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Newbies tend to ask inappropriate/badly worded questions, the likes of which I'd downvote a regular user for. But I don't like to downvote them, as I think it will put them off SO, instead just writing a (hopefully useful) comment. They should get the hang of it soon enough like this.

What's the general consensus here, does this sound right or am I doing a disservice to SO by being too lenient?

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Relevant but not dupe:… – Pops Aug 2 '10 at 16:45
up vote 20 down vote accepted

New users should be excused for not reading the FAQ before their first postings. Thinking "I already use eight forums, I know how to behave in a forum!" is perfectly reasonable, despite being entirely wrong. If they don't respond to gentle nudges to start using SO-appropriate behavior, on the other hand, let them eat downvotes.

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Despite not being very popular, I like your answer - and besides, you were first. So I will award you with the answer. That's it then, ruling made! Never again will another poor unfortunate newbie be downvoted for posting a rubbish question.. – Grant Crofton Aug 2 '10 at 18:14
Excellent, and not just because I "won"; the purpose of the accepted answer feature is in fact to identify which answer was most helpful for the OP specifically. – Pops Aug 2 '10 at 18:30
you didn't win...I won. And no amount of facts and logical reasoning could ever convince me otherwise. – jjnguy Aug 2 '10 at 18:45
Posting an inappropriate question, or an overly subjective one, or something like that, can happen easily with somebody who's merely inexperienced with the forum. Posting an unintelligible question is different. Posting an unintelligible question and either neglecting the requests for clarification, or obviously staying active and ignoring it, is (IMNSHO) grounds for downvoting. – David Thornley Aug 30 '10 at 17:39

Yes, yes you are.

Keep in mind, as much as they might sound like it, very few of these users were actually born yesterday. Many of them have even reached their early 'teens. They do have some knowledge of how to communicate, but have become soft and lazy thanks to our permissive culture and loud Rock'n'Roll music. Heck, they're probably listening to that "Elvis" and smoking fat "doobies" while typing, hence the many missing characters.

By slappin' them around a bit, you're showing them that the lazy slacker hippie lifestyle doesn't fly in the real world, and helping them on their way to adulthood. They should thank you...

Once you get sufficient reputation, if a question is inappropriate you can just vote to close it. And if it's just badly worded, you can edit in some better words. Thus saving the back of your hand for those that won't learn any other way.

Or, as the jjnguy suggests, "hope that the question will improve, and the user will learn to ask better questions"

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+1 for the irony. :) – Robert Harvey Aug 2 '10 at 16:54
Alas, I don't yet have the mighty powers of Edit or Vote to Close (being barely more than a newbie myself), so maybe I should just leave it to the professionals... For now. – Grant Crofton Aug 2 '10 at 17:06
@Shog, that is a pretty bad quote. I'm not advocating 'hoping' and doing nothing besides that. – jjnguy Aug 2 '10 at 17:21
@Justin: That's a remarkably optimistic outlook. I'm glad you're starting to see it my way. =P – devinb Aug 3 '10 at 14:28
@devin, the world is a much happier place if you look at it with an optimistic eye. – jjnguy Aug 3 '10 at 14:37

No, you are not being 'too soft.' Your votes are yours to give. You should use them as you see fit.

If you refrain from downvoting new users because you don't want to be discouraging, I think that's a fine reason not to downvote. However, you should leave a comment or make an edit with the hope that the question will improve, and the user will learn to ask better questions.

Shog9 believes that "these users were actually born yesterday". So, downvoting them will not be helpful at all.

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Nicely done... ;-) – Shog9 Aug 2 '10 at 17:56
@Shog9, thanks. – jjnguy Aug 2 '10 at 18:21

What's the general concensus here,

I don't downvote this kind of newbies as well, unless their intent was evidently bad.

I just edit/clarify the question to a better quality, unless editing/sanitizing results in nothing which can continue as a real question. I'll then just vote for a close as "Not a real question".

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I don't give new users special treatment, but I'm not harsh with my down-votes either. I have some very specific key reasons for down-voting, mainly to do with the questioner beign lazy:

  • The question is illegible - sign that the user is lazy / can't be bothered to write a good question
  • The answer is easy to find on the internet - sign that they're lazy / can't be bothered to search
  • The questioner has no idea of the basic syntax of Python, but keeps asking questions here rather than reading the free Python tutorial. [replace Python with any language]

In most cases I'll also post a comment saying how the question could be improved and return later to change my vote if the questioner has taken the comment on-board.

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I don't downvote newbies, because they have no rep to lose. I'd rather make a comment myself. I save the downvotes for people who should know better, and who have rep to lose.

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Keep in mind, down-voting has a purpose above and beyond "punishing" users - it also helps the system sort questions and answers. Down-voting a lousy question from a new user may not do anything to that user, but it can still help the rest of us recognize that something is wrong... I often check the "lowest voted questions" section and try to close or revise questions found there. – Shog9 Aug 2 '10 at 16:52
I'd also include people who have a little rep, say under 20, as newbies for the purpose of my hesitance to downvote. I'm not not downvoting them because they have no rep to lose, but because I feel bad for taking away some of the little rep they have. – Grant Crofton Aug 2 '10 at 16:58
@Shog9 I get your point, but don't focus on the "punishing" word. Dowvotes are there partly for sorting, and partly for behavior modification. I think they are far more effective in the second category when the person has something to lose/some investment in the site. – C. Ross Aug 3 '10 at 12:07

The theory of the voting system is that you vote to rate the content. New user or not new user, if it is bad content, it should be downvoted so that it sorts properly on the front page and such.

Now, this theory has some problems, as discussed at endless length elsewhere. Human psychology being what it is, people react rather strongly to downvotes. This is a dilemma. You can resolve the dilemma by editing the question until it deserved that default rating of 0.

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I don't think you should downvote ever. It is bad for karma and sends out a negative vibe. Instead, upvote everyone else. You don't have to tell someone they deserve a downvote, you can instead be positive and send the same message by upvoting everyone on the page.

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I think you need to stick a <joke> tag around that before you get downvoted back to nothing! Or are people being ironic? I get confused.. – Grant Crofton Aug 2 '10 at 17:43
@Grant: oh, that's just Evan. He writes stuff like that; no one knows why. – Shog9 Aug 2 '10 at 18:00
I'm being serious, even Jeff agrees with me here. He says positive incentive is the only incentive that should count. That's why there are no negative badges... If you downvote them, you're essentially giving a negative badge. If you upvote their competitors you're saying it indirectly. – Evan Carroll Aug 2 '10 at 19:55
SO exists in its present form because it provides built-in incentives to minimize negative behaviors. These incentives were fine-tuned during the site beta, and have proven themselves to be effective during real-world use. Downvotes exist because they work. – Robert Harvey Aug 3 '10 at 1:06
@Robert, Apparently they don't work for all people: I'm told I'm the most downvoted person on meta. That tells me two things, (a) people are downvoting wrongly; and, (b) I'm immune to them, because I haven't changed. Time to reconsider your position? – Evan Carroll Aug 3 '10 at 1:38
@Robert, Right, and the first data-point outside of the explanatory realm of the theorem proves it totally wrong. That's why you're totally wrong and Jeff is totally right: downvotes don't work, only beneficial actions should be rewarded. – Evan Carroll Aug 3 '10 at 14:48
@Robert, take it to my new question about just this:… – Evan Carroll Aug 3 '10 at 15:19
Obvious troll is obvious. – hobodave Aug 5 '10 at 18:37
"I'm not gonna change; that will show them!" Yeah, right. Also, social interactions != mathematics. Hawthorne effect, etc etc. – Piskvor Aug 30 '10 at 12:04
Evan, you gave 15 downvotes on a total of 84 votes. Baaad karma, my man, baaaad karma! – Joris Meys Aug 30 '10 at 20:50

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