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Recently, it seems to be de rigueur to say that reputation is not important. To a certain extent, I agree. I have a long list of things to worry about and work on, and my rep on ELU isn't high on the list -- much lower than working on my drop-shot. But I admit to a mild thrill when I passed 15,000 and I promptly protected a question because I could -- and it needed protection.

I play tennis a lot, and it is always more fun to keep score. I don't play with people who think winning is more important than having fun, or friendship, or everyone feeling good at the end of the match. But just rallying for two hours without keeping score is, somehow, boring, and we never do it.

And keeping score in tennis is less important (at my level) than rep on SE, because a pro can tell in five minutes what level one is at and who would good partners.

So why do we keep score on ELU, if we distain it so much?

Two recent examples of disregard for rep, as requested by @Josh:

Comments under Etiquette with regard to Downvotes

Comments under The antithesis of a serious problem: What do you do when you have hit 200 daily rep with hours to go, and have a good answer to a new question?

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    It would help discuss the interesting point you are raising if you showed a few examples of users saying that rep points are not important. – user66974 Jun 16 '17 at 22:03
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    @EnglishStudent - well, as for Dan, it is an old mantra of his that rep points are "imaginary". As for Clare, that's probably something inappropriate to say from a new user. – user66974 Jun 16 '17 at 22:12
  • @Josh There was a recent meta question where a few members noted that reputation points are not important -- see the first comment below the Q that was upvoted 8 times, and your own (right next) response that says reputation points may have some significant meaning: the antithesis of a serious problem meta post – English Student Jun 16 '17 at 22:14
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    @EnglishStudent - I don't think that it is a general attitude; a few users don't care about rep points? So what? – user66974 Jun 16 '17 at 22:17
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    @Josh I was simply pointing out the most recent example as you asked in the first comment here. The site itself states that reputation helps the community to evaluate the long-term committment and overall contribution of a member and serves as an important pointer to their credibility -- I think that is reason enough to give importance to reputation! – English Student Jun 16 '17 at 22:17
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    @ab2 Please correct me if I am wrong, but your real question, as I understand it, would be "why do some members profess to disdain the 'keeping score' of our activities here through reputation points, when we could all agree that reputation is a good reward to encourage good quality posts and useful behavior, and also serves many other valid purposes?" – English Student Jun 16 '17 at 23:12
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    @EnglishStudent yeah, that's the secret hidden question, to which I think I answered. – NVZ Jun 16 '17 at 23:16
  • @NVZ I remember I myself commented to Ben Kovitz's answer at ab2's earlier meta question (about 200 rep cap) that [extracts] "in fact I think the motivation is not really reputation points, but most likely the linguistic kicks (...) what attracts me to ELU is the focused interaction built around the intricacies of the English language (which I love) -- and I like it so much: thats why I spend a lot of time here! (...) the fundamental enjoyment of linguistic discussion and debate is only helped by reputation,which cannot replace the basic satisfaction derived from the interesting activity." – English Student Jun 16 '17 at 23:35
  • @English Student My question was prompted by the first of my two examples -- the one on Etiquette on Downvotes. A very new and promising user who was being serially downvoted said "Who steals my purse, steals trash; who steals my reputation ... ah, phooey", so I thought a discussion on the purpose of rep was warranted. – ab2 Jun 17 '17 at 0:22
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    @ab2 I have read that meta post and I think that new member took 'reputation' literally as in, OMG I have lost my reputation through those downvotes! -- in fact a new user can never 'lose' reputation but only build it up over a long period, and since downvotes only slice off very thin slices of reputation at the rate of -2 points at a time, the new member, who is an expert with much knowledge and experience to contribute, should be reassured that serial downvoting (which happened to me & was auto-corrected within a day) is not the most serious hazard on the English language superhighway! – English Student Jun 17 '17 at 0:28
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    @Josh Not "imaginary" but imaginary. Straight up, no scare quotes. You can't eat them, you can't buy stuff with them, and as HotLicks commented under the antithesis question, you can't brag about them to girls in your local bar. Imaginary. I remember being excited about them until about 3K, where I got closevotes, and struggling to care after 10K, as in pushing myself up a hill, and finally giving up on caring at all after 15K. At one point I was hovering a few points short of 20K for months so Rathony serial upvoted me just so I could help him delete stuff. Rep is imaginary. – Dan Bron Jun 17 '17 at 14:26
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Well, you know, the help center says:

Reputation is a rough measurement of how much the community trusts you; it is earned by convincing your peers that you know what you’re talking about.

And scorekeeping keeps this Q&A wonder exciting and competitive and stuff as well.

Point of the whole "we don't care about reputation points" from senior users is to remind others that there comes a time when you get past that excitement (probably around 20k to 25k), and gaining further reputation points won't give them extra super powers, so when they post something, they are posting it purely for the sake of contributing to the community, and not for gaining more imaginary points, or at least, that's my take on it.

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    Not sure about the "get past excitement" issue. Users should just enjoy upvotes and not get too upset by downvotes. What counts is the quality of questions and answers. – user66974 Jun 16 '17 at 22:29
  • It is sad but true that I have already 'got past the excitement stage' as the plateau in my reputation graph within the last 10 days illustrates. I believe this activity should be intrinsically satisfying independent of points, which it currently is, for me. I have become rather more discerning in submitting answers and would no longer do anything solely for collecting rep points. As @Josh rightly says, what counts is the quality of the questions and answers! – English Student Jun 16 '17 at 22:48
  • @EnglishStudent I did not say quality of posts don't count. I don't see where Josh is going with that. Of course, quality of posts is what attracts experts here, instead of, say, Yahoo Answers. – NVZ Jun 16 '17 at 22:50
  • NVZ, of course you never said quality of posts is not important; again, we should be well aware that StackOverflow sites were designed according to game theory in order to engage users in a friendly competition where good participation is rewarded by reputation points so that members remain interested to keep contributing good answers. Good quality posts are rewarded with upvotes that get translated into reputation points, which is a positive reinforcement to modulate and encourage useful behavior -- which is why I agree with @Josh that the quality of posts is most important here! – English Student Jun 16 '17 at 22:55
  • @EnglishStudent I second and third that, but my answer is more concerned about what some users personally feel about reputation points after a while, because although I don't post much, I do hang around the site a lot, like 4 years it has been, and I have understood that some users do get past that excitement. – NVZ Jun 16 '17 at 23:02
  • @NVZ - I am referring to the quality of questions and answers because that's (or should be) the real stuff here, rep points are just a means for engaging user with game-like dynamics. If you lose interest in the site because you got to 20/25K rep...I wonder what your real interest was. – user66974 Jun 16 '17 at 23:02
  • @NVZ indeed I sometimes think your real presence is felt here at meta! I also feel that it is fascinating to be able to discuss meta aspects of ELU on a related but separate ELU-meta site. – English Student Jun 16 '17 at 23:04
  • @Josh I never lost interest in the site. I would not be here, if I had no interest. My real interest always was to learn, and secondly to contribute. – NVZ Jun 16 '17 at 23:54
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    I can confirm, at least in my case, the "get past the excitement" issue is real. I lost interest in rep per se after 2K, but was still excited to earn the closevote privilege at 3K, so I put my back into that. After that, my interest dropped significantly. I had to push myself to 10K, and that only because it was a milestone with an encouraging title. After that I tried to care, but really struggled. Got myself to 15K and just gave up on trying to make rep motivate me. I've been searching for a substitute motivation to get myself to post more since then, but no luck. – Dan Bron Jun 17 '17 at 14:38
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    Now what motivates me is interesting questions and answers, which I suppose is the way it should be. – Dan Bron Jun 17 '17 at 14:39
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NVZ's answer is correct and based on the principles of Stack Exchange, but my thoughts are too long to post in comments, so I'll add them as an answer.

  1. Let's face it, earning reputation is fun. As English Student pointed out in a comment, the site is designed to be gamified, and especially for users new to the site, there is a certain thrill to unlocking new privileges and reaching milestones.

  2. Speaking of privileges, reputation milestones for unlocking new privileges are carefully balanced so as to allow users who are committed to the site to perform necessary tasks involved in managing the various review tasks. There are other models for managing an open community, and Wikipedia is a good example. Wikipedia gives some very senior users special privileges, but on most pages, anyone can edit, even without logging in. The result is that it takes a vast group of serious and committed users to constantly monitor activity and remove vandalism and unproductive edits. The model works well for Wikipedia because it has a massive user base all dedicated to a single site. EL&U, on the other hand, is one of many sites on the Stack Exchange network, and it simply wouldn't be practical to allow any user to perform review tasks without regard for their experience on the site.

  3. As NVZ's answer points out, reputation gives users some idea of how much a user is trusted. Posts should be judged on their merit, not on the reputation of the poster, but for some visitors to the site, a post's merit might be difficult to judge, particularly if they are looking for an answer to a question and land on EL&U by searching. Voting provides the best measure of particular post's accuracy, but there's an element of usefulness to knowing how experienced a user is on the site, particularly for visitors from other sites on the network who understand how reputation works but are unfamiliar with the members and customs of EL&U.

Having given these reasons in favor of the usefulness of reputation, I will also agree that reputation shouldn't be taken too seriously. Getting caught up in earning reputation can get in the way of providing quality answers and contributing to the site in other ways.

  • +1 my thoughts exactly, but I was too tired to write more in mine. – NVZ Jun 16 '17 at 23:48
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One very important reason we have reputation points is to spend them. There are two main ways to spend them: bounties, and downvoting bad answers.

With 15.2K rep you could give a prize to over 300 answers you thought were particular excellent.

With 15.2K rep you could also downvote 15K answers you thought were particularly bad and potentially misleading. With over 200 thousand answers on this site it probably wouldn't be very hard to find 15 thousand misleading ones!

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    That is true, but I don't feel like going on a downvoting spree. Bounty giveaways, probably, yes. – NVZ Jun 17 '17 at 14:52
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    You can only downvote 30 answers a day, so it would take 500 days to downvote 15k answers! – Laurel Jun 17 '17 at 17:14
  • @Laurel Which might mean that you will never be able to get all the way down if you're continuing to get upvotes as well. So someone determined to spend all their rep will need to do both! :) – curiousdannii Jun 17 '17 at 23:27
  • I'd advice against going on a bounty giveaway spree – NVZ Jun 22 '17 at 3:17
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NVZ has already hit the nail on the head in the earlier answer by making the pertinent point that

(...) Point of the whole "we don't care about reputation points" from senior users is to remind others that there comes a time when you get past that excitement (...)

It is sad but true that I have already 'got past the excitement stage' as the plateau in my reputation graph within the last 10 days illustrates:

enter image description here

I remember I myself commented to Ben Kovitz's answer at ab2's earlier meta question (about 200 rep cap) that

[extracts] "(...) I think of it this way: my time is luckily my own, and I should probably be choosing those activities that both capture [attract & retain] my interest and give me gratification -- if asking, answering and discussing English at ELU were stressful or boring why I should continue? as we Indians say -- in fact I think the motivation is not really reputation points, but most likely the linguistic kicks (...)

what attracts me to ELU is the focused interaction built around the intricacies of the English language (which I love) -- and I like it so much: thats why I spend a lot of time here! The fundamental enjoyment of linguistic discussion and debate is only helped by reputation,which cannot replace the basic satisfaction derived from the interesting activity."

I believe this activity should be intrinsically satisfying independent of points, which it currently is, for me. I have become rather more discerning in submitting answers and would no longer do anything solely for collecting rep points.

Again, we should be well aware that StackOverflow sites were designed according to game theory in order to engage users in a friendly competition where good participation is rewarded by reputation points so that members remain interested to keep contributing good answers.

Good quality posts are rewarded with upvotes that get translated into reputation points, which is a positive reinforcement to modulate and encourage useful behavior -- so, as high-reputation member Josh has rightly said in comments, what counts is the quality of the questions and answers!

  • A tip Mari-Lou taught me -- you can reduce the size of an image by adding an "m" at the end of the url, right before ".jpeg." – RaceYouAnytime Jun 16 '17 at 23:55
  • @RaceYouAnytime thanks for passing the tip along! I shall try it out myself. – English Student Jun 17 '17 at 0:01
  • Or you can try l,m,s etc. at the end. You'll see live preview before submitting the answer. – NVZ Jun 17 '17 at 0:03
  • @EnglishStudent the plateau in reputation that you point to is similar to my own, but I hope that means that you're less interested in reputation and not less interested in the site. I'm a fan of your contributions and hope that you remain enthusiastic about participating! – RaceYouAnytime Jun 17 '17 at 2:42
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    @RaceYouAnytime Thank you -- I lost interest in reputation but I am just as interested as before in the site itself -- reaching 2000+ reputation made me feel secure enough to spend a lot of time here without doing reputation-boosting activities; I found that the topics that interest me here (such as meta) are unlikely to increase my reputation points, but not all types of appreciation get translated into rep points: the example and feedback of many kind members including yourself helped me to quickly realise that when it comes to ELU, quantity is less important than quality! – English Student Jun 17 '17 at 9:25
  • @RaceYouAnytime Example of what enthuses me here is this insightful point quoted by senior member terdon yesterday in a discussion with someone at ELU chat:"In written English, emphasis is largely a matter of controlling the way a sentence ends. The last words of English sentences carry the strongest degree of emphasis. When we maneuver into that sentence-final, stressed, emphatic position our most important ideas and information, we underscore the most significant idea (...) Even natural, intonational stress can seem weak and anticlimactic if we let a sentence end on lightweight words." – English Student Jun 17 '17 at 9:40
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    @RaceYouAnytime the above sentence was quoted at ELU Chat by the senior member terdon who kindly provided the link to the source: papyr.com/hypertextbooks/comp1/euphony.htm -- this perfectly encapsulates my own innate philosophy of sentence construction and I am rather thrilled with my instinctive grasp of how an English sentence should end -- even if that does nothing to boost my reputation points, the special insight it affords is well worth it! – English Student Jun 17 '17 at 9:45
  • I couldn't tell you why, because I don't know, but I'm actively trying to not reach 10k on my most active site (DiY). But here on ELU, I'm no where close to being an 'expert' - so, onward and upward :) but also : meh. – Mazura Jun 27 '17 at 23:36
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What should be the purpose of reputation on SE?

Your (real) Score.

I.e., use as a metric in an algorithm that divides your reputation by your total post count and somehow fudges that number with page views, so as to get an accurate representation of your signal to noise ratio.

"People reached" is meaningless.

It should be, People Who Upvoted This Post, divided by People Who Loaded the Page, contrasted against Your Total Number of Posts and Your Tenure.

As the badge suggests, people who are tenacious don't care about rep. It's all those FGitWers at +100k, who IMO, reached that level in one of two ways: being a FGitW, or being literally tenacious (or both). Or the third way: have a 6 or 7 year tenure and just slub along.

If you get just one upvote every day for seven years, that's over 25k worth of rep. Without a viable metric, and without DVs (-2) carrying the same weight as UVs (+10), reputation, as a datum unto itself, is useless.

  • Also, some sort of mathematics applied if it hit the HNQ list. Not sure what though. Probably should be disregarded altogether. – Mazura Jun 28 '17 at 0:30
  • +1.but how would a calculation of "real score" take into account the exposure factor, which is (almost) directly related to the number of views the question gets. Also, there is the priority factor. Even a good answer, posted late, is at a disadvantage with respect to answers posted earlier. None of this is impossible to take into account, but it is getting complicated. – ab2 Jun 28 '17 at 2:02
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    I presume you're referring to 'fastest gun in the West'. – NVZ Jun 28 '17 at 2:49

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