Is it a problem to reuse most of the familiar terminology from SE?

I’ve been seeing “stars”, “kudos”, “karma” and such but I don’t know what they mean because I haven’t been a frequent user of many Q&A sites other than SE. Do we really need to reinvent the terminology? Would we be in legal trouble if almost everything like “reputation”, “badges” and “privileges” was reused? I don’t feel like it’s a good idea to immediately confuse all new users with new terminology just for the sake of being different, unless there is a good reason.


I doubt there would be a legal issue with most of these terms as they are real dictionary words used in a way that matches their normal meaning. We will likely have two main categories of users:

  • Light Users - For light users, many of these terms just won’t matter at all. If they hardly had much reputation in SE then they won’t care if we call it something else and might not even notice if we don’t have a public form of reputation.
  • Heavy Users - If we do our job well, they’ll get used to our terminology pretty quickly.

Part of the reason for throwing around different terms for these things is that we will implement them a little differently. Even if we (as planned) transfer a lot of actual Q&A, we won’t be transferring each user’s badges & reputation - they will have to earn new privileges here through whatever mechanisms we create. (Al though we could have some limited “association bonus” or other method of at least bumping new users who have a significant presence on SE, they would still need to learn the new system in order to properly use it, and along the way they would hopefully earn whatever “reputation” they need.

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Sometimes, when we’re discussing how to design something that may or may not be like another existing thing, it helps to use different words to avoid having a preconceived notion that the design should be exactly like the existing thing. For example if we’re thinking of a content rating mechanism, we may want to call it “stars” rather than “votes” as long as we aren’t sure whether it’ll work like votes on Stack Exchange. If we’re thinking of a number that reflects how much someone has contributed to the site, calling it “karma” rather than “rep” helps to avoid a preconceived notion that this number must be 10 times the number of upvotes minus 2 times the number of downvotes plus 2 per edit minus 1 per cast downvote etc.

If we end up having a mechanism that’s very similar to SE then we should definitely use the same terminology as SE (example: voting). If we end up with a mechanism that’s significantly different from SE, we should avoid using the same term because it would be misleading (example: rep).

Other than trade marks (which have to be words that are meaningless in context, e.g. you can trademark “Apple” computers but not “Apple” groceries), it’s legal to use the same ordinary words as someone else to mean the same thing. Copyright may apply to a collection of words if some creativity was involved in choosing the words. For example case law is conflicting as to whether you can copyright an API (which involves creativity in ways such as structuring and method naming). But using a standard term for a concept cannot participate in copyright, since choosing to use a standard term is not creative.


kudos have actually been patented in a certain context of computergames:

I remember vaguely that there was a lawsuit about the use of kudos in video games, but it was more than fifteen years ago and I can not find it back except this patent (in my memory there was a pre-2000 rally racing game that handed out kudos). Currently kudos, style points, seem to be very normal.

The problem for SE is that they do not seem to use patented technology. See also Are There Concerns About Copyright Violations?

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I’m definitely not a legal expert, but I don’t think there would be any legal issues with it.

However, there is another thing to consider. If we use the term “karma”, many people will assume it works the same way as Reddit. If we call it reputation, people will assume that it will work the same way as SE. There is a point using new words just to avoid confusion that comes from people making assumptions.

I don’t think this will be a big issue, but I think it is worth to at least consider.