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I built a Google Chrome extension that queries the SE API for the up/down vote count for a question or answer and then plugs that information into the appropriate vote score. Really, it looks and feels just like as if you were an established user. Only my code is doing all the work and not SE code. Note, this is only if your reputation at a SE site is below 1000 reputation.

Is this unethically circumventing a privilege of the Stack Exchange systems?

On the one hand I assume that there's a reason for only established users to get the up/down vote count. On the other I assume if that reason was important it wouldn't be included in the public API.

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It always bugs me when I can't see the up/down vote on other sites. –  Resorath Feb 19 '12 at 5:23
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If it's not something you should be able to do, the API should enforce it. I see no problems with using what the API provides. –  Matthew Read Feb 19 '12 at 5:30
    
+1 for your initiative, although now you've done it you will find the info is seldom used. –  slugster Feb 19 '12 at 19:22
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2 Answers 2

up vote 25 down vote accepted

I don't think this is unethical or problematic. According to the original feature request, there are essentially two reasons why viewing vote counts is a privilege for 1k+ users:

  1. Displaying the vote counts requires a database hit, given how the vote data is stored. This is not only a performance issue but puts additional stress on the servers. Given how rarely this data is actually needed or useful, it doesn't make sense to provide it all the time. Rate limiting it to only 1k+ users helps to lessen the load—and everything here is rate limited.

  2. It is just something we can give to users when they reach 1k reputation. Otherwise, there's an awfully large gap between the privileges earned when you reach 500 (ability to retag) and those you earn at 1500 (ability to create new tags). Show vote counts is just a nice stepping stone on the long road of privileges, and it provides a sort of incentive for new users to keep answering questions and earning reputation.

Since this information is provided as part of the API (and can in fact be calculated mathematically from a post's timeline), it's not really a problem that your extension would be providing that information. Unlike most privileges, this one is not limited only to high rep users because of the power that it provides.
...unless you believe that information is power.

This other snarky response by Jeff also provides some indication that you're not doing anything illegal.
Now that Jeff's gone, have his various answers lost all of their original luster as definitive nuggets of Meta gold? Or are we all just going to perpetually defer to his spirit? It's what Jeff would have wanted...

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I ain't dead yet! But even if I was, great answers like this illustrate why the community is, and always was, greater than me. –  Jeff Atwood Feb 19 '12 at 8:58
    
I always found the performance argument a bit unconvincing. Denormalizing the individual vote counts, wouldn't be much more expensive than denormalizing the sum. –  CodesInChaos Feb 19 '12 at 10:03
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And making it a 1000 privilege annoys me quite often, since I believe the sum of votes is much less useful than the individual numbers. There is a big difference between (+103,-100) and (+3,0) –  CodesInChaos Feb 19 '12 at 10:05
    
@Code: Yes, others have made that point before. I'm not sure, as I'm not privy to the details of the implementation, but the message has been pretty consistent from the dev team about the circumstances. And from what I've seen with the privilege to view vote counts, the differential distribution you describe is quite rare. It does tend to happen more often on Meta and on the old dinosaur questions that are no longer considered on-topic for SO, but I hardly think that's a good enough reason to enable the feature. –  Cody Gray Feb 19 '12 at 10:10
    
@JeffAtwood - surely that's "I Aten't Dead" –  ChrisF Feb 19 '12 at 13:10

First, I have already created such an extension: “View Vote totals” without 1000 rep. on Stack apps

Before I published it, I also encountered this question.
The following arguments persuaded me (ordered by weight):

  1. The Stack Exchange API is created for this purpose. We're granted an API key, hence permissions to use the data.
  2. If one user invests time in finding an extension to view vote counts, they deserve to use the feature. The user's efforts show that (s)he understands the meaning of voting:
    • (S)he is aware of the feature: So, (s)he has read the Privileges section, meta, or other SE-related sites.
    • (S)he installed an extension: (S)he considers the Stack Exchange to be a valuable source.
  3. Established users should also be allowed to view vote counts on (other) SE site(s).
    (I myself, frequently browse SE sites in another browser, without logging in)
  4. Vote counts are very useful: They tell whether the answer is disputed or not. Without vote counts, the user can only know whether the community as whole agrees with the answer.
  5. This information is also publicly available through the timeline, which provides even more information. If this is already public, how much harm can be done by only showing the vote counts?
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Also, I believe that the data from the SE API are cached. Sometimes, when I vote on a post, the SE API returns the old vote counts. –  Rob W Feb 19 '12 at 12:12

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