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Disclaimer: I understand that down-voting (social discord) is an important part of community building. Communal negative messages help to deter behavior destructive to the group. Down voting places warning sign in the road for new travelers (don't tread here) and to temper overexcitement.

Rant: We techies are a hazing culture. We invest countless hours mastering languages, algorithms and nuances. We accomplish great things. We rub it in people's faces to feel superior. We feel good becoming an "expert". We feel good when we master lambdas or create a great search algorithm.

Admit it, even the humblest among us feels warm and fuzzy when someone marvels at our work. It's validation. And it's not a bad thing.

But the joy of accomplishment has a darker sibling: PRIDE

It's part of what drives us so hard. It's part of every negative decision we make. And it's often at someone's expense!

Looking through posts on Stack Overflow, I see many answers with negative ranking. Many questions get negative rankings too. Many of these questions are repeats of ones asked in the past. The user could have done a more thorough job googling and probably deserves a mild slap.

But some questions are interesting and well thought out. New users usually aren't familiar with the thorough and serious natures of experts who frequent the forums. Some useful and interesting thoughts could be refined with a little help. Instead they're insulted and leave.

This spree of "reckless down-voting" may be hurting our "community"

In searching for my own name, I went through 10 pages of users with similar names and found most had rankings of 1. This means they never did so much as except an answer (automatic +2). Many of them just wanted their answers and no interest in community.

But I wonder about the many users who got "Geek-hazed". I wonder how many "Noob"s were scared away by unnecessary down-voting?

As of this writing I have a "rep" of 75. Barely noticeable compared to the super-users with rep above 32,000. But so much higher than most users ever get. My low score reflects some serious attempts to ask and answer worthwhile questions. But it's only a month of "real participation".

According to this article (from 2009) http://www.johndcook.com/blog/2009/03/02/stackoverflow-reputation-statistics/ what I witnessed in non-participation is nothing new.

Good reasons for downvoting

1) Person didn't even try to figure out answer by coding or serious googling.

Example: How do I validate user input on the client level?

2) Vague question; No code, No error msg

Example: Every time I run my application I get an error

Constructive alternatives to downvoting

1) A clearly new user didn't give code samples but described his error and error messages

Action: Suggest the user elaborate and include relevant code samples.

2) An answer is correct but vague. No examples, not enough detail. Maybe even sloppy English.

Action: Suggest the user elaborate and include relevant code samples.

Question: Do you think gratuitous down-voting hurts participation in our "community"?

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closed as not constructive by kiamlaluno, Toon Krijthe, Martijn Pieters, GEOCHET, Al E. Sep 20 '12 at 13:00

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'Unnecessary down votes' is somewhat hard to define. What you consider unnecessary could be totally okay - just because someone is new it doesn't exempt them from the quality and content rules we like to follow. –  slugster Sep 20 '12 at 3:30
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If you ask me, there is not nearly enough downvoting on Stack Overflow. For newbies who don't understand the rules yet there is the option of lurking for a while first until they get a feel for how things work around here... SO doesn't need everyone to participate. That said, if you see what you think is a really good question, and it has been unfairly downvoted (it happens!), then the first thing to do is vote it up. (Note that downvotes on Meta are used to signify disagreement.) –  Pëkka Sep 20 '12 at 3:31
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You're asserting quite a bit regarding personal motivation on a large scale. You're wrong when it comes to my case, I can't speak for others. –  Tim Post Sep 20 '12 at 3:40
    
Pekka, slugster, I get your points. In fact I agree to. Down-voting can feel like as obvious as disciplining a kid who doesn't behave. But the most common new user has an annoying tech project and barely has time to ask, let alone lurk. They dive in and are scared off. –  Dave A Sep 20 '12 at 3:40
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@Dave maybe, but then, the site doesn't really need, nor want, those people. SO is not meant to be a support forum; it's a Q&A site whose content should serve future generations. That's why question quality is so crucial. If people can't be bothered to ask a good question, they need to get paid help. Don't forget this is all unpaid volunteer work here. –  Pëkka Sep 20 '12 at 3:49
    
Pekka, Thats a great point. And I get that the reason google always directs me to stack for answers is because they tend to be good and answered by people who know. But Sometimes a new person comes around and knows more than all of us. Gotta see if I can find one like that but every time I see one I wonder if they could get more involved... –  Dave A Sep 20 '12 at 3:53
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@Dave you could make the argument that if someone is going to be turned away by a couple of downvotes (instead of asking themselves "did I do something wrong? Maybe they have a reason for their strange rules... let me try again") they would be unlikely to be productive members of the community. I think downvotes largely work well, weeding out the bad content. Anyway, there is a discussion about the general tone on the sites that may interest you: blog.stackoverflow.com/2012/07/kicking-off-the-summer-of-love –  Pëkka Sep 20 '12 at 4:01
    
@Pekka, once again I concede the point. Some filtering is a good thing. I wish I had a real measure of the number of users who joined and ran off with 1 ranking. –  Dave A Sep 20 '12 at 4:08
    
I think this is a duplicate of meta.stackexchange.com/questions/145253/…, so I'll refer you to my answer to it as it doesn't make sense to repost it here. –  vascowhite Sep 20 '12 at 8:14
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@TimPost Exactly. This Q assumes pride in ones work requires winning in a zero sum game. –  Richard Sep 20 '12 at 13:25
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"Pride" is not a "darker side" of anything. It's completely acceptable to show pride in ones work. And downvotes are a good thing. If users posting bad content are discouraged from posting further bad content, they're working as designed. If anything, I would love to see more downvotes and fewer sympathy upvotes in response. Downvotes are every bit as important to this site as upvotes, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with downvoting bad content. –  meagar Sep 20 '12 at 15:16
    
Anyone with serious care or concern can just read posts like this meta.stackexchange.com/questions/22934/… –  Dave A Sep 20 '12 at 16:12
    
@meager, down-voting bad content does indeed have its place. But grouping all imperfect content as bad content is WRONG. I see cases where new users have useful contributions but their format and care in phrasing could help. It's the height of ARROGANCE to play judge and not give people a chance to improve their contribution. But it also proves my point. –  Dave A Sep 24 '12 at 17:10

2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Do you think gratuitous down-voting hurts participation in our "community".

Short answer: no.

Long answer: I don't think that the downvotes are particularly gratuitous, but if a question receives a score of -4 in a matter of 10 minutes, chances are that the community itself doesn't value this question highly.

First, a bit of primer - I, like you, also started at that same reputation level. I've been upvoted and downvoted, and the whole thing about that is - at least on SO - up/downvotes on a question are a measure of how valuable and useful the question is to the community at large. This could easily go both ways, as I've seen a question/answer upvoted because it was funny or clever, but that's how the community values someone else's contributions.

Getting a downvote on a question can be disheartening; I actually do remember a pretty searing feeling when I was downvoted. However, I'm thick-skinned; I learned that reputation is only a measure of contribution value, so I decided from there on to contribute in a more valuable capacity. I haven't looked back since.

Now, it's tough to say that any of these downvotes aren't justified. If they're on a question, then the question isn't likely to help others - stop and consider the help vampire issue. If the downvotes are on an answer, then the answer was incorrect or failed to answer the question. I'd like to see a case made that a downvote on someone that's genuinely trying to contribute would permanently discourage them from contributing further; I just don't think that's the case around here.

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I get your point about help vampires. It's annoying to see a question I googled an answer to early that week. Or when somebody expects you to code it all for them. I never took notes on the answers I've found useful that got down-votes for reasons I couldn't understand. This doesn't happen often, but when it does I understand why the rep stayed at 1 -- person never came back. –  Dave A Sep 20 '12 at 4:52
    
And the help vampires can sometimes be tricky! They're all nice and thank you immensely for helping them get from point A to point B, but then in their comments they try to get you to then help them get from point B to point C, without even trying themselves. It's like they want you to slowly and iteratively do their entire project for them. :) Giving people the benefit of the doubt, I give some broad advice in my final comment about looking at the docs, politely wish them luck, then go on my way. Some people don't know they're being help vampires, so no need to be rude. :) –  jmort253 Sep 20 '12 at 5:02
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Clarification: Downvotes aren't rude though. Downvote with extreme prejudice, but not maliciously or punitively, and be polite and constructive in comments. That's my theory on how to make this work. –  jmort253 Sep 20 '12 at 5:04
    
maybe im too eager to help. I don't wana kill my entire day doing it. There's work. But a couple ppl came up with seriously clever ideas that helped me in a big way. Now when google send me to SO for an answer, I also scout the forums for stuff I do. I feel a warm fuzzy from giving back. –  Dave A Sep 20 '12 at 5:09
    
Contributing here is awesome, whether it be on SO, meta, or on other SE sites. Just in general, if you're around and see someone who needs help, and you have time to spare, you can help out, but it's definitely not an obligation. We all do, after all, have lives. :) Or at least we'd like to think we do anyway. –  jmort253 Sep 20 '12 at 5:24

Do you think gratuitous down-voting hurts participation in our "community".

Yes, obviously. However neither your rant nor your interpretation of three year old stats convinces me that there's gratuitous downvoting going on, at least not in a scale that it would be noticeable or significantly affect participation in the community.

99% of the downvotes I see on the sites and SO tags I hang around are justified (imho), and the 1% I thought wasn't justified I fixed by casting my upvote (yes, it's that simple).

share|improve this answer
    
I agree about gratuitous up-voting too. On the positive side, I see up-voting as a way to inspire a new user to participate more. –  Dave A Sep 20 '12 at 3:39
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@DaveA On the positive side, I see up-voting as a way to inspire a new user to participate more. Hm, nothing positive about that. How about you start caring about every reader your upvote might mislead in thinking that the question is useful or the answer correct? Only upvote if you honestly believe a question is useful (and shows some effort) and an answer is correct, you might think that you are encouraging new users, but you're just lying to them... –  Yannis Sep 20 '12 at 3:42
    
I didn't mean I do it myself. I'm not into voting up or down. It's rare and its in a case where somebody went to great length and found a very clever answer for me. But when others do it, I try to take a positive approach. –  Dave A Sep 20 '12 at 3:44
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@DaveA Votes (up/down) are comments on the post, not the poster, there's nothing personal about them. We vote content, not people. –  Yannis Sep 20 '12 at 3:46
    
And in addition, don't up-vote a bad question or answer to "compensate" for a down-vote. It was down-voted for a reason and it isn't our job to make people feel better about their inferior post. –  Aaron Bertrand Sep 20 '12 at 3:49
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aaron, i agree. Up-voting a bad answer hurts people who see it later. negative scores warn us away. high positives make us trust. But some answers and questions can be improved into good ones. My point is: give guidance and a chance to correct before downing. –  Dave A Sep 20 '12 at 3:50
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@DaveA If you feel you can improve the post or guide the poster how to improve it themselves, by all means do. Every edit, even the smallest one, brings new attention to the post, and if it was actually improved the community will fix any obsolete downvotes soon enough. –  Yannis Sep 20 '12 at 3:52
    
Good idea. Are you thinking more detailed description of what I think a good down-vote should be? –  Dave A Sep 20 '12 at 3:54
    
@DaveA The post is either useful, or it isn't. If not useful it should probably be down voted. There is the 'meh' area where a post isn't incorrect, but didn't move you to vote either way .. at which point you can just pass it by. –  Tim Post Sep 20 '12 at 4:02
    
Tim what if a post has some use but the poster was sloppy. Just like Yannis suggested I improve my post, you can do the same for the poster before downgrading them. –  Dave A Sep 20 '12 at 4:05
    
Hi Dave, absolutely. If I can edit and improve, I will, but in some cases, only the poster can do that. Also, keep in mind that you can downvote, yet still leave the nicest, most welcoming and guiding comment that you can muster, and even offer to remove the downvote once the issue has been properly addressed. Votes can be changed after edits. In other words, you can encourage someone without lowering the quality standards or affecting how the system organizes the answers on the question. –  jmort253 Sep 20 '12 at 4:59
    
@jmort, that should be a suggested guideline. when ppl earn the right to down-vote they see a list of suggestions how to use it best. –  Dave A Sep 20 '12 at 5:15
    
Maybe we should delete this post. Sadly the reaction proves every concern I have. I still love the SO and so will NEVER again post on the subject of SO. I'll keep all my comments to the actual SO and technical matters. –  Dave A Sep 20 '12 at 18:37

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