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Downvotes appear to be pure evil
Meta in a Nutshell

The vote system is heavily flawed, and being actively exploited.

Why am I posting this?

I'm leaving the Trilogy; as such, I can afford to post this without any fear of reprisal or reprocussion against me. Otherwise, I would have continued to keep silent about what I have observed to maintian my own status quo.

First, I'm not a big believer in downvoting. I have only cast one downvote once, by accident, and quickly removed it (thus earning a badge for first downvote that I really don't want). This creates an interesting situation for me, because there are several postings that I would have easily downvoted otherwise. Note that I am differentiating downvotes from closing posts, which I have done, usually to move questions to another site.

I have noticed there are issues, and I don't want to leave without addressing them, for the sake of future users. If you think this is about getting more reputation, then why would I bother (a) leaving, and (b) risk damaging what reputation I have? If it's not obvious by now, then it probably never will be - in which case, I'm probably making the right decision to leave.

So let's get started:

Vote Carpetbombing

  1. New user signs on, posts questions and answers, has low (sub-1000) rep score.
  2. Older user finds every single post and question by that user and downvotes; the new user's score forms a smoking crater (negative score), effectively hog-tying them.
  3. Older user can afford to take the -2 hit for every -10 the new user gets. [ed: this is 100% incorrect, see the /faq] [note to Ed: when did this happen? I've seen several downvotes take -10 of of an answer; so this must be something recent.] So after several thousand points worth of rep, you can effectively take a loss and not even notice.

I've seen it happen on a lesser scale, but it's a matter of time before someone carpet-bombs other people into oblivion.

I don't think you can effectively block against this kind of attack. If you are looking at malicious behavior through a heuristic, then yes, you'll see a pattern; I can only hope that your heuristic will take into account "slow attacks", noise injection, and other ideas that might circumvent this.

The other factor is that in any given community situation, there is always potential for malicious behavior.

Pure-play wikis

A pure-play wiki is a community wiki that you start as such, so there are no reputation points to be gained.

The majority of posted wikis contain non-useful materials; the ones that actually function in some kind of professional capacity are usually sparse at best, or forgotten at worst.

No-one, after a half-dozen or so of these, will come and post, because there are no points to be made. People post in wikis when they have fun; they rarely, if ever, post in wikis that have useful content. If it is a function of human behavior, then I think it reflects on what people are willing to share.

Gaming downvotes

Downvotes are insidious because they too can be gamed by simply deleting your answer. Deleting the answer is not a function of the correctness of the answer, but a function of whatever social or peer pressure the poster faces. It has been suggested that the post of an answer that you have verified to be correct, yet is downvoted into the negative, should be retained. This creates an interesting quandry; it has also been mentioned in this posting that there might not be enough downvoting (see comments). If there is a marked absense of downvotes, then one wonders, is that because people are simply deleting their answers and the downvotes are not counted as a function of that?

Insidious Attitudes. Apply Within

It's a shame that being told I'm wrong without telling me why I'm wrong is an acceptable behavior. "Accept that you are wrong, or I will brow-beat it into you". Great way to influence people. Or better yet, get them to believe that maybe they were wrong.

I have a better suggestion. Instead of saying "you're wrong", how about "go look over here at this link" or "go Google on this term" or some other constructive activity. There is a significant difference between being simply "wrong" and "you're wrong because of X". The first is arbitrary, the second, reasoned. I guess a (poorly-written) description would be the difference between arbitrarily kicking your dog and expecting it to read your mind as to the reason why it was kicked, and punishing your dog for chewing on the couch, showing the dog the exact cause of the problem. If there is no connection between cause and action, then how is one to interpret the actions of others? The first (and probably incorrect) conclusion is to assume they are hostile.

So What?

It's interesting to read the comments, and watch how each reason twist and turns. I guess the real crux of the problem with this post is that while I have directly experienced these things, it won't be believable until I provide evidence to the contrary. So, how do I make this happen? Devote a month to delving into data and postings, and get a statistician to dive into it and make their observations? And if that data is presented, is there any vindication to the initial position taken, or is it dismissive as well?

For my own selfish purposes, it is far less effort, far quicker, and less demanding of resources to place a single post, one time, and look for rebuttals. In effect, the request made (admittedly in a trollish fashion) in the form of a single post requires the least energy on everyone's part, and unfortunately, is far more effective because of how human nature works. Asking me to spend significant amounts of money and time to point out a problem is counterproductive; asking me to just shut up and go away (should I be wrong) has the least impact, the most productive gain, and certainly, in the shortest time.

And finally...

Thank you for all of the commentary, both positive and negative. In less than 24 hours you have managed to accomplish what would have taken me weeks of real-time investigation.

I do hope that all of the sites continue on, as more and more people come to them looking for answers. I also hope that the answers are given, instead of derided.

Lastly, in a (somewhat more evil sense), I have managed to 'game' everyone that has replied in a short period of time, by getting you to do all of the aforementioned footwork I just described. The difference is that my intent was not malicious, but rather, an approach of being informative. I do apologize for this, but as I have already pointed out, I really didn't expect people to believe me to begin with, so a demonstration was in order. Before Jeff considers blocking my accounts, I ask that he reconsider the situation, and think about this: if my intent was truly malicious, then would I have not posted this? Wouldn't it be easier to lurk in the background, attempting to go unnoticed?

The oddest thing I saw was a suggestion of ego being a factor. In a sense it was, given that I had to make this manouver. But I think being described as acting in purely selfish reasons is an accusation that the people here need to back up with their own data. Given that my existing postings would probably be contrary, I think I have also managed to demonstrate just how easy it is to jump to conclusions, or to be treated as maligned, or worse, in a manner that suggest civility is lacking. So, in responding as some of you have, you have completed this demonstration of how discussions can be lacking in civility. And yes, I do acknowledge that flames have been fanned; but it applies in both directions, to me and to the responders. My apologies again.

The tone of this post has gone from one of frustration to one of outlining the entire thought process, and I do thank those commentators out there for urging clarity above hysteria. Perhaps that should be an indication as well, pointing to true civility in the people that are here. Another perspective would be to look at the difference between "could you please clean up the post, and provide more info" and "you're being an egotist, go away".

Do you think new users would respond in a positive fashion to "your question is stupid, get out"? Hardly. They might however go for "maybe if you just looked at X over here...". If civility and professionalism are contrary positions in this line of work, then I don't need to be doing it anymore.

Best of luck to everyone. I don't wish you ill at all; in fact, I hope all of you prosper.

share|improve this question
    
Any links to examples of this behavior? Data about voting patterns from the SO Creative Commons Data Dump? Any supporting evidence at all? –  Chris Upchurch Jan 14 '10 at 4:17
    
Short and sweet wins the day? Tell you what - I'll edit it, make it short, and let's see the reaction. Seriously, let's put this under a microscope for just a brief, brief moment. It will remain a wiki, I don't want any rep out of this, I don't want to create turmoil, I just want to get the issues aired out while they are still fresh in my mind. –  Avery Payne Jan 14 '10 at 4:55
2  
Lighten up, Francis. youtube.com/watch?v=LrllCZw8jiM –  raven Jan 14 '10 at 4:58
    
@Jon B, thanks for using your peer pressure to ensure that I cut the original post into a smaller version. I'm sure that the original format didn't contain things of interest. –  Avery Payne Jan 14 '10 at 5:05
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It's still really long, and I'm still not sure what you're trying to say. –  Shogging through the snow Jan 14 '10 at 5:18
    
@Shog9: the underlying vote system has fundamental flaws because it makes several assumptions about human nature while combining it with other concepts at the same time, creating a situation where users can game the system as they see fit. That's about as short as it'll get. –  Avery Payne Jan 14 '10 at 5:24
    
Rather than shortening it, the better solution might have been to make this three separate questions. The three main points seem to be tangentially related at best and separating them would have made each easier to understand and help the discussion flow more clearly. Probably too late now though. –  Chris Upchurch Jan 14 '10 at 5:27
    
Ah. That is much better. You might like this: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/34307/… –  Shogging through the snow Jan 14 '10 at 5:28
    
Indeed, nice link. But it's a facet of the issue; the vote system has many things tied into it, not just one. It's social pressure, social acceptance, moderation, trend-induction, and for some folks a game, all wrapped into one. –  Avery Payne Jan 14 '10 at 5:31
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You sure have some ego issues. –  random Jan 14 '10 at 6:20
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There is more ranting about how badly the communities have treated this user in his linked profiles on SO and SF. But the funny thing is he has a combined rep around 8k and when I look in his reputation graphs I see very few votes against him. So, what's with the bitter passive aggression? –  dmckee Jan 14 '10 at 6:23
5  
well, I like the shortened version, so I upvoted it for effort. er.. except for the part where it says the target of downvotes gets -10. They don't. They get -2, the person who casts the downvote gets -1. Compare to +10 for upvotes. –  Jeff Atwood Jan 14 '10 at 7:58
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@Pariah - this is much more readable now. However, I believe all of your points are either flat out factually incorrect or just misguided. –  user27414 Jan 14 '10 at 12:33
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So, let me get this straight: if I downvote this post, or vote to close it, or disagree with you in any way, I only prove that you are correct and am simply "not paying attention" and denying the "blatantly obvious" claims you make? I haven't even finished reading your first revision to be able to conclude that you are alienating the very audience that could help enact change. Thanks for insulting me buddy. I might have been on your side. –  Ether Jan 14 '10 at 18:11
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I guess the real crux of the problem with this post is that while I have directly experienced these things, it won't be believable until I provide evidence to the contrary. So, how do I make this happen? Devote a month to delving into data and postings, and get a statistician to dive into it and make their observations? Or you could just go to data.stackexchange.com and show that you know how to use SQL. –  perbert Jan 14 '10 at 23:04

6 Answers 6

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Vote Carpetbombing:
This is essentially solved by the bogus vote detection system referenced by some other posters.

Pure-play wikis:
Some of the most popular and active questions on SO are "pure-play" wikis.

Gaming downvotes:
Deleting your post does not, in fact, restore your points. Only a recalc can do this.

Insidious Attitudes:
This is really your opinion, so I won't so much say that it's wrong - just misguided (in my opinion). No one is obligated to explain why they disagree with you. That's just life - it's not unique to SO. Keep in mind when someone downvotes you here they are saying "I think you're wrong". No one can truly say "you are wrong" without providing proof.

share|improve this answer
    
re: deleting a post; that may be the "rules", but I've done it on several occasions, and "restored" points. –  Avery Payne Jan 14 '10 at 18:54

I am having a hard time figuring out what this is about. I'll try to summarize:

high rep users can "carpetbomb" and cast 30 downvotes on new users at little cost

Not without having the daily vote anomaly detector kick in and silently undo all their votes, they can't. And remember, all those downvotes are only -2 to the poster and -1 to person voting (and eventually -2/-5, once we get around to The Great Vote Balance Change)

wiki questions don't work because nobody wants to participate without rep

Wiki questions are intended for more soft, discussiony programming questions which are easier for people to participate in -- and thus generate tons of responses and votes without even trying to, because they're so broadly applicable to every working developer.

They're a very small fraction of the overall question base, 10% or less, and getting people to participate in them isn't the problem; if anything it's getting people to not participate in them that is the goal. Community wiki doesn't seem to be too much of a barrier at this point.

downvotes are ineffective because the poster can delete their post and make the downvotes go away

Not until a rep recalc, and all 10k users can see those deleted questions. I'd also argue that [peer-pressure]ing users into deleting their worst content is a net good to the world. On the other hand, I've left plenty of stuff posted here (but not on SO as those tend to be "this is wrong" technical downvotes that I end up with agreeing with) that is downvoted. It's a point of pride for some people; not everyone deletes a post with -4, and neither would I, if it's something I felt strongly about.

people are mean

Really? We've gotten lots of compliments on how civil things are in the Trilogy. Of course there are always exceptions but that's what flagging, downvotes, and moderator flags are for. We always take action if there are problems with posts or users; we believe strongly in a civil -- but also fair and honest -- community.

Do you have specific examples, hyperlinks you can point to?

Without some concrete examples and data, it's hard to treat this as anything but an unsubstantiated rant.

share|improve this answer
    
Here comes the interesting part. At some point, you're going to think that I'll vote against you. Unfortunately, you're wrong, I won't. Because a good counterargument is more productive than being silenced. Downvoting silences people, but without discrimination as to why. Another example. –  Avery Payne Jan 14 '10 at 4:42
3  
how does downvoting "silence" people? Who is driving to their home and forcing them to remove their downvoted content? Downvoting means expressing disagreement, no more, no less. –  Jeff Atwood Jan 14 '10 at 4:44
    
If you disagree with your neighbors, do you just leave them alone, or do you bother to knock on their door, argue with them, and then put a sign on their front lawn? I think we're talking about two different things. Ok, so downvotes are the order of the day, despite that I pointed out how it puts me into the same position as the people I vote against (see above). I'll conceed the point to you, but just to end the issue, I still think you're affecting more harm than good out of it. –  Avery Payne Jan 14 '10 at 4:50
1  
oh, as for silencing people; let's say I post an answer, one that is known to work and resolves the issue, but is unpopular. I am downvoted. I can now either stand by my answer and face ridicule, or remove the answer (to remove the vote) and let others follow some other path - maybe even the wrong one. If this isn't a social chilling effect, then we have different definitions. And by your own admission, the point was to have a social chilling effect of peer pressure. Either it does or it doesn't affect people. If it does, then that is my point. If it doesn't, then the concept is flawed. –  Avery Payne Jan 14 '10 at 4:54
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The Stack Overflow trilogy are Q&A sites for technical questions. As the FAQ puts it "this is a place for questions that can be answered". Technical questions have correct answers and incorrect answers. I think that "suppressing" incorrect answers by downvoting them is entirely appropriate. Downvotes may be more problematic for more subjective, opinion based questions, but that's not what these sites are for. When you criticize downvotes and community wiki questions you're saying that SO doesn't work well for subjective, questions that the site wasn't designed to handle to begin with. –  Chris Upchurch Jan 14 '10 at 5:06
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Regarding down-votes for correct but unpopular answers: I agree - in fact, I welcome the opportunity to down-vote answers describing techniques such as those for disabling the back button in web browsers, because as a user they cause me so much grief when misguided programmers actually implement them. Same thing for answers that solve a problem but are potentially dangerous: reliance on undocumented API behavior, etc. Providing a technically-correct answer isn't everything - there's a great deal of value in cautioning the reader against unwise or unfriendly solutions. –  Shogging through the snow Jan 14 '10 at 5:37
5  
let's say I post an answer, one that is known to work and resolves the issue, but is unpopular. I am downvoted. I can now either stand by my answer and face ridicule, or remove the answer and let others follow some other path - maybe even the wrong one. Men are intelligent, people is stupid. Popularity doesn't mean correctness, but sometimes really unpopular answers are really wrong. Besides, if it's a correct answer, it wouldn't be downvoted, and even if it is, you shouldn't delete it! You can expand on your answer and explain why you are sticking to your guns. –  perbert Jan 14 '10 at 5:38
    
CW question crash, now we come to the nexus of this. If I stick to my guns, I suffer. If I bow out, well... which is the correct answer? And by implication, should I suffer to keep it there? –  Avery Payne Jan 14 '10 at 5:40
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Keep in mind, "suffering" in this context amounts to losing a few mostly-worthless "points". It's not like getting your fingernails yanked out... heck, it's somewhat less annoying than a bad hangnail. If you can't put up with minor irritation, then you probably don't care all that much about what you're writing. –  Shogging through the snow Jan 14 '10 at 5:46
7  
Most criticism -- once you throw out the loonies at the top and bottom extremes -- can help you become better at whatever it is you're doing. If you don't want people to be critical of what you write, don't write anything. –  Jeff Atwood Jan 14 '10 at 6:31
1  
So the upshot of this is: you should always downvote what you think is wrong, even if you are yourself wrong; you should always stick to your answer if you think you are right; if you give an answer, it really should be 100% accurate (to your knowledge). –  Avery Payne Jan 14 '10 at 17:17
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you should feel free to vote whatever way you feel is correct -- but the stated goal of all the sites is for useful information to get posted, and for the most useful information to rise to the top. Also note we are trying to get in touch with you via email, see my other answer in this question. –  Jeff Atwood Jan 14 '10 at 17:24
    
"...the stated goal of all the sites is for useful information to get posted, and for the most useful information to rise to the top". This is one of a few clarifications that I was looking for. In that case, time for me to get to work. I'll start sending some info your way. –  Avery Payne Jan 14 '10 at 21:10
    
"If you don't want people to be critical of what you write, don't write anything." You're paraphrashing Mark Twain, and yes, I agree. However, I've written other things before, and have received constructive criticism. There is a difference. –  Avery Payne Jan 14 '10 at 21:11

Look, it seems that you are really caught up on the rep hype. You shouldn't be.

We are (at least I am) on SO to learn and help out (teach? sounds like too big a word for giving answers to technical questions), not to gather reputation pixie points.

We are on Meta, because we like the site, and because it's a fun place. Also, here started some interesting discussions, that while not technical and suitable for SO, have taught me something. Also because we like freehand circles.

If you worry about rep on Meta, then you really have some expectations that shouldn't be there. What does it matter if I have 1, 10, 100, 1000, 10000 rep on Meta? What does it mean, besides that I have a lot of free time, that I like to procrastinate, or/and that I enjoy SO (the community or/and the site)?

You are sounding like a troll at times (specially on your user page).

Remember: rep points are just a measure of your usage of the site, as the site is designed to trust the users that use the site the most.

We like the simple voting system. Is transparent, understandable and logical.

The problems you are bringing to the table, have been discussed multiple times here, but will try to answer some of them (that might be already answered on some of the other posts):

Vote Carpetbombing

  1. new user signs on, posts questions and answers, has low (sub-1000) rep score.
  2. older user finds every single post and question by that user and downvotes; the new user's score forms a smoking crater (negative score), effectively hog-tying them.
  3. older user can afford to take the -2 hit for every -10 the new user gets, so after several thousand points worth of rep, you can effectively take a loss and not even notice

Have you seen many cases of 3? Do you have evidence? Links perhaps?

To become a 1000 user I needed 2 months of use of the site. The more you use the site, the faster you recoup the reputation lost. I've seen some mean downvotes, but have also seen a lot more of pity downvotes. If something, people should be downvoting more.

Also, no user can get under 1 rep. If you keep downvoting a 1 rep user, and somebody upvotes him, he is right at 11.

Pure-play wikis

No-one, after a half-dozen or so of these, will come and post, because there are no points to be made. Seriously. Because it's not worth any rep to the poster.

Some CW are just "fun" questions. And they are being edited. Give some hard data from the data dumps to show otherwise. Don't go asking for site reforms without empirical data.

That's right, people are gaming the system for points, not sharing knowledge; if you can't get anything for the time you spend, then why spend the time in a wiki?

Of course there is a part of rep whoring going on on every answer/question. Having an answer upvoted and rising interesting discussions is a great confidence booster, as the lets you see if your ideas are popularcorrect.

People do edit the wikis. The one that matter at least. I know that I edit answers when I land on an outdated answer consider it's a wise thing to do, even if they are not CW, or simply give a new answer when the edit is too extensive.

The Wiki part of the site is the reason of its success. Have you seen how most questions are worded before a horde of grammer nazis throw themselves at them? Thanks to them, it's a pleasure to visit the site.

Gaming downvotes

Downvotes are insidious because they too can also be gamed.

Any usable/useful system you could envision could be gamed.

Delete your answer. Poof! Negative rep is gone.

And that is a good thing.

  1. keeps the site a high Signal/Noise ratio.
  2. a mistake from your part can be partially corrected and you can learn something.

Of course, we want some incorrect answers undeleted, so people can see what not to do.

Insidious Attitudes, Apply Within

It's a shame that being told I'm wrong without telling me why I'm wrong is an acceptable behavior.

At Meta, it just means disagreement, at SO, it just means that you consider the answer/question to be wrong. If somebody unjustly downvotes an answer, somebody will come and upvote it. Even with deserved downvotes, pity upvotes are sure to follow. If rep is what you are worried about, start making controversial posts.

"Accept that you are wrong, or I will brow-beat it into you".

We are not beating you with it, you can always state why you think you are correct in a compelling enough answer to warrant upvotes.

Great way to influence people, or better yet, get them to believe that maybe they were wrong...

Because, may be, they were?

If you disagree with your neighbors, do you just leave them alone, or do you bother to knock on their door, argue with them, and then put a sign on their front lawn?

If I disagree with somebody in a tech discussion, I will fight tooth and nail with them, until he makes me come around his way of thinking, he does, we are laying on the floor bleeding, or we all go drink some pints to the bar.

I think we're talking about two different things.

Yes we are, our discussions with our neighbors and our discussions with field peers are completely different scenarios

Ok, so downvotes are the order of the day,

It's been shown with hard data that this is not the case. SOFU needs more downvoting.

despite that I pointed out how it puts me into the same position as the people I vote against (see above). I'll conceed the point to you, but just to end the issue, I still think you're affecting more harm than good out of it.

Harming who? What's the harm of lost rep? Does it hurt? Does it affect your career to have a downvoted answer/low SO rep?

share|improve this answer
7  
-1 answer too long –  perbert Jan 14 '10 at 6:16
    
I disagree, +1 for explaining yourself, instead of making me guess about some offhand comment. The Devil is in the Details, and it seems that people are feeding their ADD when they want soundbites. –  Avery Payne Jan 14 '10 at 19:21

You are starting from the fundamentally wrong hypothesis that everything everyone does in SO is for the points. This is stupid. The points are an abstract number which has no meaning by itself.

People like having a high reputation because they like the contents of the site, they contribute to them, they are proud of taking part, they recognize the intrinsic value of the questions and answers, and consequently they like scoring high at something they admire.

Points cannot be isolated from content. Noone would care "only for the points" in a website that sucks. My friends who don't like software engineering don't create accounts and start strategies "just to get points".

I like having points because I like what I do. I like an answer I give about Design by Contract being voted +7 because I like that people appreciate my contribution, not primarily because that makes a number increase.

share|improve this answer
    
I didn't say everyone. I just said it was being gamed. –  Avery Payne Jan 14 '10 at 18:21
    
"Points cannot be isolated from content" - I disagree, but I still (at this point in time) will stick to my guns and refuse to downvote you. –  Avery Payne Jan 14 '10 at 21:13

I can't quite tell if this is an impressively elaborate attempt at trolling, or a genuine grievance. I shall assume the latter:

Vote Carpetbombing

..is a solved issue - systematic/vendeta/carpetbombing down-voting is detected, and the impact is silently (to the perpetrator, not victim) reversed

Pure-play wikis

Not sure what you mean by "Pure-play wikis"?

Gaming downvotes

Delete your answer. Poof! Negative rep is gone.

The more important part is: the crappy answer is also gone.

If there was no benefit to deleting crappy, down-voted answers, what motivation would users have to quite effectively cleanup the site? It's the exact same reason the Peer Pressure badge exists

Insidious Attitudes, Apply Within

Almost everything I've read on SO/SF/SU/Meta has been very polite - about the closest to to such attitude I can think of is close/reopen wars, and most of those are remarkably civil.

share|improve this answer
    
it isn't a troll. When did the carpetbomb fix go in? pure-play wiki = wiki from the start, no rep to be gained no matter what. If it's a crappy answer, then how does one learn what the correct answer is? and if this is civil, what do you call other forums/wikis/what-have-you? –  Avery Payne Jan 14 '10 at 4:31
    
let me rephrase this: how does one learn about the correct answer, other than having it regurgitated back at them verbatim? If there is no thought process involved in finding out why an answer is bad, then how will that person truly understand the issue? –  Avery Payne Jan 14 '10 at 4:44
    
The carpetbomb fix went in more than a year ago: blog.stackoverflow.com/2008/12/vote-fraud-and-you –  Chris Upchurch Jan 14 '10 at 4:45
    
So my failing is that I am not omnipotent. (sigh) I guess if I were to stay that I would have to subscribe to the feed. –  Avery Payne Jan 14 '10 at 5:06
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Omnipotence is not required, but perhaps you could have done some research first? –  Chris Upchurch Jan 14 '10 at 5:13
    
touche'. (+1 --- padding added to eliminate comment filter ---) –  Avery Payne Jan 14 '10 at 5:15

I tried to contact you directly to resolve this, but there is no contact information in any of your user profiles.

Could you kindly email us via the email address at the bottom of the page?

I'm particularly interested in any specifics you could share about the problems.. URLs.. users.. things like that.

share|improve this answer
    
Sure, and I am perfectly prepared to look like a fool in the process; but if it helps you and the sites, then the worst that happens is that you get to recheck your thinking about the processes used in the community. A small price to pay. –  Avery Payne Jan 14 '10 at 18:16
    
Please vote to close as "argumentative". –  Avery Payne Jan 14 '10 at 18:55

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