Am I the only one who sees this as really odd?

It's a typical pattern on stackoverflow:

Someone posts a question which is regarded as not helpful because they made some mistakes in posting the question or even worse: they are just starting and don't know all the logs there are.

So next thing you know, this question has downvotes and the first to comment the question as not useful has usually more than one upvote for pointing out obvious.

My opinion is that it's not always very obvious that a question would be a bad question.

Then it seems that it is almost regarded has harmful to post an answer which is helping the user posting his question. Even though it is a good answer no one is giving attention to it.

I'm refering to this example question here but I'm sure this is one of much:


My idea is that one should at least not be allowed to have more downvotes than upvotes in his profile. I don't want to offend anyone but for me this looks like someone having a bad day. No offense intended here but this is how it looks to me.


  • 16
    As it stands, there is LOT more trash than diamonds on Stack Overflow. That's all. – Shadow The Princess Wizard Apr 3 '13 at 22:32
  • 1
    I can't remember exactly, but I think I have slightly more downvotes than up votes. I'm just better at spotting the bad rather than the good. – BDM Apr 3 '13 at 22:33
  • I agree. Not that we should punish these, but we are a little hard on the newcomers. – Undo - Reinstate Monica Apr 3 '13 at 22:33
  • @ProfPickle and Sha Wiz Dow Ard - I partly agree with both of you and I think that with giving more focus to 'trash' it's not helping anyone. And I understand that there are downvotes. It's a good mechanism for control and I do value the effort of someone looking for the not so cool questions. – Yannis Apr 3 '13 at 22:36
  • 1
    Is your discussion: (1) users should not be able to downvote more than they upvote, or (2) questions should not have negative scores? I can't figure out what you're talking about. – user7116 Apr 3 '13 at 22:38
  • 2
    So... You want more bad content on the site? – Doorknob Apr 3 '13 at 22:41
  • Questions should have negative scores but not that 'fast'. As it's all about knowledge and opinions I would like the opinions to have less weight and give more room to the knowledge (the answers and not the 'your question is bad'-upvote-me behaviour). (1) could be a mechanism to start with. – Yannis Apr 3 '13 at 22:41
  • @Doorknob not at all. – Yannis Apr 3 '13 at 22:42
  • Ok it seems that I either don't make myself clear or it's just not the opinion here what mine is. Have a good day I'm low on power. – Yannis Apr 3 '13 at 22:43
  • 3
    Many users, including me, would no longer be able to downvote bad things, the whole point of downvotes in the first place. Therefore there will be more bad content on the site. – Doorknob Apr 3 '13 at 22:44
  • I do see your point but simply disagree. Don't take the downvotes here hard or personally they just mean people don't agree with what you suggest. – Shadow The Princess Wizard Apr 3 '13 at 22:54
  • 4
    There is much more bad content than good content. Downvotes are used to highlight bad content. Upvotes are used to highlight good content. Ergo, there will be more downvotes than upvotes. – Aza Apr 3 '13 at 23:52
  • 1
    Hm, you realize you have 200+ more downvotes than upvotes, right? Oh, wait, that's me ;) – yannis Apr 4 '13 at 5:05
  • 5
    I'd be more in favour of the opposite - there are a lot of users who seem to automatically upvote even the worst posts without ever downvoting. – Flexo Apr 4 '13 at 5:14
  • @ProfPickle The actual numbers are available on your profile. You've voted 143 up and 121 down. – meagar Apr 4 '13 at 17:19

Being Nice

If I think a user has put effort into their question, but just needs some help with the rules, I'll usually leave a (non-snarky) comment.

...and the first to comment the question as not useful has usually more than one upvote for pointing out obvious.

There is definitely a difference between "tough love" and just being a jerk. Everyone has the responsibility to know the difference, and there are mechanisms in place to help enforce this:

I won't upvote just to be nice, but I won't downvote until it's clear that the question won't be improved.

But are we nice? Some statistics

Disclaimer: I'm fairly new to the StackExchange Data Explorer and the rep/vote schemas.

I wrote a variety of queries in an attempt to determine if this is even a problem. The query that seems the most meaningful can be found here.

| Downvotes More | Upvotes More | Total Upvotes | Total Downvotes |
|          1,820 |       90,784 |    22,850,869 |       2,165,073 |

A Limit to "Niceness"

However, there are so many cases where the user has blatantly ignored the many, many signposts on how to pose a proper question. If the question is more than a step or two away from being a good question, I'll usually opt for a close vote and spare the downvote (again, giving them the opportunity to improve the question after it is closed).

If the question shows utter disregard for the community's standards and time (e.g. a single line of incoherent text), then I'm more inclined to downvote, vote to close, and move on.

My idea is that one should at least not be allowed to have more downvotes than upvotes in his profile.

No, the system works far more often than it does not. The quality of SE questions/answers is staggering compared to other "friendlier" venues. Quality is just my opinion, but I see ample evidence to not enforce any such ratio.

Help for New Users

Taking the question being discussed as an example, this is what the user would have seen:

enter image description here

On this page we see:

  • "Provide details"
  • "Share your research"
  • FAQ is one click away.
  • Further detail ("asking help") is one click away.
  • Possible duplicates (probably irrelevant this particular question, but so often relevant to other downvoted questions).

This particular question was probably downvoted on the detail/research piece, since "Internal Server Error" means very little.

Part of being able to program is communicating and learning to communicate more effectively.

All said, the user still received valuable feedback. It may have cost them a few downvotes, but—if they take the time to learn why—they will have learned a valuable lesson.

TL;DR: be civil, helpful, but don't spare the downvote when warranted.

  • Thanks for this post. It gave me some more insight on the system here in general. Maybe it's a cultural thing but e.g. this very question I posted here got now 18 downvotes. I don't care about the "reputation" but I still think this question was a good one even though most don't agree based on their (richer than me) experience here. Just because someone doesn't agree it doesn't mean the question is bad. As for the questions not on Meta I see your points and they do make sense. Hey: What about an option to Vote for a redirect to the FAQ ;) that would be really good! – Yannis Apr 4 '13 at 17:33
  • @Yannis - I appreciate you being mature enough to accept an answer and leave a comment. Don't feel bad about the 18 downvotes (although I know it's hard not to). Meta downvotes just mean that people disagree with your proposition to enforce the downvote/upvote ratio. It doesn't mean that it wasn't a valid thing to ask about. High-rep users on meta collect downvotes all the time when people disagree with them. – Tim Medora Apr 4 '13 at 17:47
  • Also, I agree with your general premise of being nicer to people. This has been a big push over the last 6 months, and I can honestly say I've seen much better behavior, at least in some cases. We still have a long way to go, but the attitude is improving. – Tim Medora Apr 4 '13 at 17:49
  • 2
    Thank you Tim Medora. I'll leave this question now and would like to thank everyone who took part in the discussion. – Yannis Apr 4 '13 at 18:50

The way you get a better reception on Stack Overflow is to get to learn the site and the community before asking your first question. That means:

  • reading the FAQ and How to Ask, and following the guidelines set forth there.
  • looking at other people's questions to see what is being asked, how it is being asked, and what reception it is getting, and modeling your question after the succesful ones.
  • being responsive to comments asking for clarification.
  • In general, treating the site like a professional resource, and approaching it on its own terms, rather than treating it like an ordinary Internet forum.

If you do all of these things, you won't get downvotes.

  • I think new users should be redirected to the faq when they start, otherwise its like a minefield. – BDM Apr 3 '13 at 23:00
  • 10
    @ProfPickle, new users are redirected to the how to ask page. Most seem perfectly capable of clicking right past it. – Zoredache Apr 3 '13 at 23:05

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .