In the past few weeks, I have noticed a new trend: A considerable number of users having 4-digit reputations earned through a large number of mediocre, not-bad-enough-to-downvote-but-not-great-either, questions, with a small number of upvotes each.

I realize this is mainly due to the entire field shifting upwards: The top user has a reputation of almost 250,000 now. It is a perfectly natural development for the average reputation count to grow, the longer users are active on the site.

Still, I'm not sure whether this particular thing is a good development. The rep count on Stack Overflow used to tell me something about the user - yes, always with consideration for the inherent weaknesses of the reputation metric, and taken with a huge chunk of salt. But still. I have the feeling the metric is getting seriously watered down by this trend.

Let me be clear: I have nothing against users because they ask only questions; nor do I have anything against, well, normal everyday questions. Not every question can be deep and insightful and glamorous. I am not suggesting that the activity of these users be restricted in any way beyond what has been successfully implemented for persistent askers of really bad questions. (Although many among them have made it a habit to ask on SO instead of looking in the f-ing manual first, but that's a different story.)

I also don't really mind those users gaining reputation as such, but my impression is that it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell from the reputation count whether it's a) a true expert in their field who is moderately active on Stack Overflow, or b) a particularly persistent question asker.

Is this a problem?

If yes, does something need to be done about it?

I am starting to think, in a 180° turn from what I used to think, that maybe it's even time to devalue questions once again, from +5 to something even lower, or abolishing rep gain on question upvotes altogether, and creating other ways of rewarding good questions.

  • 11
    in the spirit of social justice and progressive taxation, Jon Skeet's rep should be reduced to the median score and the excess evenly distributed among the lowest-rep users Nov 26, 2010 at 16:58
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    @Steven I have been itching for another "Let's reset all reputation so new users have chance" post to pop up so I can post this: esquirecomics.com/resources/collection_images/… :)
    – Pekka
    Nov 26, 2010 at 17:02
  • @Rejoice damn straight skippy! Nov 26, 2010 at 17:16
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    suggestion - hovering over rep shows a split of Q:A scores?
    – JoseK
    Nov 29, 2010 at 6:37
  • @Steven Isn't the median score in the whereabouts of 200?
    – badp
    Nov 30, 2010 at 8:13
  • @radp: probably. Nov 30, 2010 at 8:28
  • Haha, when I read the question title, I thought you were going to propose taxing reputation :)
    – Benjol
    Nov 30, 2010 at 8:31
  • 2
    I just posted a comment at Should we cap reputation gained from questions at +2000? stating that as a new user I'm pretty frustrated at my inability to comment. I don't have enough rep to comment and as a result I'm tempted to ask questions even though I don't have those brilliant questions. Instead I always find the answers to questions that I really need answers to here on SO or in the manual or elsewhere. So I guess I'm saying that yes SO should consider not granting rep to questioners.
    – Tony Adams
    Mar 12, 2011 at 16:24
  • One way of checking if user might be an expert in the field is to go to the profile page. If there's a 100 questions and 10 answers, maybe all we have is an active user.
    – tshepang
    Mar 15, 2011 at 11:34

6 Answers 6


This is a simplistic and glib answer, but if we ran another global reputation recalc, we might see a lot of this reputation dribble away. It's the type of users you mention who tend to have a lot of migrated and closed-as-off-topic questions, whose reputation should disappear if those questions have since been deleted.*

* We still need to remove reputation earned for questions that have been migrated, and also remove reputation earned for answers on questions that have been closed.

  • Interesting point! Maybe this would be worth building an odata query - if it's possible? Finding users with a question:answer ratio of more than 95:5 with a very low number of average downvotes....
    – Pekka
    Nov 26, 2010 at 20:02
  • Interesting idea. I floated the idea of regular recalcs around the time of the great recalc that went with the reduction in rep from question upvotes as a means of keeping it in people's minds that rep can (and perhaps should) go down as well as up.
    – ChrisF Mod
    Nov 26, 2010 at 20:19

Do not forget, reputation is a measure of the amount of trust the community has in you. If the community likes mediocre questions, they will be awarded with a reputation gain.

In my opinion this is not a problem. I have found that "easy" questions and answers get a lot of attention. And a lot of votes. Hard questions don't attract that much traffic so they won't be rewarded as much as they "should" be. If we want to "fix" this, we need to drop the community votes and let a (selected) jury vote for the answers. But we get a whole different site than we have now.

  • 3
    Well, I'm not sure to what extent one to two upvotes each (often even as pity upvotes in reaction to downvotes!) on hundreds or thousands of questions really represent what the community likes. Changing the weight of question upvotes would change this without abolishing popular vote
    – Pekka
    Nov 26, 2010 at 13:17
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    I disagree. Reputation has nothing to do with trust. It is just a sum of the upvotes for the questions and answers of a user. If a user is active, can reach 5-digit reputation even if is not "trusted". "Reputation" is actually a misguiding name, it should be called "experience points"-
    – Wizard79
    Nov 26, 2010 at 14:24
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    @Lorenzo, "experience points" is kind of a loaded term to many users here on MSO, because of some discussions that took place before you joined. Even though it's not your fault, you might want to choose another phrase if you want to be taken seriously.
    – Pops
    Nov 26, 2010 at 14:50
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    @Popular you meant to say "Evan though it's not your fault..." :)
    – Pekka
    Nov 26, 2010 at 16:03
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    @Popular: I don't understand what's wrong with "experience points" (XP) and why using this term I should not be taken seriously. XP are a ranking/advancement point system used by Role Playing Games, and the way they work is actually very similar to StackExchange "reputation".
    – Wizard79
    Nov 26, 2010 at 17:54
  • @Lorenzo this is a historical thing connected to a long-time Meta user who has meanwhile been banned for a year (or even indefinitely, I don't know). One of his social experiments was consistently referring to reputation points as "exp", irritating the hell out of the broader community. :)
    – Pekka
    Nov 26, 2010 at 18:09
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    @Lorenzo however if we discuss seriously about the suggestion, I disagree with the word "Experience" in this context. I large part of the group of users I am referring to here does not gather any actual experience, which is why they return all the time to ask more questions. They are not really learning how to solve problems by themselves.
    – Pekka
    Nov 26, 2010 at 18:10
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    @Lorenzo Reputation has everything to do with trust. The more reputation you have, the more the site trusts you with additional power.
    – badp
    Nov 30, 2010 at 8:14
  • @Pekka: I'm really getting interested in history all of a sudden... is there any way I can learn more about SO's history? That sounds pretty interesting...
    – user541686
    Mar 10, 2011 at 7:37
  • @Mehrdad it's not, really. :) See here (obviously, some of his more egregious posts have been deleted since)
    – Pekka
    Mar 10, 2011 at 9:18

MSO-Golf answer: No.

If you're using rep as a measure of expertise, you're doing it wrong. Like Gamecat said, this is a measure of someone's contribution to the community.

The reward for that contribution is increased access to the more advanced functions on the site - closing questions, editing, etc. Are some users abusing these features? Is it only the high-volume low-quality users who are committing these abuses? Personally I don't think so.

The only real problem that is bothering me is flag abuse (which I do think is related to large numbers of 10K users having access to the flag list). I know Jeff has hinted they are working on this. I haven't seen anything too bad with the other high-rep features.

  • Fair points. But: "This is a measure of someone's contribution to the community." that is exactly my point. From a quality perspective, these askers have not contributed anything to the community. At least not anything of substance. Especially seeing as (as said in the comment to @Gamecat) it is likely that many of these upvotes are pity upvotes after a downvote
    – Pekka
    Nov 26, 2010 at 15:32
  • @Rejoice - if I created a new account and asked 100 low-quality questions of which 50% were pity-upvoted once, that would net me 250 rep. I don't think that's too bad. Even if I accepted an answer on all 100, that would only be another 200 points. On top of that, we now have a mysterious cut-off feature that will prevent me from posting more questions if I'm downvoted too much. So the solution is probably to downvote more.
    – user27414
    Nov 26, 2010 at 16:12
  • @Jon the cut-off feature works marvellously on new users, but not so much on older ones. Also, say you ask 500 low-quality questions that get a downvote, and two pity upvotes to gain me +1. That's 4500 points, and it's not that unrealistic
    – Pekka
    Nov 26, 2010 at 19:09
  • @Rejoice - what if question downvotes carried a higher punishment? Like -4 instead of -2?
    – user27414
    Nov 26, 2010 at 19:24
  • @Jon that might work, but I fear that the pity upvote, and increased wariness when downvoting because of the stronger rep impact, would diminish the results. I don't know
    – Pekka
    Nov 26, 2010 at 19:30
  • @Rejoice: In any case, that was the status-planned-for-six-months-then-denied proposal that preceded the reduction of the question upvote value. Nov 26, 2010 at 21:36

it is becoming increasingly difficult to tell from the reputation count whether it's a) a true expert in their field who is moderately active on Stack Overflow, or b) a particularly persistent question asker.

You can't just click on their question page and see that they asked 500 questions?

That is a tremendous number of words to type when you meant "show me the ratio of rep per question".

Beyond that, we already:

  • Sure one can do that, but the phenomenon still waters down the meaning of reputation. Showing the ratio of reputation per question sounds like a useful idea - is that being planned? Re banning at the IP level, the askers I am referring to seem to be staying slightly below (or rather, above) that radar
    – Pekka
    Nov 28, 2010 at 1:57
  • That tremendous number of words is necessary when discussing Jon Skeet's rep, lest you get accused of jealousy.
    – badp
    Nov 30, 2010 at 8:20
  • @rejoice there are some grandfathered users who absolutely would not have survived under the new regime as new users. Still, you should provide links to the users you're referring to as data points.. I suspect there are precious few, and you're extrapolating from a tiny # of samples to some broad theory. Nov 30, 2010 at 8:36

I was actually thinking about the same stuff when I wrote this question today: Has Stack Overflow considered a sliding score for reputation?.

Using a sliding windows approach means you have to provide good questions and answers all the time to keep a high reputation.

UPDATE: You will get point for older answers and question if people up vote them later on as well since that is an indication that the topic is relevant.

  • As said, I don't agree with it but the suggestion is interesting nevertheless.
    – Pekka
    Nov 26, 2010 at 16:42

I think the problem here is the focus on reputation, something that has been discussed previously.

Reputation is what you make of it. If you or the system attach certain prestige or privilege to it then you create the monster, you feed it and you give power to it.

It's a currency, but like any currency if its a free market people will take it any way they can. And, honestly, it's not so hard to get 10k rep if you don't have a life and you really, really want it badly enough (this doesn't mean most people don't deserve it, just indicating the system can be gamed).

The best thing about the site is the quality answers, you can just shut your eyes and ignore the rep and you still get an awesome site. But once you add a gaming component to the system there will always be people who just want to play the game. This site is testament to that fact, just look at the reputation of many of the top ranked people on here compared to their reputation on other sites.

So, is the problem that people have too much rep? Not really. I think your focus is in the wrong area. If there really is a problem, then maybe it is lack of visibility for deserving questions because of look-at-me type questions being upvoted and asked repeatedly.

Maybe some of the regulars should spend more time downvoting. Maybe there should be no loss of points for 10k users to downvote. This would combine well with the suggestion for 20k users to have limits removed.

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