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I don't propose an exact way to do this. Perhaps, the way would be to simply stop deleting points for down votes. Deleting points for down votes gives an obvious disincentive for down voting, and down voting is what keeps the site spam-free and ensures high quality. Also, consider removing more points from the down voted question / answer. Currently the person down voting loses nearly the same as the person being down voted.

If a news anchor plugs a new product each day during his broadcast, he gives up a little bit of reputation as a trade off for boosting the other party's reputation. In SO a user has unlimited reputation to give away at no expense at no expense.

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He loses 50% less man! That's not nearly nearly the same – juan Jun 18 '10 at 15:18
@Juan - You and your crazy math! 2 is right next to 5 on my infinite ruler, so they might as well be the same. – Adam Davis Jun 18 '10 at 15:19
@pol did you mean 1 next to 2? - I wish I had an infinite ruler... so much I could do with it – juan Jun 18 '10 at 15:27
@Juan - I don't mean as a ratio, I mean in relation to the 15 points given for a selected answer, the 5 given for a upvoted question, and the 10 given for an upvoted answer. Considering that reputation is calculate in integers, 1 is "nearly the same as" 2, exactly. – orokusaki Jun 20 '10 at 8:08
up vote 8 down vote accepted

The disincentive I have for downvoting is sympathy upvotes. If somebody posts an inaccurate answer, I downvote, and it gets a sympathy upvote, I'm down 1 rep and the inaccurate guy is up 8.

When will they find a cure for sympathy upvotes?

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I've come around to believing that they aren't really sympathy upvotes, they're random upvotes to get the electorate/civic duty badges. There's never going to be a cure; we need to encourage (rational) downvoting enough so that regular downvoting activity outstrips the pity/random upvotes. – Aarobot Jun 19 '10 at 2:40
good point. I won't pretend you're making presumptions by calling them sympathy upvotes. But, I don't think they're necessarily the problem. I think they're a symptom of a problem. The problem is that the system gives a no disincentive to zealous upvoters. If a news anchor plugs a new product each day during broadcast, he gives up a little bit of reputation as a trade off for boasting somebody else's reputation. In SO a user is that anchor, except the user has unlimited reputation to give away at no expense. (adding this to my post). – orokusaki Jun 20 '10 at 8:05
@orokusaki: I believe there are a good many sympathy upvotes, in that questions and answers at -1 seem to get a lot of upvotes. Obviously, I can't tell whether any individual upvote was for sympathy, simply random, or for a legitimate reason. You are right, of course; the system doesn't discourage upvoting, does discourage downvoting, and also encourages voting in general. – David Thornley Jun 21 '10 at 14:46

My solution - Simply give more free T-shirts to top downvoters and closers.

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Free T-shirt, please! (outstretched hand) – gnostradamus Jun 18 '10 at 15:25
-1 so I can get a free T-Shirt! – Grace Note Jun 18 '10 at 15:29
@ccomet meta will unfortunately be excluded from the deal. – nb69307 Jun 18 '10 at 15:34
more? I didn't even get 1 – juan Jun 18 '10 at 20:32
@Juan: Maybe you shouldn't have changed your name back... – balpha Jun 18 '10 at 20:35
8 more days @balpha... 8 more days – juan Jun 18 '10 at 20:37
@Juan yeah, me neither! – Pëkka Jun 18 '10 at 22:26
This answer is the perfect example of the disease that SO needs to be cured of. While funny, this answer provides nothing of value to the site (except for entertainment, which I think we can all agree, should not be the focus of SO). If all 7 up voters lost a point or two for this, perhaps it wouldn't incorrectly be the highest voted answer. Esoteric humor seems to receive the highest reward in SO. – orokusaki Jun 20 '10 at 8:17
@orokusaki this is Meta. Joke answers are perfectly acceptable here. – Pëkka Jun 20 '10 at 8:22
@Down with the - I didn't say it was unacceptable, but it's clearly not the best answer. Meta is every bit as important as SO, and to have silly and sometimes plain stupid answers be voted as number 1 just because they're funny or because they reference an inside joke obviously isn't right. – orokusaki Jun 20 '10 at 8:33
@oro I see your point, and you're right, but Meta is a relaxed place and allows this to happen occasionally. I don't see a big problem in it. In general, there's a lot of constructive discussion taking place here as well. The "best answer" principle is more or less meaningless on Meta anyway, as the OP will usually accept an answer that suits their opinion best. Votes are to determine agreement to the opinion raised, not necessarily the objective quality of the question. – Pëkka Jun 20 '10 at 8:39
I just got mine, it's awesome! – Ivo Flipse Jun 20 '10 at 14:39

While pushing bad answers down is important, I think the site does a good job of focusing promoting the good upwards and leaving the bad to languish.

Any sort of incentive to downvote may be abused.

The current system seems to work - do you believe it's not working, or that such a change could result in a substantial improvement to the overall community?

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It also does a pretty good job of promoting the third-rate. – nb69307 Jun 18 '10 at 15:37
I believe it's not working for questions, only answers (and even then only most of the time). – Aarobot Jun 18 '10 at 15:38
I'm not too convinced that the system really works because it obviously allows posts like this one… to not only not being closed but also harvest +9 rep (to date). My comment criticizing the post was flagged and deleted because of using the obscenity "nonsense". The system allows niches where people of all kind game the system at their will. SO is like a town with a c# Broadway, a Java High Street and growing number of shady alleys. – Filburt Jun 18 '10 at 16:06
@Filburt: It had 4 close votes when I checked it; it's closed now. Least I could do. – David Thornley Jun 18 '10 at 22:03
When 14 of the 50 highest voted posts are pure fluff and there are additionally 4 "Hidden features" questions and there are only 5 good technical questions I don't think I'd emphasize "working" too much. It mostly works, but it is clearly broken is some ways. For glod's sake funny loading messages, good technology podcasts, note taking tools, birthday surprises and interview skills are the "best" that we have to offer? Really? – dmckee Jun 18 '10 at 22:27
Wow you guys are whining. Seriously? You're complaining about the outliers? You want/need perfection? Stackoverflow fields and successfully answers over two thousand questions a day, will pass over a million questions in four months, and you are complaining that some small percentage are really, really stupid, and therefore stackoverflow is broken? Do you really expect five nines out of this site? Just... wow. – Adam Davis Jun 18 '10 at 23:35
@Polyanna: It mater whats on the first page of highly voted questions because new users look there to find out what kind of content is respected here. – dmckee Jun 19 '10 at 1:32
"Hey Homer, great call on that chicken place! And on that rib place! I never knew everything was so good!" – Aarobot Jun 19 '10 at 2:37
@dmckee - Ah, so you want to white wash our image, and attempt to attain seeming perfection, akin to Apple? I wish you luck in your endeavor. – Adam Davis Jun 20 '10 at 4:26
@Pollyanna - I didn't advocate giving an incentive for down voting. I simply recommended removing the disincentive, and perhaps adding some cost to up voting, so that it isn't so abused. – orokusaki Jun 20 '10 at 8:16
@Pollyanna - I've never met anyone who purposely avoided doing something that would be considered more "perfect". The fact that every commenter disagreed with your answer and you had the nerve to call them whiners... pfff. If you think it works, then tell me what you think about the highest voted answer for this question. – orokusaki Jun 20 '10 at 8:29
@Pollyanna - So it boils down to either "whine" on meta (because comments criticizing on SO get deleted) OR attach some of the big tags and attract a the crowd. Otherwise it's you against a someone and his sock puppets. – Filburt Jun 20 '10 at 9:04
@Pollyanna there are still some (subtle?) differences between perfection + white wash SO on one side and voting bad posts down on the other. – Filburt Jun 20 '10 at 9:30
@Filbert - the (subtle) difference is a change in perception vs a real change. The posts people are complaining about are the high profile silly posts that are popular by their very nature and are community defined. They don't seem to be suggesting that the proposed changes will actually help people get better answers, or help people post better questions. So yes, it's whining and/or white washing. – Adam Davis Jun 21 '10 at 0:50

I feel somewhat bad when downvoting, good answers are usually pushed and achieve acceptance (but only if enough voters can assess the answer as good).

Closing seems more important to reduce noise and redundancy (and is 'free')

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How does closing address down votes on answers? – orokusaki Jun 20 '10 at 8:24

I think a penalty for downvoting is important as a way to somewhat shield against "tactical downvoting". What would be in place, sans loss of rep, to prevent people from downvoting every answer that isn't theirs?

Besides that, what if someone just really likes a particular answer on a question so upvotes it and then downvotes all the others? All those people with legitimate answers would take a rep hit.

There's no way the system can know that they're actually downvoting "trash" rather than abusing the system and downvoting good content.

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By balancing up votes and down votes it's difficult to conclude that abusive voting will arrive at an unbalance, without a dose of ignoratio elenchi. – orokusaki Jun 20 '10 at 8:23

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