has no examples, etc, then searchers may start to think that SO's stuff is nice for the person who asked the question, but too hard to follow for someone looking in from the outside. Money lost.

Now, SO is a long, long way from this state (quite the opposite in fact). But by telling the community that a good question is 50% as important as it used to be, the SO site is arguably taking a step in that direction.

Is my opinion tainted? Yes. I spent a lot of time on a lot of really good questions trying to make them really good for those who will follow after. I will go from over 3100 rep to about 1,750 from this change. I lose two nice privileges on the SO site that I was enjoying.

But that is another point. I am now mad at SO. I will still ask questions (cause when you need an answer this is still the best place), but I am not as big an evangelist for SO as I was yesterday. I feel like the rules were changed in the middle of the game because of a very small minority of abusers. So SO has lost an loyal fan too.

Is SO shooting itself in the foot with this change or am I just disgruntled?

  • Can anyone tell me when the rep changes take place? Couldn't find that information anywhere.... Mar 20, 2010 at 4:53
  • 1
    @George - 6 to 8 weeks.
    – Pollyanna
    Mar 20, 2010 at 18:40
  • Do you know any other amount of time? Mar 21, 2010 at 1:13

7 Answers 7


They are shooting themselves in the foot, for that exact reason. Good, relevant questions are what suck people in from Google, and they should incentivize that. While there is still an incentive, it is lessened. It's also penalizing those who asked those good, relevant questions that got them to this point.

  • 3
    No one is being penalized for asking questions. They still earn rep, but just not as much. The change makes it a relatively poorer strategy to gain rep than answering questions (and that's a good thing), but that's not the same as a penalty.
    – tvanfosson
    Mar 20, 2010 at 2:15
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    @tvan, the penalizing is the retroactive application Mar 20, 2010 at 3:36
  • 2
    I still don't think it's a penalty -- it applies equally to everyone, both those who have participated in the past and those who will participate in the future. It's also consistent with how changes to the points system have been handled previously. Yes, it lowers some peoples rep -- I'm going to take a big hit because I have a habit of deleting my answers in favor of better answers even if I have up votes and the recalc will catch those, too -- but really I view it as correcting the rules while the game is in progress. Retroactive calc is fairest to current and future players.
    – tvanfosson
    Mar 20, 2010 at 12:44
  • @tvan, it doesn't hurt me as much now that Jeff has decided to let Meta alone. Mar 20, 2010 at 20:54

I think most of the really well-crafted questions come through multiple edits, which don't gain reputation at all. I do feel bad for the people who are near a threshold and are going to lose a privilege or be delayed in gaining one, but I think this is one of those cases where you can't please everyone. We get tons of complaints about users who get thousands of rep on hundreds of bad questions. Now Jeff is doing something about that, and a completely different group of people is complaining.

I also think things might even out over time. People currently vote a lot more for answers than questions. Once you adjust the amount of rep given for each kind of vote, I think you might see more total votes going to questions (hopefully only the good ones). There are always unintended consequences to any change. I think we should wait and see what the outcome is before we decide whether it was right or wrong.

  • I think you should stop closing questions. Think of all the money lost by closing mine... Mar 20, 2010 at 1:39
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    @Evan: I didn't close it, I deleted it. :P Mar 20, 2010 at 1:42
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    @Evan - I think you should stop doing a lot of things, but you're not going to listen to anyone else's advice, so why should anyone else listen to you? Mar 20, 2010 at 1:51
  • "We get tons of complaints about users who get thousands of rep on hundreds of bad questions". But rather than target those users, the change is hitting all questioners. Feels like trying to shoot out a sliver with a shotgun. Point blank.
    – Vaccano
    Mar 20, 2010 at 3:35
  • +1 "...you can't please everyone."
    – Sampson
    Mar 20, 2010 at 4:33
  • @Vaccano: If we target those users without addressing the underlying problem (the fact that they're able to exploit the system) then all we'd be doing is treating the symptom. If I target those users, then I get to do it all over again next month when new users take their place (or, more likely, the same users with new accounts). Mar 20, 2010 at 12:03

I would say... maybe.

I've only asked a single question in my time on SO, and only stand to lose 10 rep from the recalc, so I'm not worried about my own rep.

However, I liked the fact that questions and answers were valued equally - they cannot exist without each other. It's the answers that people are ultimately looking for, but without someone asking the questions, the answers won't be written. On the other hand, I'm sure this wouldn't have been considered a problem if the points had been like this to start with (at least not as much as is the case now), and while humans have a tendency to feel very bad about change, that doesn't mean change is always a bad thing.

My concern is about the people who aren't feeling talented enough to actually answer questions - or the people who are just slow typers and can't answer questions before someone else comes along and posts the exact same thing.

Before the change, asking questions provided them with a way to participate and being considered equally important - a question vote was considered equal to an answer vote. They can still do that, but we've just turned their difficulty setting up to 11.

While I agree with Joel that it's important that people ask questions for the right reasons - and I also believe that there are quite a few questions on SO which should never have been asked - I think there's a very real risk that SO will just appear even more elitist than it already does, because people who can answer questions are valued higher than people who can't.

There's nothing wrong with aiming for a high standard of questions and answers - but to me, making memes out of people like Jon Skeet does come off as being incredibly elitist and cliquey. By decreasing the value of people who can ask questions, I think it'll just make that problem worse - people will find it even harder to appear as a respected member of the community. Hell, I'm at 5.3k, which I consider to be fairly high, and I still wonder if anyone ever pays any real attention. It's not that it makes much of a difference to me, but I know it will make a big difference to other people.

It may be the case that this change really will encourage people to vote more on questions, which I think is a good thing - I know I need to get better at voting in general, but it holds even more true for question voting - but I have my doubts. Of course, that probably just means that my lack of voting is due to some completely different reason.

The good thing is that they can always change it back - just change the values back and do a new recalc - so it's definitely not the end of the world, even if it turns out to have the completely opposite effect of what was intended.

  • "...people who can answer questions are valued higher than people who can't." Isn't this already true? Isn't this somewhat inherent to a Q&A site? Isn't it going to be true anywhere you go in life that people who can help others are more useful than people who need lots of help? Mar 20, 2010 at 2:39
  • @Stu: Yes, that's entirely true, but without someone asking that question, no one will answer it. To me, the equal value of questions and answers shows that we acknowledge that fact, and I think that seems to fit well with the concept this was built on. In practice, it'll probably always be easier to get the rep as an answerer, but by making it even harder to get rep from asking questions, that can be demoralizing to those people, and it might prevent them from asking those really good questions. The change isn't meant as a penalty, but it can easily be interpreted that way. Mar 20, 2010 at 12:19

What is your incentive for coming to a site such as Stack Overflow to ask questions? Is it to earn rep from the question or is it to get an answer?

For most people it's to get an answer. Imagine you're working on a project and you've been banging your head against a problem, and because of this your boss is on the warpath wondering why your app isn't ready, or your site is down and customers are threatening to mangle your soft sensitive bits, what do you do? You Google and discover Stack Overflow. So you pop in your question and within a few minutes you have a raft of answers many of which solve your problem.

Isn't that the real reward, isn't that reward enough? Are you going to bitch about not getting rep points because you asked a question, or are you going to go away happy because you just saved your backside by getting help from the Stack Overflow community?

I've asked 65 questions (against providing 663 answers) over my time with Stack Overflow which have gained rep worth ~1300, even if I lost all that rep or even double the amount, it's no big deal because many of those questions were asked under moments of pressure where I didn't have the time to research in depth. The reward for me is being able to tap into a highly enthusiastic and active expert technical community and get answers quickly.

I work from home and Stack Overflow is like being able to shout a question across the office to a bunch of colleagues and get immediate results, that's pretty cool and I'm not going to quibble about losing rep based on asking for help.

So to answer your question, no, I don't think Stack Overflow is shooting itself in the foot.

  • I am not denying the benefit to the asker. You are absolutely right that the asker gets his reward in the answer. But SO's reward is having a new entry in its "knowledge base". How good that entry is is what is in question. Do you reward a good question (that may bring in other user to look at ads and make SO money?) or do you not incentivize people to make better questions by reducing the amount of points they get from crafting a really good question as the "index" to the new entry into the "knowledge base" that is SO.
    – Vaccano
    Mar 20, 2010 at 3:26
  • 1
    @vaccano - No I think the monetization of stack overflow via ads derives from rewarding good answers and providing the community with the ability to choose what are good questions through self-vetting and to edit them into shape. That's the killer feature, not the questions themselves. People are always going to have questions about programming, it'll never end, sites like SO are like King Canute trying to stem the tide. People will end up somewhere to ask a question, SO just happens to have a better mechanism to deal with them (rep or no rep).
    – Kev
    Mar 20, 2010 at 3:39

While I don't have much to say about the rate recalc, I do want to address a part of your question, as it's an assumption of fact...

Who is the primary ad viewer? You? Me? Nope. It is the random Joe out on Google trying to find an answer to his questions.

Actually, you are the ad viewer, and ads are effective on you. It's just so very rare (tenths of a percent chance) that you'll notice an ad, that it seems like never. Therefore, you think, I'm not the one who ads are meant for, just Joe Google and the other "normies".

But that's ok, just about everyone thinks the same thing.

  • I have found myself watching the square-ish ads, where the open source projects show up from time to time. Found out about a couple of (non-open source and obviously paid ads for) things and clicked through the ads, even though in those cases it wasn't something I ended up needing.
    – Gnome
    Mar 20, 2010 at 18:42

Your questions aren't less-appreciated because they're represented by a smaller number. Those who use the metric sytem represent 10 feet as 3.04 meters. It's not because they don't appreciate distance as much, they just use a different system. Stack Overflow is switching systems, that's all.

The value is in the vote, not its numerical representative(s).

  • 7
    hmm no.. Changing metric systems would imply a proportional change and this is not; it's like saying that you're using meters for questions and feet for answers, and comparing the length in feet with the length in meter (so that 9 meters is actually shorter than 10 feet), and as you can see it doesn't make much sense Mar 20, 2010 at 1:08
  • 1
    @Kop: My argument is that the votes aren't less-appreciated just because the number is smaller.
    – Sampson
    Mar 20, 2010 at 2:58

I feel like the rules were changed in the middle of the game

The game has been evolving over the last 3 years. Nothing has ever been set in stone. If so, meta needn't exist.

Yes, some changes can be frustrating, and all changes will affect some user more than others.

But at the end of the day the playing field is still even.

Quite frankly, you are unhappy because you are playing the reputation game, but would you go back and undo all your questions (and the answers they gave you) and go back to your previous way of solving the problems you face? Are you ready to state that SO has no ongoing value for you?

One can fully use SO as a great programming resource with absolutely no reputation.

I'm sorry that this change affects you so much. No, it's not fair.

But going forward, I believe it will actually improve the site and community as a whole. Arguably the site's value lies in answers, not questions. Questions are a dime a dozen. Prior to stackoverflow good answers often cost $60/hr and a lot of frustration.

Now answers can be had almost as cheaply as questions, and should they not be paid more handsomely, even if the method of payment is an ephemeral number in a database?

If you spend the time to research and answer every question in the featured tab, not only will you get a great deal of reputation reasonably quickly, but you will learn an invaluable amount of knowledge in the process. You'll be back up above 3k in no time.

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