When I post a programming question on Stack Overflow, I usually get a response pretty quickly, and to my surprise, the responses are very detailed. Some even have code and links to articles.

I am wondering, is there some incentive program, or do they earn points, or what is the incentive that draws people to answer questions? Is there a team hired by Stack Overflow?

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    "Is there a team hired by stackoverflow?" We just use robots, all answerers are robots. Our best AI experiment to date is an account named "Jon Skeet" - it's powered by Watson, in a partner program we have with IBM. Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 0:27
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    There are also meta-robots, for building and discussing about the less sentient ones. Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 0:51
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    Some of them don't even know they're robots anymore, and will violently deny it. Good news is, there is another bunch of robots who resemble Harrison Ford, and are supposed to deal with the first kind -- that's why you see unicorns everyone.
    – jscs
    Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 1:08
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    Don't listen to @Nick Craver - Jon Skeet is the result of a LISP machine at MIT never being powered down. The program known as Richard Stallman is running on an identical machine.
    – user50049
    Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 1:53
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    "Who answers questions on Stack Overflow?" I do. I'd love to stay and chat, but if I do I won't be able to keep up my 50 answers/minute pace, and the whips they use to motivate me hurt ever so much.
    – Pollyanna
    Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 16:28
  • @AdamDavis We told you, those aren't whips, they're leather straps of love. Feel the love, feel how it burns. Admit you want the love, and go answer more questions!
    – jcolebrand
    Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 17:54
    – Pollyanna
    Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 18:03

4 Answers 4


The users are a community of people who want to share their knowledge and learn something in the process.

When users, such as yourself, see a useful question or answer to a question they are supposed to vote for it (as described in the FAQ) and the person who contributed the question or answer gets reputation points, again as described in the FAQ.

Users with the most experience, who contribute the most useful questions and answers earn the most reputation points.

With so many users (particularly on stackoverflow) there is some competition to answer questions first, because earlier answers tend to be upvoted first.

It takes time to accumulate reputation points, so keep reading questions, asking good questions and answer only when you're sure you know the answer. Remember to vote for other's contributions and accept the best answer to your questions.

It's all described in the FAQ.

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    It's worth noting for the OP: It's not always true that users with the most experience get the most rep. I'm certainly not as experienced as some other users with lower rep than me, but I simply have more rep because I like asking and answering questions. :) Ditto with many others, I'd presume.
    – user541686
    Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 2:20

what is the incentive that draws people to answer questions?

Most of the time, it's that "I did something good for someone else" feeling.

Here's some discussions on the concept: The problem with extrinsic motivation and What aspects of psychology does Stack Overflow take advantage of?

Those could give you some insight towards the discussions that have already been had here.

Additionally, note that there is a site http://careers.stackoverflow.com where people get to show off their best answers (or questions) so those positive contributions end up being a bonus on their resume and end up making them look better to prospective employers.

Another reason, definitely worth mentioning, is that we answer questions to grow our ability to communicate, and to keep all our skills sharp. Not everyone can teach, and not everyone can answer questions well. Like with anything else, you really have to devote yourself to the task at hand to become good at it. So by answering a lot of questions, we get better at answering questions in general. This matters for being a good team-member. This matters for being a good teacher. This matters for being able to defend your position on something later. And never you mind that (for example) when I answer PHP questions, I'm actually learning something about PHP (because I had to research to answer the question) and so is the asker.

Then there's the part about where we all like to show off what we know ;)

Now for the important part

You should give back, and answer the questions that you can as well. It's paying back into the community, and you'll get all the benefits I just listed as well. So that means, when you ask:

Who answers questions on Stack Overflow?

The answer is:

You do

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    "What aspects of psychology does Stack Overflow take advantage of?" ... "You are". I know what you mean, I'm just not sure that "You are" works as an answer to that question. Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 7:33
  • Just to be sure...what does he mean by "You are"? Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 14:14
  • hahahaha, I copy-pasted the wrong thing /facepalm... @DavidMurdoch @MarcGravell
    – jcolebrand
    Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 16:16

Often, they are bored college students, like myself. If I'm bored in class I'll often ask or answer on StackExchange -- generally I learn something more than I would otherwise have known, and get to help others to boot.

  • :sigh: -- Really? What's really all that bad about this answer? It's certainly correct... I'm a prime example of it. Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 7:14
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    I'm guessing the downvote is coming from the emphasis on "college students"; I would expect most answers to be coming from experienced and grizzled professional programmers. People who have been doing it for years as though their mortgage depends on it (which it does), and who have learned through brutal, crushing weight of experience. Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 7:35
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    It's displacement activity. It beats writing documentation or bashing my head in with JNDI. Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 13:40
  • @Marc: The question didn't ask for "what is the majority of the population of people answering on SO" -- it only asked for "who answers on SO". Sure, people like myself might not be a huge proportion of answerers, but we are certainly here. Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 20:27
  • @Billy don't shoot me; it isn't my downvote ;p Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 20:51
  • @Mark: Not trying to shoot you. :) Just trying to explain why I think the answer is valid despite that line of thinking. (I +1'd the comment) Commented Jun 9, 2011 at 22:46
  • Perhaps someone thinks you're encouraging degeneracy in our youth. :p
    – jscs
    Commented Jun 11, 2011 at 9:47

In some companies it's preffered way to prove your knowledge - get some points on SO. Also, it is some of trade: you help others, and others will try to help you.

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