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Trouble in the House of Stackoverflow

Khash SajadiKhash Sajadi
Dec 10th 11Updated Jul 27th 17

I've had this problem with Stackoverflow for awhile now: It seems everytime I ask a question I get an answer later and later. It has been particularly bad recently as I don't 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 explains it convincingly 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.

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