Thoughts about a different StackOverflow reputation system

I love StackOverflow. It's my "go to" place when I run into a tough programming problem.

Reputation on StackOverflow can be a bit intimidating, however. Even when you have a few thousand reputation points (placing you in the top 20% of all StackOverflow users) - the top users have 100x that many points! It can make you feel pretty insignificant. "Catching up" to the leaders doesn't feel like a realistic option.

This week, I listened to a podcast about Cortes' conquest of the Aztec empire. During the conversation, the Aztecs were described as a civilization founded on war. Warriors were celebrated. They earned their own "reputation" - in the form of feathers and other ornaments - by conquering neighboring peoples. What I found most interesting, though, was once a warrior earned a badge for conquests on a particular village, they couldn't earn more rep by sacking the same towns again and again. This forced their warriors to become fighters with diverse skills and experiences as they fought new or stronger opponents.

I thought this example might provide a good alternative to the current StackOverflow reputation model where reputation point gains happen at a constant rate - regardless of the type of answers you provide.

Let's say that a user has gained 5K reputation points for answering Java questions. The top user reputation for questions with the Java tag has upwards of 20K reputation. Is the top user, really 4x more reputable as a Java expert? I wouldn't think so. It could be that the top rep user has just been a StackOverflow user longer. Or maybe they have had the good fortune to provide an answer to a question with a lot of views (and up votes).

I guess my point is, once you've gained a certain amount of reputation answering a particular class of questions, you could be considered an expert in that particular field of study. You've exhibited you know what you're talking about. What, really, does additional reputation provide past this point?

I know earning points is a large part of the appeal for many users so instead of turning off reputation gains outright after reaching a certain plateau, couldn't the rate of growth just slow down a bit? Instead of earning 10 rep points for all up votes, maybe the point rate would decrease by 1 for each 1000 points earned for answers with a particular tag, bottoming out at 1 point per up vote . I don't know - I'm just spit-balling here.

Another nice side effect of this change would be that users with a diverse set of skills, could still earn reputation quickly. Once they've hit the expert experience level for answering Java questions, for instance, they could still earn full reputation points for answering SQL questions, or AJAX. Users with a deep understanding in many, diverse topic areas would rise to the top. Like the Aztec warriors - to gain the most reputation - users would need to expand their skill sets outside of their comfort zone.

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