I never planned this out, but I found myself more inclined to up-vote people with lower reputation. Is this something you guys experienced, and do you think it's unfair?
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It's unfair, of course, by definition.
I'm also inclined to up-vote particularly good content from a newer or lower-rep users... this may be due more to surprise ("Look, somebody is paying attention and trying!") given their experience on SO.
All good, on-topic, reasonable content deserves upvoting, regardless of the user.
That said, an upvote for new users' content is likely more motivational than with higher-rep users.
Increasing the amount of well-maintained content while growing participation is what makes SO neat.
Upvotes encourage and denote good content. When a new user posts I am more inclided to remember to vote to encourage this behavior. There's absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to encourage new users in particular; this is why I'll often take a peek in Review and upvote good First Answers/Questions.
Don't just upvote people because they're new or if they clearly aren't contributing quality content, but there's nothing wrong with encouraging those who stand to gain the most from the encouragement. If you upvote Jon Skeet he won't even notice. If you upvote a brand new user who posted a good question/answer you might actually help encourage them to stay around and help the site for weeks/months/years to come.
To drive up the quality of both questions and answers, it would be ideal for everyone to vote based on a cold appraisal of the question, and not for any other reason.
As Bart pointed out in the comments, it was recently argued in a seperate question that up-voters might be more inclided to favour high-reputation users. (Indeed, I was one of those who posted an answer making the argument for that being likely.)
What's clear from these two questions, and from countless examples across SO where upvotes and downvotes are cast with seemingly no explicable reason, is that users can and do upvote for whatever reasons they like, (and this is not a comprehensive list, of course:)
My point then, long though it's taken me to make it, is that there's really no telling why people vote the way they do unless they're willing to tell you; that we shouldn't read too much into voting patterns; and that in an ideal world, to keep quality standards high, a cold appraisal of any given question should be the only criteria used to vote.
I think it depends on what you are calling "new users". I think it's fair until ... well ... between 1 and 15 or 1 an 25. That lets them (us ? me at least ;)) discovering the happiness of being considered as "someone who is interesting". I got self caught up by the game.
Nevertheless, when I vote up, it's often because I'm interested in the thread, more than this is new posters.
When I posted for the first time on Meta StackOverflow, this was probably a duplicate. I was not sure of that, and I said that I would delete it, if true. But, peoples voted up for me, and I feel reasonably confident for future questions.
Don't mistake, I am not saying that whe should vote up for every questions of each begginers. I recently obtain vote down privilege, and I founded many situations in which I'd prefered vote down than up. But for new members who make some efforts (understandable english, explaination, reaseaches), I am also inclined to up-vote.
I don't want to give a straight range (1 to 25 for instance), especially since I am not registered for so long (6 monthes). However, until you obtain the privileges of voting up, I think this is fairly positive.
I hate pile-on downvoting.
Negatively scored posts aren't given the benefit of the doubt and are downvoted as an afterthought.
When posts get to be around -10, people are even more likely to downvote (especially if it is a question, since negative votes don't cost any reputation). This forms a pretty significant reputation-sink that is difficult to escape.
In these cases, given that downvotes are -2 and upvotes are +10 for answers and +5 for questions, I would say that this is behavior is perfectly reasonable. The "sympathy upvotes" are all that is preventing these users' reputation from going down the drain.
There's some value in encouraging participation early on. I would say my standards for a good answer go up as the rep goes up. An adequate answer from a 200 rep user will usually get an upvote from me; the same answer for a 10K+ user will not get an upvote without being complete. At that point they should know better and hold themselves to a higher standard.
I don't think is the best of the ideas, but it should not be big deal if you follow some kind of voting criteria.
My criteria for upvoting on posts that wouldn't normally vote up:
If it doesn't met with ALL points, I will then vote normally