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I'd like an extra message box when clicking "down" on answers and questions of people which have less than 100 points (or any other sensible definition of "newbie"; I think the site owners should be able to come up with something much better). The message box should read:

Please note that you're downvoting a newbie. While we don't discourage this entirely, it might not send the intended message to the receiver. Consider submitting a comment instead which explains which specific improvement you'd like to see. Among other things, this avoids appearing hostile against new users.

Downvote / Cancel

[EDIT] A lot of people here believe that it's obvious why a question/answer was downvoted. In my view, that's a severe misconception because it's only obvious when you know that. But the existing q/a is proof that the recipient is missing exactly this critical piece of information (if they knew they were wrong, they wouldn't have posted this q/a in the first place. qed)

Users like me just shrug off downvotes (even when they still hurt because I do think I'm smart - it's an ego thing). But for newbies, downvotes can appear hostile ("they don't want me") or confusing ("I did my best and all these a* do is downvote me? F** them!")

I also don't want this message for everyone. After working with SO for several years, I voted 5149 times and spent 55 downvotes. This is a two-edged tool and I'm aware of it. I know how much downvoting can hurt, so I try to avoid it.

At the same time, I see people downvoting first time questions several times. Maybe a single downvote would be OK but 10? What kind of message do you want to send with that?

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There should already be a popup which says something along the lines of consider adding a comment to explain this when you downvote. A comment should never be an alternative to a downvote; a downvote shows the answer is wrong, newbie or not. –  Matt May 16 '12 at 12:22
@Matt - only if you have lowish reputation yourself. –  ChrisF May 16 '12 at 12:23
@ChrisF: True, but if you've got a high rep, you should know what you're doing. I know I'm more inclined to provide an explain why I'm downvoting if the user is new, prompt or no prompt. –  Matt May 16 '12 at 12:24
If you know why you downvote why should I? Is there a mythical transfer of knowledge the moment from your brain to mine when you click? If so, can you debug this, because for me, it's not working. :-) –  Aaron Digulla May 16 '12 at 12:28
If you don't give a rookie a chance to swing the bat against real pitching, he/she is never going to work their way up to it by themselves. –  jonsca May 16 '12 at 12:28
If you only berate a rookie without ever showing them how it should be done, they will just be frustrated. –  Aaron Digulla May 16 '12 at 12:29
Anyone coming to SO literally has 3 million exemplars from which to learn. If a "newbie" doesn't, at a minimum, read a few to see how the community reacts to different things, they are doing themselves a disservice. –  jonsca May 16 '12 at 12:34
@Matt you mean popup like this one? –  gnat May 16 '12 at 12:34
@AaronDigulla How is a downvote a "slap"? I can see what you are saying, but the connection is very loose. Nearly everyone's had grades in school, and sometimes people need to get points off to help them get their ass in gear and learn from their minor mistakes. –  jonsca May 16 '12 at 12:46
Aren't we supposed to vote on the content not the person always? –  Flexo May 16 '12 at 12:59
@awoodland: it is very odd that people take downvotes personally. Downvoters don't know you, they only know your content. –  user7116 May 16 '12 at 13:09
@sixlettervariables: I take downvoting personally. 13 people here didn't bother to argue, they just shot me down. They spent no effort trying to understand what I say, they care not a bit how much this means to me and how much it hurts. They just think "bulls***" and click without second thought. –  Aaron Digulla May 16 '12 at 16:40
@AaronDigulla: I'd be hard pressed to worry about the emotional impact of a downvote. I can't fathom why there would be one because I wasn't aware that this was a pageant of sorts. I also am having a hard time determining if you're being sarcastic or not, bravo if you are. On non-Meta: downvote if it is inappropriate/bad/incorrect/Monday. On Meta: downvote if you disagree or it is Friday. And yes, "I disagree" is reason enough to downvote. –  user7116 May 16 '12 at 16:50
Yes, that is exactly what I did: bulls***, we want people to downvote bad posts. If you take downvoting personally and it hurts you, then that's a problem you have to deal with. I'm against breaking the entire model of a Q&A site and content ranking system because you can't get over a downvote or two. –  Cody Gray May 17 '12 at 8:05
"13 people here didn't bother to argue, they just shot me down. " Downvotes are different on meta as I suspect you already knew. So (now) 24 people disagree with your idea, is all. You don't actually have any evidence about how much effort they expended, how much they care, or how many thoughts they had. –  AakashM May 17 '12 at 8:32

2 Answers 2

Sadly, a large fraction of the new posters on any given day are people who we are going to end up wanting to discourage. They are people who don't read the faq, don't bother to spell, and/or demand that we 'send the codez'. If downvoting awful first posts sends these people off to be vampires elsewhere, that's really just fine.

When a new poster makes an honest effort, my experience is that they are unlikely to receive naked downvotes. Reasonably questions get comments, or maybe comments and downvotes.

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I'd like to challenge this view. Some of the greatest software developers have strange personal ... "traits" (like knowing everything, never reading documentation, trying before trying to think, etc). –  Aaron Digulla May 16 '12 at 16:37
I don't follow your logic. SO is besieged by people who show up, deposit a horrible question, and have no interest in learning or improving. We strive to get rid of these questions and to discourage them from repeating the performance. What does that have to do with talented people with quirks? –  Rosinante May 16 '12 at 17:22
@AaronDigulla not so great if they have those traits, no? –  AakashM May 17 '12 at 8:34
@Rosinante: Let's pick two cases. a) They don't want to improve and b) they don't know what they did wrong (for whatever reason). For a: Do you really want to give those people control of your life? How you have to respond? What you feel when you read their question? For b: In this case, downvoting will seem hostile. –  Aaron Digulla May 18 '12 at 8:08
I cannot believe you made a spelling mistake. It's supposed to be "teh," not "the." –  Emrakul Oct 10 '13 at 15:36

Though I understand the discussion here, I'm still going to propose the same as the OP asks. I agree that we want to dispense with vampires and other distracting trash, but I think there is a rationale to encouraging minds into the ranks of good-community.

This is on the heels of "Can we please be nicer to new users?". I propose a balanced community experience can be had from from the following feature:

Questions and Answers provided by new users cannot be given a downvote unless it is accompanied by an explanatory comment.

This would probably be done with a box that pops-up when downvoting - like the current one - but it would be expanded to include a text encouraging explanations to new users, and a box for a the comment, which will be created once the downvoter hits

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Forcing comments with downvotes has been proposed a few thousand times (give or take). The problems with that proposal (which are quite numerous, see previous discussions on the topic) all apply even if it is restricted to just new users. Some of the more prominent reasons are that you'll see revenge downvotes as downvotes are no longer anonymous, and you'll see lots of pointless/useless/spam/noise comments by people who have nothing to say and just want to downvote. –  Servy Oct 10 '13 at 14:46
I found none of this discussion in my search. Also, spam-looking comments (non-substantive) could carry a heavier penalty than normal downvotes –  New Alexandria Oct 10 '13 at 15:12
So how is the system going to determine that a comment isn't useless, and why should be people be penalized for downvoting if they feel they have no additional comments to add (which, after all, is entirely appropriate). If pure garbage is prohibited you'll just see copy-pastes of earlier comments, or the same information repeated in different words. You'll also see much more harsh comments, I can assure you. Worst of all you'll also see very poor quality content that we don't want here not downvoted, or not downvoted as much. That will reduce the quality of content on the site. –  Servy Oct 10 '13 at 15:17
If you have no comment, and it's a new user, you aren't thinking hard enough about using your moderator power to improve the quality of the community and its members. –  New Alexandria Oct 10 '13 at 17:48
I do think there should be moderator penalization, for bad moderation. I don't know when the mod community is large enough to have this kind of meta-moderation. –  New Alexandria Oct 10 '13 at 17:49
Downvoting isn't generally considered moderation, first off. Next, in many cases the reasoning is already clear enough, whether it be through a close reason, existing comments, the author acknowledging problems with the post themselves, etc. Next, some people can clearly recognize a problem but aren't comfortable explaining the problem to a new user. That's perfectly fine. If it's a major problem odds are some other user who feels more comfortable explaining the problem and how to fix it can post a comment. Other users simply wish to remain anonymous, and that's fine as well. –  Servy Oct 10 '13 at 17:54

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