Why do we vote on questions?
This is about the "Questions need votes, too"-pop up, which has already been discussed a bit on meta. However, my question is about why questions on Stack Overflow need votes, and I can't immediately find any discussion about this from the user's perspective. So;
The system may rely on votes on questions (that is one kind of answer to "why?"), but I don't understand why I would want to give a vote to a question. What criterion can I apply that lets me decide when to click the up-arrow?
Let me elaborate:
When I read questions, I can immediately put them in one of two buckets:
B. A question, either answerable as it is or probably answerable after an edit or two.
For A. the appropriate action is clear: Vote to close.
For B. the appropriate action is less clear. Let's further divide this bucket:
- The asker has failed to pose a question, but he's wondering about something
- There is a question, but it is hidden in bad or ambiguous language, and lacks sufficient detail
- There is a clear an unambiguous question, ready to be answered
For cases 1. and 2., the asker must do more work. If he fails to do so, the question gets demoted to bucket A. and receives the appropriate close-vote. Otherwise, the question gets promoted to 3. Any (down-) vote given to a question in either category 1. and 2. is therefore temporary and likely wrong in a short amount of time.
Most questions I find are in category 2. However, most questions quickly get to category 3. or get closed. If category 3. is the criterion for up-voting a question that would be ridiculous; there is no differentiation since most questions end up there anyway.
In conclusion, I can't make up a story where down-voting a question makes sense, and I can't make up a story where up-voting a question makes sense.
In contrast, it is easy for answers: I instinctively want the answer(-s) I agree with to go to the top. The absolute score is less important -- it is about moving the quality to the top. Incidentally, this is why Stack Overflow works well; all the gamification Jeff and Joel talked about on the podcast in the early days.
No such effect is readily visible when voting on questions.
What should be done?
I think it's hard to defend down-voting a question. The only questions I feel deserve a down-vote also deserve to be closed, and closing is the better mechanism. Down-voting of questions should be removed.
Up-voting a question feels the same way as star-marking a question; something to be done for really good questions that you want to go back to. Could we move the rep-mechanism over to the star-marking? (And make it 10 or 20 instead of 5?) An immediate problem that comes to mind is that people star-mark questions because they want to come back and see the answers, but it might be appropriate to reward the asker for this anyway.
A mechanism I would understand, and know when to use would be a "vote not to close -- this is a real question"-thing. Maybe a check-mark. "This question is OK by me". There would be no visible running total of OK-votes and no reputation given to the asker, but the system would get its required input. The criterion for giving this vote should be that the question is in category 3. as defined above. This way, it is easy to know when to give the vote. There is no difficult "but does this have quality"-consideration.
I feel it is extremely rare that a question is notably better than the average, after allowing time for edits.
That's my complaint and my proposed rough idea for a solution. I can see that I am not alone in being confused by the question votes, and I hope you all will consider this constructive input. Maybe we can fix this thing :)