I like the reputation model, humans are easy creatures and getting upvoted feels awesome.

However I have noticed people on both Stackoverflow and Serverfault doing the following for points:

  • Answer a lot of questions (mostly copy/paste from Wikipedia or Google)
  • Rarely up-vote anyone else
  • Gain a high reputation (without deserving it, imho)

In a model of giving reputation and receiving reputation these people are "bad citizens" in my opinion.

I think that people should never have less number of up-votes than a number of questions answered/asked. If nobody is up-voting the answers/questions, then the sites are kind of losing the point of peer-review.

Possible solutions

Provide a badge (if you don't already)

Provide a badge that values people that provide up-votes (can be abused)

Up-vote ratio

  • Change the reputation awards so that each reputation point you receive is multiplied by your "votes / questions & answers" ratio.
  • Example: If I have 3 up-votes and 4 answers and 3 questions, then my ratio is 0.4 and if I get an up-vote for one of my question or answers, then instead of awarding me 10 points; I get 4.

This will encourage users to read through other answers and provide some peer-review without encouraging people to just up-vote. To avoid abuse, only use this for ratios below 1.


I am not trying to "punish people for posting answers" in any way. The may-be "non-existent" problem I'm trying to solve is:

The number of well thought-out answers that people spend time working on get no up-votes at all while carbon copied Wikipedia answers or your answer simply repeated with someone with more time to do mark-up magic. I think that problem would get solved if more people would be actively reading and up-voting threads.

But hey, maybe I am jumping to a solution of a problem that doesn't exist. I at least feel less inclined to write detailed answers if nobody reads them.

Edit 2011:

A year has passed and people still keep answering to this post like I am trying to punish those hard working people providing answers on Stackexchange.

I just noticed a user pattern and thought to myself, "this could be better" and also noticed that I felt less interested in writing detailed answers on Stackoverflow as a result.

John Skeet's response is good - and it's not always we have to "control" user patterns, sometimes we just have to adapt instead.

Thanks for all your replies. I consider this case, closed.

  • 1
    Why do we want to discourage answering questions?? People and their reputation...get over it!!
    – jjnguy
    Jul 13, 2009 at 12:12
  • 1
    It's an effin question and answer website, not a game!!!
    – jjnguy
    Jul 13, 2009 at 12:13
  • 1
    Post examples. I don't believe this is a real problem.
    – Shog9
    Jul 13, 2009 at 14:49
  • What about someone like this?... 458 questiosn, 0 answers, 7 upvotes, 9 downvotes - I'm not sure how you are calculating the questions & answers (ratio or adding them?).
    – Mottie
    Sep 22, 2009 at 15:52
  • So, how would you go about applying this to newbies who don't have enough rep to cast votes yet???
    – RobH
    Jan 13, 2010 at 20:41
  • Hi, I have posted a separate question about this. I'm looking for information about what the existing system/algorithms for up vote allocations etc actually are, and also any guidelines on when people should up-vote. If we could clarify that, and then identify any weaknesses with that system/algorithm, and then propose an alternate system/algorithm, we'd be somewhere. Jan 25, 2011 at 4:07
  • The question makes it sound like casting an up-vote diminishes ones own reputation ("giving reputation"). That would certainly be the wrong way to do it. Users should accumulate "votes" in a parallel manner to "reputation". The only things that should reduce your reputation is receiving a down-vote, or having something flagged, moderated and deleted. Is that how it is done? Jan 25, 2011 at 4:29
  • OK, I found much of the info I wanted here: stackoverflow.com/faq The system looks fairly sensible, although I think a vote-down should reverse a vote-up WRT reputation (especially as it costs the voter reputation!) Jan 25, 2011 at 5:21
  • Perhaps penalise the voter equivalently to the votee however. Jan 25, 2011 at 5:27

11 Answers 11


I think that people should never have less number of up-votes than a number of questions answered/asked.

So you think that you shouldn't be allowed to post as many answers as the daily upvote limit?

Just looking at my own stats on SO, I have given 3198 votes, of which 3061 are upvotes. I've posted 14 questions and 4372 answers. Should 1311 of those answers not have been posted, even if they've been useful?

If nobody is up-voting the answers/questions, then the sites are kind of losing the point of peer-review.

Some people will answer more than they upvote. Others will upvote more than they answer. Others will edit lots and answer rarely. You don't need to try to force everyone to play the same role.

I personally don't see any point in giving a reward for upvoting indiscriminately - which your system would do. It would encourage people to use up their quota of upvotes every day, without making any check that those upvotes are being used appropriately. You would be better off upvoting everything in sight than reading answers carefully and only casting half as many votes. That can't be a good thing.

  • I'm sorry my post isn't clear but no, of course you should be allowed to whatever you want. I'm just suggesting that the point award should get be reduced to the 'leechers'. You would have a ratio of 0.7 (and of course this can be tweaked) which would not mean you can't or shouldn't post. It would just mean that instead of awarding you 10 points, you would get 7. I realize that it can be dangerous to award upvotes (because people will simply click without thinking). But in my opnion, something must be done.
    – Andrioid
    Jul 13, 2009 at 8:53
  • 5
    Why must "something be done"? What is the actual problem here? In what way is the site being hurt by this? Do I count as a "leecher" in your view? You do realise that posting a correct answer takes significantly more effort than just casting an upvote, don't you? Posting good information contributes more to the site than just upvoting, IMO... and in particular encouraging indiscriminate voting (as your proposal does) would reduce the value of the site IMO.
    – Jon Skeet
    Jul 13, 2009 at 9:03
  • Maybe I'm dramatizing this a bit, but I think it would help the community to address people harvesting points like this. No, I don't consider you a leecher or anyone who is obviously involved in the community. I'm not saying that the ratio needs to be 1.0 or even 0.8. I'm just considering an 'improvement' in the point awarding algorithm.
    – Andrioid
    Jul 13, 2009 at 9:44
  • 1
    Do you have any evidence that people are "harvesting" points though? Isn't the point of the rep system that in order to gain points you have to contribute something useful in the first place? Why on earth would that be a problem? Why would an answer be any less useful just because the poster hasn't voted as much?
    – Jon Skeet
    Jul 13, 2009 at 9:48
  • I would add to this that "harvesting points" is a non-issue. Anyone who has a high rep most likely isn't gaming the system, he or she (like Jon Skeet) is providing real value to the site, and spending a lot of his/her own time to do so. These are the users who should be rewarded!
    – John Rudy
    Jul 13, 2009 at 11:40
  • @Andrioid: So who are harvesting points like this? If Jon Skeet isn't doing it, who is? Surely someone must be abusing the system for you to feel it is a problem.
    – jalf
    Jul 13, 2009 at 12:05
  • One point that John Skeet made that I think bears repeating (slightly differently) is that everyone uses the site differently. Some people read questions more than they answer. These people probably are looking for answers, not looking to provide. Other people Answer more than they read. These people probably don't look for answers as often. Not every developer is at the same knowledge level, and even if they were, some people push the limits of their current knowledge and others sit deprecated with their piece of the knowledge pie. Jan 13, 2010 at 18:19

What you want to happen is to punish the people who give good answers.

StackOverflow, ServerFault and SuperUser gain more value on answers that work than by redistributing reputation.

This is the same value that is behind the reason why capitalism is used even by socialist countries: capitalism's surplus-profit model trumps over the communist "government produces everything its citizens need" model wherein quality suffers from the need to provide equal resources to everyone.

Clearly unacceptable, in my opinion.


Wait is the point of stack overflow to have my questions answered or to gain reputation? I'm confused.

personally I don't care how much rep I have so long as I can help other people and be helped by them. I don't care how much rep the person ansering the question has either. Although If there are two answers I'll probably pick the one with the higher votes (even if it comes from a user with a lower rep)

Rep is just a way to get people to participate, I can award you with 10 meta rep by upvoting this question, because I think it's a good one, or I could take away 2 points by down voting this question. The question is still being answered though.

I vote lots ask lots and answer not so much. thats partially because I dont have the time to look stuff up or just don't have the answers to hand. I think the people who answer questions are noble souls who take time out of thier day to help others they should not be punished for not participating in the "Reputation Game" some of them may be rep whores but rep is free and if they dont upvote something then somone else will.

If every reader who thought a question was vaugely good voted for it we'd have a rep explosion and it would cease to mean anything. People are selective about what they vote for, and the only vote for things that they think merit it either way, that is as it should be.

I think you are trying to solve a problem that doesn't exist.


Oh and I can't upvote this thread because you need 15 rep to upvote...


Civic Duty silver badge for voting 300 times.

-1 for giving a negative vote.

Enough and fair enough.


That doesn't make sense.

I think that people should never have less number of up-votes than a number of questions answered/asked. If nobody is up-voting the answers/questions, then the sites are kind of losing the point of peer-review.

Why? You've only stated that you think it is bad, not why you think it is bad. Moreover, aren't people upvoting answers? Otherwise, how do these "leeches" gain a high rep? Surely they do that by, you know, people upvoting their answers.

And in my experience, copy/paste from wikipedia gains fewer upvotes than actual answers tailored to the specific question, so the system already rewards good answers.

Before jumping into solution mode, how about confirming that a problem actually exists. Do you feel there are answers that do not get upvoted because people are "leeches" and answer, but don't vote? Link to a few of them please, so the rest of us can see the problem for ourselves.

Essentially, what you're saying is that you want a solution which can be abused, to a problem we're not sure exists?

Finally, of course, you seem to forget that it is ultimately the answers that give the site value. You can upvote as much as you like, but the reason people ask questions here is because they get answered. The voting is useful too, but secondary, and simply allows the questions to be ordered.

So I can think of a couple of hypothetically bad scenarios:

  • Someone who consistently posts bad/low quality answers (say, copy/paste from somewhere else)
  • Someone who indiscriminately upvotes answers not because the answer warrants it, but because he wants to spend more votes.

On the other hand, the one you're worried about, someone who posts good answers, but never ever votes still adds value to the site. Just like someone who only upvotes good questions, but never answers anything himself, adds value. The problem is not people who do one thing, but not the other. The problem, if one exists, is people who do one or both of these activities badly.

I don't think there is, or should be, a relation between upvotes and answers. Rewarding people for maintaining a fixed ratio between the two just encourages bad votes or bad answers.


I think that people should never have less number of up-votes than a number of questions answered/asked.

That seems an arbitrary restriction and implies that every user should spend their time reading as well as writing answers. Different users approach - and enjoy - SO in different ways, some provide content, some organise it and many 'manage' quality by voting; as Jon indicates, the diversity is self-balancing. A ratio would imply that everyone should act in a certain way, which means some users will be constrained, leading a decline in their main contribution. It'd be like everyone having to grow their own crops, take their own garbage to landfill, and write their bestseller. SO is good at allowing people to focus on what they're good at; effectively punishing people (through a ratio) who write more books than grow crops seems a little feudalist.


You might be interested in these proposals, which are all along the same lines thematically as what you're proposing.

It is also more of an actual than a theoretical problem, in my experience:


The point of these sites is to get answers for questions you have and help other with question they have. Reputation/badges/Pats on the head are really secondary to the primary goal of the site. They are kind of a feel good aspect of the sites, but don't really do anything. I don't really think people care about someone's Rep as long as they get the answer they are looking for. The moment that the site starts restricting people's ability to ask and answer questions (either by not allowing them to answer, or merely discouraging it), the site has lost it's intended purpose.

I post answers, because it's nice to help people out, and because sometime I am going to have a problem that I need an answer, and someone will help me. Does it matter than John Skeet has a higher rep than I do? No, not really. Do I want to even the playing field so I can catch up to him, nope. My rep really shows how well I am answering questions. It's a way of measuring myself, and showing where I need to improve on what I know. (and it does too, I've made some comments which were wrong and quickly realized it by people giving feedback through comments and voting). If someone is angry, because they don't get to have the top score, sorry, they are just going to have to try harder. A good response is a good response, because it answers a question. It doesn't matter where it came from.


Personally, I agree, but not in so many words quite the same spirit.

I have no problem with people copying and pasting relevant answers from Google/Wikipedia. If my Googling skills are better than yours, you tried and failed, and I can provide you with help through a link or reference to another article, then I think that's fine, so long as the OP gets the answer to the question they asked.

I don't see a HUGE amount of people casting more downvotes than upvotes, the ratio that I've seen is about +10:-1 for most normal users that I've come in contact with. I have seen several though who wage a personal war, either for a particular product (example: https://stackoverflow.com/users/9787/david-w-fenton) or more often for reputation. These people tend to have significantly higher downvote to upvote ratios than regular users.

I also see the cost and penalty for receiving/giving a downvote as frivolous and insignificant. The penalty for being downvoted is 1/6th the reward for being upvoted. This means that if I post something useful anything more than 1 out of 6 times, then my reputation grows, despite the fact that most of the answers I post are wrong, or the questions I post are off-topic or inappropriate.

As far as a badge goes, I think it's kind of pointless to reward people for doing something that they just SHOULD do anyway, but it might motivate people to stay reasonable.

My proposed solutions would be:

  • Don't allow people to vote on answers on questions to which they have also posted an answer.
    • This would prevent users from doing "tactical downvoting", where they downvote all other users' answers in order to position their answer at the top of the list.
    • This would also prevent biased influence from other contributors.
  • Enforce a ratio of downvotes to upvotes by either:
    • Preventing a user from passing an imposed limit.
    • Increasing the penalty for passing a set limit (penalty of -5 reputation instead of -1).

I don't believe that users should ever be penalized or rewarded for having more answers than questions, or more questions than answers. I would hope that if I were a beginning programmer that I could use a site like this to improve my abilities. I would also hope that there were some "gurus" out there that sat on here all day and answered my newbie questions... and yes, I said "newbie", we've all been there.

Another thing that I think would help people who are asking questions to choose appropriate answers would be to be able to see the posts which their answering users had voted down and up. In some of the more controversial areas, this would make it very easy to distinguish an extremely biased answer from an answer that comes from just a simple user with some (or a lot of) experience in dealing with the topic.

And I'm fully aware that management is fairly well set against it, but I still agree that casting a downvote should either:

  • Require an explanation in a comment.
  • Require an upvote to an already posted comment.
    • This method makes the downvoter more "anonymous" while still explaining to the poster why they were downvoted.
    • This method would also ensure that at least one comment had been posted as to why the answer/question had been voted down.

All in all, I've been utilizing this website for as long as I've known of it's existence, and I think it's a wonderful tool. I think that the management team has the right idea in mind, and that their hearts are in the right place. I just think there's some optimizations that could definitely be considered when it comes to the scoring and moderation model on this site.

EDIT: As an afterthought, I also don't think that reputation should be earned or lost through asking questions. Asking questions typically means you are trying to learn something, and my belief is that a person should neither be penalized for trying to learn, or rewarded for "asking good questions"... I've seen a lot of very appropriate questions downvoted because the users' English skills were low or their question contained code that was poorly formatted, and I've seen a lot of questions upvoted because the user asked a question on a more controversial topic that got more views and attention. A question doesn't truly benefit the community, no matter how well it's worded, an answer does. This is the role of those with moderation tools to assist other users by editing/rewording/formatting questions and by closing/migrating questions that are off-topic or inappropriate.

  • "Personally, I agree, but not in so many words." -- I beg to differ.
    – mmyers
    Jan 13, 2010 at 17:53
  • @mmyers - Good point... edited that line. I didn't intend to write a novel when I started out. Jan 13, 2010 at 17:56

I think that votes to answers is a very relative thing. The one thing I see here is possible the reverse. I think that a lot of the time when I ask questions, I get too many answers. One might think this is not possible, but I've asked a question and get the same answer four times, sometimes copy and pasted from a previous answer. The problem lies in the fact that people looking through unanswered questions will leave it alone because it's already got four possible answers and they assume that the person asking the question just hasn't marked the answer as an answer. I somewhat agree with md5sum in that downvoting can really be abused here. I knew a guy who got angry at another guy and went on a spree and downvoted every one of the other guy's answers. There should be some point of limitation as to the number of times one person can downvote another.

  • If you just go and downvote the same person a lot of times, it will be auto-detected and the votes will be removed.
    – mmyers
    Jan 13, 2010 at 18:46
  • Sure, the votes are removed, but a person with that sort of juvenile behavior rarely benefits the community, and should be penalized for their behavior in some manner other than losing a few points of rep for the downvotes. Despite the penalty of -1 rep for the downvotes, I have seen people GAIN rep for this behavior, simply because their answer was the only one with a >= 0 score. Jan 13, 2010 at 19:48

I don't agree with the suggestion/question. There are many different ways to interact with SO--questions, answers, comments, votes... It is unreasonable to suggest that a certain balance of answers/votes is more appropriate than any other way to interact. Detecting patterns of abuse is a good idea, but I don't agree that the suggested pattern is an abusive one.

You have to be careful when detecting abuse patterns. I myself seem to be getting into the habit of accepting my own answers to my own questions. I'd probably be doing something similar if I wanted to abuse the system, but it is actually perfectly legitimate. What happens is I post a question, and I get some helpful (but incomplete) answers. When I eventually find the complete answer, I post it on SO because I'm grateful for the help I got.

  • Actually, SO should be trying to encourage this pattern. It may be better for me (but not SO) to just accept the best (incomplete) answer there and keep my own research to myself. Jan 25, 2011 at 6:13
  • If fact, my final answers may be somewhat of a "collaboration"--incorporating some info from the other answers. I should probably be able to award some rep to the other contributors when up-voting my own answer. Jan 25, 2011 at 6:17

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