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As I'm sure you all know, downvotes "cost" 1 reputation. That is, every time you downvote:

-2 to post owner
-1 to you

This is done to make sure downvotes are cast only when you feel strongly that something is incorrect / wrong / dangerous / of low quality.

We've been tweaking a few things to increase overall voting, particularly on questions -- read all about it on the blog entry Vote For This Question or The Kitten Gets It.

These tweaks appear to be working. We're seeing good initial results; here's a graph of question votes (just question votes) across SO, SU, and SF over the last 60 days.

graph of question votes on SO, SU, and SF over the last 60 days

(for question and answer votes together, see these graphs.)

Edit by Jon: Jeff sent me the source data, so here are the upvote/downvote ratio graphs I asked for. The high peaks are artifacts due to low traffic volumes/insufficient data (there were zero question downvotes on SF on a few days).

Now, when I said "increase voting", I meant in both directions, up and down. I feel downvoting on questions is particularly useful to distinguish a well-written, researched, clear and useful question from .. well, a question that is none of those things.

Thus, to incentivize more balanced question voting, we are considering removing the -1 cost of casting a downvote on a question.

That is, downvoting a question -- and only a question -- would now be

-2 to post owner
no cost to you

Your thoughts?

share|improve this question
Why the dichotomy between question and answer downvotes? Maybe that just occurs in my tag ghetto, but I frequently see worse answers to poor questions. –  mario May 8 '11 at 5:53
Are you considering implementing this across the SE network or just on SO/trilogy sites? –  Anna Lear May 8 '11 at 6:25
@mario answers already have a lot of voting, so even if there's little downvoting you have a range of, say 0 to 10. That's more than enough to distinguish relative quality. On questions there is basically NO voting so the range is 0 to 0. Which means there is .. wait for it .. no way to distinguish quality based on question voting. –  Jeff Atwood May 8 '11 at 6:26
@Jeff: I see the lackluster graphs. But it was my perception that question downvoting only ever happens in clusters, just not evenly spread across bad questions. Once per day there is one question which garners -10 because people go bonkers over it. Yet other poor questions are completely overlooked. Making downvotes free might help..(?) -- But btw, can we have a answer downvoting graph for comparison? –  mario May 8 '11 at 6:40
Yes, this is a great idea! –  LeakyCode May 8 '11 at 6:57
At the same time make rep from questions a net value thing; that is net votes 0 == rep 0. As it is many people don't downvote questions because they are concern that the next user will pity vote it up for a net positive gain to the asker. Honestly, I've never understood why the rep from a question is not simply (net-votes * 5) and from an answer (net-votes * 10)! –  Lawrence Dol May 8 '11 at 8:43
@software for the millionth time, the actual vote data does not support a pity upvote problem in reality. It's just something people think is happening because they remember being annoyed when it happens. –  Jeff Atwood May 8 '11 at 8:49
@mario I added another graph linked under the first set which has questions and answers. Note that for SO the ratio is typically around 14k answer / 6k question or 2.33 answer votes for every question vote; it's roughly 2.0 on SU and 2.5 on SF. –  Jeff Atwood May 8 '11 at 10:51
The colors on the graphs are nice and all, but a legend or key would have been really useful. Which line represents the upvotes and which represents the downvotes? And what are the dueling lines along the very bottom of each graph? –  Cody Gray May 8 '11 at 11:04
Erm, wait, there are on average between 2 or 3 answers on a question, right? Which means questions get as many votes as answers. That matches my perception. Getting more votes for a question vs an answer is going to be difficult. Yes, cancel the -1, you can always put it back. –  Uphill Luge May 8 '11 at 12:13
I downvoted to disagree with this, but there's probably some kind of twisted irony in the rep I just lost. –  Justin Morgan May 8 '11 at 14:37
Please post graphs of the upvote/downvote ratio over the same time period. The graphs shown here really don't tell us anything meaningful to support this proposal. Moreover, the increases can't be taken in a vacuum -- they could simply be due to natural site growth, for example. IMO, as you pointed out in the blog entry, question voting may be more of a structural problem than a voting problem. –  Jon Seigel May 8 '11 at 15:52
Also, how does the current question-asking rate compare to before? I would imagine the +10 --> +5 change might discourage some people from asking lower-quality questions because there isn't as much reward. –  Jon Seigel May 8 '11 at 15:59
I've downvoted as I believe there has to be a penalty for possibly destructive behaviour. I don't think this is the soulution. However you could run it as an experiment for a while and see what the behaviour changes are. –  Wes May 8 '11 at 21:58
Is there any data on how this is working out? From my subjective impression, it is working very well and encouraging downvoting in all the right places. –  Pëkka May 31 '11 at 16:38

23 Answers 23

up vote 36 down vote accepted

Completed, all question downvotes now are "free" for the downvoter.

We did not perform a global recalc.

If you would like your old question downvotes to be free, perform a self-recalc at: http://stackoverflow.com/reputation

We will be monitoring voting patterns over the next few weeks and evaluate the effect of this change.

share|improve this answer
If you guys decide to revert back to "paid" downvotes, does that mean we'll be docked back for those votes for previous and newer downvotes? Or will this not be reversed? –  Jeff Mercado May 12 '11 at 8:30
@Jeff magic 8 ball says: outlook not so good. If we notice there are patterns of abuse we will address them. We can introduce limits for downvotes on questions (eg. only allow 5 per day) at the end of the day we want stuff to be civil. we just very much dislike the state of fear of one rep loss people have prior to downvoting bad questions. I do not think we will reverse the decision, if we do, we will look at protecting non abusive users in some way. –  waffles May 12 '11 at 8:38
I just want to comment on how much I'm feeling the effects of this change already. I just went through my SO browsing history downvoting the really bad questions. In the process, I've also put a lot more thought into upvoting the good questions. I feel so liberated. –  Jeff Mercado May 12 '11 at 11:24
Thanks to this, I just got a bunch of "free" rep on Meta. –  NickC May 12 '11 at 17:25
and I was about to report a bug because my rep did not go down... –  Aleadam May 12 '11 at 20:10
Does this apply on all sites? I've downvoted quite a bit in my life, and when I audited my rep on SU, it went down by 3 points (likely from deletions). I would have expected it to go up. –  nhinkle May 12 '11 at 22:48
@nhinkle Have you not audited your rep in a while? With only 55 downvotes, it would only take 6 upvotes on deleted answers to counter any possible gain. –  NickC May 13 '11 at 21:26
@Renesis that's probably the case, I don't recalc my rep compulsively. –  nhinkle May 13 '11 at 22:01
@nhinkle yes this applies everywhere –  waffles May 13 '11 at 22:39
FREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEDOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM (from the hesitation on downvoting questions) –  adamjford May 16 '11 at 14:58
Are there stats already? –  BalusC Jun 10 '11 at 21:16

Free downvotes for everyone sounds like a triple backflip jump to the Wild West to me.

enter image description here

Please, don't give free bullets to everyone or the number of "care to explain the downvote?" comments will saturate the RAM of your Database servers *.

I would suggest a less violent approach:

Give just SOME free ammo to the users who are daily fighting against bad questions, flagging and editing things, trying to keep the streets clean.

Which are some indicators of this good behavior?

  1. Flag weight
  2. Badges like Strunk & white or copy editor

These two factors should indicate if the user really deserves some free downvotes to spend.

In a nutshell:
downvotes at zero cost privilege should be earned and not given for free

* oh, and even with a petabyte of RAM per server

share|improve this answer
Curiously, I was just coming to this question to suggest that the free downvotes should be an earned privilege. I think it's a good idea, but I do tend to think that it's not something that a brand-new account should have. –  T.J. Crowder May 8 '11 at 21:29
free downvotes on questions only. And @t.j remember that you have to have 125 rep to downvote at all. –  Jeff Atwood May 8 '11 at 22:09
@Jeff: Yes, absolutely. (Free downvotes on answers would be...such a mess.) –  T.J. Crowder May 8 '11 at 22:11
I paid for this answer downvote. It was worth it. –  Aarobot May 16 '11 at 15:14
I paid nothing for this upvote. And I enjoyed it. I think I'll find plenty of people frustrated at commentless downvotes. –  Lee Louviere May 31 '11 at 16:15
Additionally, you should also have to leave a constructive, if very quick, comment if you downvote a question. There's no benefit to the user asking the bad question and no way to help insure it doesn't happen again if you simply downvote for free. Some investment (time, past reputation gains, etc) before free downvotes is appropriate. –  ruffin May 18 '12 at 13:04

Even at -1 rep per downvote, I can see how it can feel like the penalty adds up after a few downvotes: "I would downvote this, but I've already downvoted 5 other answers. I don't want to lose more rep today." Loss aversion is a very strong (de)motivator, so people avoid downvoting due to the rep penalty. I will admit to downvoting less if my rep is a "nice" number, for some value of "nice", or if doing so would put me below a privilege threshold.

I think removing the penalty is worth a shot. I think it'd encourage downvoting as a viable method of responding to a bad question or answer, and if someone decided to abuse it and go downvote-crazy, the fraud detection would catch the most damaging scenarios.

share|improve this answer
We are all geeks around here, after all. I was pointlessly excited when my rep was at 1111 for half a day or so. :) –  Josh Caswell May 8 '11 at 6:52
It is funny how illogical we are about our choices for very logical reasons. 1111 is a very nice number. –  Beth Whitezel May 8 '11 at 7:02
Also, +1 for "worth a shot". –  Josh Caswell May 8 '11 at 7:19
@Anna: If you cast 1 downvote somewhere now... your reputation would be a nice 2222 ;-) –  fretje May 8 '11 at 11:00
Nothing beats 777777. –  Rosinante May 8 '11 at 13:01
I felt slightly disappointed when someone voted me away from 1337 rep :) –  hammar May 8 '11 at 13:13
Honest and accurate. I have to agree. –  middaparka May 8 '11 at 20:06
@Rosinante Something does beat 777777, but nothing beats 7777777 (note that there are 7 7s). –  ughoavgfhw May 8 '11 at 20:37
@ugho: A number of things beat 7777777; 88888888 and 999999999 are two of them. After that, you can go to alternate bases… (That'll give Jon Skeet something to aim for.) –  Donal Fellows May 8 '11 at 21:25
@DonalFellows I though Skeet already passed the corresponding number in every possible base... although he can probably create bases at will. –  ughoavgfhw May 8 '11 at 21:28
@ugh: cool, new Jon Skeet facts ;-) –  Jürgen A. Erhard May 15 '11 at 10:18

If the loss of a reputation point really is one of the main motivators behind the lack of downvoting, then I guess making it free or cheaper is indeed the way to go.

How about not making it entirely free though, to keep a tiny safeguard in place? Like, making every 5 or 10 downvotes cost one point?

The normal rep count would continue to be displayed as an integer; for those who really need to know, the exact number could be displayed privately on the profile page, much like flag weight.

Just to offer another option. I'm not sure - completely free downvoting may indeed be the answer. It would see more abuse as a tool in personal conflicts, but that happens already and the net benefit is likely to vastly overshadow that.

share|improve this answer
+1 for the idea of adding a cost for every 5 or 10 upvotes, to stop people from going completely down-vote-crazy. –  Mia Clarke May 8 '11 at 11:32
Such a scheme was running through my mind too while thinking about this question. One thought I had was that each downvote in a day could increase in cost, so that a downvote might cost log(n). There could also be a "civility" threshold factor: threshold = 10 / acceptable_num_daily_downvotes Then the cost is log(threshold * n), so that a downvote costs less than 1 up to the line, and more when you're over. –  Josh Caswell May 8 '11 at 18:09
well, the elephant in the room is that there IS a cost to that downvote. Your time.. and using up one of your valuable daily 30~40 votes. –  Jeff Atwood May 21 '11 at 6:45
Jeff is good at noticing the white elephant. –  Lee Louviere May 31 '11 at 16:17

I like that down votes cost because it makes you think about down voting. However, I think that once you understand and are a proven supporter of making the site better down votes should be free. So maybe if you have under X rep you have to pay for down voting and above that you get it for free. That would hopefully encourage the people you really want voting to do so.

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the funny thing is, I think it should be exactly the other way around based on rep already. When you have only 50 rep, a -1 cost to you is 2% of your rep! But when you have, say, 10k rep.. the -1 should be insignificant. Yet, I've read dozens of comments from high rep users who won't downvote because they are unwilling to give up one point of rep. (see my comment to zeekay's answer for a recent example, but this comes up all the time.) –  Jeff Atwood May 8 '11 at 6:23
Maybe it has something to do with an ingrained drive in programmers (or maybe all people) to be better. They won't willingly take points off their score because they equate that to worth. It doesn't matter that the amount is insignificant or that the score is of little worth outside of this little community, it's the priciple of the thing. –  Beth Whitezel May 8 '11 at 6:46

I'm of two minds here.

I'm generally of the opinion that more downvoting would be good for SO.* I certainly agree with the idea of making us pause before downvoting, but I also support making downvoting easier.

That having been said, I wonder about the effectiveness of this. First, because I'd say most questions I see that "deserve" downvotes are from new users who either don't understand or wouldn't be affected by the rep loss; why bother downvoting such questions? Second, because a lot of questions that I would downvote also deserve close votes, and it seems to me that the close vote is more appropriate (we don't want bad questions at all), more effective (a close stops answers from being posted), and less likely to evoke the pity upvote.

Overall, yes, please make me think only twice rather than thrice before downvoting, but I'm not sure that this is the way to do it.

*Although I also just spent a week restraining my downvote urge because I thought my personal down/up ratio had got too large. /shrug

share|improve this answer
the difference is very, very simple: only 3000+ rep users can cast close votes. Users with 125+ rep can cast downvotes. Beyond that, close means "this does not belong here" whereas downvotes mean "this is of exceedingly low quality". You can do both on a question if it meets both of those criteria -- low quality & doesn't belong. –  Jeff Atwood May 8 '11 at 6:28
@Jeff: I certainly see the point of sub-3k users having down votes before close votes, but I think the distinction above that point is quite unclear -- is it possible to have a question "of exceedingly low quality" which does belong here? Is the intention, then, that any question deserving of a downvote receive both a down and close vote? –  Josh Caswell May 8 '11 at 6:41
You may need 3000+ rep to cast a close vote but you can flag votes before that. –  Beth Whitezel May 8 '11 at 6:52
@josh oh my God yes -- just spend a few nanoseconds browsing stackoverflow.com/review/low-quality-posts to find all the low-quality legitimately on-top programming questions you'll ever need. And that's just one day. –  Jeff Atwood May 8 '11 at 7:02
I see...I may have too broad a reading of "Not a Real Question", then. :/ –  Josh Caswell May 8 '11 at 7:23
Regarding your comment about new users not being affected by the rep loss: That's true, but making the user lose rep isn't the only (or primary) reason to downvote. Even if the user isn't affected by the downvotes, the question still is. A large number of downvotes on a question, tells potential readers/answerers "Don't bother opening this, this is a bad question", which I believe is the primary reason why downvotes are useful. Further after enough downvoted questions, the low-quality question ban kicks in, which does affect the user. –  sepp2k May 8 '11 at 11:27
There's also another important distinction: If I downvote a question, and the user edits the question to make it better, I can remove my downvote. You can't claw back a close vote. (I'd like it if you could, but you can't right now.) –  T.J. Crowder May 8 '11 at 12:09
@T.J.: I was under the impression that down and up votes were frozen after some not-too-long period of time. I usually try to prompt via comment for editing before close-voting (though not always, I admit), but I'm also under the impression that the close vote itself is supposed to act as a prod to edit. After all, if I vote to close, and the OP makes the question better, there should be no reason for anyone else to vote to close, and my vote will evaporate the next day. –  Josh Caswell May 8 '11 at 17:58
@Josh: They are frozen, but they are unfrozen when the post is edited, exactly so people can change their vote appropriately when the edit significantly improves the post. –  sepp2k May 8 '11 at 20:20
@sepp Thanks for the clarification; that definitely affects my opinion of the situation. –  Josh Caswell May 8 '11 at 22:11
maybe it could be .25 f a point –  tgkprog Apr 1 at 21:37

Some unadorned thoughts: this change would spur me to vote more on questions. Even though I have a fairly high rep on SO, I don't feel very free giving those points up. I'm a bit selfish, I guess, and I could burn through a dozen downvotes in a particularly bad 15 minutes of browsing the front page. Also, I like seeing my rep at a nice pretty multiple of two or five, and I'll sometimes be hesitant to change it.

I wonder what kind of unappealing change we'll see to voting patterns, though. Find a bad question, and you'll often find a half-dozen comments that reflect poorly on the community ("OMG where do people this dumb come from?"). I'd hate to see that kind of attitude move from comments to downvotes.

share|improve this answer
Your last sentence actually makes me more in favor of this idea. A downvote is much less rude/offensive than such a comment; being one of the mechanisms of the site, it can't really reflect poorly on the site. It's also less personal, since it applies only to the question, and the downvotee can't know who did it. –  Josh Caswell May 8 '11 at 5:49
@Josh: I guess I should say I'm worried about that attitude moving to downvotes in addition to the comments. I was about to make an argument about the unfairness of a poorly-phrased question getting five or ten downvotes, but I'm not sure I can back that up. What is a fair vote for a poor (say, unanswerable but asked in good faith) question? –  Michael Petrotta May 8 '11 at 5:53
I see what you mean. Doubling the ability to "lash out" is not good. I'm not sure what the answer to your question is -- this proposal is making me wonder about the distinction between close and down voting, and their respective purposes. My own inclination on an unanswerable but apparently good faith question, though, is: comment asking for clarification, etc. (checking the good faith, in effect), and vote to close if that doesn't work. –  Josh Caswell May 8 '11 at 6:01

I'm a new user, so this is from the perspective of someone with limited exposure to the complexities of user interaction on Stack Overflow. Personally, at no point did the deduction of 1 point concern me about down-voting. In general I feel hesitant to down-vote because I imagine it will make the other person feel rather shitty. I'd rather see questions getting more up-votes (and hopefully more attention) rather than focusing on making it easier to down-vote users. Honestly I'd rather a zero-penalty on down-votes altogether, and maybe even prevent negative vote-count on questions at all. Instead, perhaps automatically close questions after they reach a certain threshold. No reason to hurt anyone's feelings, or damage anyone's rep. A question gets closed, no harm done, the person asking the question will hopefully harbor no ill-will and will most likely endeavor to do better the next time.

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It's been remarked many dozens of times that users, even high rep users, are loathe to cast downvotes because they would lose 1 -- yes, ONE -- point of rep. See the last paragraph on this comment for example. blog.stackoverflow.com/2011/05/… –  Jeff Atwood May 8 '11 at 6:21
I wonder if I'm in the minority then? –  zeekay May 8 '11 at 6:28
@zeekay I don't know, but that this happens at all (and it does..) is a continual source of amazement to me. You have 10k+ rep and you're sweating a -1? really? –  Jeff Atwood May 8 '11 at 6:30
:D Maybe they do the math on how many bad questions they see in a day and the figures they come up with are truly frightening! –  zeekay May 8 '11 at 6:39
@zeekay: :) I would bet that it's something like that. Certainly I think that most days I could spend all 30 votes in the downward direction, and if I did that for a while, I might not have the rep to vote at all! –  Josh Caswell May 8 '11 at 6:43
@Jeff: You fail to factor human idiosyncrasies and the psychological effect of loosing even a small part of something which is perceived to be hard-won. –  Lawrence Dol May 8 '11 at 8:37

I don't like change. But I guess it has merit. (An answer downvotes graph would help to judge it better..)

Usually I avoid downvoting newcomer questions. It's pointless to downvote a rep 1 user. And if it costs me -1 without affecting that account, I do in fact opt out. (But most people use closevotes in lieu of downvotes in these cases anyway.)

So making that free would indeed incentivize me to downvote more questions. But I believe I'm already downvoting too few answers. And if this idea is given a roll, I would request that this is used to at least even out the discrepancy between question and answer votes:

               cost  upvote      cost  downvote

 question      0     +5          0     -1 

 answer        0     +10        -1     -2

If upvotes only bring half as much reputation win, then downvotes should subtract only half of what answer downvotes do. And I assume it would cause less hurt feelings if the free downvotes cause less loss there.

Regarding the pity upvotes that's maybe not such a glamorous idea. Albeit there is the same discrepancy of requiring 5 downvotes to cancel out a pity answer upvote. (And dangerous answers IMHO require fiercer eradiction than unreadable questions.)

(The banning metrics would be unaffected by the reputation charges. It's the downvotes alone that count.)

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why is it pointless? I think you are thinking of this entirely the wrong way. You are voting on the content of the question not the user. Thus, casting a downvote lets us know the question is of low quality. Who the user is, or what their rep is.. that's totally irrelevant. It's about the question, not the user. –  Jeff Atwood May 8 '11 at 6:24
That's too abstract. While content quality classification is the original reason for the voting system, that's not solely how it is perceived. Bad question askers do not even visualize when their questions slip to -1, -2, -3. Downvoting has little educative use if it doesn't reach the user. -- Yes, wrong way to look at it. Wrong reason not to downvote bad content. But that's how it is. –  mario May 8 '11 at 6:32
additionally, reducing the -2 to a -1 would undo one of the most important recent changes; since question upvotes are only +5, it means a "pity upvote" on a question isn't as strong -- compare an answer going from -1 to 0 : +8 rep versus a question going from -1 to 0 : +3 rep. That's completely intentional. –  Jeff Atwood May 8 '11 at 6:33
@mario the point is that many bad questions SIMPLY ARE NOT DOWNVOTED AT ALL, far too often. And even worse, MUCH worse, is that bad questions tend to get great answers! What is the bad question asker learning there? Think it through. –  Jeff Atwood May 8 '11 at 6:34
@Jeff: So you are saying that the purpose of the downvote is to make an indication to the system? There are two other possibilities that I see: to signal to the asker, pointless in the case of a low-rep user, or to other users, which is actually bad because no-one should vote up (pity) or down (bandwagon) based on the current (negative) score. Are there more possibilities? If marking questions for the SO software itself is the point, then I am fully in favor of the proposed change. –  Josh Caswell May 8 '11 at 6:35
@Jeff If the bad question's asker gets a downvoted question and some great answers, would they learn anything different? –  Anna Lear May 8 '11 at 6:37
@Jeff: I see where you are going. Speaking of which, I did downvote one question yesterday, because of a clear plzsendthesearchresultz formulation. But I removed that downvote again, because three other people upvoted it afterwards; bad timing. The topic was interesting, and it gained very interesting (but totally undeserved) and good answers. Not losing the -1 would have me kept that downvote indeed. (Like not causing the asker -2 would make it an easier decision.) –  mario May 8 '11 at 6:46
@anna the negative question votes sting most non-completely-sucky askers. And those that are oblivious to peer pressure, are those that we're actively targeting for elimination in various ways, most of which are not overtly documented. –  Jeff Atwood May 8 '11 at 8:43

I've come to several conclusions here:

  • That having a cost to downvoting generally discourages downvoting.
  • That the fact upvotes are free does not mean everyone will use them appropriately.
  • That the above two facts plus human nature to be critical probably means free downvotes will be abused on some small scale, leading to "@Downvoter NOOOO MY REP YOU &*#%!" and "Eeeek, Jeff this no fair" etc.
  • While the above point is true, you will also get an increased downvoting on questions by making it free.

Pekka or his troll I think has the right idea, but I disagree with making every X downvote cost. I think downvotes should cost, but based on some increasing factor of contribution to the site, every Y downvote, where Y is that factor, should be free. I personally would base it on a combination of flag weight, close votes used (or perhaps questions you've actually help close/migrate) and downvotes cast, so the more you moderate, the more you are able to moderate. I'll leave the details to you.

I also think this is slightly the wrong angle to attack the problem at. I realise the aim here is to renew the focus on quality / well-asked questions, but I think the problem isn't that people don't downvote these questions enough, it's that people are beginning to provide answers, comments etc anyway before a question can be closed, rather than voting to close and walking away. I also have more of a problem with poor one line answers than I do questions, since the fact your rubbish question gets attention is the root of the problem. A sort of Creeping-phpBBism.

Personally, to echo Josh, if a question is rubbish, I don't bother downvoting, I just vote to close. I'm not downvote shy (in fact I'm increasingly downvoting) since I've over 100 downvotes, which if I hadn't cast would put me into 10k rep already, but why spend -1 when I can close it? Moreover, are there that many questions (yes, there will be some, but...) which attract a negative rep which should be left open? Finally, as I understand it when the question gets deleted they get that rep back anyway.

Just some thoughts. However, if you do give me free downvotes on questions I will more than happily use them.

share|improve this answer

As someone who does not yet have close vote privileges, the "cost" of a downvote does affect my behaviour on the site. I am much more likely to flag a question (or an answer) than to downvote it. This does apply with additional force if I have just passed a threshold for privileges. I therefore end up flagging Q&A that are real dross, and am less likely to use my voting as a mechanism to indicate perceived quality.

If you were to change as suggested, removing the cost of downvoting questions, it would have an impact on my actions. If this sort of change would lead (if followed more widely) to the desired increased focus on question voting, then I would be all in favour of it.

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Perhaps you should only get 10 free question downvotes per day. (Akin to 10 extra question votes per day)

This will stop people from going crazy with downvotes, but it will still incentivize (sp?) downvoting questions.

I'd imagine that the number of people downvoting more than 10 questions per day is already really low.

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When I was pushing to get 10k, and then 20k, I rationed my downvotes. Now that I'm well over 20k, I'm less inclined to do so. One might argue that this is an intended consequence: high-rep users are the people whose judgement you trust, and they are also the people most likely to shrug off the -1 charge.

In other words, the question here is whether you are trying to incent more downvotes from those further down the rep curve. If so, I think that making them free is a fine idea.

To me, the more valuable change would be to make the downvote penalty even closer to the upvote benefit. I know that 'sympathy' has been blown upon as a statistically valid concept, but my impression is that there is a class of questions where downvotes attract upvotes, and the disparity mounts up. This is not an issue for truly awful questions, but rather for bikesheds. I wonder if it's just pointless to try to downvote those as opposed to the close/delete cycle.

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I think it sounds like an excellent change.

As you've said, Jeff, people are very keen to vote on answers, but questions get short shrift, which is odd because the quality of questions matters a lot.

Although in theory we care about quality, not rep (ours or theirs), the fact is that as humans we do associate value with rep and (as @Anna said), we tend to hold onto something we value.

The other thing about downvoting is that you can undo it if the question improves. I'll tend to hold off voting to close, waiting (usually in vain) for the OP to correct the problem, because I can't undo that (not 'till the question is actually closed and I can vote to reopen it).

I've been trying to remind myself to vote on questions anyway, and with this change, I'd be much more likely to vote questions down when appropriate.

It might also have a knock-on effect on voting questions up, because you get in the mindset of voting on questions. Which would be a very good thing.

Update: This question lead me to make this separate suggestion (which is complementary, not meant as a replacement; I like the idea suggested here regardless of my new suggestion either way). Basically it's a direct approach: Remind people to vote on questions (when they vote on answers), since people vote on answers more than questions. See the link for (er, some) details. Edit: Hans Passant tells me that this has just been implemented and will be documented here in the next couple of days. Classic case of someone else having my good idea first. I've deleted the feature request I made here.

Update 2: I was just coming back to suggest that this free downvote thing should be something one has to earn (with a fairly modest rep, say a couple of hundred, perhaps as much as 500; not much more) and see that @systempuntoout has just suggested that. So, um, me too. :-) @Jeff reminded me elsewhere that you need 125 rep to downvote at all. So a separate threshold for free downvotes is probably unnecessary and confusing.

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I see this as having the unintended side effect of encouraging users to pick the lazy option of downvoting instead of choosing the right option of editing to clarify or better phrase a valuable but poorly written question.

In cases where a question has little quality in its own right, then encouraging downvoting would be a better solution, but for questions that only need a little help, encouraging a downvote is bad for the community.

My other concern is that when a user edits a question, one might have the chance to undo a downvote and spare both the penalty. As this is now implemented for questions, the downvoter now has no reason to undo his vote, even if the question was appropriately edited to become valuable by the poster. The poster does not deserve to have a permanently binding negative rep simply because there's no reason to undo the negative vote.

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I think people who prefer the "lazy option" used to take the easy way out earlier too and flag posts as "low quality". Now they can downvote instead. It still comes down to the fact that if someone doesn't want to edit, they will find another way to express their opinion of the question. –  Anna Lear Jun 1 '11 at 19:33
My initial reaction was that this is silly because upvoting seems to work okay even though there's currently no incentive to remove upvotes on bad posts. But then I remembered all the times I've seen code that just plain doesn't work -- including stuff that does run but doesn't answer the question -- that nevertheless garners an upvote, or two, or sometimes five. So +1 to you, @Xaade. –  Pops Jun 1 '11 at 19:40

Would starting questions with a positive value affect how people vote?

  • Questions start with a vote value of +1 and question poster gets their +5 rep (awarded after a delay?)
  • First downvote incurs no penalty to the voter and incurs -5 to the question poster

Psychologically, you're not penalising the question poster - you're just removing rep they don't deserve. So, good questions get positive votes, mediocre ones get zero and really bad ones go to negative/close/deletion.

The above solution is probably not the right one, but I think the general idea has merit. You want to motivate people to vote, so state that condition X means good, set the default as something else and wait for people's someone on the internet is wrong gene to kick in.

Possible issues with the solution as stated:

  • complaints over race conditions that incur -1 rep for 2nd+ downvotes
  • additional complexity in implementation and for users
  • additional batch jobs
  • requires the user base to be proactive and not accept +1 is the new 0
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I would try to game the system asking 50 silly questions a month in tags with low traffic/views. –  systempuntoout May 8 '11 at 20:06
@systempuntoot, whay if the "free" upbote gave no rep, but cost no rep to loose? –  Ian Ringrose May 8 '11 at 20:22
This is interesting, but why not start at 0 and make the move to -1 free? –  Josh Caswell May 8 '11 at 20:29
@systempuntoout - granted; this does need the user base to be alert and take action @Josh - the idea is that the +1 gives people something they feel they need to fix –  McDowell May 8 '11 at 21:04
I see, but I don't agree with the idea of questions starting out marked as "good", unless it were tied to a proven record of good questions. –  Josh Caswell May 8 '11 at 22:13

I question whether downvoting on questions actually works. Great questions should be rewarded, sure - but most poor-quality questions I see come from users with so little reputation they literally cannot lose any, or their behavior indicates they don't understand or don't care about the reputation system anyway. So a negative number is a helpful indicator to others that the question might need help, but does it really affect the asker's behavior?

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Yes, I think it does. Downvoting is a good incentive to the questioner to edit problems out, in situations that don't quite call for closure. –  Neil Fein May 8 '11 at 20:26
@Neil how is it good incentive if the user doesn't lose rep or doesn't understand rep? –  Rex M May 8 '11 at 20:28
Because while many users don't understand rep, the ones that stick around for a little bit do understand it and have it. And many poor questions come from these users as well. –  Neil Fein May 8 '11 at 20:32
never underestimate the suggestive power of a -1 next to your name. Granted for certain oblivious users this might not work, but that's a different issue -- those types of users need to be removed from our site, which we are pursuing aggressively via other means. –  Jeff Atwood May 8 '11 at 22:12

It's a nice idea, but I'm not sure it would be great to give everyone this right; maybe this should be a privilege, something that needs x amount of reputation to unlock. In the end, reputation is a way of measuring how trusted a person is; someone that's trusted would have more authority to cast judgement on a question.

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you don't even have the right to vote until you get 125 rep, though –  Jeff Atwood May 12 '11 at 6:44
@JeffAtwood: I know that. Still, even at 125, you're relatively new. You need a bit more experience before you're given this much power :). –  alex May 12 '11 at 6:50

As I said on meta.Serverfault, if you're going to do this, it should be combined with the new "10 votes for question only" pool of votes.

For those 10 votes, take away the cost of downvoting and/or add +1 rep for every up or down vote. Having to first vote on 30 other questions or answers should be enough of a hurdle to get over that not too many people will randomly vote 30 times and then vote on 10 questions just to get 10 rep per day.

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+1: I'm not in favor of receiving rep for voting, but removing the cost solely for the 10 question-only votes is an excellent idea. –  Josh Caswell May 8 '11 at 17:40

To be honest, the need for down-votes to have an up-front cost (when up-votes, flags, and every other "voting" mechanism doesn't) seemed counter-productive, so I'd support this change.

However, right now, there's not much of a value proposition to voting up, and a negative cost to voting down. While removing the negative cost is great, there's still no reason to vote constructively, besides a mostly abstract idea of my vote potentially contributing to the greater good of the site or for a couple of badges.

Vote or the kitten gets it: okay, that's fine. But it doesn't really matter how I vote, does it? I can blindly vote 30 times on 30 random questions and have fulfilled my civic duty, at least according to the letter of the law.

Giving down-votes a cost (while letting up-votes be free) isn't the solution, but there has to be something to assign meaning or value to question voting besides the prompts and blog posts to get people to vote.

(My poorly thought-out idea to address that is in this answer's revision log).

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Good ideas, but of course that might just start another kind of game - find a question or answer likely to be highly up- or down-voted, and pile on the bandwagon. Thar be rep in those posts! –  Michael Petrotta May 8 '11 at 5:27
I think you're conflating two wildly different systems here; I can't support this. –  Jeff Atwood May 8 '11 at 5:34
@Michael Yeah, I think any bonus would have to be thought out more than the 15 minutes I gave to the idea. But if constructive question voting isn't considered a prime face good thing for users, there needs to be some form of regularly-awarded carrot to make it worthwhile. –  user149432 May 8 '11 at 5:34
I don't like this; there's enough peer pressure in the world already. Meta-approval of votes that align with the groupthink doesn't sound like a way to make a spirited community. –  Josh Caswell May 8 '11 at 5:36
@Jeff What's the benefit to me, as a user, to vote in any meaningful manner? Right now, it's mostly to get SE off my back: I can do that by up-voting or down-voting en masse the first 30 questions I see. Obviously, that's not your intent in trying to get people to vote more on questions. At least with down-votes costing something, it prevented people from blindly down-voting. –  user149432 May 8 '11 at 5:38
At some point, the individual member has to be responsible for voting responsibly. I'd be surprised to find that those who vote regularly do so in an off-hand or careless manner. –  Josh Caswell May 8 '11 at 5:41
@mark what's the benefit to you, as a user, to participate at all? It's kind of a meaningless way to look at things. You could be read-only and get all the answers (assuming there's a valid Q&A pair) without lifting a finger. –  Jeff Atwood May 8 '11 at 6:18
@Jeff I don't mean this to be existential. There's direct value in doing specific actions: getting our questions answered, removing bad stuff, increasing reputation, seeing numbers move. Even answer voting satisfies the urge to thank others for helping me. But question voting? Numbers don't change, I don't get anything for it, and I'm not penalized for doing it wrong. There are so many gamified elements to SE that not having something for questions is odd. We're just being told, "Do it so we'll stop nagging you about it" It's SE's equivalent of the "click here to continue" in game tutorials. –  user149432 May 8 '11 at 6:32
@mark so when someone asks a great question that got a great answer, that wasn't helping you? Heck, even a mediocre question that got a useful answer? –  Jeff Atwood May 8 '11 at 6:38
@Jeff No, why would it? I guess it's helpful in some commiserative sense: "I'm not alone in not being able to do X." But the person who actually provided an answer I can use is way more valuable. Based on the stats, I don't think I'm alone in thinking this. But all this is probably beside the point: I'm all for removing the down-vote cost because down-votes should be just as valued as up-votes, but I fear without any direct cost to votes (up or down) it's just going to create a new problem. –  user149432 May 8 '11 at 7:16
I am with Mark on this... I have never understood why votes on questions awarded rep to the asker. It's always been my feeling that getting an answer to your problem should be reward enough, and there's more than enough difficulties in programming to keep a steady flow of questions coming in. Furthermore, if there was no rep to a question, the flood of crap I currently have to wade through might finally be meaningfully diminished. –  Lawrence Dol May 8 '11 at 8:27
@software so, no reward for asking a good question? And no penalty for asking a completely terrible one? Remember we already cut question rep in half. blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/03/… and this proposed change would make downvotes more common on questions, which would reduce question rep even further. –  Jeff Atwood May 8 '11 at 8:40
@Jeff: For the millionth time (to quote someone else here), getting an answer to your problem is more than an adequate reward. And if it's not a reward then the problem wasn't real and the question was asked to game the system. –  Lawrence Dol May 9 '11 at 0:41
@software so great questions with no answers, or lacking answers, get no reward? There is a bit of a chicken and egg problem to your logic here. –  Jeff Atwood May 9 '11 at 1:24
@Jeff: Ohmigosh... you mean that occasionally doing everything right brings no reward! How very much like... real life. Let's just give everyone a trophy simply for showing up. –  Lawrence Dol May 9 '11 at 1:42

Are you gonna do another rep recalc to "reverse" the previous downvotes?

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no, but you can trigger a recalc at will –  Jeff Atwood May 12 '11 at 4:04
@Jeff So this will reverse the penalty that we've accrued through downvoting after this is implemented if we recalc our rep –  jcolebrand May 12 '11 at 4:09
I'd leave the old votes as they are right now. –  alex May 12 '11 at 5:40

I've always thought the reputation loss was a good thing. You just have to look at previous answers to similar questions to see that a fair size of people did too.

It's kind of like a meanness tax.

Seriously though how about trying to fix this in another way. Say for every 5 question upvotes somebody gives putting a message saying.

"You've upvoted 5 questions in a row. Have you not seen any bad questions in this time. The community needs downvotes too"

Edit Do you guys really need a reward to do the right thing? Sure losing rep hurts but generally only because you lose privileges.

I still think that the only way to get the desired behaviour is to let people know what the desired behaviour is.

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The meaness tax is an excellent point, but I think it's a bit off the rails with the counter suggestion –  waffles May 8 '11 at 11:48
Its not that dis-similar to the message displayed when you do fifteen votes on answers alone. Also I feel that most people probably don't read meta. Letting them know how to help the community is probably the only way forward. –  Wes May 8 '11 at 20:40
I like this, even though it would nag me something fierce. –  Donal Fellows May 8 '11 at 21:13
no, we can't have a nag reminder to do something potentially negative. The question voting reminder is simply about voting, not "please downvote". That'd be like reminding people they haven't smoked a cigarette in a few days, maybe they should try one? –  Jeff Atwood May 8 '11 at 22:10
@jeff Okay maybe it was badly phrased, I still think there has to be some way of reaching them. I'm off for a Cigarette now. –  Wes May 8 '11 at 22:13
@Jeff Atwood: IMHO a downvote for a truly incorrect answer is a positive and not a negative. But please, no more nag reminders! –  donroby Jul 6 '11 at 22:02

Why not make it so that downvotes cost -1 rep, but the penalty is removed or offset by posting a follow-up comment on the question explaining the vote? This way the comment is not required (which isn't a popular idea) but there is incentive to help improve the question (or answer).

If people care enough about their rep that a 1 point reduction prevents them from downvoting, maybe they would care enough to give a reasoned explanation for their vote?

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I understand not requiring comments. And I'm not even convinced my idea is a good one. But can anyone post a comment and let me know why this would be worse than making downvotes free altogether? –  Farray May 12 '11 at 4:20
-1 (just posting this to get my rep back) –  jmfsg May 13 '11 at 21:15
@Juan point taken. –  Farray May 13 '11 at 21:39
+1 Now new users can see who neg voted. –  Lee Louviere May 31 '11 at 16:31
Perhaps it should only be offset if the comment gets a few upvotes. –  donroby Jul 6 '11 at 22:04

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