I’ve run across Stack Overflow plenty of times in the last year or so while looking for answers, but until now I hadn’t been motivated to sign up and post questions and answers. I finally decided it might be a good thing to try out when I saw they had a jobs section, because presumably the company you’re applying to might be impressed with your participation on the website. So I signed up thinking I’d give it a try and quickly lose interest as I always have participating in message boards or IRC since I always found the signal to noise ratio to be very low.
However, the simple little reputation system they’ve implemented on Stack Overflow has kept me interested for a least a couple weeks - probably will for longer. The reputation points makes me feel like it’s a something of a game where I’m trying to improve my score. I’m just over 400 reputation, and have started to look around to see what silly little badges I might be able to easily earn. I’ve even put up one of their silly flair badges on this site for now. We’ll see how long that stays up.
In fact, I think the minor addition of these badges helps make the whole reputation system more fun than a lot of other web sites that do ‘points’ or ‘karma’ or something else to measure your participation. I’m specifically thinking of the Y Combinator Hacker News Site that has these points. I tried to get some for a while, but I feel like there’s too many people who just sit around posting links and spouting out useless comments all day to compete for mind share. Even stack overflow suffers from this a little bit, where often the first person to answer gets a ton of points even if a better answer comes along later. Overall though, the community feel is still really good and there’s a nice balance of users who have enough earned power to do things to organize the site, and users who just need an occasional question answered. I’ll have to remember this as resource when I get stuck on things.
Update - Jan 3 2010 - The initial fun has worn off some, partly because you have to be almost the first person to respond to questions to stand a chance of getting your answer accepted. I just don’t have the time to watch for new questions that frequently. What I will say is that there’s a treasure trove of great answers that I’ve been using as a resource more and more often. It’s hard to even come up with original questions to ask for points. Guess I need to start working on harder problems - or at least more obscure ones :-)