Joel and Jeff have stated that the reputation system is key to stimulating the kind of user behavior they want to see at StackOverflow and friends. Well, it's not working particularly well for me right now. After two and a half months, my rep has plateaued at 124, and I'm no longer interested in spending a lot of effort to get it much higher. I'm not looking for a pity party here, but I suspect there are other users in the same boat, and if the reputation system is failing to motivate us, that might be a topic of general concern to the management.

I think a major part of the problem is that the topics I'm writing on (C, C++, and algorithms) don't get as much attention from the community here as other topics, and that makes it hard to earn reputation points by spending time answering them. Of the 16 answers I've written, four of them have been accepted as the official answer by the author (which accounts for most of my rep points), but none have more than two votes, and only five answers have any upvotes at all. Basically, it looks like if the author really likes my answer, I'll get an upvote from him/her and maybe one other person, but otherwise my efforts just go "plonk." In most cases, it looks like if I don't answer a question when it first comes out, nobody is going to upvote it later, which limits the rewards for going back through the archives looking for questions I can contribute to, Here's an example: in response to a question about what the ternary operator is needed for in C/C++, other people mentioned the fact that it is an expression, not a statement, but I was the only one to tie that to the use in function-like macros and give an example where you needed a function-like macro in C because a function couldn't give you the necessary type polymorphism. An hour or so writing that answer, but I answered on May 1, and the only answers getting upvotes were written April 17, the day the question came out. Plonk. (Yeah, I may get an upvote or two from mentioning it here, but that's not my main point, which is that providing a unique perspective to questions that are a couple of weeks old doesn't seem to be a profitable use of my time, in general).

So - it's nice to be above 100 points, so that I can downvote something if necessary, and it was really frustrating before I got up to 50 points so I could comment, but most of the other goals that seem worth shooting for are so far out of reach at this rate that it doesn't seem worth the effort. Given a choice between spending time on the job I'm getting paid for, or constantly refreshing StackOverflow in the hopes I can pick off a relevant question a few seconds after it gets asked, I know which one offers the better reward-to-effort ratio. I don't really have a lot of questions that could be asked here without a fair amount of effort to strip them of proprietary information, so that doesn't seem like a good way to points either (the Meta site here might be different in that respect).

I'm sure my experience would be different if I were writing about PHP, or C#, or something more popular like that. But if you really want StackOverflow to be the font of all programming expertise, there needs to be a better way to reward those who answer older questions on rarer topics. Because right now, to me, it looks like that is mostly an exercise in frustration.

  • In your example your post goes very in depth, which can be appreciated by more advanced users, but probably went way over the heads of the OP and many other casual users. Sometimes simpler explanations are voted much more favorably. Jul 15, 2009 at 5:59
  • Actually I think C/C++ get quite a big chunk of attention. Not C#/Java/PHP/Javascript levels but high nonetheless.
    – bananakata
    Jul 15, 2009 at 6:02
  • 1
    Maybe, though I wonder how many of the people who voted on the other answers even read what I wrote. Arguably, mine was the only response that actually answered the original question by giving an example where the ternary operator was actually needed in C, as opposed to handy syntactic sugar. The closest other example was initialization of a const variable, which the commentator acknowledged could also have been done with a function call. As Einstein once said: "Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler."
    – dewtell
    Jul 15, 2009 at 6:18
  • Annakata - there are a reasonable number of questions involving C or C++ tags, but I'm wondering how many get looked at (and answers upvoted) after the first day they are asked.
    – dewtell
    Jul 15, 2009 at 6:25
  • To be fair almost all tags have a much smaller chance of being up voted after the original few hours. Especially when more than 5 answers are present. Jul 15, 2009 at 6:35

5 Answers 5


It might help to change your expectations so that you're not trying to out-rep Jon Skeet, but demonstrate that you know a lot about the things you know a lot about. I'll use myself as an example - there are not anywhere near as many questions on Cocoa development at stackoverflow as there are questions on Java or C#. That means I don't have a 10k+ rep. But neither does anybody else who frequently answers Cocoa questions. And of those people who do, I seem to be somewhat well-respected. Hooray for me!

Of course the usual stack-exchange techniques also apply; to get a higher reputation even within that field you have to ask and answer more, and do it better. That means investing more time in the site. If that's what you want to do then go for it, if it's not then you need to revise your expectation regarding rep. Again, I'm happy with the amount of time I spend on these sites so if I need to take more hours per week to build up a higher rep, that's not for me. But in general the options are to:

  1. Change the site.
  2. Change the way you use the site.
  3. Change what you expect to get from using the site.

and I expect they're in descending order of difficulty.


I can certainly relate to your frustration as quite a few of my own answers are accepted with 0 votes.

I think that given you don't have much time to devote to the site (14 answers in two months aren't a lot of answers) and that you cannot ask real questions about your job without too much effort, there is simply no way for the system as designed to reward you, other than the satisfaction of providing a good answer and helping the community.

If that's not motivation enough and you crave for rep, then you should either devote more time (ie, provide more answers per time unit, or ask general questions about topics of your interest that will probably give you upvotes) or accept things as they are.

Old questions get a bump under the active tab whenever a new thing happens on them, so they are probably revisited by some people whenever you answer an old question. But yes, it is certainly not the same level of attention as with a new question, especially if there are lots of answers and viewers don't sort by newest just to see if the new answer deserves upvotes.

But I think the main problem in your case is that you don't devote enough time to get a real amount of rep. For which you should be thankful instead of complainful :-).

  • I do get satisfaction from helping the community. I don't get satisfaction from spending a bunch of time writing stuff that isn't going to get read (which is what it seems like, in a lot of cases). The frequency of my answers tailed off a lot after my first few days at the site: when the rat doesn't get cheese for pressing the lever, it eventually stops pressing the lever.
    – dewtell
    Jul 15, 2009 at 6:53
  • Then you pressed the wrong lever! :-) You should've answered new questions instead of old ones. No way to know that at first, of course. To go to the core of the issue though, I think that they WILL get read by the people who need it, not by Joe Random Upvoter, but for Joe CanIUseTernaryOnA Macro who may not even be registered in the site.
    – Vinko Vrsalovic StaffMod
    Jul 15, 2009 at 7:02

I would maybe like to see the reputation take into account the ratio of views a question gets compared to the upvotes. Surely a question with 10 views and 2 upvotes is worth more than 10 upvotes but 1000 views?

It maybe too late to change the rep system however what about more badges to reward the less popular q&a.

  • No guarantee of that, and when do you cut it? What if the answer got 10 upvotes the first ten views, and then no further upvotes?
    – Vinko Vrsalovic StaffMod
    Jul 15, 2009 at 6:41

Your right that it is hard to gather rep on less popular topics, but it actually works both ways. At my work they use Labview and by my last query there were 21 labview related questions...

Off course, if I have a question and there isn't an answer to it yet I have to post it. But there is no guarantee that any reputable person will find my post and answer it. Resulting in a chicken-egg like discussion.

The best you can do is perhaps post questions you want help with or post a question for which you have the answer, but you think is very useful for others. That way people will hopefully award your resourcefulness with upvotes!


I know little about most of the popular SO topic areas, though I believe I know quite a bit about obscure programming areas that few others have an interest in: I suspect that's the lot of many systems programmers. SO is a good place to find out about things I don't know enough about and to sometimes share what I do know.

Before I retired I didn't work for the money (though needed the money to live and to spend to help me to pursue my chosen profession more proficiently), similarly I don't come to SO et al for the rep and badges, though these give me some indication that I'm making use of the sites' facilities and give access to resources to use them more effectively.

You must log in to answer this question.

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