How does StackExchange's mechanism address the difference between hard and easy questions? Honestly I want to participate in order to gain reputation but I'm seeing a big difference between the effort required to answer questions like these vs. questions like these.

Those who have the free time to wait for questions and then jump on them get their reputation raised but it doesn't seem like answering hard questions like the latter that take time to research and expertise to answer helps one gain appropriate reputation.

So is there any way that StackExchange's mechanism addresses this, or is StackExchange just another system that can easily be gamed by those with time to sit, wait and pounce on easy questions?

  • Just a note, you don't get reputation for community wiki questions like the first one you posted.
    – nobody
    Commented Aug 12, 2010 at 8:42
  • Thanks Thomas, can you tell me which one you refer to? AFAIK I haven't posted any community wiki questions (yet) and if so it was an oversight. Commented Aug 12, 2010 at 17:47
  • You referred to my question as an 'easy question' to gain reputation on, I was just stating that you wouldn't get any reputation from votes on it as it was community wiki.
    – nobody
    Commented Aug 12, 2010 at 18:48

3 Answers 3


I think harder questions do get glossed over at times. So many tens of thousands of points have been accumulated at Stack Overflow answering trivial questions that have been answered many times before. It's frustrating to do research and have an accepted answer that you're proud of only ever net you 15 points (or less), but them's the brakes.

Two years under my belt on Stack Overflow, and I got the most upvotes on Simplest way to have a mail server for my domain. Not even a programming question.

  • So sounds like you have the same concern, with experience to back it up too. Bummer. Commented Aug 12, 2010 at 17:38

The real value of the points in StackExchange sites is the points applied to QUESTIONS. Good and interesting questions get upvoted more. "Winning" the most points is secondary. The main thing for me is: are there questions of value? Can I learn something from the site? If I'm getting that, I'm happy.

  • Thanks for the comments. I figure manufactured questions are not as useful as real questions that people actually ask. But maybe that's just me. BTW, it points don't matter to you how is it that you seem to be in the lead? Just happenstance? Commented Aug 12, 2010 at 17:40

This has been discussed on Meta Stack Overflow too, but there is no good answer except "don't worry too much about reputation, it's only a number on a single website on the whole internet, most families don't care that much about online rep when deciding to love you".

Yes, one can vote on questions, but questions that are visited more often (and difficult questions are almost always niche questions) will get more votes. It is also easier to verify a simple answer to a simple question. Maybe your elaborate answer has a tiny mistake somewhere? Maybe there is a better way both you and me don't know about? Or did you just steal this from someone else's blog? Blah, let's just skip it.

One thing that might help a little bit is the new bounty system: everyone can choose to "donate" a part of their own reputation for a good answer. So if I like your answer so much I think it deserves more than 10 rep points, I place a bounty of 150 points on the question, and come back the next day to award it to you. This transfers 150 points from me to you.

But in the end, it's still just a number. It doesn't buy you love. It doesn't give you cash in return. Not even Linden Dollars.

  • 2
    I'm not concerned about my family loving me, I'm interested in participating here so I can point to my efforts with prospective clients who won't love me just for being me. :) I wouldn't agree that difficult questions are always niche; often they are but often the hard questions are common, just hard. As to pointing out "my elaborate answer" and implying it has a mistake, the point wasn't that answer, the point was complex answers in general. And implying that I stole from someone's blog, well that's a bit over the top don't you think? Commented Aug 12, 2010 at 17:45
  • Not sure how your mention of the bounty system is really relevant.. And regarding "buying one cash", well it can definitely help to land clients who are willing to pay more than for the cheapest guy in India. Commented Aug 12, 2010 at 17:45
  • @Mike: Yes, that "stolen from a blog" was over the top, as were some other parts of my answer. It was a hypothetical thought train of someone browsing the site, looking for easy answers to vote on. I apologize that I gave you the impression that I didn't like that specific answer (or this question), because I do appreciate them (and your other contributions here).
    – Jan Fabry
    Commented Aug 12, 2010 at 18:03
  • I think we both agree that reputation can serve as a motivation for ourselves, but we also know the limitations (and sometimes it is just a carrot on a stick, but it's a nice carrot). And indeed you can use your activity here to get the interest of potential employers or clients, but I don't think a rep score will mean that much to them. Your answers, especially the longer ones, will tell them much more about you than the "quickies" that might get more votes because they get so many views. It's easier to see that answer as exceptional than to know what a high rep is.
    – Jan Fabry
    Commented Aug 12, 2010 at 18:12
  • And I do think the bounty system can play a role here. It is a way for expert users (that have a high reputation) to give others a pat on the back if they have written a very good answer to a difficult question. This is one of the reasons the system was changed: so that difficult questions get more views, even if the original poster isn't that interested anymore, and to be able to give more than just +10 rep for a good answer.
    – Jan Fabry
    Commented Aug 12, 2010 at 18:14
  • Thanks for clarification. In this world sans face-to-face its so often hard to tell how people are reacting. Agree regarding how prospective clients can view the more complete answers the questions though the question is "How likely are they to find them if ratings are not in the top 5 or 10?" Right now mine are but I don't know that I can keep up this pace. :) Maybe I misunderstand that bounty system; I thought it was for someone who wants to make sure their questions get answered, not for example for me to peal off my points to give you points for a great answer. Or am I missing something? Commented Aug 12, 2010 at 18:32
  • @Mike: If only you had a place where you collect everything about yourself, so that you could show off your best answers there...
    – Jan Fabry
    Commented Aug 12, 2010 at 18:57

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