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Lately, I've seen quite a few correct answers get downvoted simply because someone didn't think they were the best answer. For example: someone asks for a regular expression to parse a url in their Python script. You give a relatively simple 1-liner that does exactly that. Then you get downvoted for not recommending the "urlparse" module instead of a regex.

Should we more carefully consider whether to down-vote? Or is this question simply "much ado about nothing"?

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13 Answers 13

I think a down vote should be used for a bad answer, not for one that isn't perhaps the best. There is a bit of a difference, and in some cases, a judgment call. However, I don't think people should be punished for trying to provide an answer, that, as it turns out, isn't as good as another. Simply up vote the better answer and it will rise to the top.

Lets not punish the community for trying to be helpful.

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I also downvote anything that's abusive or denigrating to the questioner... –  Charles Bretana Nov 20 '08 at 18:39
    
even if the answer is technically correct.. .I figure, the last thing we want is to be discouraging people from posting questions... –  Charles Bretana Nov 20 '08 at 18:40
    
I usually flag such answers as offensive, though I haven't come across very many of these. –  Erik Forbes Nov 20 '08 at 19:18
    
On the other hand, since you lose a reputation point by downvoting, perhaps the system is self-regulating, to some extent. I mean, if people go around down-voting stuff they don't like, they'll maybe stop doing it when they realise they're leaking reputation. –  Ben Nov 20 '08 at 22:02
    
I agree, and we don't HAVE to vote you know, it's not like "yes or no". There's also "I don't care" (== not vote at all) –  Thomas Hansen Nov 25 '08 at 14:03
    
@Charles Bretana: "I figure, the last thing we want is to be discouraging people from posting questions". AMEN! –  Jason S Jan 30 '09 at 0:31

It's obviously a personal decision, but the 1 rep cost should discourage too much abuse. I only down vote bad answers, myself. Answers that have bugs, errors, or are flat out wrong. I rarely down-vote off answers, those that simply don't answer the question.

I've only had one or two of my answers unfairly down-voted by the questioner because I "didn't answer" his question, but I got over it. I think it's uncommon enough to ignore.

Also, I don't have a problem with duplicates. I tend to up-vote all answers that I think are correct unless one is far and away better than the others.

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Even when answers have bugs, you should probably leave a comment first and give the answerer a chance to fix it. –  Joel Coehoorn Nov 20 '08 at 18:52
    
Or leave the comment with the downvote and come back later and remove the down vote if they fix it. –  EBGreen Nov 20 '08 at 18:53
    
I used to do that, but then I discovered that you can't remove downvotes after a relatively short period of time. Since these bugs often are fixed, it probably better not to downvote in the first place if the bug is only incidental to the answer. –  Joel Coehoorn Nov 20 '08 at 18:55
    
Once you get enough reputation, you can just edit it, and fix the problem yourself. –  geoffc Nov 20 '08 at 19:15

The tool-tip text for the down button says, "This was not helpful." I don't think that's really a good guideline though. A neutral response is not helpful, but shouldn't necessarily be voted down; down votes should be reserved for posts that lead in the completely wrong direction: posts that are the opposite of helpful.

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Agreed! Downvotes should only be reserved for misleading answers. –  Cybis Nov 20 '08 at 19:52

When they're duplicates that don't add anything.

I don't vote these down myself but you should expect that a few users will do this.

If I inadvertently post a duplicate answer (because I was beaten to it) I usually delete it.

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You can have lot of duplicates when several people try to answer a new question, just because the answers are typed/researched simultaneously. Beside, I don't think they deserve downvoting even if answered two days later, they should be just ignored. –  PhiLho Nov 20 '08 at 18:38
    
Sometimes answers that appear to be duplicates can have subtle differences. I like that the answer deemed best by the community rises to the top, but still being able to look over various answers. I don't want to discourage people from adding a new perspective. –  Brett McCann Nov 20 '08 at 18:43
    
And sometimes two answers can have exactly the same content, but one is phrased a lot more clearly, and would receive more upvotes. –  Bill the Lizard Nov 20 '08 at 18:48
    
LOL. This is a perfect example! Why was finnw's answer downvoted? He even states that he doesn't downvote duplicates himself, just that you should expect it from others. –  Cybis Nov 20 '08 at 18:54

I wanted to add one more thing. On very rare occasions it will be appropriate to vote down even a good answer.

Let's suppose someone asks a question, and someone else supplies a good answer. The good answer is voted up several times. A week later someone else posts a better answer. At this point the question and the new answer will get nowhere near as many views as the first answer, and therefore will be later seen as inferior. In this (very rare) case, even though the first answer was good I need to vote it down to help the new better answer rise to the top.

So you could expand this to say that it's okay to downvote an answer if it's necessary to help a better answer rise above it.

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Much ado about nothing. If people disagree, they will vote it back up, if not--maybe voting it down was fine.

Sometimes you may think something is the "Right way", but perhaps--well in this case maybe you like regex more than most people and used that big hammer when you should have been using something more precise and others wanted to point that out.

My feeling is that regex is actually the wrong way since using an existing API instead would allow your code to adapt to unforeseen circumstances whereas regex would have to be modified if some standards changed--look at it this way, since the business logic exists elsewhere, your solution is not DRY.

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In the example, we just needed to extract the domain from an http url. This is a very simple regex. My solution was functionally correct and an easy-to-read 1 liner. Just because the API has this functionality built in (which I didn't know at the time), doesn't make my solution flat-out wrong. –  Cybis Nov 20 '08 at 19:43
    
Duplicating API functionality can be considered wrong by many... To tell you the truth, I consider non-DRY code more "Wrong" than non-functional code, but it's a stretch to apply that to this situation. –  Bill K Nov 20 '08 at 19:53
    
I suppose you would disagree with Joel in this article then: joelonsoftware.com/articles/fog0000000007.html In short, he gives an example where "reinventing the wheel" gave the MS Excel team significantly more flexibility and reliability. –  Cybis Nov 20 '08 at 20:36
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Like I said, the whole concept is getting stretched a little thin. I wouldn't have personally downvoted you, just trying to figure out why someone might have, but in general my point was that it'll get lost in the noise, so don't stress about it. –  Bill K Nov 20 '08 at 21:38
    
Also, All I said was duplicating functionality within the same app. If the functionality isn't there or can't do what you want or doesn't do it in a way that makes sense, re-implement it--no problem. –  Bill K Nov 21 '08 at 1:47

I have not downvoted many answers, but those I did downvote followed the same pattern.

Technically correct, but...

a. too many "buzzwords" (only did this once). b. too much hype about some methodology or technology that is irrelevant to the actual answer. c. too much criticism of some methodology or technology that is irrelevant to the actual answer.

Basically, for b. and c. - if someone has a bee in their bonnet about something and chooses to state it when it's not relevant to the answer posted, that is when I've downvoted.

-R

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I up vote correct answers from people with little rep.

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how exactly it's related to the question ? –  Ilya Nov 20 '08 at 19:23
    
conversely you could downvote answers from people with alot of rep :) –  Jimmy Nov 20 '08 at 22:48
    
Why not just upvote correct answers? –  Graeme Perrow Jan 30 '09 at 0:58

I think the only reason to down vote is if answer is technically incorrect. Not bad - incorrect.
Bad answer is not a good definition (IMHO). You think it's bad i think it's good. I never downvote answers that opinion about something or answer to open question that does not have a direct answer.
By the way this should not be down voted. It's an opinion nothing wrong with this. IMHO again.

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I only downvote answers that are incorrect (as in wrong), and answers that may be totally technically correct, but are useless. An example of a such a question would be:

Q: I'm in Seattle, where are you? A: My desk.

Technically correct, but completely useless.

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I've been down-voted a few times, usually because I miss-read the question. I don't mind being down voted, so long as people tell me why. The most unhelpful thing you can do is down vote without giving a reason.

I would actually make a request of the StackOverflow overlords: require that if you want to down vote, you have to leave a reason.

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I believe this has been suggested and declined; check stackoverflow.uservoice.com to be sure. –  mmyers May 21 '09 at 19:57

If some answer is unnecassarily too lengthy, i'm going to downvote an answer if it is upvoted above better answers. If an answer is totally wrong i'm going to downvote regardless of other answers. I will upvote if i find some answer is technically correct and there isn't a better way to do it (or i don't know a better way), or if it's some other beauty which convinces me (good wording, etc...). I don't consider the reputation value of the people. If a person is good, he will become a good reputated person anyway.

And i think Stackoverflow should show a value which considers the amount of time one has been on stackoverflow, besides the reputation value. Someone being there two days and having a reputation of 400 is another thing than one being there 10 days with the same reputation.

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No thanks. I've had enough of the Slashdot "oh your UID is too high, you must be irrelevant" mentality. –  Jimmy Nov 20 '08 at 22:47
    
Jimmy, what has that todo with my answer? it would specifically make new users stand better, in that it gives new users, for the same reputation, better marks. –  Johannes Schaub - litb Nov 20 '08 at 23:19
    
@Jimmy, notification-comment-work-around ^^ –  Johannes Schaub - litb Mar 20 '10 at 1:11

The problem I have with downvoting is there's sort of a positive-feedback network effect: if you see an answer that's got a +1 response, you're much less likely to downvote it than if you see an answer that's got a -1 response. Conversely, if you see an answer that's got a -1 response, you're much less likely to upvote it than if you see an answer that's got a +1 response.

We can be like vultures, unfortunately; when more than one person votes down a question it becomes kind of a free-for-all. (DIE, YOU SCUMSUCKING BAD ANSWER!)

I only vote down people if their answer is either malicious or significantly misleading. If someone gives information that's way off track and wrong, they might get a -1 from me. If they gave an honest attempt but missed a little bit, I'll comment but that's it.

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Going for the necromancer badge? ;) –  Grant Jan 30 '09 at 0:41
    
well, in general, yes, :) but not for this particular post. I got pissed off at being downvoted today, it's like, why do I bother spending time trying to be helpful if someone is just gonna whack me with a -1. –  Jason S Jan 30 '09 at 0:51
    
My -1's generally even out by people passing by and +1'ing me because "I don't see how that deserved a -1". I assume that's what they are thinking anyway. -1's generally lead to an 8 point rep boost. –  Grant Jan 30 '09 at 1:05
    
Yeah, I guess so. –  Jason S Jan 30 '09 at 1:16
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Still, it's like being hit by one pie, and then given a second pie to eat by someone else. The second pie is worth a lot more than the damage caused by the first pie, but you remember that one more. –  Jason S Jan 30 '09 at 1:17

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