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Voting on Meta is a bit of a two-headed beast. In addition to the regular meaning of votes as on other sites, the votes on Meta are sometimes also cast to express agreement or disagreement.

In the old FAQ the alternate meaning was explained using the qualifier "often". That is, voting on Meta is often used to express agreement/disagreement. I personally already thought that was a bit much, given that most of my votes were regular votes. Many times Meta questions show no prior research, are unclear or not useful. But well, I could live with that explanation.

In the new help center however it is stated that "Votes on meta are generally used to express agreement or disagreement with a particular idea, rather than indicating the quality of research or factual correctness of a post".

I personally think that's taking it slightly too far. Perhaps it's just me, but I'd like to the help-center to reflect that while voting works as it does on other sites, it does have an alternate meaning. And yes, that might happen regularly, but with the way it's phrased now it seems that all votes are cast in agreement/disagreement. And I don't think that's the case. We now have a situation in which all downvotes are explained away with a "ah, voting is different". And I often end up thinking "No it's not".

Perhaps the beginning of that section could be changed to something like:

Voting on Meta is sometimes different

While this is a meta site, we do appreciate a clearly formulated and well-researched question. As is the case on the main sites, questions which fall short in this regard might receive downvotes, while excellent questions might be upvoted.

Voting on Meta does sometimes have an alternative meaning however. They can be used to express agreement....etc.

Of course this is merely an example to get the point across. Thoughts? Perhaps you have an alternative formulation? Or am I completely off-base and are all votes merely cast in agreement/disagreement and should I get with the plan?

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I'm not sure this is a problem that needs solving. How often do people make the mistake of saying "I would downvote this for being poorly formulated, but votes on Meta are just for disagreement"? –  David Robinson Jul 2 '13 at 14:54
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In my experience a lot people like to say their votes are just in disagreement when someone complains about downvotes because you can't argue against it; all you can say is "oh, well, that sucks" instead of requiring someone to explain the true reasons for downvoting and giving someone a basis for arguing the point. –  Servy Jul 2 '13 at 14:54
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@DavidRobinson we now have a situation in which all downvotes are explained away with a "ah, voting is different". And I often end up thinking "No it's not. This question is crap, it's zero-effort, completely unclear and a mess". Stating that votes are different takes the message out of the vote that even though this is Meta, the quality is important. –  Bart Jul 2 '13 at 14:56
    
@DavidRobinson See my point. The problem is that people like to claim their votes are for disagreement when they aren't really. This confuses OP's, prevents them from discussing the problems with their posts with users, and tells them that they shouldn't be doing things like more research, posting clearer questions, spending time on formatting, etc. because that's not why they're being downvotted (even if it really is). In the end what we put on meta won't change how most people vote; what it changes is now non-regulars interpret those votes. –  Servy Jul 2 '13 at 14:56
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I agree. In this case, it would be good that everybody can know how many upvotes and downvotes a question got, not only >1K users. –  fedorqui Jul 2 '13 at 15:14
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I've voiced my frustration with this many times in the comments, and even posted an answer related to it. –  animuson Jul 2 '13 at 16:07
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I think that saying all votes are cast purely out of agreement/disagreement is ... optimistic. It's also nonsensical in some cases where people are downvoting, say, support requests. Examining this guidance more closely and clarifying the wording has been on my backlog for a while. Nice to see a meta discussion raised about it, cause now I don't have to. :) –  Anna Lear Jul 2 '13 at 17:59
    
I think it would be nice if the wording in some way indicated that voting based on agreement/disagreement primarily applies to feature requests or posts asserting a strong opinion, and usually don't apply to posts that don't indicate a suggestion or opinion. –  Servy Jul 3 '13 at 14:28
    
Other reasons for downvoting include, allegedly, racism (needs 10k on meta to view). –  BoltClock's a Unicorn Jul 3 '13 at 14:34
    
@BoltClock'saUnicorn Feel free to make a help-center update request of your own. :) –  Bart Jul 3 '13 at 14:43
    
I am confused now at what the intent of the voting system on meta is for. I thought it was consistent with other StackExchange sites. The descriptions for the upvote/downvote arrows are the same when you hover your cursor over them, after all. –  BLaZuRE Jul 6 '13 at 6:21
    
@BLaZuRE that's been discussed, too, surprisingly enough. –  Aaron Bertrand Jul 11 '13 at 17:58
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2 Answers

up vote 17 down vote accepted
+50

I've long held that voting on meta isn't all that different; while I don't expect changing the guidance to affect voting behavior very much, it would be nice to see fewer "don't worry, voting is different here" comments on poorly-written posts:

Telling someone who has just asked the 1011th question about q-bans or proposed private messaging or mandatory voting comments yet again that the down-votes are just because "voting is different here" is a cruel joke. Maybe you don't have time to teach them to write an effective argument, or draw a hand-drawn narwhal, or use search... But at very least, you don't have to drag a red herring across the trail on your way through.

We discussed this at length internally, and settled on the following wording for the "What is meta" help topic:

Like normal Stack Exchange sites, Meta allows members to vote on questions and answers. For most posts, votes reflect the perceived usefulness: well-written, well-reasoned, well-researched posts tend to get more attention and more upvotes. Highly-voted and frequently-linked posts may become part of the community-curated FAQ or codified as part of the site’s Help pages.

Unlike normal Stack Exchange sites, Meta invites the community to discuss, debate and propose changes to the way the community itself behaves, as well as how the software itself works. On posts tagged feature-request, voting indicates agreement or disagreement with the proposed change rather than just the quality or usefulness of the post itself.

For folks who do read help and vote accordingly, the intention is to focus agree/disagree voting on posts where there's actually something to disagree with: feature requests. For the even smaller handful of folks reading this: please try to limit down-votes on legit bug reports and support requests; it makes them harder to find, and often means we end up having to handle them via email - which effectively means we're spending less time on bugs or features you do feel are important. Save "disagree" votes for posts where there's actually something worth disagreeing with.

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does this support request qualify as "legit"? How to tag questions related to size of Close Votes review queue at Stack Overflow? –  gnat Aug 4 '13 at 17:25
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It could, although given the comments I'm not entirely sure you're not trying to ask something else... ;-) Answered. –  Shog9 Aug 4 '13 at 17:30
    
I did not ask for something different; if I did, I'd tag it discussion (or even if I would try to hide a discussion behind support tag, anyone could justifiably retag it). :) Thanks for your answer –  gnat Aug 4 '13 at 17:34
    
What about support requests that are also basically feature requests? The one linked to above is a prime example. –  Manishearth Aug 5 '13 at 4:45
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I trust that folks who read and understand these posts will vote according to the intent expressed in them, @Manishearth. –  Shog9 Aug 5 '13 at 4:54
    
@Shog9 Ah, I see. Thanks. –  Manishearth Aug 5 '13 at 4:55
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@Manishearth, the key thing I'd personally like to see change from this is when people are actually trying to learn/improve, but get down-voted when they're mostly asking for guidance, but make the mistake of expressing some disagreement or confusion over why something happened. I thought this was a good post, and I did my research, etc. but it still got closed. Doesn't seem right to me, so what do I need to do differently? That user is in the right place, doing the right thing, but folks often downvote to express their belief that the closure was right, which is undesirable. –  Jaydles Aug 5 '13 at 15:02
    
@Jaydles Makes sense. I've been on both sides of this -- probably have done a lot of unnecessary downvoting especially when I started off on Meta, and I've also seen a bunch of legit help getting downvoted because of stuff beyond the OPs control. This change seems like a good thing. –  Manishearth Aug 5 '13 at 15:39
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Especially when a question is tagged discussion, I feel voting on answers might very well still imply (dis)agreement. –  Arjan Aug 18 '13 at 16:14
    
Can someone confirm that the omission of discussion from the revised FAQ was intentional? I would very much like to be able to express ideas/opinions in a discussion post as a way of seeking feedback/information, but my sense from the comments and current community behavior is that any opinion expressed anywhere is fair game for agree/disagree voting. –  Peter Alfvin Aug 18 '13 at 21:01
    
Also, can someone clarify whether the reference to feature-request posts in the updated FAQ was just to the question or to any answers as well? –  Peter Alfvin Aug 18 '13 at 21:03
    
@Peter: voting within discussions varies based on the nature of the discussion. Discussions clearly aimed at changes in policy tend to attract much stronger opinions (and thus, more opinion-based votes) than do problem-focused discussions. As for answers, the guidance remains: "useful/not useful" - of course, what this means in the context of a discussion depends entirely on the nature of the discussion and the voter. –  Shog9 Aug 18 '13 at 21:20
    
@Shog9 Thanks for responding. Isn't what you're saying about discussion posts at odds, though, with the updated FAQ, which seems to say rather clearly that agree/disagree should only be used for feature-request posts? –  Peter Alfvin Aug 18 '13 at 21:23
    
Voting because you agree/disagree with someone's opinion in a discussion doesn't really mean anything special here, but that doesn't mean folks won't do it, @Peter - voting is anonymous, folks are free to do as they like with their votes. I elaborate on this a bit here - in short, if folks think you're doing / want to do something they don't like, they'll tend to react negatively to that. –  Shog9 Aug 18 '13 at 21:27
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Ah, but a downvote does "mean" something in that it lowers rep and it pollutes any measurement of whether the discussion itself is worthwhile (as does an upvote based on agreement). As for the argument that "people are free to do as they like with their votes", couldn't that argument be made with respect to any MSO guideline? I read your answer with the spam example, but I really don't think that's applicable in the case of a discussion where people are honestly seeking different points of view and use ideas/opinions (some of which they may not even share!) to stimulate/focus responses. –  Peter Alfvin Aug 18 '13 at 21:35
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I agree with your disagreement with how the meta help center is presenting voting as mainly about (dis)agreement.

Here's my formulation (now with 35% less fat)

Voting is slightly different on meta.

In addition to the usual reasons such as indicating the quality of research or factual correctness of a post, votes on meta are also used to express agreement or disagreement with a particular idea. If you receive downvotes, it is possible that members of the community simply disagree with your proposed idea or your perspective on a particular issue. ...

I feel that the agreement/disagreement thing is more of an "in addition" thing – the usual rules on up-/down-voting still apply. Though admittedly most of the time it does seem that voting on meta has a lot to do with (dis)agreement.

It'd also be nice to have a somewhat official-looking guideline on non-meta voting (e.g. something that is posted on the help center) to serve as the link/reference for "usual reasons" in the formulation above (you know, the "clear and shows research effort", "plain awesome", "useful to others" stuff). Manishearth's post on the "When should I vote?" FAQ is nice, but it's somewhat lacking in authorithah due to the casualness of the tone.

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The "votes on meta are different", which Bart referenced in his question, was a part of the official FAQ for a long time. It doesn't really get any more official than that. –  Servy Jul 3 '13 at 15:44
    
@Servy, I mean for the usual, non-meta reasons like those listed in "When should I vote?" FAQ. –  Old Checkmark Jul 3 '13 at 15:46
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I am working on a voting help article that will cover when and why you should vote on questions and answers. It should be up next week. –  Laura Jul 5 '13 at 21:02
    
@Laura, good to hear that –  Old Checkmark Jul 5 '13 at 21:49
    
The main point of this help section is to explain to new meta users why their well-written question is being downvoted. People who post off topic or rants don't get referred to this, so you're right to cut the long paragraph about why voting's the same and replace it with a tiny summary. –  AndrewC Jul 7 '13 at 9:16
    
Why not "Voting can be slightly different on meta"? –  Aaron Bertrand Jul 11 '13 at 16:28
    
@AaronBertrand, there is a subtle difference but I'm unable to articulate why I think "is" is better than "can" –  Old Checkmark Jul 11 '13 at 17:49
    
@doubleDown the reason I suggest can be is because right now, if someone just reads the bold part, they still can get the impression that voting is different on meta. can be would clearly show that this isn't always the case, even if they didn't bother reading the rest. –  Aaron Bertrand Jul 11 '13 at 17:54
    
@AaronBertrand, hence the "slightly" –  Old Checkmark Jul 11 '13 at 17:55
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@doubleDown but in pure logical terms, that still implies always slightly different. –  Aaron Bertrand Jul 11 '13 at 17:56
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@doubleDown It's not slightly different - sometimes it's different (if you have a good question that people disagree with) and sometimes it's not different at all (you write a terrible question). In neither of those scenarios is it a matter of degree. –  JNK Jul 11 '13 at 18:02
    
What's with the micro-font? –  Zane Jul 11 '13 at 18:04
    
@Zane, the micro-font is a hackish way to write footnotes –  Old Checkmark Jul 11 '13 at 18:10
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shrug ok, I disagree that that's what the headline you've written implies, but ok. –  Aaron Bertrand Jul 11 '13 at 18:16
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@doubleDown That's accurate in the same way that your boss would tell you "Your job title is going to be slightly different" when you get fired. –  JNK Jul 11 '13 at 18:33
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