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As I see people's reputations rapidly grow, and become frustrated because it seems impossible to get to a question first, I can't help but wonder if there is manipulation/cheating going on. After all, this would be expected Internet behavior.

How do we know that people don't manipulate their reputations by using fake profiles and/or conspire with groups of friends?

Surely this IS a problem you are aware of, surely it HAS been done, and I wonder to what extent? Are there discussions about this? Has anyone been caught? Does this site care? Or is this something that is of little concern?

RESPONSE TO ALL: Thank you all for your feedback ;p. When I posted this, I must confess to some ignorance about how reputations were built. Sure, that ignorance could have been remedied prior to posting, but what fun would that be? Specifically, as Igor pointed out first, these sites encourage one to answer their own questions, and reps are more about how many people find your answers useful, even if it's an answer to your own question.

However, as Ange seconded, there is an overall feeling here that I was expressing. That is that new comers are often discouraged. It's so hard to get started. And if you think you've written a great answer, somebody has done it better. It's extremely humbling. Those of us in small fields like reversing probably aren't used to much socializing, so let's just say it will take an ego adjustment.

Is there anything that can be done to make these sites more friendly to the new comer? I don't know. I haven't come up with anything yet.

We all need to remain excited about our work and hobbies, and therefore 'showing off' has some definite utility. It does get harder and harder to do so in this forever critical society. So easy to be a critic ;p.

Meanwhile, I'm composing a series of question/answers for myself.

P.S. Did you guys really need to downvote this that many times? ;p

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    Can you show a sample of "in-depth, well formatted responses posted near instantaneously"? – Igor Skochinsky Apr 8 '13 at 22:51
  • Should I edit that out so that my point is not missed? EDIT: There, edited, now back to my point. – dyasta Apr 8 '13 at 23:08
  • Actually, looking at a few samples, it seems that an elaborate answer often comes WITHIN AN HOUR, not a couple hours. I don't know what human with anything else to do could possibly build up reps as fast as some. – dyasta Apr 8 '13 at 23:39
  • @jeremycollake: like ... uhm Igor? How about having a lot of experience in the field (and subscribing to the RSS feed or hitting F5 a lot) – 0xC0000022L Apr 9 '13 at 1:25
  • Who says some have anything else to do? If I would be more experienced here, I would spam you all too. – user187 Apr 9 '13 at 5:51
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    @jeremycollake I think even asking and answering your own questions is encouraged. So if you have a really good question you know the answer to you should post it and the well formatted, prepared answer. Posting of quality content has real value and will only benefit the site users while the reputation is completely worthless. – Peter Andersson Apr 9 '13 at 10:00
  • On near instantaneously: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/6917/… – RobotHumans Apr 9 '13 at 21:27
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    Just in case you feel like people are attacking you with downvotes I wanted to repeat 0xC0000022L: the voting on Meta expresses agreement or disagreement with your proposal or opinion, not necessarily personal dislike. (I didn't vote FWIW.) – Igor Skochinsky Apr 10 '13 at 2:11
  • Please take my comments with a grain of salt. I like to stir the hornets nest, and rarely have any sort of filter. Sure, I often appear like a fool, but I'd rather appear like a fool than try to pretend to be a wise man. Besides, through my foolishness I eventually get to the bottom of an issue. Please see Response To All I wrote in original 'question'. – dyasta Apr 14 '13 at 11:38
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You are insulting a lot of intelligent, hard-working people building this site. Your assertion is that if you are not "winning" in the pursuit of reputation, then those who achieved a bit of recognition for their work must almost certainly be cheating… surely.

First, Stack Exchange has extensive suspicious-voting detection, and irregular votes are removed and the users dealt with. So your mass conspiracy is not "excessively simple." Even if the occasional misplaced vote slips through the cracks, this site simply is not filled with fake accounts and conspiring groups patting each other on the back for their egos. The whole premise is ridiculous and insulting.

Your reputation comes from one answer on this site. Isn't that much more likely the problem? Do you honestly believe there is not a single answer that can be improved upon here? That would be miraculous for any site, let alone one that's been online three weeks with only a few dozen contributors. I've personally earned waaay more reputation posting better answers (often hours or days later) than hovering over any site playing the first-to-post game.

  • 1
    great to see one of the SE folks chime in. That's what I meant by sounds more like an accusation than a question in my answer. I just minced my words. – 0xC0000022L Apr 9 '13 at 18:06
  • Sorry about that ;p. Don't take it so personally, it's important to consider all perspectives. I'll be the first to admit I'm wrong here, and wrong quite often. Of the 1000 things I may be wrong about, eventually I arrive at some fundamental truth. My process surely is somewhat helpful to others who have similar feelings. – dyasta Apr 14 '13 at 11:25
  • Please see Response To All I wrote in original 'question'. – dyasta Apr 14 '13 at 11:39
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No, I don't think there's a reputation manipulation going on here.

You have to remember that the site is barely three weeks old and less than one week in public beta. There aren't that many questions posted, so every new question gets a lot of attention and it's not unusual that they get good answers reasonably quickly.

The hypothetical behavior you describe is called sock puppetting and it's a serious violation of the rules. If you suspect specific users of this behavior you should flag them and the moderators will investigate.

And yes, some peoples are really "sitting there, waiting for questions all day". You can do it yourself by subscribing to an RSS feed of all questions or specific tags. I do it myself, though I'll probably unsubscribe from the all-inclusive feed if it becomes too much. On StackOverflow I subscribe to a few selected tags. With around 5 questions per day it's not a huge burden so far.

If you'd like to learn how to gain reputation yourself, see answers to this post with recommendations:

Post from Jon Skeet, one of the highest rep SO users:

See also: How secure is Stack Exchange's reputation?

  • I do subscribe to the RSS feed, but don't watch it all day. Actually, the whole thing sickens me now. I don't want to participate in a mass ego stroke. I hope it goes well for you all. I'm sure the answers will come in handy for me, they have in the past. Maybe someday, if I'm confined to a hospital bed, I'll devote time to hawk new questions as fast as possible. No hard feelings, great site. – dyasta Apr 9 '13 at 0:02
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    I'm sad you're seeing it this way. I personally post answers not for an "ego stroke" (though the rep does feel nice) but because I feel sharing my experience is useful for others. In fact, if you check my answers, you'll see that they're often not the fastest by far and are often posted hours after the question. So there's no need to jump the gun to get the rep. If you see a question you think you can contribute to, don't hesitate to post an answer just because it already has one. – Igor Skochinsky Apr 9 '13 at 0:13
  • Also, I hope that you'll post any reverse engineering questions you have in the future, and let the "mass ego stroke" work in your favour. – Dougall Apr 9 '13 at 0:21
  • Totally agreed, though it sounds a little strange from the guy with the most rep – user187 Apr 9 '13 at 5:52
  • Dougali, as I said, I often use the answers on these sites. They are great answers. You've written at least one that I certainly couldn't best. I am going to start just creating my own questions and answers, as Igor points out these sites encourage (;o), which should give back to the community something. I definitely couldn't accomplish anything without standing on the backs of all those who came before. – dyasta Apr 14 '13 at 11:40
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Early bird catches the worm, eh?

There is no necessity to be first to answer. You can still take the time to write an answer up, especially if you have facts to add and especially since this is a community that is just beginning to grow.

Also: you and I had a much better starting position than a few of the brand new members. That's right! Why? We got the "Association bonus" (check your profile, 100 rep on the first day without answering anything). This bonus is given to you if you have a minimum of 200 (IIRC) rep on another SE site.

First answer gets most rep ... probably. So what?

Of course it's true that there is a certain dynamic/automatism at work (also seen on other SE sites) that if you are the first to answer and hold already a higher rep than other people hurrying to answer you'll usually garner more upvotes. So it's clearly an advantage.

This is equally annoying if you're trying "to work your way up" on StackOverflow and other sites. I've had the feeling that some of the greater than 50k rep users are very prolific dealing downvotes, but aren't very diligent in retracting them once you edited your question/answer to iron out the point of criticism they raised (if they were so gracious to comment about their downvote at all ;)). On the other hand they aren't too prolific with their upvotes (but then, you only get 30 votes a day).

"They're cheating!"

It's also true that in some cases there won't be anything to add to old answers. So you can't add anything to existing questions and yet no new questions trickle in (like 8th of April, I think a whopping two questions - 1, 2 - only the whole day long).

But there are other possibilities, too. Aside from the above mentioned dynamics, I think you'll find that new members, given the lack of new questions don't have too much to do. What could they do other than vote on existing items? Upvotes usually outnumber downvotes because of the fact that many authors will retracts their answers/questions if they got heavily downvoted. Also, a single downvote among half a dozen upvotes is a -2 in your reputation compared to +60 for answers and +30 for questions.

Of course new members could ask questions. True. It'll happen. Apparently we'll have to give it some time.

Main reason for reputation: SE is community-driven

On SE sites there is a main reason for reputation being used and that reason is also the main reason why it can't be abolished: SE sites are community-driven. That is, at certain reputation levels you gain certain privileges (just add the /privileges to a site URL). Especially from 10k rep onwards those are getting closer and closer to what the community (and staff) moderators can do.

This is great, but it also sucks a bit because the early bird caught the worm already (or half of it or so). That's us! - including you - right here, right now. We're the early birds in this community. Those to be the first in the community to answer and ask are the first to collect reputation ("Thank you Cpt. Obvious!"). And even later they'll still benefit from old questions/answers getting upvotes.

What this also means is that you get to shape the community (see the banner at the top?):

Take ownership of your community - Read The 7 Essential Meta Questions of Every Beta

The community aspect can suck if you disagree with decisions some of the high rep users make or if enough low rep users make them (such as closing questions that should be within the scope of the site and thereby stigmatizing it). But it can be the greatest thing since [insert your favorite gadget here, no not sliced bread ;)] when it works. And most of the time it does work.

Conclusion

Would be a shame to see you leave.

Thing is that a lot of niche ("hacker") topics have a considerable lack of attention on StackOverflow and this community could be a chance to attract exactly the right group of people for these niche topics. This is your chance to be on board and shape this community. Right from the start.

Still I hold it with @CamilStaps here:

Vote a lot! This helps users gain reputation, get access to more privileges, etc.

and @IgorSkochinsky here:

If you suspect specific users of this behavior you should flag them and the moderators will investigate.

You'd be surprised by the wealth of information that especially the staff moderators seem to have access to (go read other meta.*.SE sites to see what I mean).


Side-note and disclosure: one downvote on this question came from me. From the meta.RE.SE FAQ:

Voting here works a bit differently from the main site. On Meta, voting is often used to express agreement or disagreement, not to point out a lack of quality or helpfulness. Please don't be concerned if you receive downvotes – members of the community may simply disagree with your bug, feature request, support issue, or the nature of the discussion.

And I disagree. In fact your question sounds more like an accusation than a question to me. Also note: the downvote here on meta.RE.SE doesn't affect your RE.SE rep at all (unlike on meta.SO which has a separate rep count).

You may want to write a comment to Tim Post (i.e. a comment starting with @TimPost: on your question or one of the answers) to have someone from the SE staff check out your allegations on specific users - or if you prefer to tell them 1:1 use the contact form.

  • 3
    The @user works only under posts that the user has edited/created/commented. – asheeshr Apr 9 '13 at 8:08
  • @AshRj: thanks for pointing that out! – 0xC0000022L Apr 9 '13 at 17:46
  • @0xC0000022L I have to admit I laughed at that given our past encounters where you've proven your experience :P. – JMcAfreak Apr 11 '13 at 17:23
  • @JMcAfreak: which part the one above or below the ruler? ;) – 0xC0000022L Apr 11 '13 at 18:09
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It sounds like the end result is quickly getting in-depth, well-formatted responses to questions, so I don't see this as a bad thing. I think the purpose of reputation is to incentivise good, fast answers, so everything is working to plan.

SE actually encourages answering your own questions. I'm not sure if people are posting using dummy accounts, but even if they were it seems unlikely that it's harmful to the community.

I also think that your time-estimates are a bit off. Most of my answers take no more than 45 minutes to write, and I'll leave the main page open, so I see new questions as they pop up. (I have a lot of free time, and I really like the site.)

A lot of the questions, especially popular ones, are pretty trivial, so a large amount of the user-base don't need to do any research to answer it, they just start writing. As well as this, a lot of users are active on other SE sites, so they know the formatting well - it's not really an obstacle.

If there's evidence that people are using dummy accounts or collusion to manipulate votes in their favour, then that would be harmful to the site, and should definitely be considered, but it seems improbable.

  • Let's assume the max and say your answer takes 45 minutes to write, and it's posted an hour (let's say) from the original question, then that means you got to the question within 15 minutes. That's pretty fast. I've seen a number of sites that have reps get manipulated. People do it. Whether it hurts, I don't know. It pisses me off though. I don't see how I can possibly have a job AND achieve any level of rep at any Stack Exchange site. – dyasta Apr 8 '13 at 23:48
  • And if each answer takes a max of 45 minutes, and you do 10 answers a day, that's a max of 7.5 hours right there. It just doesn't add up to me, and I know all to well how people are when it comes to bolstering their online profiles. Oh well, I suppose none of this matters, I am just tired of not getting a chance to answer anything. Sometimes I see a question improperly answered, but that is rare. – dyasta Apr 8 '13 at 23:50
  • In fact, I think reps should be abolished. That is the move I'd make... but I know that won't happen. – dyasta Apr 8 '13 at 23:55
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    Can you give real examples of people answering that much? My best answer took me ~2 minutes to notice the question, ~8 minutes to write a draft and "answer" it (I was still the third person to respond), then ~50 minutes of editing to clarify the language. reverseengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/1654/… I understand that you want a chance to answer questions, but I don't see evidence that people are cheating, and I think it's a good thing that you rarely see improperly answered questions. More questions might improve this. – Dougall Apr 8 '13 at 23:59
3
  • you shouldn't leave: you have great experience that I really respect.

    • I admit having no reputation was frustrating at first: can't vote up/down, no links... So I perfectly understand your 'reps should be abolished'.

    • just improving existing answers with just a 'good point' should get you up-voted and get more experience, then everything eventually clicks in ;)

  • I think formatting actually makes it easier: subsections creates logic that prevents too much typing, grammar correction...

    • I actually forced myself to learn the syntax after I saw too many amazing answers from Igor
  • trying to come up with good answers already takes too much time, I wouldn't have the time to play with reputation, creating other accounts...

    • we're a small community, I think cheating just for that would hurt one's real reputation twice.
  • Thanks Ange. I am glad to see that someone else can relate to the overall feeling I was attempting to express. I later contemplated about this a lot, trying to figure out how the community could seem more open to new comers, while retaining all the things that make it work. I haven't had any brilliant ideas, though perhaps someone will come up with something. You're right on all other points too. – dyasta Apr 14 '13 at 11:30
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Since a comment is too short to put my rant, I'll put it here.

The Difficulty of Cheating

Cheating is much too difficult to be worth the trouble. First, you'd have to have all these different, unassociated, valid ways to sign up. That already takes too much time. Second, you'd have to build up enough reputation with ALL of those accounts to be able to upvote/downvote. You might think it's easy - just have the second user upvote the first. However, if both of these dummy accounts have too low of a rep, how do you do that? Third, you have to maintain their reputations. If something causes their rep to drop too low (yes, this can happen), then you have to go through the trouble of further maintenance, especially if you also plan to use these puppets to vote people down.

Now that the "setup" is out of the way, let's keep in mind that there's a 200 daily reputation gain limit. That means you'd only get 200 points a day. Even if you answered 5 questions and got 10 upvotes on each answer, you'd still get only 200 points instead of 500. Let's say you're paranoid and want to ensure that limit, so you set up 20 dummy accounts and get them all to a high enough reputation to be able to vote.

Let's take a worst-case scenario approach, and slowly get it to the best case scenario and what you'd have to do to achieve and maintain that scenario (I use "you" to refer to the generic user, not to you personally). I'll even start with a better than worst case scenario by saying your primary user has ~50 rep to start with.

You begin the setup of your puppet army. Your 20 puppets ask questions, and you vote them up. Supposing that you want the "fast" way to gain rep, you don't make these questions particularly good quality. The community votes these questions down and votes to close them. Well, there goes that rep. So now you have to take the time to make sure each puppet makes contributions of a high enough quality to maintain a good reputation.

OK, so you've got the dummy accounts up to a good enough reputation, which took you a lot of time considering that you need to use 20 different browser sessions or log out and back in a number of times. You also took the time to go through and vote those questions up with your main user. Now, not recognizing that there's a 200 rep limit per day, you go out and answer a bunch of questions, possibly including those asked by your puppets. The delay between question and answer would grow as you go through because you take the time to post a slightly relevant answer to each. Now for the voting with your puppets. You go in and vote your answers up. This took you hours. What's this? Your reputation didn't go up by more than 200? You should have gotten at least 1000. Well, now you realize that you can only earn 100 rep per day. Sure, if you get up to 200 rep, you'll get an association bonus, which can help you a bit, but that's a one-time bonus.

OK, so now you know there's a daily rep limit. This time you either find a question to answer, or you ask your own (using the main or a puppet account). Now, you have to use a different browser session OR log out and log back in to answer the question "first". So you manage to get the first answer, and the answer is garbage. Knowing that nobody would upvote that, you have 20 other qualified accounts (with the setup complete) vote that answer up. The rest of the community will very likely downvote the answer, sometimes to oblivion. This means you have to take time to make the answer at least adequate so that it doesn't get voted down. (this becomes useless later on).

So you take the time to make the answer adequate enough to not be voted down, but not necessarily good enough to be voted up. You have your 20 puppets vote it up. Meanwhile, another user sees the question, has a better answer than you, so he posts it. Other people, including the asker, see that answer, and they vote it up. Sure, you have the accounts to vote it back down, but that would waste their precious reputation. You do it, and - oh no! - one or more of your puppets no longer has enough reputation to vote down, and maybe even some don't have the ability to vote up! Now you realize that you need to manage the puppets' reputations as well as your own since voting down costs reputation.

OK, so you start to rethink managing 20 puppet accounts. You just undo as many as the downvotes as possible (there's a time limit for undoing that) to fix it for now. Now you're back to someone having a better answer than yours. So you have to do more than make your answer (or question) merely adequate; you have to make it good enough to make others want to vote it up.

OK, so you've done all that, and you're still running ragged because of the 20 puppets. You thin the numbers down a bit - after all, your answers (and possibly questions) are good enough that you don't need as many anymore. You also notice that you're running out of material. Uh-oh. You could have your 20 puppets delete their questions and then just ask them yourself, but people would notice, and that would mean trouble. Not wanting to learn how to make a time machine to stop yourself from doing that, you decide not to. You realize that you have to come up with high-quality, original material.

You begin to do this, and you use maybe only 5 of your bots now. You now aren't reaching that 200 point limit. Oh well. Rep is rep. Your questions and answers are starting to be voted up by others anyway. Wait, did I just say that? Other people are voting your quality answers up, and sometimes even giving you a bonus (and immunity to point loss by your answer being voted down) by selecting your answer as the accepted answer? You didn't need your puppets this whole time?

The Answer?

You never needed those puppets

Well, you're all dejected now, because you just wasted hours, if not days, learning these hard lessons about gaming the system. But since you have moved on, you think you're fine. Meanwhile, an investigation of your activities has been going on, and they discover that you've been sock puppeting. Oh dear, you're suddenly banned! No! All that work wasted! You'd have to create a whole new account (which would also be wrong) and start answering legitimately! Looks like it would have been better to answer legitimately from the start.

Given all these requirements, I find it a great insult to our intelligence when you say that we would even think we could ever make it through all that. Even with better conditions, you're bound to be caught, and you're still in for a ton of work. You might as well spend the same amount of time actually doing research and putting up good, well thought out questions.

  • Awesome story! :) – Igor Skochinsky Apr 11 '13 at 20:36
  • @IgorSkochinsky That was hard to even conceptualize, let alone put in an order that wouldn't require the use of a time machine :P. – JMcAfreak Apr 11 '13 at 20:37
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    I don't see how downvoting another answer would help the puppet army in the first place. Otherwise good outline of what makes it so hard. – 0xC0000022L Apr 12 '13 at 16:10
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    Thanks for the summary. I updated my question with a general response, trying to save some face in what was a typical example of my foolishness. Honestly, I find being a fool refreshing ;p. Besides that, as I've mentioned, eventually the foolishness whittles down into something useful. The sentiment I was trying to express, and I did a terrible job at it, is one that many new users do encounter. You jump in, with 100 rep, and see people with 100k rep (not here, but at other SEs). Envy sets in ;p. Eventually I corrected my erroneous emotional state here. – dyasta Apr 14 '13 at 11:43
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    @90h hey, it happens to the best of us. No worries. – JMcAfreak Apr 15 '13 at 14:52

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