I see this questions' been asked before, but in a different tone and not with very satisfactory answers. Every day I scroll through the iPhone-tagged questions to find reams of -1 or -2 questions, with no comment provided that would give any help to the person asking the question.

It just discourages those users from asking.

Now I know voting is supposed to be anonymous, but there's no reason why, if you are downvoting a question with 0 votes, you could not be prompted to provide a reason which would be posted anonymously - or even left so it was only viewable to moderators/high-rep people.

Voting down for no reason at all isn't vandalism or spiteful, but it's very, very unhelpful and it's not going to encourage new users to keep using SO.

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Your feature request for anonymous commenting has been discussed many times, this being the first. The issue is, an anonymous comment gives no real requirement that it be sufficiently explanatory or even relevant to the downvote. –  Grace Note Aug 19 '10 at 14:44
See also meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/135/… for some other ideas –  ChrisF Aug 19 '10 at 14:44
Have you considered that maybe we want to discourage those users from asking more questions? –  Aarobot Aug 19 '10 at 15:35
It's not that I want anonymous comments, but some way of categorising the downvote. A general 'choose one of these reasons' would also do, as someone mentioned later. Aarobot - Really? You are joking, right? –  mtc06 Aug 19 '10 at 16:08
@mtc06: if you spend enough time on programming forums / groups, you'll quickly find that yes, there absolutely are users that you just want to go away. See: Help Vampires –  Shog9 Aug 19 '10 at 16:27
I think we can agree that we want to discourage some types of questions, but not necessarily users. It is possible that some users will only have the type of question we don't want, though. –  MPelletier Aug 19 '10 at 17:23
@mtc06 - I do have to say that I voted up one of your iPhone questions entirely based on the title: stackoverflow.com/questions/3317723/… –  Brad Larson Aug 19 '10 at 18:26
Haha. I wondered why that one seemed so strangely popular. :) –  mtc06 Aug 20 '10 at 11:26
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5 Answers

up vote 11 down vote accepted

To be honest, I've probably accounted for many of those downvotes without comment in the [iphone] tag. At first, I left comments for every one of the questions I voted down, in an effort to try to help people write better questions. However, as of late there have been more and more bad questions being written and I just don't have the energy to leave a comment for every single question clarifying what's wrong with them. I found that very few of the people learned anything from the remarks I left. Some of the askers even responded negatively to them.

In cases where there is a good question, but poor phrasing or broken English, I edit the question itself to clean it up. We don't want to discourage those who actually try to use the site correctly, but aren't proficient in English. This is why I like the idea of flagging questions that just need a little editing.

I try to be polite and patient with people, but there are so many duplicated questions that could have been found with simple searches, "do my work for me" questions, "what is wrong with this code that is only applicable to my particular case" ones, and just plain unintelligible questions that sometimes I simply choose to vote them down and quickly move on.

Now that downvotes are used as a metric to help block undesirable users, we even have an incentive to vote down just plain bad questions to prevent users from abusing the system. Negative votes can also motivate people to close and / or delete these bad questions so that we can remove them from the system.

The popularity of the iPhone and iPad, combined with how helpful the Stack Overflow community is, have driven a lot of help vampires here (as Shog9 notes), along with people looking to get rich quick writing iPhone applications without putting in any effort. As SO appears at the top of more and more Google searches for programming problems, this will only get worse.

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Yes. Before my SO hiatus I'd been getting more liberal with downvotes and what I despised most was being sucked into an argument because the author found it more convenient to complain than to actually fix the question. The best result was usually no result at all - the question just continued to collect dust and downvotes. So, screw it; I don't owe an explanation for every downvote on every crap "favorite feature" poll or dense mountain of inscrutable code. If these people were capable of learning, they'd take 5 seconds to look at the FAQ and realize immediately why they were downvoted. –  Aarobot Aug 19 '10 at 19:22
@Aarobot: indeed, I think this is something a lot of people forget when complaining about unattributed down-votes: many users don't handle criticism - even constructive criticism - at all well. I long ago got sick of the endless arguments, name-calling, revenge-voting and sympathy up-votes and now do my best to avoid comments on SO unless I feel they might actually help. –  Shog9 Aug 19 '10 at 19:41
I've labelled this as the answer because it seemed like the most reasonable explanation - it's a core of people trying to clean up the mean streets and like all good law enforcement officers, they get too tired of seeing the same crap day after day. Fair enough, folks. Thanks for the lively chat. :) –  mtc06 Aug 20 '10 at 11:26
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It just discourages those users from asking.

Well, it doesn't just do that. It also provides a cue to other users that, hey, this question sucks. Which is important: there are a lot of questions asked on SO, and getting hung up reading the lousy ones can discourage users from answering.

But yeah, it can also discourage users from asking. Which, as Aarobot notes, isn't necessarily a bad thing: if your questions are persistently down-voted, you're probably doing something wrong. You'd be better off taking a break, reading other questions, learning what sort of questions are appropriate for the site and how best to ask them.

In fact, if you regularly ask down-voted questions, the system itself will prevent you from asking more of them. So if you take the hint early, that's just better for everyone...

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I disagree with Aarobot's stance though, because it's not helping these people improve really. StackOverflow is, hands-down, the best resource on the net for solving many, many kinds of problem. Most people won't read around and learn, they'll just go back to using crappy alternatives. We should be trying to help people! :P EDIT - And although the downvoted questions are necessary to instruct other users, as you say, putting reasons there too would only add to that effect. :) –  mtc06 Aug 19 '10 at 16:10
@mtc06: actually, a lot of people figure out how to ask decent questions without any serious hand-holding. It's the ones that show up, post a lousy question, and then leave that tend to generate a lot of frustration, because they don't want to learn: so the best use of down-voting is simply to contain the damage. If you want to try to engage such users, you're free to do so - but that can be a time-consuming and often futile activity, and not one we can or should attempt to force on users who are already giving their time (and a token amount of reputation) to sift through it all. –  Shog9 Aug 19 '10 at 16:22
thanks for linking back to that thread; I hadn't seen Jeff's update on it until today. –  Ether Aug 19 '10 at 20:06
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Hover your mouse over the downvote button. The text says "This question is unclear or not useful." That's the implicit explanation for a downvote if no comment is left.

Also, I just scrolled through the newest 250 questions tagged [iphone] and only 3 of them were downvoted. Are people maybe asking a lot of non-programming questions about using their iPhones that are subsequently getting closed and deleted?

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As you say, it's very general - almost acknowledging the fact that there's no way of finding out the real reason it was downvoted. Also you're right, it does seem thin on the ground today. Sometimes they're clearly told that they're asking for code, or not posting their own code. But frequently there's one view, one downvote, and no comments or answers. It must be pretty frustrating for people who are new. –  mtc06 Aug 19 '10 at 16:05
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I'm upvoting, not because I think it would be useful to add anonymous comments, but because I agree with the initial premise, that downvoting without comments is a good way to chase newcomers.

I don't think it's a question of anonymity, so much as time. A lot of questions are just "hey, fix that for me", "give me the codez", and everyone's favourite, "why doesn't this work" without any code. It is even likelier that new, popular technologies (such as the iPhone) will garner more questions that way. You don't see that many downvotes on the [assembler] tag, I'm certain.

I'd like to submit a possible "downvote auto-comment" idea. I'm afraid it would create too much "noise", but essentially, on downvoting, a short (this is key) list of choices as to the likeliest explanation (i.e a poll). Choices/reasons could be:

  • Question is unclear
  • Question is irrelevant
  • User accept rate is too low

I'd be surprised if anyone ever chose that last one, but I suspect it's truly happening.


At 2000 rep, you get to turn that sucker off! How's that? :)

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That sounds good. Even if it didn't actually add a comment, maybe the chosen reasons could replace the 'hover over' menu that Bill The Lizard mentioned, above. –  mtc06 Aug 19 '10 at 16:06
Well, it's not even a menu, it's just a descriptor for what users should be doing. It does not address the asker. –  MPelletier Aug 19 '10 at 17:22
Your idea has already been proposed and declined: meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/50030/… –  Aarobot Aug 19 '10 at 19:10
@Aarobot: Shame. It's a good concept, I think. –  MPelletier Aug 19 '10 at 19:38
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Good questions => + votes

Bad questions => - votes

Neither => 0 vote

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