How to not get reputation points on Stack Overflow

Thursday 17 February 2011

I love Stack Overflow, for a number of reasons. First, they have great answers to programming questions. When I need an answer to a detailed issue I’m having with code, the answer is usually on Stack Overflow, and with the recent Google tweak to tamp down content farms in search results, it’s usually the first hit on Google as well.

But the reason they have the best answers is because Stack Overflow is essentially a MMORPG that awards points for expertise and other valued behavior. I understand well the incentives the site offers for answering questions, because I’ve accumulated a lot of reputation there:

My rep

The combination of being awarded points, and debating with other knowledgable experts, plus being able to learn along the way, and help people, is very compelling. But it can get obsessive. Joel Spolsky claims that tons of rep means you are a superstar developer, but it also implies that you’ve spent a lot of energy chasing reputation points.

After a recent too-long session of someone’s wrong on the internet, I decided to kick the habit. And like any addict, I needed a little help.

A simple Greasemonkey script was just the thing. It just hides the form that allows for answering questions:

// ==UserScript==
// @name           No answering on Stackoverflow
// @namespace
// @description    Hide the answer box on Stack Overflow 
//                 to stop obsessive behavior
// @include*
// ==/UserScript==

    "@namespace url(; " +
    ".question-page #post-form { display: none; }"

The great thing about this solution is that it’s effective, without meaning I have to avoid the site altogether, and if there’s an question I really should answer, I can just disable the script, which is enough of an action to make me think twice.

You can install no_so_answers.user.js yourself if you find yourself similarly afflicted.


Ken Pespisa 8:41 AM on 17 Feb 2011

The whole point of StackOverflow is to have the best answers to all programming questions. Therefore, you could say the site thrives on having some of the brightest minds or experts in a field be compelled to share their thoughts and present their solutions for the benefit of all. I'm hoping you, and others that use this script, won't be deterred from answering questions altogether. :) We need your participation.

That said, this script is a good buffer, as you say, to make you think twice before answering. I can relate to getting emotionally built up to the point where I feel I have to answer a question, and after the moment passes I have to ask myself, was it worth it? Did I add any value?

Take this comment as an example :)

Jonathan Hollin 9:25 AM on 17 Feb 2011

Maybe I've missed something here... wouldn't it be better to hide the reputation container rather than the response form?

Ned Batchelder 9:52 AM on 17 Feb 2011

@Ken: we'll consider it a trial separation and see how it goes.

@Jonathan: there are two reasons to hide the answer form. First, reputation is visible in lots of places, so there's many more places to tweak the UI. Second, it isn't just rep points that pull me in. There's also the wanting the answer to be accepted, wanting wrong answers to get what they deserve, and so on. By not writing answers, you can skip the all the engagement. Maybe something else would work better for you.

Jonathan Hollin 10:33 AM on 17 Feb 2011

@Ned: Sorry, I should have read your OP a little more carefully. I understand now that it's not your "reputation" that's pulling you in, but your willingness to contribute to the community. I should have known you better than that by now! :-)

Jeff Blaine 12:58 PM on 17 Feb 2011

This obviously applies to the entire Stack Exchange suite.

I poke around here and there looking for something to answer, but just end up bailing because I don't care about Stack Exchange Street Cred and the questions on serverfault are SO esoteric -- "I'm running RHELv3 on an overclocked Apple IIc. PostgreSQL 9-alpha3 won't run. Please help."

Significant periods of my time are worth (and I don't mean in money, but sure) far more than an icon.

Glad to see you made a change.

Jeff Atwood 3:04 PM on 17 Feb 2011

Hi Ned -- have you considered listing this script at

> Significant periods of my time are worth (and I don't mean in money, but sure) far more than an icon.

Generally the reason people are participating is to teach, and learn -- it's time invested in peer education, basically.

Jeff Blaine 3:35 PM on 17 Feb 2011

Understood, Jeff. I think it's *mostly* great, just not for me (anymore, for the majority part). Dicking around in 80 usenet groups every day ended for me 15 years ago :)

David St.Germain 4:39 PM on 17 Feb 2011

+1 reputation points for this post

Jeff Atwood 5:40 PM on 18 Feb 2011

> Dicking around in 80 usenet groups every day ended for me 15 years ago :)

Sure, but the premise is that you can spend 10 minutes on our sites and learn something -- or teach someone else something. It doesn't take hours, and it isn't intended to. This is another reason why we cap reputation and votes, for example... to the extent that you spend *all* your time on Stack Overflow, we are failing you. That's not our intent.

Also, I used this script as an example on

Ned Batchelder 7:58 PM on 18 Feb 2011

@Jeff: I've added the script to the stackapps site, how could I not after you featured me in your blog post? Thanks... :)

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