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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:

 A. Unsalvageable
 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:

  1. The asker has failed to pose a question, but he's wondering about something
  2. There is a question, but it is hidden in bad or ambiguous language, and lacks sufficient detail
  3. 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 :)

share|improve this question

marked as duplicate by Arjan, Shog9 Feb 20 '12 at 20:21

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

I don't disagree that (up)voting a question doesn't have the same immediately visible impact as votes on answers do. But I do not agree that downvotes are not useful, particularly when your argument is that downvotes should just be close votes: not all people who can currently downvote a terrible question have the ability to close it. – Anthony Pegram Feb 20 '12 at 19:47
But suffice it to say, I could do without the incessant nagging of question voting if I happen to be on a answer-voting streak. I have earned Electorate, I know how the system works. Trust me to use it. – Anthony Pegram Feb 20 '12 at 19:49
@Arjan (?) That's an interesting link, and this is good to know. Thanks :) – Magnus Hoff Feb 20 '12 at 19:54
Twas not my link. You'll note the orignator of said link has moved the comment to an answer below. – Anthony Pegram Feb 20 '12 at 19:56
Do you really only see those two buckets? You seem to be excluding interesting questions that might require some significant research to answer (answerable, but not "immediately answerable"). – Keith Thompson Feb 20 '12 at 19:56
@AnthonyPegram: Yeah, I guess I'm probably suggesting that voting to close should be an earlier privilege. – Magnus Hoff Feb 20 '12 at 19:57
@KeithThompson: Good complaint. I've reworded to "answerable as it is", which is what I meant. – Magnus Hoff Feb 20 '12 at 20:00
@MagnusHoff, you're missing another very important benefit of downvoting on questions: it is a big, bright beacon that says "come quick! I need closing!" Absent a -2, -3, I might not even look at it. Sure, you could rework the UI to still highlight these questions, but the present system works pretty well. And what of nerdrage? Say the question is already closed, but is so terrible that I would be remissed if I did not also indicate my ire. Do not take this away from me. – Anthony Pegram Feb 20 '12 at 20:01
@Arjan: Thanks for links to dupes! :) I have had time to read up a bit, and it was useful to read about the rationale for the system as it is. However, I also think it is notable that votes for questions is the only place the system (not other users) tries to beat you into submission with popups. It may be the case that the system still can be improved, to make "question quality measurement" more effortless. – Magnus Hoff Feb 20 '12 at 20:12
@MagnusHoff: The popup is just there to remind you that voting on questions is important too. – Nicol Bolas Feb 20 '12 at 20:17
@AnthonyPegram: Hm. I guess we browse differently. I tend to choose which questions to read based on title and tags and then do my bucket-thing. For your rage management, we could add a tazer-widget on user-pages, maybe? – Magnus Hoff Feb 20 '12 at 20:17
up vote 9 down vote accepted

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.

I can. Here is "a clear an unambiguous question, ready to be answered." It's also a crappy question that shows absolutely no research effort. 10 seconds with Google could tell him 90% of what he wants to know. By all rights, this question belongs on this site. But it doesn't make the site better by its presence; it makes the site worse. But it can't be closed because it is still within the site's scope. Therefore, it should be downvoted.

Similarly, this question is another "clear an unambiguous question, ready to be answered." It is also an excellent question. It asks about something that isn't easily found by Google (outside of SO links to this question, of course), it asks about a technical subject, and it explains very clearly what it is looking for. This is not a subject that is commonly known, and it is a subject that is important.

Closing is for getting rid of questions we don't want; it's for questions that are outside of the rules. Downvotes are for questions that are technically within the rules, but betray gross ignorance or laziness. Upvotes are for questions that exemplify the best qualities of the site: people looking for real information that requires expert attention that can't be found easily somewhere else.

To my mind, most questions shouldn't be upvoted or downvoted. They're just normal and average. Some people are tighter with their up/down-votes. Some aren't.

share|improve this answer
Thank you! That's a good example of a question that needs a down-vote, and, importantly, good criteria for when to click which arrows :) I have to read a bit more before I can comment on the alleged up-votable question, though ;) – Magnus Hoff Feb 20 '12 at 20:25
About "some aren't"; Yes, some aren't, indeed. Part of what has prompted me to ask this question is that I am a bit confused by upvotes that appear on sub-par questions, negating any effect of other's "costly" down-votes. These are not necessarily sympathy-votes, either. To me, it seems the bar is extremely low for some users to upvote a question. Almost as if they do it just to ward off the popup. But I guess that is another question. </digression> – Magnus Hoff Feb 20 '12 at 20:27
@MagnusHoff: Downvotes on questions don't cost anything. – Nicol Bolas Feb 20 '12 at 20:28
Oh. Look how much I'm learning today! ;) – Magnus Hoff Feb 20 '12 at 20:29
However, with these criteria I will probably continue nearly never voting on questions. I guess I will have to make friends (or display: none user-css) with the popup. Thanks again for helping me understand :) – Magnus Hoff Feb 20 '12 at 20:40

Question don't need votes.

But it is a great way to filter out the great questions from the bad ones.

Besides, its a Q & A site. Without questions there are no answers. So good questions (and the person who asks them) deserve to be rewarded.

share|improve this answer
Is it a great way to filter? We need to get rid of the bad questions, so we close them. "Great" questions are only curiosities. Normal questions are our bread and butter. Should I really upvote nearly all questions? (WRT reward, I have proposed an alternative solution) – Magnus Hoff Feb 20 '12 at 19:38
Hmm... I've tried clarifying my question (since you are not answering it): What criterion can I apply that lets me decide when to click the up-arrow? – Magnus Hoff Feb 20 '12 at 19:41
@MagnusHoff > We need to get rid of the bad questions, so we close them – yeah, and you can downvote them so the OP learns about what kinds of questions not to ask, or to get them to improve their question. – slhck Feb 20 '12 at 19:42
@MagnusHoff > What criterion can I apply that lets me decide when to click the up-arrow? – have you seen the popup when you hover on these arrows? – slhck Feb 20 '12 at 19:42
@slhck: I have actually not seen that text. This is because I have used the site for a long time, and the text wasn't always there. So this suggests that my question here "does not show any research effort". I don't understand that. – Magnus Hoff Feb 20 '12 at 19:48
Yes, questions do need votes. They feed the automatic question ban that keeps these sites clean. – Arjan Feb 20 '12 at 19:51
@MagnusHoff: Downvotes on meta are generally supposed to represent disagreement, even though the popup text here does nothing to convey it. It's a common misunderstanding, read here: – Wesley Murch Feb 20 '12 at 20:04
@Madmartigan: Good to know, thanks. (Note to self: Read the FAQ ;) – Magnus Hoff Feb 20 '12 at 20:08

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