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While at least some answers from every question seem to have been up-voted as a "helpful" answer:

  • about 49% of questions have score of 0 or 1.
  • another 21% of questions have a score of 2.

Most questions seem to have an answer or two with score +5. Is it that we have a lot of fluff questions and not useful ones? Or perhaps it just seems more natural to vote for answers than questions? If we want the most useful info on Stack Overflow to filter to the top, how can this disparity be fixed?

I think this may cause real problems for people getting the badges which require +25 or +100 votes on questions.


Edit: I like a lot of the feedback I'm seeing. Two problems are highlighted:

  1. The work flow doesn't promote voting for questions the way it promotes voting for answers. One solution: when a user answers a question, the system should invite them to vote for the question. If someone cares enough to answer a question, then they care enough to vote for it as well.
  2. Users with less than 15 reputation cannot vote for questions or answers. Is this warranted? Maybe these users could provisionally vote for questions and answers and those ratings would only take effect when the user reaches 15 reputation?

Edit: I had no idea this post would be this popular -- or that this would still be a problem by now.

All I ask is this. As you browse Stack Overflow, when you see a good question: vote for it.

If everyone does, then this problem will disappear.

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migrated from stackoverflow.com Jul 25 '09 at 15:19

This question came from our site for professional and enthusiast programmers.

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Just commenting that as of 9/9/08 the stats have shifted slightly and more questions are being ranked. Now its ~46% ranked 0 or 1, and ~17% ranked 2. –  Justin Standard Sep 9 '08 at 18:52
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I think the real issue is that questions and answers are treated alike in the voting system. As a result, questions get compared to answered in terms of vote and most of the time, answers look more helpful and well crafted than questions. I believe the system should differentiate votes on questions and answers (I think Joel mentioned this idea in the latest podcast(#62)) –  LeakyCode Jul 25 '09 at 16:10
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Maybe the people answering the questions are ranking them - by not voting them up? –  Jonathan Leffler Oct 2 '09 at 2:44
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Perhaps because the overall quality of the questions are low? –  Lawrence Dol Nov 25 '09 at 19:42
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There's also strange situations where a question gets more favorites than it does votes (serverfault.com/questions/3780/…). Are we seeing redundancy due to voting up a question and favoriting a question are basically saying the same thing? –  Dynamo Dec 10 '09 at 21:56
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I have favorited, but not upvoted, questions that I think are not great but want to revisit later. I have even favorited questions I have downvoted, or voted to close, because I want to see what happens to them. –  Dour High Arch May 7 '11 at 1:00
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@arch check these related feature request questions: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/4719/add-answer-later-tab meta.stackexchange.com/questions/69346/… –  Knu May 23 '11 at 21:17
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Is it ironic that this question was voted for over 500 times? –  user23948732856 Apr 28 '13 at 18:56
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I think questions need to have two types of votes. One for how well the question is written (code examples, clarity etc). This could be moderated. The second rating would be for value and relevance of the question. Now some of the relevance will be related to the number of views (could be related to title keywords) but more importantly that a question has some value to other programmers. –  Jamie Clayton Jan 5 at 0:50

51 Answers 51

One of the fundamental issues that doesn't seem to have been addressed seems to me to be pretty fundamental: There seem to be no incentive for upvoting questions, so why would I bother?

In practice, I do go out of my way to try and upvote questions, but I seem to be in the minority.

At first, I did get some value from upvoting because I could then find interesting questions again through my personal page (that's how I found myself behaving: "upvote = mark this question so I can find it again later"). Now that "favourites" have been enabled, I no longer even get this benefit.

So basically, the only motivation I now see for upvoting is some nebulous "do unto others" kind of philosophy.

That may suit me, but by embarking with the whole reputation system, stackoverflow has marked itself as a different beast. Live by the rep, die by the rep.

That's not a bad thing, just the way things are.

SO is a rep-based economy. Want people to upvote questions? Easy: attach some incentive to it.

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I know this is a very old thread which was started when SO was still in beta. However, after reading through all of the 51 answers posted here by the time I'm writing this, I had the feeling, that my answer wasn't here yet. Reading the answers brought me to the conclusion that there is a great consent on why to vote for an answer (i.e. promotion of good answers as well as giving credit to the users who provided them). However, there's quite an amount of different opinions on why to vote for questions or whether to vote for them at all.

Before adding my own two cents, I'd like to sum up what I've found to be the essence of most answers (apart from nuances):

People don't vote for questions, because they...

  1. ...find it more natural to vote for answers than for questions.
  2. ...see no benefit in voting on questions. Several answers to the same question are comparable amongst each other and voting for answers brings the good ones to the top. However, voting for questions is considered comparing apples and oranges - it just makes no sense.
  3. ...believe attributing reputation to someone for not knowing something is inherently wrong or that at least the amount of reputation gained through an upvoted question should be substantially smaller than that gained through an upvoted answer.

Regarding 1., there didn't seem to be much reasoning, so I'm not inclined to reason myself in order to refute these opinions.

Regarding 2.: If people vote questions up that they believe are worth asking and that are well written (SSCCE, good english, good formatting), then a questions score would be a measure of quality. This would help to bring high quality questions to the top of the search results and hide less well crafted questions. If that's not a benefit, then what?

Regarding 3., I do understand and to some extent even share this opinion. But I find it important to distinguish reputation and vote count as two completely different concepts that aim to achieve different things.

As already stated, vote count (whether on questions or on answers) is supposed to reflect quality. Reputation on the other hand, is a measure for the merit of an individual. For the individuals the reputation has value, because it is something they can brag about or that they may even be able to use when applying for a new job. Because it has value, it is a good instrument to stimulate participation.

However, the possibility of gaining reputation from asking questions somehow lowers the value of that reputation. Where's the merit in asking a question? Imagine you're looking at an answer posted by a 60k rep user and you think "Whoa", but then you look at his profile and you see that 90% of his rep came from questions. For me that makes a difference. Conversely I'm not too impressed by people who pretend to know everything by never asking any questions. It just shows off their level of narcissism.

Another problem I see with the tight coupling between votes and reputation is that questions that address more common problems will create a higher traffic than those with a very narrow domain. Questions with high traffic and their answers are more likely to get upvoted than those with low traffic. This is not a bad thing by itself, but because upvoting creates reputation I see lots of people accumulating insane amounts of reputation for explaining very basic principles of programming while others who provide sophisticated answers to quite complicated problems receive very little reputation for doing so. I'm not trying to discredit anybody or saying that reputation scores are meaningless, but because of how the system works I believe that they are distorted and not easily comparable.

Coming to an end now: It's too late for that, but if I could make a substantial change to the way SO works, I'd completely decouple votes and reputation. Instead I'd attribute some sort of credits to people depending on their level of participation on this site. These credits wouldn't show up anywhere on their public profile, but they could spend them on other users to increase their reputation.

This is only an idea, which would probably require some more thinking and field testing to actually make it work, but I believe that by decoupling votes and reputation we would see two effects:

  1. It would become clearer to users what they achieve by voting for questions (better search results) and they would be more inclined to do so, because there's no reputation change involved for the person asking. Thus we would see more questions being up- or downvoted.

  2. It would increase the comparability of reputation scores and the scores would better reflect who's actually reputable in the community.

I know that this would be a fundamental change to SO and its siblings and that there's no chance for it to ever become reality, but perhaps someone will read this before launching the next Q/A site and hopefully consider it a reasonable suggestion.

I also hope I'm not getting flamed now for questioning the reputation system ;-)

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+1 for your effort of reading all 51 other answers :) Joke aside, I more-or-less agree with your reasoning. –  Andrew T. Apr 9 at 12:01

I know this might sounds a bit odd to some of you, but I didn't really see a place to vote.

Yeah, there are big honkin arrows, but they didn't jump out at me.

I kinda expected to vote on the question on the main browse page too, as done on other sites.

My suggestion, add + and - to the arrows. Yes, the Department of Redundancy Department.

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I see a down vote as indication that the question is a "bad" question, rather than a "stupid" one. There are no stupid questions, as has been stated. However, there are bad questions --- insufficient information, poorly formulated, no attempt to solve the problem self, no research into possible solution, please do my homework for me, and so on. These type of questions are distinguishable (I believe) from those indicating that the questioner is struggling with the concepts and does need some help. A down vote prompts the questioner to put some effort into finding a solution and researching the problem a little before asking the community to bail him/her out.

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Perhaps by the time you've finished reading a really good question, the voting controls have been scrolled off the top of the page.

My rule of thumb is, if I found a question with an answer that is perfect for what I needed to know, they both get a vote up, unless the answer is already accepted (I know), AND if I am answering a question, I definitely vote the question up. It's worth something to have a clear, focused, and answerable question. Anything I can actually write an answer to falls into that description.

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Upvoting questions should be reflecting that people who ask questions which lead to good answers are contributing to the knowledge base of the site. This currently is not working well.

This seems to be a problem with all such sites. I was just over on a site based on a model very much like SO. This site is still very new so it is not being flooded with questions. I asked two very basic questions (the type that should be in any wiki about the subject) neither had been asked on the website (and before someone comments they happened to be questions I didn't know the answer too). Both questions received answers and those answers received votes.

Someone wrote that often the question is not useful to them so they don't upvote it, but that the answer to that same question is useful, so they upvote the answer to that same quetion. Is that really the system working as intended? How wasn't the question helpful in that it was what led to the helpful answer?

Reasonable solutions I can think of:

Encourage those answering questions to upvote with a reminder if they have not already. Perhaps even a suggested list on how to evaluate questions (question is of wide interest, question adds to the technical knowledge base of SO, etc).

Alternatively, all answers should give some value (even if less than an actual upvote). Given that questions can be closed (which should remove points given for that question) and people can use comments (which probably should be used far more then downvoting).

Another approach would be when someone upvotes an answer to have the fly out ask about and allow voting on the question.

Yet another that answers who do not rate the question do not receive full points for their answers.

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I interact with SO (and the related sites) in two entirely different modes. In the first mode, I specifically come to SO. I am looking for questions to answer or looking to see if there have been responses for me. (I guess in theory I could come to ask a question, but I never do that.) In that mode I vote on many answers but few questions. I try to remember to upvote a question I answer, but I don't always do it.

In the second mode I have a problem. I am at a search engine, or have been enlightened and started at SO, and I am searching. When I find the answer to my problem, I upvote some of the answers, and I ALWAYS upvote the question. Because someone took the time to ask this ages ago, I get the answer now, not in a few minutes (or, gasp, hours) from now. My upvote is my thankyou.

Assuming others are like me, I would expect to see that answer voting has increased as Google and Bing rankings for the site have improved. Can anyone confirm that?

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I hate to be Mr. Pessimist here, but I don't think voting will ever become a key component of Stack Overflow. The nature of the site is one in which voting is a filtering mechanism, and a way to help "face" content. However, I have no problem with that, and I actually prefer it. The goal of this site in my eyes, is instead to be a quick (but accurate) resource where programmers can ask questions, and get questions answered. It should also have a robust search feature, and be highly optimized for SEO so that programmers can use it as a long-standing and reliable resource. I really liked Yahoo! Answers for that reason. It was Q&A, plain and simple.

I really do hope that developers come here and have fun and participate because they enjoy the community, and enjoy helping others learn. If the elitism is absent, and a general notion of common sense and friendliness is apparent, this site will be a success.

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You certainly were off on that prediction... –  Stu Thompson Sep 4 '09 at 15:17

The answer is easy for me - the site lets me vote on an answer in the same "place" that I read it, but I have to navigate to a new page to vote on a question. When I read down the long lists of questions, I see plenty that are obviously good questions, but since they aren't in my area of expertise, I don't bother opening the link, and I don't bother voting for the question. On the other hand, when I see a good answer, one click votes on it, and without taking me out of my "reading flow".

Add the "vote up/down" affordances to the question list pages, and I bet you'll see question voting take a substantial jump.

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It might be because everyone's too busy using their votes on "threads" like this one. I think maybe we're trying to express two things with the question voting system, both that a question was a good one that everyone can learn from, and that a question needs attention from the community. Toss in the notion that lots of people are using votes to recognize the fun factor in a subjective question or to reinforce their opinion while "answering" such questions, and you can see why questions maybe aren't getting their due.

It is instructive to note that at the time this was written, the only two gold-badge level questions involve how to use this site (shouldn't that be in the faq?), and a "what do you think?" that's taken place on nearly every active board in the world. Two of the "Questions" filters are already drowning in noise.

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Give a separate badge for rating questions.

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I like the reputation restrictions. They keep me from making strange misinterpretations of concepts like 'down' and 'up' until I've had a chance to assimilate more of the culture here. Spending more time reading, rather than clicking, improves my feel for what each click would mean.

Rating based on 'useful' makes sense to me for answers, but not so much for questions. A thread might be useful, but the question itself? Well, the most I could say about one ordinarily is that it was interesting or thought-provoking.

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Maybe instead of up/down voting, there could be a ranking for how general the question is? For example, the likelihood of others finding it useful.

I never vote on questions because it doesn't make sense to me. Which question is "better?"

  • How do I handle mouse clicks on a QTableView in Qt?
  • Why do I have to set my static variables outside of my class in C++?

I just see them as two different people having a frustrating time with whatever their current language is.

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Maybe a question should not be voted per se, but have a kind of ranking based on how many and how high scorings answers it has.

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Just posted a dupe question to this one (accidentally) so here is my question text as I am going to delete the duplicate:

I have noticed that when going into questions there can regularly be several answers to a legitimate question. The question is thoughtful, useful, well presented and yet has garnered no up-votes.

Surely if you are answering a question, then your first thought should be to upvoting it. I mean its in all our best interests surely, because the natural SO process will ensure that good questions feature prominently.

Nobody seems to think twice about upvoting 'Subjective' questions, which in my opinion (although I am guilty of some too) should not be applicable to upvoting, only to favourite<-ing> (Have I shot myself in the foot here with this highly subjective question?)

Its costs nothing to up-vote a legitimate, well-asked and useful question so why are people so reluctant?

I guess that this is the best place to put this...

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Who comes to Stack Overflow with the idea that "I really need to know something, but I'm not sure what it is. I'll look at the top-voted questions and find out what question I need answered"?

No one.

You search to find questions you need. You tag topics you are involved with and watch for your tags on the front page.

When you've found the question you need, you read the answers, paying special attention, perhaps, to the accepted answer, to answers that have lots of upvotes, and to answers from people you recognize, or who have high reputations.

To me, it's silly to compare stats of the questions and answers, because they are apples and oranges.

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I try vote everyday on questions of the topics I find interesting (opencv tag) so people get encouraged to keep asking. Also I think it is good to vote (as the person who asks) up for those answers that try to help and are correct even if they are not really helpful or not the answer you would consider perfect.

I think that people in general is kind of greedy with voting and there are several good questions/ansawers with 0 votes that probably not many people will read.

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I don't think it is good practice to upvote answers just because they were trying... especially if the answer is not helpful... I can try very hard to answer questions about C# but I probably wont help anyone... Vote on the content of posts, not on how hard the OP tried to answer... –  Lix Sep 10 '12 at 13:22
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I didn't mean that, I don't mean when the answer is wrong. I mean when the answer is correct, but it is not the super-answer that you would accept. Sometimes people just vote the accepted answer or even they accept they don't vote. Of course I don't don't vote wrong answers –  Jav_Rock Sep 10 '12 at 13:24
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If the answer is not really helpful then it doesn't really deserve an upvote. If you want to recognize the posters effort you could make a comment but voting for the sake of voting is a mistake. –  Lix Sep 10 '12 at 13:49
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Yes, that point of view is also valid. But different people have different points of view. So a weak question for some can be a nice question for others. I found some posts with more than 100 votes weak, compared to others of less than 10. –  Jav_Rock Sep 10 '12 at 17:47

Sorry about the sad truth: I skip the question entirely and scroll straight down to the top answers. More often than not I hit jackpot on first try, as the answer seems to address my question perfectly fine*.

It's a TL;DR feeling. Do you re-read your Google/Bing search queries before you start scrolling down the results?

*Yes on rare occasions I might check the question for some details just to verify if indeed it matches up to my issue.

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As a possible solution, what about giving reputation for the number of views of a question to the question poster? Then again, bad questions could get a lot of views too. A multiplier on the current score, perhaps? But then this would make the system dynamic. Although you could just take into account the score at the current time when a view is made, and use fractional reputation scores which are rounded up / down. It's a tough problem.

Another solution might be upvotes / downvotes carrying more weight from users with more points.

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I don't know why people don't vote, but one way to get people to vote more would be to provide a badge incentive that requires a lot of involvement. One suggested would be to extend Vox Populi - Used the maximum 40 votes in a day with

Max Vox Populi - Used the maximum 40 votes in a day 100 times.

or a somewhat better yet even worse suggestion:

Vote Distribution - Used the maximum 40 votes in a day 100 times on non-consecutive days.

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This would also encourage people to vote on questions without really reading them or considering their content; it would encourage people to just blindly open posts and vote on them, which is harmful, not helpful. –  Servy Aug 15 '13 at 17:50
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They all do. Or something. I don't know, I didn't read your comment, I only upvoted it. –  JoshDM Aug 15 '13 at 17:51

My idea is to remove the up/down arrows for questions completely, and completely replace the functionality provided by the 'upvote' arrow with the already-existing 'favourite' mechanism that allows you to keep track of posts, but would now give upvotes to the user (some kind of multiple perhaps), providing the question is not flagged and removed.

Unique SO user view count may also contribute to score. The flag mechanism would provide the 'downvoting' functionality, and removed questions would contribute negatively to score.

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Disagree. Downvoting strongly encourages bad question askers to think twice before asking the next question. Otherwise they keep asking bad questions and bringing the overall quality of the site down. –  BalusC Mar 1 '13 at 15:55

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