There is an intrinsic problem of inflation the way these sites are designed.

  1. If you let users to gain reputation, by performing activities in the site, you create a possible (stack) overflow.
  2. Also, there is an awkward possibility that all users can become mods, can see all posts, gain all privileges. (If not all, a great and monotonic increasing number).
  3. To solve these some workarounds are being created that just makes the site full of rules, and also people get angry with other people (mods are still people) because they lost reps for some reason. No one likes to lose. Yes, some tools to punish are welcome, but not to be used to face the inflation problem.

I was thinking in the inflation problem for a while, because I'm into game strategies and like this kind of relation between the actions of people, the points, and the environment response (the site). I would like to present an analogy to help web designers to clarify the problem.

Suppose we are in a car race. Then, reputation would be the number of kilometers your car passed by. That is good for somethings, but not for others. For example, if the race is not over, you can tell who is in first by the kilometers. But not if the race is over and all cars have passed the milestone of "end".

Well, see this: in one hand, SE sites have no end. So you may think the kilometers are good. By the other hand, there are fixed milestones (the privileges) that tells us who is winning, the last one being the 20k trusted user. The problem is that everyone can, and eventually will, pass all this milestones, unless some continuous workarounds happens, mods (10k) and trusted users find ways to still reps from users, and users get upset.

To solve this mess, we need to measure velocity, not distance.

  1. The velocity of a given privilege can be lowers than the average of the velocity of users, that case we still have the same problem.
  2. It can be the same velocity of the average: that case, people who runs above the average will become mods and trusted users, the others will keep their positions, and the slow ones will lose privileges with time.

Now the irony is: do I like my own solution? The answer is no. I don't agree that I should work so hard get privileges. Some days I can't log, and then what? I would (not lose rep, but) be behind the other "cars" I already passed by.

But do I agree the way it is now? No. I think the problem needs to be addressed in some non-disturbing way, to keep people happy and the site working.

What I believe is that being mod is not a question of an automatic selection based on points. Being a mod should be something that happens to invited people. It is a great responsibility to promote someone only by a quantity measure, not a quality subjective one.

This way, the inflation problem would be dissolved as just a numeric problem. It would not put in risk the orientation of the site itself by allowing not-good-for-the-job people to simple get there.

  • With regards to whatever you're talking about, define 'velocity'. Aside: doesn't your 'solution' encourage each active member to spam?
    – J.K.
    Apr 7, 2011 at 18:32
  • @Jonathan, velocity would be the relation of how much the reps (individually or the average site) increases over time.
    – DrBeco
    Apr 7, 2011 at 18:44
  • 9
    Sorry for disagreeing with you, but I think the underlying notion of the SE sites is correct. While it's impossible to give some sort of figure that (accurately) represents a member's value, the current reputation idea is probably the best one. I don't think going away on a holiday, and not checking the site, detracts from your overall knowledge and ability to help, and learn from, others.
    – J.K.
    Apr 7, 2011 at 18:49
  • If 50% of SO users are 20K, why would that be problem? It isn't a problem. And I assure you, there is no conspiracy to prevent anyone else from reaching high levels by downvoting them. If you've been downvoted recently, it's not because of a full quota for high rep users. Dec 2, 2011 at 18:04

6 Answers 6


Your assumption seems to be largely based on a competitive model as if we were all competing against one another for rep. I have no doubt that this is true for a large portion of users and myself included at times. However, the privileges and their reputation requirements are not about giving them to the top users but rather users who through participation and community feedback (rep) have shown themselves to be trusted enough to perform these actions.

From the FAQ:

Reputation is a rough measurement of how much the community trusts you.


At the high end of this reputation spectrum there is little difference between users with high reputation and ♦ moderators. That is very much intentional.

Those last couple of sentences indicate that the "problem" you have identified is actually one of the goals of the site. I think your assumptions are generally false, and your solution is both unsustainable and undesirable.

  • 2
    Having reread this, this sounds much harsher than I mean it to. I don't like the idea, and I don't agree there's much of a problem, but I don't want to be mean (especially since another part of the FAQ not quoted above says Be Nice. I could edit and rephrase, but I'd rather just say hugs and butterfly kisses all around! Apr 7, 2011 at 18:44
  • LOL! Ok, no problem. But the competition is not really against each other. The privileges are milestone goals and we all can win, no matter if they are static or dynamic.
    – DrBeco
    Apr 7, 2011 at 19:07
  • 2
    It matters very much if they are static or dynamic. Apr 7, 2011 at 19:10

Definitely NO.

I'm top 2% this month in meta and top 3% in SO. Does that mean I should be a mod? Of course not! I need much more experience before that. Just because I was coding a lot and I used SO to learn (both asking questions and giving answers) it doesn't mean I fully understand the system yet. On the other hand, a user who has giving to the community for a much longer period is still more trustworthy even if that person has not been very active for a while (for either personal or work related reasons).


First of all please don't get this wrong.

Looking at your profile I can see that you are a relatively new user. You were a SE user for 17 days. Do you really think you fully understand the entire reputation system?

I'm asking because your assumptions and also your analogy is not correct. Like theChrisKent said, there might be users taking it as a game, I'm sorry for them as they clearly didn't understand the principle.

Another point I'd like to highlight, the more users with extended privileges we have the better it is as the workload per user decreases. There is nothing wrong with the current system, everyone is active (some maybe too much) so there is just no need for something to push that activity.

  • Hi @Octavian (nice name, is it greek?). I didn't take it wrong. Actually, I was a bit refraining myself to express this point of view considering I could be going in the contrary of what the majority of the users believe. But then, I thought, some might really agree, why not to expose it? The assumptions I'm making is far more deeper. Game can be viewed as a simple toy-game, but it is actually an area of mathematics/statistics that takes care of a lot of great problems of optimization. See game theory. Thanks for the input!
    – DrBeco
    Apr 7, 2011 at 19:14
  • The name originally is roman. After emperor Augustus (Gaius Octavius). This name is quite a popular name in Romania which is my origin. To get back to your analogy. You are right, there is the game-theory but the way one reads your analogy it is a competitive game you describe there. Apr 7, 2011 at 19:23

I think the problem here might be thinking about stack overflow/stack exchange too much in terms of game theory. While some people 'game' reputation, many of us have jobs to do and can't afford the luxury of spending time delibeerately working our rep.

Reputation is intended to reward good behaviour and adherence to the culture of the site. Whether someone is gaming the system or not, if they are behaving well and adding more than they are taking, then high reputation scores shouldn't be a problem.


We should talk about the duplicate question problem too. I think the only new part of this is the "velocity" part; the standard proposed "solution" (and this assumes there is a "problem") is for rep to decay over time or needed rep for privileges to increase over time, and I think basing it on velocity is worse, for the exact reasons you stated

  • 1
    Another 'standard' solution is to have the privs increase as total rep in the system increases.
    – jjnguy
    Apr 7, 2011 at 18:40
  • Oh, sorry about that duplicates. But I could not explain myself in a comment even if I knew there was this questions there. Now, about the reasons I think I need more info to understand your disagreements. I'll read the questions pointed. Only if you have anything to add, feel free. Thanks.
    – DrBeco
    Apr 7, 2011 at 19:09

I'm not sure that I agree that all users eventually will pass the 20k milestone (or even the 1k for that matter).

According to the leagues page, SO has a little over 900k users, and of them, just over 7k (about 0.8%) have gained at least 1000 reputation in the last year. Another 10k gained at least 500, but less than 1000.

The remaining 98% – assuming the trend continues, which seems fairly likely – will never hit 20k reputation in their lifetimes (and most of them will likely not even reach 1k in that time, assuming SO's reputation system is still around by then).

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