I've only been a member of SO for a couple of months but I must say that the site can be a bit daunting even for an experienced developer. Part of this is because when users with very high reputations answer questions then it seems that everyone assumes that they have the right answer.

I don't want to go into the self-fulfilling nature of reputation increase for high reputation people. But I think it is clear that people with high reputation scores get more upvotes (The problem with reputation: does high reputation attract too many upvotes?) because people assume (usually accurately) that they are correct.

But if reputation was hidden on SO, at least for, say, the first hour after a question is asked then the probability of the best answer being upvoted the most would surely increase. This might also require the hiding of the names of the answerers if they have very high reps!

As a second method of getting improved answers I would correlate the value of an answer (in terms of reputation gained) with the difficulty of the question. And the simplest way to do that would be based on the time required for the question to be answered. So if a question is answered within a minute then it is a 20% question (2 points per upvote), within 2 minutes a 40% question, within 5 minutes a 60% question and so on, on to say a 200% answer (20 points per upvote) on questions that have been hanging around for months. This would encourage considered answers to new questions and tempt people into reducing the backlog - rather than encouraging people to sit on the 'newest questions' hoping for a gimme.

These two measures would incentivise people to answer the questions that no-one likes the look of and reduce the relative value of answering easy questions.

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    Despite my answer, I wouldn't mind seeing more ideas to encourage people to look for older unanswered questions. We have the Necromancer badge and the bounty system, but some small percentage of questions do still fall through the cracks. Commented Mar 21, 2010 at 3:01
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    There are over 80,000 questions in the 'unanswered' section - I also think that members should be incentivized to reduce that number.
    – amelvin
    Commented Mar 21, 2010 at 3:11
  • @amelvin - The necromancer badge is one incentive for giving good answers to old questions.
    – Pollyanna
    Commented Mar 21, 2010 at 4:44
  • @amelvin: I troll throught the 60+ day old unanswered questions from time to time ('caused I'd like to nail down the necromancer badge eventually). Many of them are badly written (i.e. not answered because the poster couldn't state their problem), very localized (i.e. not answered because no one but the poster cares), or highly obscure (i.e. not answered because very few people know the answer). Nothing in your suggestions is going to change those conditions. Commented Mar 21, 2010 at 17:31
  • Thanks for the feedback everyone. It is interesting that only people with 6k+ reputation answered this question and the lowest commentator was 1.7k - and the question was downvoted three times. Interesting, but not surprising.
    – amelvin
    Commented Mar 21, 2010 at 20:29
  • @dmckee - shouldn't badly written questions be closed? I'm not sure about localized or obscure questions.
    – amelvin
    Commented Mar 21, 2010 at 20:31
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    "It is interesting that only people with 6k+ reputation answered this" @amelvin, you posted to meta on a weekend. What kind of people do you think hang out of meta on the weekends? Correct answer: people who spend too much time on SOFU sites and therefore have considerable reputation. Commented Mar 21, 2010 at 21:07
  • @dmckee - LOL, when you're right you're right!
    – amelvin
    Commented Mar 21, 2010 at 21:26

3 Answers 3


Is there any reason to think that the best answers aren't getting the most upvotes? Yes, high-rep users get more upvotes, but "Correlation does not imply causation." They got high rep by leaving good answers. They don't give good answers because they have high rep.

You also suggest applying more reputation for answers that take longer. I think one of the reasons SO works so well is that you get good answers fast. Usually within a few minutes of asking a question, you have a few suggestions to try. I wouldn't want to create an incentive for people to take longer to answer. They can already provide a quick summary answer and improve it by editing to make sure they get votes from latecomers. The current system incentivizes answering quickly and taking the time to consider and improve your answer.

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    I think that turning off the indicators of reputation for answers made within an hour of a question being set would answer the causation question; I think that high rep users get some upvotes (not all) because of their rep and I think that this discourages answers from new members - but I don't know that this is true. As to quick answers, I think more weight should be given (ie more rep) to people attempting to clear the mountain of unanswered questions - which is currently over 80,000 tall.
    – amelvin
    Commented Mar 21, 2010 at 3:00
  • @amelvin: I think you'd have to provide evidence that people are getting undeserved votes before corrective action would be taken. I agree that it would be nice to do something about the unanswered questions. I just don't know what. Please keep the suggestions coming. Commented Mar 21, 2010 at 3:05
  • What about doubling the reputation 'value' of answering unanswered questions? (20 points per upvote) or having more badges devoted to less well travelled areas - eg a badge for being the only person to answer a question three/six/twelve months after it was set.
    – amelvin
    Commented Mar 21, 2010 at 3:18
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    @amelvin - I agree with Bill that it's probably not an issue, and that high rep users get upvotes for providing good answers, but if we were willing to perform social experiments on SO we could certainly hide a user's reputation for a certain amount of time (I don't think hiding usernames would be feasible) and see if it affects voting trends. That would (semi-)conclusively answer all future questions of this nature, and (if Bill, myself, and many others were wrong) set the site up with a solution. However, I'm not sure if Jeff et al are willing to use SO as a social testing ground. Commented Mar 21, 2010 at 3:30
  • @Length - I think SO is already a social testing ground - allowing queries on the raw data is surely an indicator of that. But as I already feel 'protective' about SO I don't want psychological niggles to erode the site or its reputation.
    – amelvin
    Commented Mar 21, 2010 at 9:57

I think it is clear that people with high reputation scores get more upvotes because people assume (usually accurately) that they are correct.

It's not clear at all.

Please post a list of questions where incorrect high rep user answers are voted above correct low rep user answers.

If you can prove that this is happening (and if it is "clear" then you should be able to find many examples of this) then I'm sure people will discuss what should be done to combat it, including your suggestion.

If you can't prove it, however, then your suggestion, like all the other similar suggestions for the same perceived problem, will remain unimplemented.

Given that this type of behavior should be detectable without making the change first, there is no reason to experiment.

If, however, you are only putting forth your theory that correct high rep users are voted above correct low rep users, well that's been hashed to death in other questions, and this one should be closed as a duplicate of existing questions.

Lastly, you don't have to play the 'rep' game, but if you choose to do so, high rep users are in no way holding you back. There are a lot of users that have quickly climbed the ranks over the last year and now lie in the area you might consider "high rep" - so even if we assume there's a voting disparity it doesn't prevent someone from progressing at whatever rate they are capable of and choose to attain. Keep in mind that the rep cap really does level the playing field.

Here, let's do this:

Review https://stackoverflow.com/users/69083?tab=reputationhistory#tab-top

Straight line. He has the same ability to get rep as a under 1k beginner as he does as a 40k high rep user a year later.

How about https://stackoverflow.com/users/12960?tab=reputationhistory#tab-top

Same result. There is no difference between them in terms of getting more or less rep at a higher and lower number, and both of them reached 40k in under 12 months. That's an average of 120 rep per day, so it's under the rep cap, generally. The line isn't straight because of the rep cap, it's straight because it's just as easy for them to get rep at a lower level as it is at a higher level.

Let's go for some that accrue more slowly, like https://stackoverflow.com/users/65696?tab=reputationhistory#tab-top

Interestingly, this graph shows that it was easier to get rep at lower levels than high levels. Further, he still will reach 10k rep in about a year.


Same story. Easier when first starting. It may well be that these two examples are simply people who are spending less time on it as they go on, more research would be required to normalize the data.

What's similar in all the above examples? There is NOTHING preventing ANYONE with experience and skill from progressing up the reputation ladder.

At best there are a lot of people who want it to be easier to climb the ladder without doing the work, and/or without having the skills, and/or without having the clear communication skills that this site rewards.

I disagree with removing the reputation scores as they are an earned badge of honor, and one of the reasons why some people work so hard to give good answers to thousands of daily questions.

But what I really don't understand is why people are even complaining about it in the first place. Three thousand people have demonstrated that it's easy enough to get 3k rep in under a year, five hundred people have shown it's easy enough to get 10k rep in a year or two, over one hundred have 20k in 1-2 years, and so forth.

Let's assume it's really happening. SO WHAT? It's unfair? Ok. SO WHAT? That high reputation has been earned! Some people complain about there being a cycle of the rich getting richer, but if you look at a graph of reputation there's absolutely NO break, gap, or even a valley between those with high rep and those with low rep. There's no cycle, there's no "rich getting richer."

The only complaint I can see are people saying that the function of earning rep given the same answer input is also a function of existing rep, and that it's not linear.

waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa - my functions aren't linear, and there's a feedback loop! This game sucks!

But it's NOT EVEN HAPPENING. So far everyone that has complained has ultimately admitted that they simply "feel" that it's harder. They "perceive" a problem. No one has offered to do the work of performing a double blind study on the site - rather they want their idea implemented, believing it will become self evident.

If it's really that important to you, then do the work and prove it. Don't expect the site to change significantly just to disprove "your perception of bias."

And even then, well thanks for finding the mathematical model, but that doesn't mean we need to change anything. Past 10k there are no additional benefits. Does it really matter that the function is more complex than what you want it to be?

  • This post isn't a complaint about rep, I joined just over a month ago and I should pass 700 today and 1000 by the end of next week. I don't think that gaining reputation is especially hard. But I do think that it will discourage a lot of people if they 'think' that they will be considered second class if they joined the party late. And if you discourage people you lessen the site ... and that game sucks.
    – amelvin
    Commented Mar 21, 2010 at 10:05
  • @amelvin - well at that point, we'd better remove the username and avatar as well, because they will see the same faces and avatars over and over again, and those people will "seemingly" be upvoted above them over and over again. I don't think the perception problem warrants this drastic solution.
    – Pollyanna
    Commented Mar 22, 2010 at 0:27

I think it is clear that people with high reputation scores get more upvotes (The problem with reputation: does high reputation attract too many upvotes?) because people assume (usually accurately) that they are correct.

It stands to reason and it is probably true to some extent, but I would not characterize it as "clear". Recall that these people started out with the same reputation that you started with and acquired high reputation somehow. Generally by issuing good answers.

Reputation hiding has been suggested before and turned down.

Your second suggestions

  1. adds unnecessary complexity
  2. actually makes it harder for beginners to get a lot of rep (because right now more reputation is generated by simple questions that hard ones (see also bike shed effect))
  3. works against Stack Overflow's wonderful ability to provide answers fast
  4. doesn't increase the number of people able to answer the more obscure and/or really hard questions
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    I agree that people with a high reputation got that reputation by answering a lot of questions quickly and accurately. But I think hiding reputation for a brief time after a question is asked would ease the concerns of a lot of people. Secondly, if people were incentivized to answer the obscure/really hard questions then I think that the number of answers to 'unanswered' questions would increase.
    – amelvin
    Commented Mar 21, 2010 at 3:09

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