What is the main functionality of the product we are creating?

Extensive discussion on my latest post made me realize that this question here is really the one we’re discussing on several posts.

For example, removing the reputation system (a proven incentive for “get answers”) because, in short, “so people won’t just do it for points”, means that pure motives have a higher priority than building a knowledge repository. According to the discussions that I read, I wasn’t the only one who thought it would be the other way around at first.

If we could formulate a one-liner about the one main thing the software does , it would help in preventing misunderstandings like that in the future. That would save us discussions in the future, which directly translates to more time and energy available for other endeavours.


I think below is an example of incorrect motivation that we shouldn’t want on this site:

What Olin said:

I answered a lot of questions on EE.SE (see https://electronics.stackexchange.com/users/4512/olin-lathrop?tab=topactivity), not because I cared about some dweeb’s silly-ass problem, but because:

  1. I like teaching.
  2. I wanted to be seen as an expert.
  3. We couldn’t have Andy or Spehro or Stevenvh have the top rep on the site, now could we? I mean, geesh, that would subvert world order and end the universe as we know it.

Already, we have someone calling a user a dweeb and minimizing that user’s problem as silly and unimportant. The comments and motivation are selfish, about self-image, and about putting others down by elevating oneself.

This doesn’t look like healthy competition; it turns our Q/A users into a means to an end. Rather, I think that the users should be one of our “ends”. Competition is not healthy if the actual users are turned into tools we exploit to make ourselves look better.

Without rep or selfish reasons, the above situation would instead be:

  1. An experienced user ‘A’ sees the Q asked by user ‘B’ and knows how to answer it
  2. User ‘A’ doesn’t know user ‘B’ personally but decides to help said user and potentially others at the same time.
  3. User ‘B’ is happy because their problem is solved, and they get more knowledge in their field.
  4. User ‘B’ feels welcome, because users are working together to solve a problem, potentially for many people at once.

This is strongly related to “Why should we exist?” and to “What are we trying to build?”. Also worth reading is the thread I wrote in reply to George Stocker on Twitter.

My take: we’re not trying to build Q&A any more. We’re incorporating the Q&A format into a larger product. I’d probably summarize it as “community-oriented, Q&A-based knowledge-building software”… which is a bit of a mouthful.

What I want it to do is to enable communities of shared interests to come together and manage for themselves how they pool, share, and teach their collective knowledge.


I think Olin’s point, which I agree with, is that #2 is much, much, more likely to happen with a rep system.

Let’s not forget that, because of this motivation, Olin himself made over 5600 answers. I’ve made 279. I enjoyed it because I was helping others. But I doubt I would have spent anywhere near the same amount of time on it without the rep/badge/“respect” system.

It’s impossible to guess how many of the other hundreds of thousand of answers were motivated by the SE reward system…


The length of
community-oriented, Q&A-based knowledge-building software
is absolutely fine. It’s not about a slogan, like “Ask questions, get answers”, after all.

However, it still makes it sound like “knowledge-building” is more important than what I called “pure motives”. Let’s see what others come up with and we can probably combine it into something that “captures the essence”.

Nope, this is just right. Explains what the thing is and takes just as many words as needed. This is so descriptive in fact that I think it should be considered as one of the main taglines presented to new visitors. Maybe put it somewhere prominent where it’s immediately visible, like near the logo as a link to the “About” page.

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No offense taken. Anybody can make a mistake - and inside that (wrongly assumed) context, you showed good intentions.

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I don’t think the motivation really matters nearly as much as the behavior. Think of Imaginary Internet Points as like the invisible hand.

But man has almost constant occasion for the help of his brethren, and it is in vain for him to expect it from their benevolence only. He will be more likely to prevail if he can interest their self-love in his favour, and show them that it is for their own advantage to do for him what he requires of them. Whoever offers to another a bargain of any kind, proposes to do this. Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want, is the meaning of every such offer; and it is in this manner that we obtain from one another the far greater part of those good offices which we stand in need of. It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.

Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations

If someone writes a great answer because they want lots of points, then why is that a problem? The site got a great answer and the OP got help with their problem.

If someone tags things correctly so they get a tag badge why is that a problem?

Sometimes people will do bad things like down voting competing answers because they want more points or robo reviewing to get badges. However not rewarding good answers or the people who wade through reviews isn’t the solution either.


I have some thoughts on rep etc, but really this is a tangent, and we should get back on the topic of defining a good touchstone.

Unfortunately, it’s unlikely we can come up with a simple motto or vision statement that’s concise enough to be useful, yet profound enough to resolve every debate over differing value priorities, much less debates over whether a particular value is instrumental to another value, or unrelated. (Such as the triggering discussion, which was not just about whether pure motives are good in their own right, but their usefulness for making a good repository of knowledge.)

I can think of at least two things we can do, given this constraint:

  1. Rely, in practice, primarily on an accretion of received wisdom and settled consensus that becomes detailed enough to settle the large majority of disputes. This is basically the Meta way, or, if you like, the Midrashic approach.
  2. Rely primarily on one or at most a few visionary leaders who maintain a relatively comprehensive, but not necessarily well-organized or easy-to-express, internal view of the system’s ideal. This is basically the “startup founder” approach.

(There may be another approach, but I’m coming up dry.)

In either case, a pithy slogan can be helpful for various purposes, but doesn’t actually do the work of resolving disputes by itself.

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Obviously the idea is not that one sentence resolves all further disputes.

There are other concerns than the main one. However, look at artofcode’s suggestion & modify it a bit:
community-oriented, Q&A-based knowledge-building software for selfless people

That would have saved us a lot of points in that reputation discussion, if somebody could say
look at our statement, we do not want answers from people who do it for points”.

Same for the current question if beginner-friendliness is our main concern; the answer would be "no, although that will probably happen a bit automatically under our current goal, [quote statement].

Same for this question about chat. It wouldn’t help resolving it, but saying “Look at our statement; we’re community oriented” would be a strong point for having chat.
Then there’s further discussion to be had about if MVP or not where it doesn’t help much, but overall it will speed up the discussion a bunch.


It is paramount that we build a site that appeals to the domain experts.

This is where SE went wrong in latter years. If you have a site full with experts who can provide high-quality, correct answers, all other users will go there automatically. If we can make the site more welcoming to new users than SE, that’s very good, but not the core purpose - it is just one of many peripheral functions to address during design.

What motivates domain experts is different from person to person. Some want points and status, some just like teaching and helping, some like to build a repository of quality content. SE managed fairly well to sate all of these, so there’s not a need to change much.

Personally I never cared much about rep, but rather about technical correctness, to have a place to go when you needed someone to call out errors by teachers and programming books. SO got to this point, where it was sometimes more trustworthy than programming books written by experts. Even more trustworthy than commercial compilers. Because on SO, you get everything peer-reviewed by a large number of other experts: you never get away with technical inaccuracy. I could write a self-answered Q&A post that dismisses what’s taught at Harvard or in many programming books, then get 50 experts all over the world agreeing with me. It’s a whole new level of technical quality and it is free to use!

To take Olin as an example (for those who don’t know him, he’s basically the Jon Skeet of electronics),
I once asked a detailed fairly advanced technical question on EE, the kind that not just any Electrical Engineer can answer, but something that requires expertise in a particular kind of industrial control systems. If not for EE, then I would first have to find a consultant with relevant knowledge (would take many hours), call them and explain the situation, probably pay them for one day’s work of analysing the problem - to hire such expertise for one day would cost around 800€ in Europe, then pray that they manage to came up with useful advise. So probably at best a week of waiting, plus paying a consultant fee.

Instead I get a high quality answer for free within 30 minutes. This is a f-in amazing service! I couldn’t care less if he’s motivated by internet points or chocolate cookies, just give them to him! Reading that post in retrospect, some month later we came to the conclusion that the design was too complex and ended up re-designing this product pretty much just as was advised.

It truly baffles me that SE never understood the sheer market/mankind value of gathering all experts in one place like this, then have them give advise for free. To not take this in account when designing a new site would be a fatal mistake - we’d be just as incompetent as SE management.

Teaching newbies the basics on the other hand, is not very valuable in comparison. You don’t need a technical expert to teach beginners, just someone with intermediate knowledge and the will to teach, as done in schools and various mediocre but free Internet tutorials. Newbies should feel welcome and expect a civil tone, but they are nowhere as important as SE tried to make us believe in latter years. Sure, they are important in terms of Internet traffic, but if sheer Internet traffic is the design goal, it would be wiser to make a site about cute cat pictures instead of technical Q&A.


I don’t disagree with what you’re saying, but that’s way too long.

And that’s exactly what happened for most questions that got answered. You seem to be hung up on motivations instead of outcome. Ultimately, the outcome is all you can see. If you get the desired outcome, there is really no reason for you to care about the motivation.

Let’s flip this around to illustrate the point. Supposed I had lied and said that I wrote all of my 5612 answers on EE.SE because of a deep selfless desire to help fellow human beings and expand the knowledge of mankind.

How would you tell the difference? How would you know that was my true motivation? How do you really know what I previously stated was my actual motivation? The only thing you can see and measure is the result. How do you examine that to determine the motivation behind it?

The point is, you can’t. Go ahead and try. I’ve left plenty of material for you to examine in any detail you wish. Show me some concrete examples of where the result was poor due to your assumed motives behind it. Surely you can find a few cases where I was wrong, could have said more, didn’t directly address the OP’s question, or something. But any of that could have been (and likely was) simply due to being mistaken, having limited time, misunderstanding the question, etc.


In many of the posts on this forum I see strong voices against reputation/badge/voting system and I must say that I don’t understant the reasoning. The main goal for the site IMHO should be to make a place for people to share knowledge and develop, the more active ‘experts’, the better. If some of them need virtual points, gaiming or anything what’s wrong with that?

Those users who are altruists and help people regardless of anything also don’t pay attention to reputation system - they will help with or without it. But there are people who need some motivation/race/competition - they also help other people, share their knowledge and it doesn’t mean nothing bad.

So if reputation helps to make the site better (more experts/knowledge) the question shouldn’t be ‘Should there be reputation system?’ but ‘How to implement it correctly?’

On every site with or without reputation there will be frauds, agression, competition, disagreements but those are things for moderation.

Also without reputation system (doesn’t mean it must be the clone of SE one) many things get more complicated - voiting, bounties, privileges.


I just edited some rudeness out of a post on this thread (not going to publicly say where). Reminder: personal attacks, snark, and derision directed at other users are not ok. Keep the judgementalism in check please; we can disagree without making insinuations and accusations.


That sort of says it all. Just think about it. Almost nobody is truly “selfless”. The few that are (in theory) are not likely to be out there answering random users questions on the internet on some specific domain of knowledge. We all have our motivations (not specifically Codidact, but more generally whether answering random users questions or building open source software or otherwise doing “useful/helpful/but not paid” things on the internet), including:

  • One-upmanship (which can take the form of “I want the highest rep” or “I want the highest rank answer”
  • Ego, plain and simple “wow, my name in lights”
  • Payback for others who have helped us in the past (teaching or mentoring others as we have been taught or mentored before)
  • Desire to promote a specific topic - this is likely the case for religious sites (Mi Yodeya, Christianity, etc.) - not evangelism, but rather “if I help people understand xyz, they will be more interested in xyz and/or feel better about those who are interested in xyz”
  • Fun - a lot of topics are hobbies or other subjects that people simply enjoy doing and want to share that knowledge - e.g., Bricks (Lego), Retrocomputing, Science Fiction & Fantasty

and I’m sure a few other things I haven’t thought of.

Reputation can play a big role in the first two items I listed. We have clearly decided as a group (or at least had…the group keeps expanding, and we keep discussing) that we would not have a single “reputation number” as SE does it, for a bunch of reasons - including automatic granting of privileges to those who haven’t necessarily earned them (in whatever way we deem), a de-emphasis on gamification in general, etc.

At the same time, we have a few people who have quite clearly indicated that they would not be likely to have progressed as far as they have, measured not just in “reputation” but also “questions answered” (which is the real meat of any Q&A site), without that mythical/imaginary/mostly meaningless “reputation” number creeping up day-by-day.

I don’t know the answer. But “selfless” basically doesn’t happen in the real world and “nothing indicating to the general public how much people are doing to answer questions (or other key tasks)” is not going to work either. But I agree that “one mash-it-all-together-number-driving-privileges-and-everything-else” has some serious problems and is not the solution either.


Forget “swag”. 100 upvoted answers == box of Oreos. Now we’re talking!

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It was not my intent to cause anger or division. I simply think that the motivation of the user shows in their posts, in one way or another. Just as your motivations show in this discussion, so do mine.

Even if they don’t show as often in the questions or answers, the way someone does or not does care about users is often visible in comments or chat.

By focusing on users, we ascribe value to the users and our community. Sure we want expertise, but I think “reputation” as a point system is unnecessary for that. It may help, but it has other effects that need to be weighed.

According to responses in this thread, we don’t seem to agree with that anymore. There’s yet to be a dissenting voice against Romasz and Olin, and for good reason: What’s wrong with not having a reputation number? It no longer grants moderation privileges, so where does the issue lie?

@Corsaka There has been some in this thread, though: