I've read yesterday in the meta section (by I don't remember exactly where) few comments about some recommendations to encourage less elementary questions and proofs by upvoting them. I have to confess that after few months of daily activity on this site I didn't notice even a trace of this kind of policy. Instead, if I'd post a trivial question/answer I bet I'll get hundreds of points. Is this okay?

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Not much to be done about it. The site has an awful lot of transient users, not really involved with anything but their own homework. They may upvote a picture of Batman, as it is amusing. In comparison, the really advanced questions get quietly answered by the few who can do so, your David Speyer or Matt E. David has gone so far as to say he searches under the "unanswered" questions. So the reputation points of some of these people are not enormous. –  Will Jagy Dec 28 '12 at 21:33
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After MathOverflow migrates to SE 2.0 (which is expected soon), it will be easier and more natural for MO users to interact with MSE, in particular by upvoting interesting-to-them questions and answers. So there's light at the end of the tunnel, and it is approaching fast... –  user53153 Dec 28 '12 at 21:47
    
Depending on how deep you want to go, the question "Why does $2\times 2=4$?" could be a very good question indeed. –  Todd Wilcox Dec 28 '12 at 22:57
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@Todd: I have written two answers as for why $1+1=2$. :-) –  Asaf Karagila Dec 28 '12 at 23:26
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@YACP "Reading a paper" questions are very appropriate for MSE, and I love answering them. Bring them on, or encourage your students to post them, whichever is applicable. –  user53153 Dec 28 '12 at 23:30
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What's the reward from SE and its marvelous users? At most 15-25 points (if the OP bother to accept it, although sometimes he doesn't!). Why he then bother to do this? –  user26857 Dec 29 '12 at 11:11
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Answering eays questions is often boring and explaining the answers and clarifying lts of stuff is even more boring. I think people deserve their reputation for answering them. –  Michael Greinecker Dec 29 '12 at 12:13
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@YACP: My reward in answering difficult questions is to be able and give better answers to them the next time. Sometimes I even learn completely new things in the process, and other times I just refine my understanding on difficult things which I have known before. That for itself is worth the number of characters I type in a long answer in gold. –  Asaf Karagila Dec 29 '12 at 13:45
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Pete L. Clark wrote about this issue in meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/662/vote-early-vote-often/…;. –  Asaf Karagila Dec 29 '12 at 14:21
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@YACP My philosophy is that the purpose of answering is to share knowledge, rather than accumulate points. –  user53153 Dec 29 '12 at 16:09
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@PavelM Well, accumulating points is not something that doesn't matter or to be ashamed of. The reputation points should be equivalent, in my opinion, with an acknowledgment from the community of your efforts and skills. If they are simple points, showing nothing, why are they part of this activity? –  user26857 Dec 29 '12 at 16:15
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I don't take pride in upvoting, much like I don't take pride in downvoting or closing questions. I see no reason for a "confession", and I would rarely give my voting habits away. –  Asaf Karagila Dec 29 '12 at 16:48
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@YACP It is worth recalling that MSE is not a community of mathematicians, or of people interested in mathematics. The definition is 'people studying mathematics at all levels, and professionals in related fields' (I'd like to see more of the latter kind, personally). Let's turn things around: I am not a programmer, but need to put together a few lines of code on occasions. So I go to StackOverflow now and then. And I see that the questions of most benefit to me are their equivalents of "how to integrate $\int\frac{2x}{x^2+1}\,dx$". I return to MSE with a fresh perspective on the issue. –  user53153 Dec 29 '12 at 17:05
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@YACP: I’ve answered quite a few questions from people who got stuck reading a paper. I don’t mind getting just $25$ or $35$ points for an answer to a more difficult topology question: I simply assume that fewer people are interested in such questions, and therefore fewer people benefit. (I admit to being a bit bemused by this kind of response, though.) –  Brian M. Scott Dec 29 '12 at 17:30
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@Michael: I enjoy writing an answer to an interesting question, but I also enjoy writing a good, helpful answer to an elementary question. The pleasures are different, and I can’t say that one is greater than the other, though one is certainly more frequent than the other. –  Brian M. Scott Dec 29 '12 at 17:44
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6 Answers

This is inevitable for structural reasons, as Will says. The truth is that most users simply do not have the expertise to judge less elementary questions and answers one way or another, and there's not much we can do about this that wouldn't be unhealthy for the site as a whole.

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When a question requires several minutes of thinking, from the "points" point of view there is no point in answering. –  André Nicolas Dec 29 '12 at 0:25
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@André: Fortunately, the ‘fun’ point of view is very different! –  Brian M. Scott Dec 29 '12 at 17:35
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The real rewards of writing an answer are to help the OP and getting a better understanding of a question by writing a coherent answer. Points are an extremely crude measure of anything but points. Perhaps we could encourage OP's who see an extremely good answer to their question to post a bounty and then reward that bounty.

If there is a weak point to the system we have it is that use of moderator-type tools requires the accumulation of lots of points.

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I would upvote your first sentence twice if I could. –  Brian M. Scott Dec 29 '12 at 17:38
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@BrianM.Scott: Done! :-) –  hardmath Dec 29 '12 at 17:40
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@BrianM.Scott The first sentence can be nice in an ideal world. But we are living in a real world where not many people who are doing research have plenty of time to spend here. And when some of them are doing this they get almost nothing. (I can see here one of the reasons for some of them are no longer active on SE.) –  user26857 Dec 29 '12 at 18:59
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@YACP: Many non-elementary questions can be (and are) answered by people not currently doing research. –  Brian M. Scott Dec 29 '12 at 19:08
    
@YACP: SE reputation is also nothing. Your concern would make more sense to me if you could convert SE reputation to money or were expected to list it on your CV or whatever. –  Sam Lisi Jan 5 '13 at 21:06
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My most upvoted answer, Construct a function which is continuous in $[1,5]$ but not differentiable at $2, 3, 4$, is completely trivial. I have written answers to far more specialized problems that have gotten 1 or even 0 votes.

It's a huge problem. It encourages the asking and answering of trivial school-level questions, and discourages experts from putting in the large amount of time it takes to think about and write up answers to difficult ones. I'm not sure what the solution is -- some ideas include scaling reputation by the ratio of votes to views, or varying the amount of reputation awarded by tags, though in their raw form these all have problems.

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This is also a very good answer that shows I'm not the only one thinking to this issue. –  user26857 Dec 29 '12 at 10:39
    
I wholeheartedly agree. It is unfortunate how such a simple and trivial answer has 50+ upvotes, while your other answers which are far better but have no-where near that many upvotes. My hope is that the people who ask simple questions today, will upvote specialised answers tomorrow... –  Nameless Dec 29 '12 at 15:16
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I've had much the same experience; there seems inverse relation between the effort expended on an answer and the reputation points awarded. But the bigger picture is the reference/pedagogical value of questions and answers. Just to have a platform where I can rub "elbows" with like-minded folks is worth a great deal to me. –  hardmath Dec 29 '12 at 17:45
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You can always set yourself goals other than maximizing reputation. For example, perhaps for you "winning" means "getting 10 Necromancer badges". Set this as your challenge and you will find possessing deep knowledge is much more rewarding.

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Then there are Tenacious and Unsung Hero badges, both much rarer and of higher class than Nice Answer. (I just noticed that @YACP has Tenacious already. Congrats!) –  user53153 Dec 29 '12 at 17:26
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@PavelM I'm so obsessed by reputation points that I didn't noticed what kind of badges I've got. :)) –  user26857 Dec 29 '12 at 17:31
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@PavelM Those badges seem to reward some very peculiar behavior. I have to find questions where I think the asker will remember to come back and accept an answer, but doesn't understand the system well enough to upvote me, and which are not interesting enough that other people will upvote me. Plus I have to not leave too many good answers elsewhere. I don't think I will try to get these badges. :-) –  David Speyer Dec 29 '12 at 17:59
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Agreed. I should have mentioned tag-based badges instead. For example, only two users have the silver comm-alg badge, and those are not exactly random names... Only 14 have bronze comm-alg badge, including @YACP. The system works. –  user53153 Dec 29 '12 at 18:56
    
@David: Note that unregistered users can't vote. So often the fact they accept an answer is all you can hope for, and sometimes that too is a bit too much to hope for... –  Asaf Karagila Jan 1 '13 at 9:31
    
@AsafKaragila Sssh! You're giving away my secret badge-hunting strategy! :-) –  David Speyer Jan 1 '13 at 16:31
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So far, the only user with at least 10 Necromancer badges is Matt E, who has 11. Source. J.M. is close, but he's on hiatus now. Mike Spivey is in the best position to reach the milestone next. –  user53153 Jan 2 '13 at 6:56
    
Oops! I missed that! –  Douglas S. Stones Jan 6 '13 at 21:42
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@PavelM: Only one more, and I win! Woo-hoo! ;) –  Mike Spivey Jan 7 '13 at 19:01
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There is a comment on the question that answering easy questions is boring - but that is why the site is so interesting. When I have time I try to answer some questions (however "easy") in ways which will help the person who has asked the question to understand more deeply what is going on - perhaps I sometimes succeed.

What I do think is that the number of questions is increasing fast - blink and you miss it - so that individual questions and answers tend to get less attention than they used to. So this puts more of a premium in loving the maths enough to engage with the questions rather than with the system of points and bonuses.

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Another "hard part" of participating is helping users to clarify poorly worded questions. Success at that is often met with another answerer grabbing "the prize". Still, SE (esp. Math.SE) improves on Usenet in many ways. –  hardmath Dec 29 '12 at 17:52
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I just found this query: Most and least rewarding tags to answer, measured by upvotes per answer. Only tags with 1000+ questions are included, of which we have 47. The top one is, unsurprisingly, , followed by , , , and . The tag is #16, right after .

You may be surprised that and are at #22-23, and is shockingly low at #38.

My favorite tag, , is #46 out of 47. All the better, because this lends the air of exclusivity to the pde-badge holder club which I intend to join.

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It's not surprising that homework is low. Most of the questions are asked by transient users and garner 2-3 votes at most. Many get zero or less. –  Asaf Karagila Jan 1 '13 at 7:10
    
@Asaf Just for clarity: the stats are for answers, not questions. –  user53153 Jan 1 '13 at 7:16
    
Yes, I can read the name of the query. This was my point. Transient users don't usually bother to register and vote. –  Asaf Karagila Jan 1 '13 at 7:18
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The high position of set theory is rather remarkable, considering that those questions tend to be pretty non-trivial; it must be because the topic has a relatively enthusiastic core following here. –  Brian M. Scott Jan 2 '13 at 17:03
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