Trouble in the House of Stackoverflow

Ive had this problem with Stackoverflow for awhile now: It seems everytime I ask a question I get an answer later and later. It been particularly bad recently as I dont get any answers for my questions unless I add a bonus.

I knew this was coming. I even wrote about it on Stackoverflow and later
on Stackexchange long ago. To me it is an incentive issue.

Its something we all know but Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner explain
it conviningly at Freakonomics.
They tell us what we already know: Humans are motivated by
incentives
.

Going back to Stackoverflow, I never understood why would people answer
the questions and always thought this cannot be sustainable.

Helping others makes us feel good about ourselves. That’s an incentive. The Stackoverflow’s virtual currency or karma points are also helping.
They can also be an incentive. Who doesn’t want to show off a 100K
Stackoverflow point badge on his website?

The question is “Is that enough?”. It seems it is not. Not too long ago,
SO users had a lower average karma point than now. It was around upper
hundreds or lower thousands, with the occasional exceptions like Jon
Skeet
. Now however, there are users on SO that enjoy hundreds of thousands of
Stackoverflow airmiles on their profiles.

Why is this a bad thing? It is a bad thing because it encourages users
to go for the low hanging fruit. Easy questions or questions that need a
short answer get answered very quickly while more difficult questions
are left out and are forgotten in the flow of question traffic.

Stackoverflow’s high emphasis on karma points has caused a lazy-helper
culture and this is not going to get any better unless someone cracks
the problem of incentives and their delicate balance with
competitiveness of human beings in the Q&A sites.

Khash Sajadi

Khash is the founder and CEO of Cloud 66, a full stack container management as a service. Follow him on @khash

London, UK and San Francisco, US
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