Today I got an email from SE English Language and Usage. I was congratulated of being one of the top users this month (October). Looking at the stats I saw something rather disturbing.

While in the last two months, the top user usually had gained a few thousand points in reputation, in October it slowed down to a couple hundred. I made 21 rank with thirty some points. In the first month, the winning number for October would have barely made the top fifty, in the next the top thirty.

Edit: I was kindly reminded, that we are in the beginning of the month October. My vacation (it really has been most refreshing and obviously felt longer than it was) together with the error in the email - pointing to October - confused me. Thus I was ahead of everybody else and had started November already. Back on track. So this is more of a general discussion now on what to expect if something like this happens with no evidence in my example. So if this pattern will be true for a site:

Is this an expected pattern with new SE sites, or should we worry?

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Whoa, you actually got an email? I never got one of these. –  RegDwigнt Oct 5 '10 at 13:36
    
I see that you have posted the question on the meta Meta, linking to this one, so I am cross-linking: "SE sites slowing down in third month — normal behavior or something to worry about?" (there are already great answers there, covering many additional points). –  RegDwigнt Oct 6 '10 at 11:31
    
Also, re: your edit, as Jeff Atwood points out in a comment on the meta Meta, "October is incorrect, the email is for September (the PREVIOUS month). You might want to edit this, as it's already leading to confusion". –  RegDwigнt Oct 6 '10 at 11:36

2 Answers 2

up vote 3 down vote accepted

I think it's too early to worry about that. We need to wait a few months more to understand what the actual pattern is.

Note that in the first weeks after an SE site is launched, people who committed to the site in Area51 are asked to post questions and answers to "fulfill the commitment". Also, at that stage you're encouraged to participate actively in the site to get the Beta badge. For those two reasons, I'd expect any site to experience a cool down period after that initial stage. I'm not sure if it happened with the other SE sites tough.

Let's revisit this topic in a few months. There's not much we could do now anyway.

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Bruno makes a few good points, to which I will add another one.

Rep is generated by voting. As of this writing, there have been three huge waves of votes:

  1. Private Beta. I haven't participated in it, so I have to speculate to some degree, but it seems reasonable to me to believe that the first few users voted rather heavily to sort things out, to set the general tone of the site.

  2. The first few weeks of public beta. A wave of new users came in, including myself. If memory serves me correctly, when I first registered on this site, there were already 400-odd questions and 800-odd answers. Many sounded interesting, so I had to "catch up" with voting. Since there's a limit of 30 votes/day, that phase was rather long. I was reliably handing out hundreds of rep points for many days in a row, even on weekends, when barely any new questions were posted. The same must be true for a rather significant number of other users. Now that we have caught up, things are back to normal. I am not handing out anywhere as much rep nowadays, and probably close to none on Sundays. After all, I can't vote on things twice.

  3. Somewhere in between, there were two questions that got promoted by Joel and Jeff, resulting in yet another spike in voting activity. Most of those users were passers-by; they left a few votes on those particular questions, but didn't become regulars.

I guess all three points can be summed up as follows: Things are at their normal level now. Rather than the activity being exceptionally low right now, it used to be exceptionally high in the past. Until the next big wave of votes — for whatever reasons it might come — it's business as usual.

Oh, and let me not forget that recently, our most active voter so far, kiamlaluno (800+ votes), went missing in action for about two weeks.

Lastly, to address your question about a general pattern, there are two theories that are quite popular on the meta Meta, even though evidence for both is rather anecdotal:

  1. As a site matures and certain users become "recognized experts" — at least as far as their rep is concerned — people tend to give more weight to their answers. In other words, high-rep users pile up even more points (comparatively) than low-rep ones. So, after some time, it's not at all unusual to see the same handful of users fighting for the top position in the reputation leagues, followed by lots and lots of other users who are not gaining anywhere as much rep.

  2. The other theory is that as time passes, regular users tend to cast fewer votes on average. Robert Cartaino calls it "The 'Everything Is in Order Here' Syndrome".

There are quite a few questions on the meta Meta that deal with these theories. I will link to just one, because it actually covers both of them: "Does herd behavior influence the SO sites?".

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These are great points! –  b.roth Oct 6 '10 at 9:38

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