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I hopped over to meta to suggest the ability to downvote comments, and it appears that it had been brought up several years ago, but the powers that be decided to decline it.

I don't agree that including downvotes for the reasons the asker stated is good, but most of the rest of the discussion shows a pretty heavy consensus in favor of the ability to downvote comments, for reasons other than what the asker posted. Such reasons included reducing the signal-to-noise ratio for moderator flags (as many comments are flagged likely because there's not option to simply downvote them, and the system itself discourages getting "chatty") as well as in the discussion itself, and creating a decay mechanisms for comments that are simply just wrong, but don't otherwise qualify for flagging. It was even noted that Jeff, himself, said that upvoting was only half of the equation and that most comment flags aren't justified.

Why, then, was the decision made to reject this feature request? Given the age of that question, should the feature be revisted?

Edit: Since this question spawned more discussion around this idea as a feature request, instead of what I was originally intending, here are the reasons I think it would be a good idea to implement:

  1. It reduces noise for the moderators. One of the things mentioned by both a user and Jeff Atwood himself was that a large number of flags on comments are not justified. This says to me that people are flagging comments in lieu of a better mechanism for dealing with a given comment. Provide something between "doing nothing" and "nuking a fly," and you reduce the unnecessary work the moderators have to do, and allow them to focus on the real issues that have been flagged.
  2. It reduces visual clutter for users. Shog9 linked this post in one of his comments. It's the blog entry for the release of the "Top N Comments" mechanism. It also changed how the voting an flagging icons were displayed (ie - they required mouseover to display the icons). The reason? To reduce visual clutter. We can even take this a step further, and visually hide comments that go negative a certain amount, the same way the system currently hides non-voted comments when certain thresholds are reached, or the same way other systems that use voting in comments hide downvoted comments, regardless of how many total comments exist (CSS-Tricks, Slashdot, etc).
  3. Upvoting conveys only half of the information, and upvoting alone doesn't provide enough information. Within the posts that were linked in the comments section, there was a link to this post by Jeff criticizing Hacker News for their lack of a downvote. In it, he states that only having upvotes only conveys half of the information. Does 0 mean it's bad? Or does it just mean it's boring enough to not earn upvotes? If there's no downvote system, we don't know, because we're missing the other half of the equation - the people that don't agree with comment.
  4. It balances out bad comments that were upvoted for whatever reason. A comment that doesn't give good information, but was upvoted -- even once, and for any reason (such as a witty remark in another part of the comment) -- will be displayed in favor (to the system) over a comment that corrects the bad information that doesn't get any upvotes (the most common reason I've seen for this is that the comment was added after the initial flood of viewers has died out) when the comment threshold to trigger Top N is reached. With a downvote system in place, the person correcting the comment can downvote the comment in question, thus potentially pulling it out of the Top N list and giving it a similar visual weight as their own comment, making the correction less likely to be missed when the misleading one is seen (because the mind was drawn only to the "highlighted" comments).
  5. It doesn't change the existing psychological meaning of comment voting. One of the common things I've seen so far is that upvotes in comments are for agreement, without the need to post superfluous comments saying things like "I agree!". That's great! And in my opinion, all the more reason to have downvotes. The metaphore then becomes one of downvoting one comment (to show disagreement), and upvoting an existing comment that disputes the former one. Why not just upvote the latter and be done with it? Because not having the downvote inflates the value of the misleading comment, when it should be devalued. Without a downvote mechanism, you have to upvote all of the other comments that you deem "better than" the one you want to downvote in order to devalue the misleading one, and by doing so, you're showing agreement to those, even if they otherwise wouldn't be good enough to warrant an upvote on their own (ie - better than the misleading one, but not great or all that worthwhile). This is an absurd measure, and thus, not done. As a result, comments that one disagrees with maintain the illusion that more people agree with it than is reality.
    • It brings comment voting in line with voting on the meta sites. One could also ask - if upvote only is sufficient for comments, why isn't sufficient for the meta sites, which use the same agreement/disagreement metaphor? Any negative value question or answer on the meta sites will give you that answer, and it's still essentially the same as my point #3 - only allowing upvotes (and thus, not allowing a score go below 0) only provides half of the information. If the score on this question was 0. Does that mean no one agrees? Or does that mean no one agreed enough to vote for it? Judging by only the responses as of this writing, there's one person that actively disagrees with posted question, one person that actively agrees, and two people that are neutral on the topic. That's a far cry different from the 5 upvotes/agrees and 9 downvotes/disagrees this post has gotten (even if you put the two neutral responses on one side or the other).
  6. It creates UI symmetry and consistency. One of the answers to the old question mentions this point. It may or may not be a small thing, but including the ability to downvote comments creates consistency with everything else with a voting mechanism on the site, reducing user confusion.
  7. Comments are no longer second-class on SE. The developers saw to that when they implemented the Top N Comments function. This gives the number next to a comment inherent value, because the system itself filters on it. They also elevated the value of comments and discussion when they implemented notifications for the "@user" mechanism, as well as when they changed Top N Comments to no longer sort by number of votes (a change made shortly after the initial launch of Top N Comments).
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This question comes up pretty frequently. You can already flag them for moderator attention, that seems to do the trick. –  LittleBobbyTables Mar 13 '13 at 14:26
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@LittleBobbyTables - Except that it generates noise for the moderators, and, as I mentioned, even Jeff says that most comment flags aren't justified. –  Shauna Mar 13 '13 at 14:38
    
Seconded. What do I do with comments I think say something wrong? Not all sites are hellpits of flaming, in some places we have (f)actual discussions. –  Raphael Mar 13 '13 at 14:47
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How about just replying to them explaining why they're wrong, @Raphael? –  Shog9 Mar 13 '13 at 15:09
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Now that's just crazytalk @Shog9. Though if we were to implement this, perhaps I could request mandatory comments on comment downvotes... ;) –  Bart Mar 13 '13 at 15:15
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@Shog9 By that reasoning, we don't need voting at all, let's just all say what we think of a post in the comments. (Note: not always is explaining possible or reasonable.) –  Raphael Mar 13 '13 at 16:03
    
@Shog9 - Because replying to them doesn't change their weight in the system. An incorrect comment with even a single upvote will still be shown over a correct one (or one that corrects the aforementioned incorrect one) with no upvotes when the threshold of "too many comments" has been reached and the system hides the ones that haven't been upvoted. –  Shauna Mar 13 '13 at 16:04
    
A lot of forums don't have voting, @Raphael. Voting matters for answers because it drives the best ones up and the worst ones down; comments are always chronological - voting serves only to highlight the ones folks agree with. Voting matters for posts because it provides helpful authors with reputation (recognition, privileges) on the site - comments don't do this either though. So give me a scenario where down-voting a comment actually accomplishes something useful. –  Shog9 Mar 13 '13 at 16:10
    
So first off, @Shauna: why does this incorrect comment have a single upvote? –  Shog9 Mar 13 '13 at 16:11
    
@Shog9 - Because someone else agrees with it, also under the mistaken impression that it's correct (or perhaps not even agreeing to the correctness, but rather agreeing to something else in the content of the comment). *gasp!* Shocking, I know. –  Shauna Mar 13 '13 at 16:13
    
@Shog9 - As for your challenge of comment downvoting accomplishing something useful. How about reducing the signal to noise ratio, and thus useless work, for moderators? If most comment flags aren't justified, but moderators are obligated to address all flags, then that means they're spending most of their comment moderation time on comments that don't even need moderated. –  Shauna Mar 13 '13 at 16:15
    
So, @Shauna, the comment is either deceptively wrong, captures a common misconception, or contains a mixture of correct and incorrect information. At least one person has already been misled by it. Remember, comments don't provide reputation, therefore a down-vote can't retract any; there's no notification for votes on comments and comments can't be edited (by anyone other than the author, or by the author after the 5-minute grace period): how is a down-vote going to prevent other readers from being misled or confused by the comment? –  Shog9 Mar 13 '13 at 16:17
    
@Shog9 - By negating previous upvotes, thus allowing it to be hidden by the comment filter. You could even take it a step further by hiding subzero comments on initial comment expansion (similar to how Slashdot or other forums with voting systems do, which has shown to be an effective "community moderation" mechanism). –  Shauna Mar 13 '13 at 16:20
    
Remember, the vast, vast majority of posts have fewer than five comments and therefore comments are never filtered. –  Shog9 Mar 13 '13 at 16:22
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Listen, I'm not trying to be dismissive here; this request keeps getting shot down because (almost) no one goes beyond the basic idea (I should be able to downvote something I don't like) and tries to explain how a down-vote on a comment is going to fix a specific problem. It's probably worth considering that comments exist because folks found voting on answers insufficient and wanted a way to provide detailed feedback on answers; voting on them exists because comments ended up being used for information that was important enough to be worth highlighting in some way for future readers. –  Shog9 Mar 13 '13 at 16:25

2 Answers 2

I believe that one of the ideas behind up-voting comments is that if someone left a comment that you wanted to leave, than you can merely up-vote it instead of writing a duplicate comment.

Allowing downvotes on comments undermines this paradigm.

I understand where you're coming from, I've wanted to down-vote comments myself, but in the end, it wouldn't have much impact.

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How does it undermine the paradigm? If I agree with a comment, I can still upvote it, despite the existence of the option to downvote. –  Shauna Mar 13 '13 at 16:31
    
@Shauna but when the down-vote cancels out the upvote, it looks like nobody upvoted, and the "score" of the comment resembles exactly that. a "score" instead of the number of people who would also have left that comment –  Sam I am Mar 13 '13 at 16:35
    
I see where you're coming from. I've always viewed it as a net value, the same way the questions and answers are -- X number of people who liked the question/answer and/or thought it was useful - Y number of people who didn't like the question/answer and/or thought it wasn't useful = Z net value of question/answer. (Or, to put it another way, a disagreement and an agreement cancel each other out, the same way the meaning of votes in meta work.) –  Shauna Mar 13 '13 at 16:39

I would want to address one specific point:

including the ability to downvote comments creates consistency with everything else with a voting mechanism on the site

That's certainly not the case to me, and here is why: is not supported for comments.

Look, here's my typical routine for the posts I downvote:

  1. Vote down.
  2. Track, evaluate (sometimes discuss) the changes made to the voted post.
  3. Undownvote if I find revised post sufficiently improved.

This way, I vote and track about 10-20 posts a day average, and undownvote about 5-10 posts a day average. Note how this matches the purpose of down-votes:

the community's way of telling peers that their content can be improved

Nothing like that is possible with comments, this makes it is as far from "consistency" as it gets.


For the sake of completeness, I did not analyze other points you mentioned; these may be fine or not, I don't have a strong opinion on that. But "consistency with... voting mechanism on the site"... no that just doesn't sound right to me.

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To clarify, I'm referring here more to interface consistency. IE - "Where's the downvote for this element? All these other elements have them." Also, is the need to edit them a requirement for the meta-style agree/disagree metaphor that comments (supposedly) use? –  Shauna Mar 13 '13 at 19:31
    
@Shauna well in that case you probably better edit your suggestion to clarify that you meant only visual consistency; that it has nothing to do neither with typical flow for posts (vote->track->reevaluate->reconsider vote), nor with officially stated purpose of DVs ("content can be improved")? –  gnat Mar 13 '13 at 21:44
    
The officially stated purpose of DVs only refers to the questions and answers on the sites. It doesn't apply to things on meta. Nor does the official purpose of UVs (either implied by being the converse of the stated purpose of DVs, or explicitly stated) apply to either meta or comments on any site. Why, then, would downvotes on comments (which could be, and in practice basically are, considered a form of meta content) follow different rules than their own upvotes and the voting system of other meta content in the family of sites? –  Shauna Mar 14 '13 at 13:31
    
@Shauna I don't have strong opinion on this part of your reasoning. As I mentioned, I would only prefer your request to be clear about not pretending for consistency with typical flow for the posts (on on-meta sites) and with "content can be improved" idea from DV tag wiki excerpt –  gnat Mar 14 '13 at 13:37

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