Let me paint a picture ...

I've just returned from a solid two or three hour coding binge. Very productive. I feel good about myself and the universe, but mostly I feel good about all the awesome concepts I've perfected with the aid of the smart people in the Stack Overflow chat rooms. So I check into the SO PHP chat to see if anything interesting has happened while I was away. I'll just cruise the "star-bar" to get a rundown of notable messages and conversations.

But lo and behold, what do I find but messages like the following:

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I know stars are a very casual way to denote importance of chat messages, but come on. And while I also know that the SO chat rooms aren't supposed to be the personal fiefdoms of high-rep users, it would be helpful if there were either (1) more oversight or (2) a better incentive structure to prevent star bastardization.

So I'd like to propose ...

Since it's unfair to ask room owners to ruthlessly police stupid stars, I think the better solution would be to either:

  1. Add a negative incentive for starring a message on the order of a -1 rep point "price" to star a message. This completely inconsequential cost would make you think twice about applying an asinine star without being punitive enough to prevent quality stars. Or ...

  2. Require a minimum rep level to star a message similar to the minimum threshold required to post messages in chat. Personally, I'd like to see stars require a rep-level on the order of 500.

Such methods aren't discriminatory because anyone can bookmark the permalink from a chat message if they'd like to revisit it. Chat stars are a nice feature but I think with some slight modifications (like the above) they'd be much more useful.

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Those disappear quite quickly, don't they? With only one star? –  hakre May 17 '12 at 21:13
    
My experience is that it depends on the volume of n00b starr-ers. –  rdlowrey May 17 '12 at 21:14
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What about having an ability to mark a star as "not useful" that would count as -.5 stars. That way, after 2 "not useful" ticks, one star would be removed... –  ircmaxell May 17 '12 at 21:14
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Option 1 is a bit extreme. Chat is not meant to affect your reputation. It's also very unfair to be able to lose reputation there without gaining it there. –  animuson May 17 '12 at 21:16
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I knew option 1 wouldn't be right for everyone ... but you wouldn't "lose" reputation. You'd be paying for the star. It's a subtle difference, but it's really just an idea to promote discussion :) –  rdlowrey May 17 '12 at 21:18
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This all sounds great to me. Of course, as a mod I can unstar anything in any chat.SE room, which is very nice :P –  Matthew Read May 17 '12 at 22:23
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@Matt: It's not about being able to. I can unstar them in the #PHP room as well (and in fact did unstar these very stars). But it's quite a PITA having to manually prune them one by one. I think this concept is more about crowd-sourcing the pruning than enabling it... –  ircmaxell May 17 '12 at 22:40
    
How about a filter that blocks the ability to star 1 word comments, alternatively, comments less than, say, 15 letters? –  vascowhite May 18 '12 at 12:51
    
@vascogotlost that won't filter all the crap IMHO. People can use multiple words for totally uninteresting stuff –  PeeHaa May 18 '12 at 12:58
    
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If you are annoyed by starring, then I guess a lot of things in life bother you too. –  staticx May 21 '12 at 17:28
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@0A0D Hey! Let's flame discussion questions posed to help improve Stack Overflow! Great Idea! –  rdlowrey May 21 '12 at 17:56
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I agree with @Jeff's edit to the title, but for the record, I loved the original :) –  balpha May 21 '12 at 18:37
    
@rdlowrey: I think you are whining.. this is such a non-issue, I'm surprised it even got this much attention. –  staticx May 21 '12 at 19:48
    
@rdlowrey Come on over to meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/207255/… –  Dan Lugg Nov 13 '13 at 19:05
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2 Answers

Posting my comment as an answer:

I don't really care for the negative rep to star, seems kind of counter-intuitive to punish someone for liking a post.

What about instead having a "do not like" or "not useful" button on stars that would count as -0.5 stars? That way, after 2 "not useful" clicks, one star would be removed.

The problem isn't so much that we can't unstar posts, but that the responsibility falls on one or a few people's heads. And on an active chat room, it can be annoying to constantly prune the list. Instead, this way, we could crowd-source the effort and let everyone participate...

Note that mod/owner pinned messages should be immune to this rating system (the stars on them should use it, but the pin status should not be effected).

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This idea solves both problems of enabling users to be pro-active and help the chat, as well as cleanup the chat-room :) Plus us new kids on the block wouldn't lose rep for staring things we think are useful. –  gorelative May 21 '12 at 16:21
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This is probably an unpopular idea but I want to pose it anyway for the purpose of generating discussion ...

Since we're all (well, probably) programmers here I think we can agree that this problem falls under the scope of the 80/20 rule. 80% of the work is done to support 20% of the features. Chat stars simply aren't worth user-interface changes and the accompanying cost of maintenance and user support.

That said, it seems to me that adding an option to mark a star as "not-useful" would clutter the interface further. You're adding work and future-support for a relatively insignificant feature. Crowd-sourcing the removal of low-value stars is an ideal solution, but IMHO it needs to be done within the confines of a simple binary operation: click/unclick, star/unstar. Starring should be exceedingly simple.

I'm not sure that marking stars as "not useful" can be done without added UI elements.

So, my (likely) unpopular idea is:

to revisit the currency paradigm. What if (for argument's sake), a starred message were similar to question bounties:

  • A star "costs" a negligible amount of rep (say, 0.1 or 0.25 rep points);
  • This rep is "paid" to the message author in exchange for the good advice or witticism.

So every time you star a message, you're giving the author a tiny bit of rep.

This system would:

  • Provide an effective deterrent to pointless stars without being punitive;
  • Reward people for being helpful or generally awesome in chat;
  • Provide an incentive for knowledgeable users to spend more time in chat.

Epilogue

It's readily apparent that all of StackExchange functions by providing the right incentives to it's users. Bad questions/answers are punished, useful ones rewarded. A system similar to the one outlined above would extend this (very successful) format to chat, only without the punitive aspects to keep things casual.

Chat stars remain totally optional: they're simply a way to reward users for high-value chat contributions. Attaching a minuscule amount of rep solves the user-interface problem because the starring mechanism wouldn't change: they simply have an associated "payment system." It should be trivial to attach the rep-math to the already in-place "onStar" events.

It's a wholly different solution from crowd-sourced removal of low-value stars. Perhaps I'm the only capitalist pig who wants to turn chat into a market economy, but it makes a lot of sense to me.

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This isn't really well thought out and is more of a knee jerk reaction to some users behaving childishly. For instance, on chat.se (not SO), you can chat in any room without having an account on the site that room belongs to. To which account do you propose to award the rep? The site associated with their chat account, you say? Well, then why should I get rep on, say, biology.se for being witty on doleoutchatstarslikecandy.se? –  Lorem Ipsum May 21 '12 at 19:35
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The real solution is quite simple — stop attaching too much importance to chat stars. Chat is real time, it is fluid. A star might not make sense 10 hrs from now, but it probably did in the flow of the conversation that you were not a part of. Maybe that well timed silly line had some context to it (which is now hidden because it was removed by the author). Maybe it was just someone behaving like a giggly teen... you never know. If you don't treat chat stars as being the gems and caviar of the room's conversations, then you won't be annoyed. To sum up: don't put chat stars on a pedestal. –  Lorem Ipsum May 21 '12 at 19:38
    
Having said that, I agree with ircmaxell's idea for a "do not like" star, where 2 of those cancel an existing star. That allows people who are involved in the running conversation to have their fun or whatever pleasure they derive from starring/collecting stars, yet allows later users to "unstar" it if it makes no sense to them. –  Lorem Ipsum May 21 '12 at 19:42
    
I can see that viewpoint, I'm simply espousing extending the unquestionably successful SE model to chat. I'm not saying it's the ONLY solution. Judging from the question upvotes and those applied to @ircmaxell's answer there is clearly some support for addressing this "situation" (not necessarily a problem). It's about improving the SE chat as a resource. I respectfully disagree that this is a knee jerk reaction. You're certainly entitled to your opinion and the point of this answer was to solicit opinion, so thanks for sharing yours :) –  rdlowrey May 21 '12 at 19:42
    
As I mentioned, my only issue was with the "do not star" is additional UI requirements. It complicates the starring mechanism. –  rdlowrey May 21 '12 at 19:45
    
Well, SE chat was never meant to be a resource :) Have you tried searching for something in there? I've had better search results from Altavista (for those of you who are old enough to remember) –  Lorem Ipsum May 21 '12 at 19:46
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Which is why I'm suggesting a mechanism to improve chat so that it becomes more of a resource. Of course, it's possible that people don't want it to be a resource or it shouldn't be ... in which case my argument is moot. Just some ideas, though. I'm all starred-out at this point :) –  rdlowrey May 21 '12 at 19:48
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A simpler solution that will satisfy everyone would be to "hide" a starred message. That way, it works for anyone (if you don't like it, just hide it, which makes it disappear for you) and there is no rep transaction and doesn't involve the waiting time required to pile on the "unstar" votes like in ircmaxell's answer. –  Lorem Ipsum May 21 '12 at 19:49
    
Honestly, that is by far the best solution IMHO. It allows you to customize what's in your star-bar so that you can keep posts that are of value to you near the top. This would, of course, require additional storage to maintain the list of hidden stars, but if that can be painlessly implemented I'd really like to see it. –  rdlowrey May 21 '12 at 19:51
    
If you like my suggestion, you might want to consider writing it down as an answer (I'm leaving for now) so that others can vote on it. The storage part could be handled locally too, but that's a dev issue, not mine. (PS: I don't want to take this discussion to chat) –  Lorem Ipsum May 21 '12 at 19:59
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