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Let me say first that I am fairly new here (about 3 weeks) and absolutely love Stack Overflow. At first I let some of the negative attitudes get to me a little, left a few snarky comments, but that phase has passed. I see the tremendous value for this site in the long run and sincerely do want to help make it a better place.

I find myself going for the downvote very frequently -- currently about 35% of my votes are downvotes. I even make an extra effort to upvote good content to offset this a bit, so the number should probably be more like 60%. I always try to leave constructive comments and try to help out the confused ones who are really trying.

I truly can't tell if it is just me, or if these folks deserve it. I don't know if you guys noticed, but there are a lot of really bad questions being posted, and a lot of people trying to pass off things like "use jQuery", "use Firebug", and "use Google" as good answers (and getting upvotes!). I even saw someone copy/paste my "What does Firebug say?" comment as an answer and get 3 votes within moments. Sometimes This answer is unclear or not useful just doesn't do it justice.

I feel like some of the people just drive me nuts, but then again I feel this way IRL :) Am I being too harsh, or is it really that bad on SO? Has there recently been a surge of new users, and the quality of content is degrading, or was it like this in the "good old days"? Have I perhaps misunderstood the expected behavior on Stack Overflow -- should I just ignore these crappy questions and answers rather than downvote them?

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My impression is that you're doing it exactly right. There is much too little downvoting on Stack Overflow. –  Pëkka Apr 17 '11 at 6:50
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It amazes me to see users with 9000+ reputation that can't even form a sentence, much less an array... EDIT: The language barrier I completely understand - not referring to that, that's why we have editors :) –  Wesley Murch Apr 17 '11 at 6:52
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The top 10 users in SO have an average of 7.25% of downvotes, which I find rather surprising. –  Bavarious Apr 17 '11 at 7:02
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Your downvote enthusiasm will fade away. So use it for good while you're new! –  mario Apr 17 '11 at 7:23
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@mario really? Mine grew over time. :) I'm working hard to achieve a 70%:30% ratio of upvotes to downvotes (I'm at 18 percent now) –  Pëkka Apr 17 '11 at 7:29
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@Pekka: I'm currently upvoting like crazy to get my ratio down. The main purpose however being that I can again cast 3 downvotes per day vs. 27 upvotes. (So semantically I'm dealing out penalties by not upvoting. Which does actually work whenever there are enough competing answers.) –  mario Apr 17 '11 at 7:34
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@mario: You make it sound like the rep system is more of a game than a way to promote good content and behavior. I guess this phenomenon will happen to me too? –  Wesley Murch Apr 17 '11 at 7:47
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@mario: I find it helps greatly if you don't explicitly point out [-1] next to the comment. What I meant was in regards to your last comment, upvoting like crazy to get my ratio down. Seems like the wrong reason. –  Wesley Murch Apr 17 '11 at 8:05
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Kind of glad I'm not the only one who's gotten the impression that answers are getting copy/pasted. –  Justin Morgan Apr 28 '11 at 3:15
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Use your powerful thumb-of-Caesar. Click down on bad posts with gusto and a yelp. Be brave, and battle the baneful scourge of malodorous lazy questions. I salute you, Kind Sir. –  Adel Oct 11 '11 at 19:25
    
The problem I have with downvoting is the -1 on my rep. Sure, it's not a lot, but do it enough, and it will have a noticeable effect on your reputation. IIRC, I've had multiple days where all my votes were downvotes. Nothing else. –  Cole Johnson Mar 30 at 20:55
    
You're doing it right, I think there's too little voting in general on SO currently, and my positive/negative votes ratio is similar to yours. I downvote a lot. –  aevitas Mar 31 at 12:25
    
@Cole so your bounty now is like 50 downvotes turned into equivalent of 5 upvotes. Worth it? :) –  Shadow Wizard Apr 3 at 8:47
    
@ShadowWizard yes. –  Cole Johnson Apr 3 at 14:26
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6 Answers 6

Sounds like you're doing it exactly right.

You're downvoting low quality contributions, which is an important part of the site and in the long term, helps taking away the asking privilege from people with consistently terrible questions. Do not ignore bad stuff; downvote it.

Obviously, not directed at you personally but for the sake of a complete answer, if you see something that is just a small step from being correct, or is a mere typo, the nice thing is not to downvote - it's better to edit it, or to leave a comment instead.

Some leniency should also be given to non-native speakers if the question has substance.

But anything that is truly wrong, shallow, lazy, or dangerous, downvote. It's what the arrow is there for.

If you want to be nice and help a user improve, consider adding a neutral comment explaining why you downvoted - but be prepared for an occasionally hostile reception. It's not always worth it.

Also, consider revisiting contributions you downvoted at a later point. If they have improved, remove the downvote.

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Absolutely understand and agree on all points, and have been behaving as such. The one thing that I think comes up the most is lazy. I am surprised when people get downvotes for stuff like formatting; just fix it yourself! I've never had an edit sit in queue for more than 10 minutes (I don't have edit rights yet). –  Wesley Murch Apr 17 '11 at 7:11
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@Madmartigan yes, I've noticed the same behaviour. Bad formatting is often accompanied by a bad question, but not always. –  Pëkka Apr 17 '11 at 7:12
    
I tend not to downvote bad questions because it very often is countered by a sympathy up-vote, which rather defeats the point of the exercise. –  skaffman Apr 20 '11 at 10:32
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@skaffman: I see your point but I don't know if that's a good enough reason to not exercise your downvoting responsibility. I have witnessed this, but I'm not very familiar with the "sympathy upvote" concept, and why people do it. It seems to me to show a general lack of understanding of what the voting system is truly for. Do you cast "sympathy" upvotes? –  Wesley Murch Apr 21 '11 at 15:37
    
@Madmartigan: Me? Hell no. It's common, though. People see a question with a downvote, they think "That's not a bad question, doesn't deserve a downvote, so I'll vote it up instead", even on questions they would normally not bother voting on. –  skaffman Apr 21 '11 at 15:41
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@skaffman: That makes sense. I can see wanting to do that if the votes are exactly -1 simply in order to make it neutral again, but then again there is the opposite effect. As in "I see this has -1, normally I wouldn't be too sure this is bad, but it looks like someone else think it sucks too. CLICK -2". I understand that 2 downvotes + 1 upvote is a net gain, but that's a separate issue... –  Wesley Murch Apr 21 '11 at 15:51
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A 2:1 ratio of upvotes to downvotes is nothing to worry about.

In fact, it's perfectly healthy, and says you're one of the braver users who isn't so concerned with the -1 to their rep on each downvote used to indicate poor quality content. There are a disturbing number of users who will avoid casting a downvote at all costs, even with 10,000+ rep, because it costs a single rep point!

This still boggles my mind! So take heart: you're one of the brave ones. You're doing it right!

As for what ratio is actually bad, I proposed a minimum floor of 0.5 upvotes to every downvote as a hard downvote limiter*, which means you'd have to look like this:

126 downvotes, 66 upvotes

In other words, you'd have to cast twice as many downvotes as upvotes before it even begins to become a problem in my book.

* The community hated this and it got shot down. In retrospect, I actually agree with them now.

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I would agree that stifling vote freedom is not the way to go. IMO reputation is something that must be maintained rather than simply added to, I actually feel like the downvote does not remove enough points to the person receiving it, but I understand the need for balance when people tend to "abuse" the system. I think people get carried away with the reputation hoarding and fail to see what its purpose is. –  Wesley Murch Apr 17 '11 at 7:44
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I don't think that a 2:1 up:down ratio is that bad. In fact, the ratio itself is largely irrelevant. I wouldn't worry unless you're downvoting because an answer is "not good" rather than actually bad.

I often get upset to see things downvoted that are just unpopular rather than actually wrong. I've seen perfectly correct answers that precisely solve the OP's problem get downvoted in favor of answers that say something like "don't do that -- do it the popular way instead".

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No, you are not upvoting enough! :-)

Having been at Stack Overflow for many months, you still have to reach 100 votes total. Giving 35 downvotes in that time is in no way extreme, but how come you don't find either the questions or the answers interesting enough to up vote?

In comparison, I have been here for a shorter time that you, and have 20 downvotes out of 1500. Fixes the percentage!

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Fair point about upvoting, but you are not downvoting nearly enough. ;) –  Pëkka Apr 17 '11 at 7:07
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I think some people view the upvote like they do the Facebook "Like" button... BTW all of my activity has been in the last 3 weeks. –  Wesley Murch Apr 17 '11 at 7:12
    
I feel like "fix my layout" and "find my parse error" questions are all too common, and don't deserve any attention other than getting an answer so OP can move on. I guess I feel like only questions that have at least a fairly broad context should be upvoted, and I always upvote when I land here from google search (happens a lot). Like I said, I do try to vote positively. –  Wesley Murch Apr 17 '11 at 7:17
    
@Pekka - Perhaps we visit different groups? I don't really see that many really bad or incorrect answers. Also, my 20 down votes is the net value. Like you say, many people correct their errors once they are pointed out, and add an "Is it correct now?" comment. If it is, I remove the downvote. –  Bo Persson Apr 17 '11 at 7:24
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@Bo it may indeed be down to the tags: I'm very active in the PHP, HTML, CSS and JavaScript tags. Due to their popularity, and the low entry barrier, those are seeing a deluge of unsalvageable questions from people who lack the most basic programming skills. That problem is going to be much smaller in C/C++ for example. –  Pëkka Apr 17 '11 at 7:27
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You seem to be downvoting the right way. That is, you downvote and leave comments, critiques, to help people improve. If you downvote for an IDENTIFIABLE reason (and not just because "this doesn't feel right"), that's a good thing. Leaving a comment is gravy.

If you don't like your downvote to upvote ratio, there are two things you can do. One is to monitor your downvotes to see if the people have made the changes you suggest, or other improvements, so that you can remove your downvote. (You can't before there is a change made.) Downvoting is meant to educate, rather than punish, and if someone is clearly learning, it's not a bad idea to undo the down vote. The other possibility for improving your ratio is to look for more things to upvote.

But basically, you're on solid ground.

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The question is three years old; why on earth would you respond when others have already said the same thing?? –  LittleBobbyTables Apr 9 at 21:05
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According to the StackOverflow help center,

When should I vote down?

Use your downvotes whenever you encounter an egregiously sloppy, no-effort-expended post, or an answer that is clearly and perhaps dangerously incorrect.

You have a limited number of votes per day, and answer down-votes cost you a tiny bit of reputation on top of that; use them wisely.

It also says the following about downvotes and reputation:

What happens when I vote down?

When you vote down, you are nudging that content "down" the page, so it will be seen by fewer people. Voting down answers is not something we want you to take lightly, so it is not free.

  • Downvotes remove 2 reputation from the post owner.
  • Downvotes on answers remove 1 reputation from you, the voter.
  • Downvotes on questions are free. (Why?)
  • You can vote 30 times per UTC day. You get an additional 10 votes on questions only. (Why?)

So I think you're fine by downvoting bad questions. However, you should not take downvoting bad answers lightly.

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