I have been active on StackOverflow for more than twelve years. StackOverflow is a phenomenally successful question and answer website, aimed at software developers seeking technical answers. Part of what makes StackOverflow successful is that it gamifies “reputation”: your reputation goes up when you write good answers, and ask good questions, and otherwise help. On 23 December 2021, my StackOverflow reputation rose past 10,000. This is a gratifying milestone.

I am user Jim DeLaHunt on StackOverflow. I apparently posted my first question there on 23. November, 2009. I asked if anyone could point me to “an XML language for describing file attributes of a directory tree?” I did not get a good direct answer. I did get a reference to the XML-dev email list, which I follow to this day. My first answer was to my own question about the XML language. My first answer to someone else’s question was about three weeks later, and it was about detecting a character encoding.

Over twelve years, I have written 133 answers, most of which languish in obscurity. Three have earned particularly many upvotes (and, between them, over 40% of my reputation):

  1. How to escape apostrophe (‘) in MySql?” This is a pretty simple answer. I suspect that it gets a lot of upvotes because many people ask this question. My answer also has the virtue that it quotes a specific clause in the official documentation to prove that the answer is correct. Not all StackOverflow answers cite reliable sources. This answer has earned 226 votes to date, bringing in over 22% of my total reputation.
  2. Is there a way to pass optional parameters to a function?” This too is a simple answer to a frequently-asked question. I cited an official source in this answer also. This answer has earned 116 votes to date, bringing in over 11% of my total reputation.
  3. What exactly is a “raw string regex” and how can you use it?” I think this is the best answer of the three. It finds a way to clarify a particularly murky area of the Python language, which often baffles people. I think it is easier to understand than the official documentation. This answer has earned 108 votes to date, bringing in over 10% of my total reputation. I think it was a vote on this question which put me over 10,000. I like that.

StackOverflow turns the reputation score into a variety of rankings. They put me in the top 4% for reputation overall. This sounds very impressive, until you learn that I am only 24,308-ranked among all participants. Mind you, there are over 16 million participants. I imagine there is a long, inactive tail, compared to which my small activity looks great.

In a similar vein, StackOverflow ranks me among the top 5% in the topics of “Python” and “MySQL“; the top 10% in “Unicode“; and the top 20% in “Internationalization“, “UTF-8“, and “Django“. That reflects some combination of effort on my part, and flattery due to the long, inactive tail.

I put a lot of work, 8-10 years ago, into answering questions and building my reputation. Now I find that upvotes trickle in for my existing 133 questions. My reputation rises surprisingly steadily, even if I don’t contribute anything new, giving me a kind of StackOverflow pension. But I still get satisfaction from plugging away there every now and again, trying to find a good question and write a clear answer. Maybe, in less than 12 years from now, I might reach StackOverflow 20,000.