In my very first blog post, I wrote about what a personal experience taught me about the Stack Overflow community. I said we were going to step back and re-evaluate how we deliver feedback, how we can improve content quality, and how we can reduce friction between people. I said that our goal is to have the question asking process be painless and beneficial for new people and Stack Overflow veterans alike.
During this re-evaluation period, we noticed something in our reputation reward system. We give anyone who receives an upvote on an answer ten additional reputation points, but only give five reputation points to people who receive an upvote on a question.
Here’s the history: When Stack Overflow launched in 2008, we gave equal points to upvotes on answers and questions. Three years later, a decision was made to devalue upvote reputation on questions. The idea was that this change would encourage people to focus on providing good quality answers rather than asking questions.
We can look back on this decision with the benefit of hindsight. This decision may have been the right call then with the information we had at the time, but we have seen the effects it has had on our community. We reward people who give answers at a higher rate than people that ask questions.
As a long time Stack Overflow community member I know, like many of you, that posting a good question is difficult! It requires thoughtfulness and an attention to how to best convey the issue you are having. You need to take a step back and pretend you are describing your problem to a total stranger that has no context around your situation. They aren’t seeing your compilation logs, and they don’t know what the feature you are building is, what libraries you are using, or what version of the framework is on your machine.
You also need to be conscious of the fact that there is a lot of information that is extraneous. You need to know what parts of the error message to include and what parts are unique to your machine. You need to include the steps you’ve taken so far and the result of your testing. In short, you need to be an expert question asker to ensure you’re going to get the best answer. That takes skill and experience, it’s valuable, and it’s something we want to celebrate.
As of today, we’re running it back. We’re changing the reputation earned from getting a question upvote to ten points, making it equal to the reputation earned from an upvote to an answer.
We’re recalculating reputation for every Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange individual based on this change. Every question upvote earned in the past will earn a value of ten reputation points retroactively.
On Stack Overflow, we expect about 2.4 million people will earn more reputation. This change is about more than reputation; we want it to send a clear message—we celebrate the question askers. HOORAY FOR THE ASKERS!
For those of you that are getting new privileges: we ask you to take the responsibility reverently. You are the question experts. You are the people that can identify a question that is struggling and you know how hard it can be to on the other side of that keyboard. Thank you in advance for gently coaching question askers through their experience.
We believe that both question askers and answerers are a vital part of our ecosystem. We appreciate how much they have done to make this the largest store of technical Q&A in history, and we want to thank them for every contribution going back to the beginning of the site.
We’re doing more.
We’ve rolled out an improved question asking experience across Stack Overflow (Stack Exchange sites, you’ll be getting this in Q1). Meg Risdal previewed the improvements in August and Lisa Park gave you a behind the scenes look at the research that went into developing the improvements in September. We couldn’t be more thrilled to be rolling this out to everyone!
Yesterday, Julia Silge posted a recap of the results of our A/B test on the new experience. We saw a significant increase in the number of people who started and posted a question. We also looked at question quality because we wanted to make sure we were helping all people write questions that were likely to get answered. We saw no decrease in question quality.
Takeaway: the changes we made are increasing the number of questions getting posted on Stack Overflow, without decreasing the quality. More high quality questions; this is the community where everyone can thrive.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again—myself and the community team are really excited to improve the experience that all levels of coders have on Stack Overflow, from new users that are learning front-end for the first time to our respected moderators who have been coding for 20+ years. These changes—increasing reputation points for question upvotes and the improved question asking experience—along with some new feedback mechanisms we will be announcing next week are an exciting start to working hand in hand with the community to build a better Stack Overflow.
Our related podcast with Dries Buytaert