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I'm a sci-fi fan and I joined this site recently. Admittedly, I'm a little shy, but I want to contribute. I'm not always confident about having an interesting question or a correct answer, and this often gets the better of me. I understand that some people on this site are extremely knowledgeable and can give really spectacular answers quickly. I'm happy to sit back and read those questions and answers, it's really entertaining, and I'll contribute when I feel I have something to add :)

Maybe I'm making a mountain out of a molehill, but I've been exploring the meta part of the site lately and there was a comment that kind of irked me.

A question was asked about how people came to know about SFF:SE. Below one of the answers, there was the following comment:

Oh, I've looked back more than a few times. Mostly to see the rest of you in my rear-view mirror, admittedly.

Maybe it was just a joke. I understand the user who made has really high reputation and I gather that's a kind of in-joke maybe? But it doesn't really help welcome new people into the community.

Like I said, I'm a bit shy and writing this is taking some effort on my part, and I don't really want to get on anyone's bad side. I also feel bad because maybe I have no right to complain as a relative outsider and just don't understand the dynamics of the community.

But I feel compelled to speak up for the people who don't want this to be a competition.

Am I alone?

(If this post is felt to be in bad taste, I will remove it immediately. I promise!)

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    you should always feel free to speak up. That took some guts. I think you'll find if you act with decorum, make good posts, and participate at whatever level you want, people will support you. – ThePopMachine Oct 11 '15 at 6:17
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    Welcome! Since you mention it here, downvotes often happen without explanation. Personally I consider it rude, but it does happen so please expect it. Some comments are inteneded to be funny, but that is sometimes more apparent to the commenter than to the reader. – Reinstate Monica - Goodbye SE Oct 11 '15 at 6:53
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    @emma - It helps if you assume that everything I say is intended to be funny. If I'm being serious, I'll tell you – Valorum Oct 11 '15 at 7:57
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    @Richard You could have done with that statement a few months earlier. – Mr Lister Oct 11 '15 at 9:36
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    @MikeEdenfield - I object to the idea that competitiveness is somehow wrong, or to be avoided. – Valorum Oct 11 '15 at 14:27
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    @Richard - I don't object to competitiveness, I object to aggressive public displays of it. From the responses below it looks like no one will stop you pursuing reputation and you can attain it whether you talk about it or not. I imagine that you can achieve all the reputation you want while never once mentioning who is in your rear view mirror...something called 'good sportsmanship' – Emma Oct 11 '15 at 16:43
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    I don't read it as aggressive. I think @Richard was making a joke. I'm concerned that new members feel welcomed. But I also don't want existing people to hesitate in making jokes just in case someone might not like it, unless it is offensive. – Reinstate Monica - Goodbye SE Oct 11 '15 at 17:56
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    So... if you object to public displays of competitiveness, I suppose you hate all sports, competition reality shows, beauty pageants, debates, politics, etc? – Catija Oct 11 '15 at 19:00
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    @Emma : I've removed references to specific users from your question. You raise an interesting question, but there's no reason for it to refer to any specific users. – Praxis Oct 11 '15 at 21:51
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    @Praxis you're right. This is getting a bit heated for me (and it's my fault) I didn't mean to single anyone out and I.appreciate the encouragement and kind words from everyone – Emma Oct 11 '15 at 22:13
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    Related: How does Gamification change User Behavior? – Möoz Oct 12 '15 at 2:04
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No and yes. Or yes and no.

Come in and enjoy and post questions and answers and feel free to join us in Mos Eisley where you can chat with a lot of us. Don't worry about how many points you have or badges. Seriously, just enjoy the site and contributing.

But, yes, there are hard core users and friendly competition in terms of reputation points and badges. For some, anything becomes more interesting when there's a goal to focus on, such as a certain amount of rep points. I used to play that game myself, but only until I reached 20,000 (the Trusted User level). I am still proud to say I'm the third person to reach that level on this site. But since then, I've coasted. I come in and post questions from time to time and answer questions when I feel I have a good answer, but, at this point, I could care less about gaining reputation points or badges.

As for @Richard and his comment you cite above, well, yes, there are a few people who seem to live here, but, honestly, often they're the very ones that can be quite helpful when you need it. Their competition is pretty much among each other. (And I suspect his answer was more to bait a few of the others in the high rep group than aimed at anyone else.)

So don't worry about competing. Just enjoy the site and the people you interact with. Those that are competing are playing a game with each other. If, at some, point, you want to join in, you can, but there's no reason to. Any competition is totally unofficial and generally ignorable.

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    Thanks for this, it's nice to get a "been there, done that" perspective on the reputation issue. :) – Emma Oct 11 '15 at 16:35
  • Make up your mind. Is it 'yes and no' or 'no and yes'? – Valorum Jan 1 '16 at 12:15
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    @Richard: Logical fallacy: False dichotomy. But thanks for playing anyway. – Tango Jan 1 '16 at 23:06
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There's a little bit of competition, and a little bit of competition is good...

Hi Emma and welcome to SFF:SE! I'm Praxis. I am a room owner for our chatroom. I was there when you posted this, and your post came up briefly there as Tango and CandiedMango wrote responses to you. I decided to wait a little longer to weigh in on this, mainly to formulate my thoughts properly and to see what others had to say.

I think the first thing I'd like to tell you, to answer your very last question, is that you are not alone. A few others have expressed frustration with the competitive aspects of the site very recently, although they did not do so in Meta (rather, through the chat room or through commenting).

This doesn't mean that the site is too competitive, but only that there is competition. Whenever there is competition, people fall on either the losing or winning end of it, and that causes problems, as I am sure you are well aware.

Benefits of the reputation system

Having a reputation system (yep, we keep score) gives people an incentive to answer questions. I am saying this because you are particularly interested in the effect of competition on newer users. While competition can indeed scare off some newer users, it is mostly a boon to them, as the promise of rep means that people will step forward to answer questions, including somewhat tedious questions (which no one would think twice about normally) and difficult questions (which may not be worth the effort otherwise).

Personally, I enjoy answering for the sake of answering, and acceptance of an answer is more of a goal for me than reputation (because I feel good when I know I have helped someone and solved a problem). But I understand the value of reputation in connecting new users with questions to established users with answers.

When a new user gets a good answer, they are more likely to stay. Quite often they never return, but that's usually because they got the one thing they needed, not because they were scared off.

Main versus Meta

You are a curious new user who has been poking around in Meta, reading comments, etc. — that's great! We get many new users each day, and most don't make it so far into the site. Many ask a question ("I'm looking for a book I once read..."), get an answer, and have no immediate need to explore Meta. In a sense, Meta is like a workshop where experienced users go to discuss aspects of site operation. Sure, some new users make it there and even have a question to ask but it's not the norm. By the time most get to Meta, they have usually decided to stick it out and have been exposed to a variety of comments of different styles and moods on the main site.

If that particular comment had been made on the main site, it could be removed as being off-topic. Here, it is on-topic, even if it is (perhaps) unnecessarily self-focused.

You shouldn't be afraid to get on anyone's "bad side" — you likely won't and there are mechanisms for dealing with that if you feel you are being targeted unfairly in any way. You will also find that someone you weren't getting along with one week will be sticking out their neck for you the following week. People get over things here very quickly!

Perhaps the real moral is to not draw too many conclusions from one comment from one user with little context.

Upshot

You should aim to be the user that you want to be. If you spend enough time here participating in the way that you want to participate, people may start to emulate you, for better or for worse.

You can even make it your pet project to welcome and support new users, to explain the site and community to them. The site is what you make it to be. The arrival of one new but active user can affect the site considerably. You actually have incredible power to steer the site, if you want it (and are willing to earn it by keeping up your participation).

Again, welcome to SFF:SE. Stick around, don't be afraid to speak up, and don't be afraid to lead by example.

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    Makes a lot of sense. I think I was overreacting. I like the encouragement, thanks – Emma Oct 11 '15 at 22:08
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    "someone you weren't getting along with one week will be sticking out their neck for you the following week" I want to add onto this: sometimes you won't be getting along with someone, but they'll have no problem with you. That's something my particular brand of crazy ran up against a lot in my early days. It's important to remember how much context is lost in text-only communication, and that assuming good intentions pays off more often than not – Jason Baker Oct 11 '15 at 22:10
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No

At least it is not a competition in the way you think it is. Users here strive to answer a question as well as they can, it is not however an unfriendly competition. If you go through the site or observe chat you will see most of the regulars congratulate each other on good answers or finding a nice quote.

There are few (more than who i mention) who have friendly competitions about rep, it's a long running joke that @Richard wants to overtake @DVK and @Randal'thor is consistently after his daily rep caps. The comment you mentioned is what i am going now call 'rep banter'.

Personally, I am active in the community at the moment and have been before. I'm not that concerned with rep I won't answer every question and I rarely hit my limits only posting answers when I get interested in a question.

You will not be targeted in anyway for

  1. answering questions in a credible fashion.
  2. not trying to get rep at every possible instance
  3. having a low rep
  4. being new

You should feel free to post any question and answer any question. We do however have guidelines for this and you should not take any negative comments on the structure of your answers or questions as a personal attack. They may just not adhere to the guidelines of the site. If you feel this way about something you want to ask or answer then you can feel free to pop into chat and ask about it. We will not steal your question or answer we are just there to help. :)

*As a side @Richard is British and we (as Brits) have a fantastic sense of humour which may sometimes be deemed as snarky when out of context or in the wrong tone.

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    It's also a long running joke that you can pretty much blame @Richard for everything on the site. – Tango Oct 11 '15 at 5:09
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    Literally, I mean just take a look at this question. – CandiedMango Oct 11 '15 at 5:10
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    Yeah. %%blame Richard. – Tango Oct 11 '15 at 5:13
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    Thanks for this thoughtful response. I've had my fair share of dealings with Brits and my Mum is one in fact. I already suspected the comment is a jokey one, my concern is over its effect on newer users. – Emma Oct 11 '15 at 16:33
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    Can I blame @Richard for getting more rep than me? – DVK-on-Ahch-To Oct 11 '15 at 20:30
  • @DVK No, because you're going to start repcapping every day and keep ahead of him forever! :-) – Rand al'Thor Oct 11 '15 at 20:52
  • @randal'thor - I don't have enough drive to bother putting in an effort to repcap everyday anymore. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Oct 11 '15 at 21:11
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    The age of @DVK is over, so comes the age of Richard. – CandiedMango Oct 11 '15 at 22:37
  • @DVK: I'm sure it's all Richard's fault he has more rep than you do. – Tango Oct 11 '15 at 23:55
  • @CandiedMango: In other words, "The king is dead. Long live the king." – Tango Oct 11 '15 at 23:55
  • @Tango I read that in Scar's voice. It's the only way to read that! – Möoz Oct 12 '15 at 2:10
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SE can be a competition, but only if you choose to make it one

Assuming you've read the site's FAQ, you'll note that once you get beyond 25,000 reputation points, everything stops. There's literally (from a user/moderator perspective) no point in continuing. There are no more privileges to be earned, no more additional tools that can be accessed and no more, well, no more anything really.

So what is it that incentivises those who've hit the wall to continue to post great answers? Well, for some it's the joy of sharing, the contentment that comes from having helped fellow travelers out with their problems. For others, it's the simple glory of being recognised as one of the masters of their fandom. For still others, it's the fact that every answer is a portal into a journey of exploration and discovery, wherein you, the answerer gain as much insight as the asker. And for very few, a select few I might add, and I number myself among them, their driver is REP.

Rep glorious rep.

For those in the final category, rep is the fire in which we burn. It is what guides us and drives us. It is the purpose that defines us and in the darkness binds us. It is an addiction and a spur to greatness. It's the reason why we work to craft and tweak and prod a single answer for hours and why you'll see some of the fastest responses of any Q&A site on the web. Our greatest enemy is not each other though, our greatest enemy is the repcap that stops us earning even more of the damn stuff.

Rearview mirror

What you witnessed was intended as banter (healthy or otherwise) between two grizzled SE veterans who have faced each other across the field of battle on many an occasion. From his comments in chat, it's clear to me that Rand's driver is the same as mine. We're both after that most elusive of prey, community approval (AKA rep).

The comment itself was largely directed at him personally, rather than being intended for general consumption.

That all being said

To quote Tango's answer above:

...don't worry about competing. Just enjoy the site and the people you interact with. Those that are competing are playing a game with each other. If, at some, point, you want to join in, you can, but there's no reason to. Any competition is totally unofficial and generally ignorable.

The site is only a competition if you view it as such. If what you want to do is potter around, ask the odd question and post the occasional answer then that's wonderful.

  • Harry Potter around you mean? :D – CandiedMango Oct 11 '15 at 9:10
  • @CandiedMango - youtube.com/watch?v=zGyHIV3-DDE – Valorum Oct 11 '15 at 9:13
  • It's supposed to be unfunny – CandiedMango Oct 11 '15 at 9:46
  • @CandiedMango - citizenbrand.typepad.com/.a/… – Valorum Oct 11 '15 at 9:48
  • Did you know you'd now be on about 260k if not for the repcap? And @DVK would only be on 200k :-o – Rand al'Thor Oct 11 '15 at 10:15
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    "two SE veterans" - I'm flattered! :-) – Rand al'Thor Oct 11 '15 at 10:24
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    +1 your first sentence captures my thoughts exactly. It is only a competition if you choose to make it such. – Reinstate Monica - Goodbye SE Oct 11 '15 at 10:56
  • Actually, there are always more privileges to be earned, via tag badges. – user14111 Oct 11 '15 at 21:17
  • @user14111 - I've mentioned tag badges. – Valorum Oct 11 '15 at 21:24
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    Hi Richard. I've calmed down and think I was overreacting. Also I shouldn't have singled you out. I'm sure others make those comments and they are just for fun. I guess I need to get in the spirit of things. I hope I didn't rattle you too.much – Emma Oct 11 '15 at 22:10
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    @Emma: Overreacting to Richard is a frequent occurrence here. Don't worry about it. I think you actually raised a good point. And, I know you've said you're a bit of an introvert, but we'd love to have you join us in chat in Mos Eisley whenever you feel like you'd be interested. – Tango Oct 11 '15 at 23:52
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    @Emma No, you were quite right to single Richard out. You are not the first; some old high-rep users have also criticized his bragging. – user14111 Oct 12 '15 at 3:48
  • @Richard - I was assuming you read sufficient Meta and chat contents last week to make an educated guess :) But let's just say you're only the second person to publicly state "you're not the site's evil troll", in this entire past week, if you would like one of the more specific reasons, that I'm aware of – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jan 3 '16 at 16:00
  • @Richard - I totally don't mind being banned from chat. If you recall, I voluntarily quit chat for a while, and only returned because a specific user explicitly repeatedly invited me back there. I do mind that a certain OTHER user isn't banned who deserves the ban far more than you do, but now we are veering offtopic and should probably clean up the comments – DVK-on-Ahch-To Jan 3 '16 at 16:19
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    @DVK - I remain intrigued that a certain user has been allowed to remain on chat despite some very iffy behaviour in the last couple of days; swearing at users, making threats, personal abuse, etc/ – Valorum Jan 3 '16 at 16:29
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I think this won't come as a surprise to @Richard, because we've had words on this topic before, but I am extremely put off by the "rear-view mirror" comment. It bothered me in October and I didn't say anything at that time. I should have. However, since we are revisiting the topic, I will express my concern.

I don't know what constitutes a "power user", but I do know I am a high rep user. As such, I would never in a million years make a joke that was ultimately at the expense of my fellow SFF users on the site, on Meta, or in chat. I found it a boorish thing to say, and an ungrateful way to behave toward the users who have given @Richard all his rep through upvoting his questions and answers.

As for a high rep user who comports himself on SFF with class and aplomb, and possesses an impeccable and unbelievably vast knowledge of his particular fandom, comic books and comic history, I would look to @Thaddeus. He's also an example of a high rep user who doesn't treat SFF as a mere competition.

There are high rep users who would never say something like the above, about his/her fellow users. There are users for whom SFF is not just a competition.

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    Hmm. Calling me classless and boorish doesn't seem especially nice. Taking the time/effort/energy to rehash this post 4 months later also seems a touch on the rude side. Frankly, I expected better of you. – Valorum Jan 1 '16 at 22:21
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    @Richard She didn't call you anything. She said the comment was boorish. She said Thaddeus comports himself with class. You are not a comment. You are not Thaddeus. – user31178 Jan 1 '16 at 22:30
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    @Richard -- I did not call you anything. I commented on what you said, not who you are. I know you to be a person who can be great, kind, and thoughtful. But I will continue to reiterate that the "jokes" you make to other users about leaving them in the dust, rep wise, are easily interpreted as boorish (As I mentioned previously.). I am not being rude by addressing the topic (yet again); I am trying to convey to you that you are missing social cues, and continuing to engage in behavior that is irritating. I'd like to see you be gracious, is all. I think it would do you a world of good! :) – Slytherincess Jan 2 '16 at 17:23
  • @Richard -- Then I will leave it at that. – Slytherincess Jan 2 '16 at 18:41
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    While I tend to agree with your observations, this seems like mostly an aside to the question being asked here. Rather than leaving this as an evaluation on that specific comment (or the personalities that make up the top users on the site), can you draw some conclusions from this that might help others on their journeys here? – Shog9 Jan 2 '16 at 20:54
  • @Shog9 -- Before I set my mind a-thinkin', may I ask you if you would explain a little more in depth as to what you're asking me to do? I did focus on that one bit re: the rear-view mirror, but I'm glad to extrapolate. I just want to understand what you're suggesting I do. :) – Slytherincess Jan 2 '16 at 23:14
  • The asker is taking an observation (a comment), interpreting its meaning, and then extrapolating this into a goal for the site and questioning the accuracy of the latter. You're doing the first two and sorta hinting at the last, but getting sidetracked without bringing it home; if I had to guess, you're aiming for don't obsess about the game, remember why it is played... – Shog9 Jan 2 '16 at 23:21
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  • Is SFF.SE a competition?

    Mostly, no. It's a collaborative content creation platform with elements of gamification.

    What that means is that the main stated goal of participation on the site is NOT to win some competition, but to create ahem somewhat questionably sorta valuable content.

    The site allows competing (because it is designed with gamification approach in mind). But that is a tool, not a goal.

    For comparison, think about running in general PhysEd class in school (not on the team). Yes, you can see who won. Yes, some people care and can strive to win. Yes, that's useful, as a way to drive people to run better. But the main goal is to get students healthy and acquire physical health habits.

  • Given that the site allows competition, should people compete?

    If you mean "should" as in "compelled": NO. Nobody should feel compelled to compete (elaborated on below). It's reasonably easy to obtain a minimum required rep to do basic tasks on the site. A person with good knowledge of subject matter has a good chance to get to 3K rep in under a year, when most of useful abilities which are rep-governed are unlocked.

    You should only compete if you enjoy it and want to compete, for personal reasons. Nobody expects it of you. Nobody insists on it. Nobody really looks down on you if you don't (even people who DO complete, or at least an overwhelming majority of them). Competing or not is a personal choice, and either one of those choices is absolutely valid and respected. (Specific random example: Gilles. I know he has very deep knowledge of some subjects based on some of the answers he gave to my questions. His level of competitiveness: zero. The effect of that on my evaluation of his expertise: zero. I know him from his posts, not his rep score).

  • Does having high rep and winning the competition mean you're the only expert and those who don't, aren't?

    Absolutely not.

    High rep can and often does correlate to good knowledge of subject area, BUT the causal relationship is one way only:

    Yes, you're unlikely to have high rep unless you are a bit of an expert.

    But in the opposite causal direction, it's an absolute "NO". You can be an expert and have no rep at all. See the above for my random example, and I can point out dozen(s) more.

    High rep also correlates strongly with things that have far less to do with knowledge:

    • How much time a user can afford to spend on answering

    • How much time a user can afford to simply scan the site (you need to be lucky to notice a good question early enough to answer before other experts)

    • How lucky you are (you can get tons of rep from Hot Network questions that get boatloads of views very quickly).

    • How lucky you are that your area of expertise is popular. People who are experts on more obscure areas of SFF (a) have far fewer questions to answer; (b) have far fewer people who are able and willing to upvote their good answers due to lack of interest in the topic.

      (you can see this on regular StackOverflow as well. Being a Perl expert nets far far less rep than Java or C++. My most voted post is nowhere NEAR my best... but it's a bikeshedding Java answer).

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    I entirely agree here. The fact that SE has "gamified" knowledge-gathering should be taken exactly as far as you feel like taking it, and no further. On the flip side, if certain users are choosing to be competitive about it, and that leads to more and better answers, that's also a good thing. – KutuluMike Oct 11 '15 at 21:18
7

Not sure why, but I was looking at meta today (haven't done much of anything on this site in a long while) and spotted this question. The competitive nature from a few very active specific users was what turned me off from remaining an active user of this site.

I would like to say that I started really being active here while competition took second place to teaching and learning. However, after being very active for a while I recognized that a portion of the populous was concerned mostly with making their reputations grow, and not with the quality of questions nor answers.

I no longer actively participate in this site for that reason.

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    The fact that this question was -1d is indicative of the underlying cliquey problem that this site and most over online communities suffer from. – user46509 Oct 20 '15 at 9:08
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    @CarlSixsmith: or maybe people took objection to some of the (thankfully deleted) comments. – Reinstate Monica - Goodbye SE Oct 21 '15 at 19:16
  • @AncalagonTheBlack - unfortunately, that's a fact of life. Any social group will develop cliques, it appears to be a facet of human nature. – Omegacron Oct 23 '15 at 12:05
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    @Omegacron when the group stagnates and new members stop joining or stop staying, it is difficult to point the finger at yourself and see you are the problem (speaking in general terms of course not referring to anyone) – user46509 Oct 23 '15 at 12:11
  • @Wikis Your comment seems to imply that I made some comments that people took objection to? I'm confused. – NominSim Oct 23 '15 at 13:08
  • @NominSim: no not you, the questioner. See comment I linked to. – Reinstate Monica - Goodbye SE Oct 23 '15 at 13:46
  • @NominSim PS but I'm glad you asked! Helps to avoid misunderstands. – Reinstate Monica - Goodbye SE Oct 23 '15 at 14:17
3

This site is whatever you want it to be. Everyone has their own reasons for being here, and their own approach to contributing. If you don't feel the need to compete, you don't have to. If you see a benefit to competing, have at it.

The one thing this site will always be is a recreational activity, which is solely intended for entertainment and conveying and obtaining information about Science fiction and fantasy. What happens here doesn't really mean much in the real world, so every approach to using the site is valid, as long as you are genuinely interested in asking and answering questions about the relevant subjects, and abide by the site's rules and regulations for proper conduct.

What you saw, and asked about, was good natured ribbing between a couple of people who enjoy competing with one another. I would suggest that you take it as such.

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