Stack Exchange is a family of question and answer web sites operated by Stack Exchange Inc. Like a role-playing video game, Stack Exchange sites give experience points that unlock additional abilities for users that the system has learned to trust. But just as some people need a walkthrough to get through video games, some people may need a walkthrough to get over early reputation humps in Stack Exchange. Here's how to get to 50.
Sign up with OpenID
Creating an account on a Stack Exchange site gives you 1 reputation.
You can't earn reputation anonymously. To get started on Stack Overflow or another site in the Stack Exchange network, first log in to your account on Ubuntu.com, AOL, Google, or another OpenID or OpenID Connect provider. But if you don't have any, Stack Exchange has itself become an OpenID provider; you can sign up with your e-mail and password. Then find a Stack Exchange site that interests you and follow the "sign up" link at the top. Specify your OpenID identity and follow the prompts, and unless your IP address is in a bad neighborhood, you'll have a new account with 1 reputation point. If you want to ask or answer on multiple SE sites, make sure to use the same OpenID when signing up on each so that you'll receive notifications and an association bonus. If you have multiple OpenID identifiers, you can add them all to your Stack Exchange account, and you can log into each. Associating more than one identifier with your account also helps you keep your hard-earned reputation if your OpenID provider shuts down, as myOpenID and Hyves did, or if a site stops being a provider.
Edit five posts
Like a wiki, a Stack Exchange site lets all registered users edit other users' posts. Each suggested edit to a question or answer must be approved by the post's owner or by two or three other users with high reputation. Getting five edits accepted will give you 11 reputation.
Some questions and answers require citing sources. These could be links to the research used in forming a question or answer or links to related questions on Stack Exchange. To post more than two external links in a question or answer, you'll first have to build up at least 10 reputation points to earn the privilege to cite more than two sources in a post. If you just start posting without citing sources, you risk getting your questions and answers downvoted for violation of the Back It Up! guideline that some sites apply. Being able to cite more sources is a 10-point privilege everywhere but Skeptics Stack Exchange because in the past, spammers have "cited" products that they want to advertise. This limit is lifted on Skeptics because its format cites sources more rigorously than that of most other SE sites. But on other sites, it still frustrates new users. One workaround when posting your first answer is to cite sources using something other than clickable hyperlinks. Cite the title, author, website name, and other information sufficient to locate each source in plain text, as demonstrated in this answer. This should help readers locate a particular page even after the site reorganizes its URLs. Then after you receive a couple upvotes, go back and add links for convenience.
On some of the larger Stack Exchange sites, posting images is also a 10-point privilege because of past spam and abuse. But some questions actually require an image in order to be useful and clear, such as a question about a program's graphical output or about a visual programming language such as LabVIEW. For these questions, not having enough reputation to post a necessary image may result in downvotes and a question ban. This was a problem until October 2015, when the system was changed to add new users' images as links instead of inline images so that experienced users patrolling the First Posts review queue can convert them to inline images later, though they still count against the 2 link limit.
To earn this privilege, along with the 5-point privilege to ask for clarifications of the site's scope and norms, find five different posts (questions or answers) with errors in grammar, usage, or mechanics, or minor errors in fact, and edit these posts while logged in to your account. (These resemble what Wikipedia calls minor edits.) But be careful not to change the meaning of a post, and make sure to fix all problems with the post, not just the one that you see first. When you edit a post, you'll see the Markdown source code that makes it up, and in most browsers, you'll get a real-time preview of how the post will be rendered. If moderators or high-reputation users accept your edits as improvements, you'll get two points for each. While you wait for other users to evaluate your edits, consider reading the resources in the Help Center, particularly how Markdown formatting works, what makes a good question or answer, and what is on-topic for each SE site. So long as you don't try more than five edits per week before three-fourths of your edits are helpful, and you don't suggest dozens of minor edits in a row on one site, suggested edits can be a useful tool to learn Markdown and community expectations.
Here are some targets for your first few suggested edits:
- Posts by non-native English speakers whose English needs correcting.
- Posts by other new users whose code formatting needs correcting. Some people haven't yet figured out how to indent four spaces or put backticks around keywords or variable names in code.
- Posts that spell "Stack Overflow" or "Stack Exchange" other than as described in official trademark guidelines. Most posts referring to Stack Exchange branding will be on child metas, which you can't edit, but there are plenty on Meta and Community Building, and they occasionally pop up elsewhere. Search for the single word
"stackexchange"and change them to two words in title case ("Stack Overflow" or "Stack Exchange") if they refer to the service. You need to include the quotation marks in the query because Stack Exchange search automatically converts a lone unquoted keyword to a tag if it is one of the top few dozen tags on a site.
Again, remember to fix all problems with the post, not just the problem that brought you to the edit button.
Now you can find tags that interest you to make the site your own.
After you have signed up, you can start finding questions in your area of expertise. Browse the site's front page, then look at the "Questions" and "Unanswered" areas. Each question has one to five "tags" describing topics related to the question. If you set one or more tags as your favorite, questions in those tags will be highlighted on the front page, giving you an idea of what to look at first. Finding tags to watch will help you get over the 50 reputation hump faster.
Give complete answers to unanswered questions and earn 10 points for each user who finds them useful.
Once you have Excavator and five accepted edits, look for questions you can answer. You'll have to be careful when you start out. If your first few posts are not well received, you'll run into a rate limit that blocks you from posting new questions or answers for several days. This rate limit keeps people from repeatedly posting while not biting newcomers who just "got off on the wrong foot." It gives new users a chance to cool down, RTFM, and prove that they can become positive contributors.
Each Stack Exchange site also automatically places an indefinite ban on accounts that continue to provide poorly received questions or answers despite the rate limit. (This originally applied to the most popular sites; in 2017, it extended to all sites.) Though one or two bad answers are not supposed to trigger a ban, three have, and there is a report of being hit with an answer ban for one bad answer. Though downvoted questions count even more if deleted, Stack Overflow co-founder Jeff Atwood has claimed that 10 percent deleted answers create no danger of an answer ban. It used to be worse; the rate limit wasn't added until October 2014, and new users would head straight into the post ban with several questions that cannot be salvaged, though users in this situation can contact the team for assistance.
Due to IPv4 address exhaustion, users in some countries are behind carrier-grade NAT. A user who ends up with the same public IP address as a user with a post ban might even have to pay extra to the ISP for a dedicated IP address in order to avoid the limit of one post per week imposed by the "Anti-Recidivism System".
It's wise to answer before you ask.
Until you have built up at least 50 reputation, you will not be able to ask for clarification of a question. Posting comments on others' questions is a 50-point privilege because it too has been abused. So instead, you'll have to camp the site's "need answer" stream, which lists questions without an answer that another user has upvoted, to find a question in your area of expertise that you can answer without any clarification.
You could just take your best guess at interpreting an ambiguous question and answer that, but that's risky. If you guess wrong, the asker might edit the question to clarify why your answer isn't the desired one, and your answer might get downvoted for not answering the revised question. Though "question morphing" is officially discouraged, it still happens. You can try to reduce its effect by restating the question in your own words and then answering that restatement, as seen in this answer.
On fast-moving sites such as Stack Overflow, you will also need to watch for the "fastest gun in the west" (FGITW), a phenomenon that occurs with easy, clear questions where other users beat you to answering a particular question, and then your answer gets downvoted for being a duplicate answer. In some cases, you can post the outline of your answer and then flesh it out over the next few minutes. For example, on Stack Overflow, you could post a complete answer in prose, open your IDE, make some working code, and edit it into your answer. Even if someone beats you, you can edit an alternate approach to solving the problem into your answer to distinguish it from other answers. You can also avoid FGITW effects entirely by answering one of the more specialized questions that fill the "need answer" page.
The threat of misinterpreting or being late can in some cases make earning your first 50 reputation harder. But once you earn and keep 200 reputation on one site, you'll earn an "association bonus" that provides comment privileges on all SE sites.
Asking questions also gives you reputation: 5 points for each person who finds a question interesting, on-topic, and clear.
The attention of people answering questions is a limited resource on any SE site, so don't flood the front page. In general, don't try asking more than a question every few days until you've already asked a few questions on the same site that were well-received by the community. Otherwise, you'll run into rate limits and question bans.
Make sure to read over what's on topic on each site, and look at its meta site to see why questions get downvoted. And make sure to show the results of your research before you got stuck. In some cases, this too can be limited by the reputation requirement to cite sources.
As of mid-March 2017, most Stack Exchange sites use HTTPS.
This was made possible by switching from fourth-level domains with a variable part other than the first (
meta.*.stackexchange.com) to fourth-level domains with the first part varying (
Stack Exchange is holding off on enforcing HTTPS on the larger Q&A sites with their own domain, such as Stack Overflow, Super User, Server Fault, and Ask Ubuntu, until more of the bugs shake out.
Until this finishes, the HTTPS Everywhere extension for Firefox successfully secures Stack Exchange, protecting users from having their cookies copied through Nevan King's Firesheep rule for Stack Overflow.
Two common actions that give reputation to a user are upvoting that user's posts and accepting the user's suggested edits. But these actions themselves require reputation, which in some minds may raise a bootstrap issue of how the first votes, first tags, first comments, etc. on a new site are made. One way to bootstrap reputation on a site is accepted answers, which let an asker with 1 rep grant 15 rep and site-wide upvote privileges. But a new site won't have any tags to begin with, and asking a question requires at least one tag to exist.
One deadlock breaker is the moderator that the Area 51 process appoints for each new site. Moderators with the diamond symbol begin with all the "10K tools", or privileges normally granted to users with 10,000 reputation. They use these privileges to do much of the initial voting on a new site and essentially all of the approval of suggested edits in early beta.
The other is private beta. During a new site's first week, before the site begins to be listed in Hot New Questions, most privileges' reputation thresholds are lowered substantially compared to a mature site. Most actions that require less than 300 reputation on a normal site instead require only 1 reputation on a site in private beta, and many others are cut in half. Among these is creating tags, which gives private beta users power to define what shall be on-topic, as each question by a new user after the end of private beta has to relate in part to the topic of at least one existing tag. In addition, a site doesn't launch until it has 100 committers who can bring an association bonus. This lets them keep the privilege to upvote and lets many of them downvote and create tags even after the reputation requirements increase to near normal in public beta.
A few sites were created before Stack Exchange 2.0 instituted the Area 51 process. Private betas for Super User, Server Fault, and what is now Meta Stack Exchange were made available to established Stack Overflow members. The private beta for Stack Overflow itself was made available to hearing people who transcribed podcasts related to previous projects of Stack Overflow founders Jeff Atwood and Joel Spolsky. This left the Deaf community underrepresented, which may be why a dozen spoken languages have SE sites, including constructed and "dead" languages, and sign languages do not.
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