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I've seen in several places on MSO that people believe there is too much upvoting on questions (such as Neil Butterworth's comment on this question). Why do people believe this? I understand the problem with sympathy upvotes, but this seems to be another issue. What's going on?

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Here:… – random Feb 19 '10 at 14:36
Remember that it's because of the people asking questions that we can answer. I don't see any problem with them gaining rep, they are a vital part of the community. – Andreas Bonini Feb 19 '10 at 14:47
Why can no-one ever spell my name correctly???? – nb69307 Feb 19 '10 at 15:15
@Neil: Fixed that for ya. – John Rudy Feb 19 '10 at 15:21
@Neil Sorry, Typo. – C. Ross Feb 19 '10 at 15:33
@Neil your name is too long and difficult. You should get an easier to remember name, like John Skeet. – perbert Feb 19 '10 at 16:07
@Neil: I share your pain; I used to keep a list of everyone who had called me "mmeyers", but it got too long so I quit. – mmyers Feb 19 '10 at 16:11
@voyager Amusingly, you got his name wrong - or was that intentional? – nb69307 Feb 19 '10 at 16:20
@mmyers Actually it's even worse when I'm talking to people who don't know me well - they often call me "Keith", presumably something to do with the "ei" in both names. – nb69307 Feb 19 '10 at 16:23
@Neil: it was intentional. Had you not covered your bases, I would have used this whoosh! sound that now have to store for future usage. – perbert Feb 19 '10 at 16:41
+1 sympathy vote ... I can't believe this is only at 6! :P – Dan Moulding Aug 20 '10 at 17:42

Basically, there's two schools of thought.

One is shown by Koper's comment above - just be merely existing, a question is a Good Thing and is therefore worthy of a reputation gain by the OP.

Another is that a question is not necessarily a big contribution to the site in a sense that it's a LOT easier to ask questions than to answer them, and as such asking questions is compensated (reputation-wise) entirely non-commensurate compared with answering them ( in real life, an equivalent logic would be "yes, people who serve Big Macs provide invaluable service to MacDonalds customers, and without them MacDonlds would not exist - but the work is so simple that anyone can do it and thus is not worth more than mimium wage"). E.g. it's far easier to gain rep points by asking loads of obvious questions (the usual example is just copy/pasting questions from some textbook), which basically deflates the worth of reputation of people who put in the effort to answer the questions.

Anther factor in the second school of thought is that simple/dumb/obvious/Google-me type questions, precisely due to their obviousness, get up-voted a lot more than well-thought-out ones, because for any person who puts efforts into questions there's 100s of people who are too lazy to do so, yet both get rewarded the same.

Just to be clear, proponents of the second school of though don't object to upvoting good questions - just to the fact that as the system currently works, it is NOT geared towards up-voting good questions, and explicitly geared against asking good questions (and, due to abovementioned rep inflation, implicitly discourages answering with good answers, at least on the margin).

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Also when you downvote a poor question, someone always upvotes it just because it has -1. Never mind it never making sense or having any effort. – random Feb 19 '10 at 15:06
Amen, forgot that issue too – DVK Feb 19 '10 at 15:08
@DVK: let me guess, you are of the second school? :P – Andreas Bonini Feb 19 '10 at 15:10
Whatever gave you that ridiculous idea? :) :) :) – DVK Feb 19 '10 at 15:22
Whoa there. It takes more effort and skill to work the grill at Maccas than to say, ask a question about some quizzical language feature. – random Feb 19 '10 at 15:23
@random That's the sympathy voting, and I certainly understand that it is a problem. – C. Ross Feb 19 '10 at 15:31

Some history might throw a little light on the subject.

Way back in the misty depths of the beta, there were relatively few users, and most of them were experts of one grade or another (except me, of course, I was just faking it).

In that environment basic questions were not very common (remember that Joel posted the How do I move the turtle in LOGO? to emphasize that basic questions are OK), and were rarely upvoted. Instead it seemed to me that questions were being upvoted if they exposed or emphasized things that were not common knowledge among that well informed crowd or if they addressed problems that plagued these good programmers (or if there were technically meaningless fluff, but that is a different lesson).

So it was hard to get a lot of points on real questions, and we got used to that.

Since then:

  1. Many, many more users, so many more people who might vote
  2. A larger fraction of users seem to be fairly young as programmers, so more interest in answers that are well known to the old folks
  3. The electorate badge, which puts a disincentive on voting on answers unless you vote on the question. Personal opinion here: with this addition some votes are being cast for questions that are not helpful or interesting because they have answers that are helpful or interesting.

Anyway, it is easier now to do well with questions, and that just seems wrong to people who got the feel of the site back in the medieval period.

A second contributing factor is a class of users who ask an endless stream of questions without any obvious purpose, nor any willingness or ability to learn from the answers; nor any sign that they will ever mature as programmers. These questions are often badly posed, based on misunderstandings, or attempting to use the wrong tools the wrong way: questions that take care, effort, and time to answer. Now we could try ignoring these guys, but real beginners often ask questions that have the same problems and will really benefit from a good answer to them; so ignoring questions that look like there were emitted by question-pumps reduces the true utility of the sites and harms the people they could most help. This makes us (or at least me) resentful and suspicious of people who generate the bulk of their reputation from questions.

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+1 for use of the term 'question-pumps'. – ire_and_curses Feb 19 '10 at 20:42

Why do people believe this?

Because they have a very strict set of beliefs as to when a question should be upvoted and the OP rewarded for their contribution to SO.

There may be very many reasons they've chosen to not only limit their upvotes, but chide others who upvote for other reasons, and I don't know that there's a good reason to speculate on why they feel this way.

As for me, I upvote

  • Questions that are interesting for any reason (technically, humorously, well thought out, etc)
  • Questions that I want to see an answer to
  • Question by new users who don't have enough rep to upvote the answers to their own questions (The first one is free - get them hooked on rep early)

The other extreme is that some people only upvote a question if it is a shining beacon - a monumental and substantial addition to the SO knowledgebase.

But it doesn't matter. Feel free to ignore people who suggest that you vote according to their patterns and beliefs, if you like.

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I have one firm rule: if a question is good enough to favorite, it's worth an upvote. – David Thornley Feb 19 '10 at 21:45

The Electorate badge rewards voting on questions as well as answers (or, for people who have voted a whole lot on answers, questions rather than answers). Granted that it doesn't have to be upvotes, we lose a small amount of rep for downvotes, and it feels nicer to upvote than downvote.

I agree in general that questions are less valuable than answers, but discouraging upvoting them is not, apparently, the solution. Perhaps question upvotes should get less rep than answer upvotes.

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If the site will remain useful at all, posting really thoughtless questions with totally crappy titles should be discouraged. I mean… had three upvotes even before I edited the title -- and despite my personal low opinion of the person who asked the question, it is useful to have a question with that particular title if only to increase SO's ad revenue, so I do not see anything wrong with the upvotes after the title change. It's just those drones who vote up every single question! – Sinan Ünür Feb 19 '10 at 15:47
@Sinan: Agreed. I think that this is an example of the site working too well: the crowd is able to accurately deduce the real question on the basis of deeply misleading or ill-state titles and text. SO people are rewarded for asking questions badly and there is no incentive to ask them well... ::sigh:: – dmckee Feb 19 '10 at 17:22

Because a badge was created to encourage upvoting on questions since people were upvoting answers way more.

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