Note/update: Within a few minutes/comments/downvotes of posting this question, I accepted an answer and acknowledged in comments that the hypothetical change mentioned was not a good idea. Over the course of the massive downvoting this received, I've also come to better understand the MSO culture, the role of tags and the role of the FAQ and revised this note/update accordingly. I elaborated on the question a bit as well, but tried to stay true to the original.

I've seen a lot of opinions to the effect that while it's generally a good idea to accompany a downvote with a comment, requiring so would lead to an increase in retaliatory behavior and other problems. I've also seen opinions to the effect that receiving a comment with a downvote is a privilege, not a right.

That said, I'm wondering what the pros and cons are of publishing someones downvote-without-comment rate on their profile. Doing so might discourage such behavior still providing privacy for particular downvotes and therefore not increasing retaliatory behavior. Are there other problems with this that I haven't considered? Is there not a consensus that downvote-without-comment is generally undesirable? I'm really just looking for information/perspectives here. I don't feel I understand the dynamics well enough to actually propose this change at this point.

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    even if a comment is posted by the downvoter, it doesn't always explain the downvote. Now for the big question: did I downvote you? – John Dvorak Aug 18 '13 at 18:59
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    Huh, so now I have a bad-looking number next to my name. I guess I'll post a comment then: Unicorns. And waffles. I hope that helps you! – Mat Aug 18 '13 at 19:01
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    Witch-hunting occurs far too often when people try to figure out who downvoted them. Let's not encourage it by publishing a percentage that feeds speculation. – George Cummins Aug 18 '13 at 19:02
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    I can always think of something to say to keep my NCDV ratio low. Such as, "why was this downvoted?" – John Dvorak Aug 18 '13 at 19:06
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    @PeterAlfvin Aren't you implicitly making a feature request, i.e. the publication of this rate? – John Bensin Aug 18 '13 at 19:18
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    Wow, that's a provocative and leading title. "Should the number of times you slept with your spouse this week remain unpublished?" "remain"?! – jscs Aug 18 '13 at 19:20
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    @Peter: there's also the fact that this "problem" comes up very, very, very regularly. It gets really trying to read the same "proposals" over and over again and reply with the same objections over and over again. (I.e. the regular downvote reasons do apply here.) – Mat Aug 18 '13 at 19:21
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    I may or may not have downvoted this post. (Wouldn't it be really noisy if everybody posted this comment on every post?) – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Aug 18 '13 at 19:23
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    @Gilles I had just added something like that to my answer, but you beat me to it. This reminds me of the story of someone leaving a note on a car they bumped into, which reads "other people think I'm leaving my contact information, but I'm really not because I have no intention of paying for the damage." – John Bensin Aug 18 '13 at 19:25
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    @PeterAlfvin Your specific idea of publishing the rate may or may not have been mentioned, but encouraging people to explain downvotes by leaving comments has been discussed extensively. – John Bensin Aug 18 '13 at 19:28
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    I see two things that might explain the downvotes on this question. There's the strongly oriented title, as Josh mentioned. There's also something you may not have known: it used to be that questions showed the “accept rate” of the asker (proportion of their questions where they'd accepted an answer). This led to a huge amount of nagging and pressure to accept answers even when there were no good answers. Accept rate was eventually removed. Introducing something similar sounds like an awful idea. Accepting answers, like comments on downvotes, is good, but the public rate, not so. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Aug 18 '13 at 19:37
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    When you say it like that, @PeterAlfvin, I understand where you're coming from. Maybe there is no good way to put this idea forward! Still, a bureaucratic "Could there be benefits to publishing...?", something slightly disingenous like "Why can't I view my DV-without-comment rate?", or even a flat "Downvote without comment rate" might come across more neutrally. Then again, they might not... This is not a popular subject. – jscs Aug 18 '13 at 20:13
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    If you're going to measure rates you'd need to consider that it's entirely reasonable to downvote and not add a comment if there's already a good one - otherwise you just encourage overly verbose overuse of comments. – Flexo Aug 18 '13 at 20:31
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    -1, jajfkjsksjsncoajenflodnandosnxosn (I want my 100% rate) – Doorknob Aug 19 '13 at 0:33
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    I downvoted also on the grounds of considering this as not a useful discussion, not just because I disagree with the implicit feature-request. And yeah, "not enough research" kinda fits. – John Dvorak Aug 19 '13 at 2:03

Yes, this should remain unpublished:

Firstly, what would you use a "downvote without comment rate" for? It can't be used for anything positive; it can only be used to persecute people. There are enough baseless accusations that fly around over downvotes already; I don't see what this would do apart from add fuel to the flames. At the worse end of the spectrum it could be used to "justify" retaliation against supposed downvoters.

Secondly, another "rate" is not a good idea, it encourages people to be the "best" at it. It brings us back to the meaningless comment argument:


  • While I agree that it's probably not practical for the reasons stated in the comments, the purpose would be to encourage people to modify their behavior so that they have a "good rate". – Peter Alfvin Aug 18 '13 at 19:36
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    Forcing a comment doesn't mean you get a good comment though @Peter... the rate is just a means to attempt to achieve it. I contend that you can't force people to write good comments though they can easily get a "good" rate. – ben is uǝq backwards Aug 18 '13 at 19:42
  • I agree you won't always get a good comment. I was just responding to your question of "What would you use [the rate] for?" – Peter Alfvin Aug 18 '13 at 19:46
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    ah yes, good old "-1 my cat's breath smells like cat food" – Tobias Kienzler Aug 20 '13 at 7:04

Showing a downvote to comment rate will only produce a negative affect on users.

Excessive negativity

Sometimes it just rather apparent why the downvote occurred. There shouldn't need to be 30 comments all stating the same reason for downvoting. That is what is known as "harpooning". Harpooning is where someone is disciplined so severely in a verbal manner that they are figuratively "harpooned" to the ground. These people will feel very disenfranchised to the community and to those who contributed to the harpooning.

Positive Reinforcement

People respond better to suggestions or positive reinforcement than they do to detriments or negative connotations. It would be better to have some sort of pro-active approach to solve the issue of downvoting without commenting. There are already some of these mechanisms in place.


There are many experts here who have very little available time and a very large available knowledge base. Some of these experts do not regularly visit the site but when they do and they see something inaccurate they tend to down vote it.

A comment from an expert usually ends up as a lesson (not a bad thing) and it can take them a lot of time to produce the explanation. When the time isn't available to post a lengthy detailed version of what was wrong a downvote will usually suffice.

For consideration

To properly implement a feature regarding commenting and downvoting, I think that certain criteria should be considered. Mainly, when is this scenario causing the most confusion? Producing metrics from the worst case scenarios of downvoting without commenting should help ascertain which situations really require feature implementation. One such example could be where someone downvotes every answer and the question without posting an answer or comment of their own, or after deleting a comment or answer they posted.

  • Thanks for the response and the reference to the mechanisms in place. I have to say, though, that at least with respect to MSO, I suspect that many of the downvotes are coming from >2k voters expressing agree/disagree on questions other than feature-requests (such as this one ;-)), despite a policy to the contrary. Excluding them from the feedback is somewhat ironic. – Peter Alfvin Aug 18 '13 at 22:23
  • @PeterAlfvin - Meta has its own intricacies for voting that is not really uniform with other exchanges. For the most part I was referring to voting practices on stackoverflow. – Travis J Aug 18 '13 at 22:24
  • Thanks for the clarification. Until just a few minutes ago(!) when I experienced what appears to be a small serial-downvote attack, I've had no personal negative experience with downvoting on SO and was motivated more by my MSO experience with questions. The more interesting issue for me on SO is the tradeoff between downvoting and close voting on questions. In the absence of a comment, the latter seems just as easy and provides more information, so I don't understand why it's not always preferable. – Peter Alfvin Aug 18 '13 at 22:32
  • Because you can do both: vote to close and downvote. Except in the case of duplicates, or otherwise really good questions that just don't fit our guidelines for whatever reason, I usually downvote the questions I vote to close. Downvotes are how we rate content. Questions that need to be closed as off-topic, impossible to answer, too broad, or otherwise not constructive are not good questions. – Cody Gray Aug 19 '13 at 3:57
  • Well, that's not what Urban Dictionary say about the term "harpooning" – Old Checkmark Aug 20 '13 at 13:58

I don't see what this would add. You can already see a user's number of downvotes in their profile, and that seems to be enough. I agree with the other comments/answers that it would lead to more witch-hunting as people try to guess who downvoted them.

Also, what about people who downvote and leave a comment that isn't related to why they downvoted? Others have already mentioned that people may try to game the rate, but if I downvote, then write a comment in response to another comment, should this still count? It doesn't explain the downvote, but it's technically "downvoting and leaving a comment."

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    Also I often upvote an existing comment that explains why something deserves a downvote. In this case it would hurt the site to have any behaviour difference between upvoting an existing comment or adding my own roughly identical comment. – Kate Gregory Aug 19 '13 at 16:34
  • That's a great point, Kate. FWIW, I would consider upvoting a comment to be the same as commenting for purposes of this hypothetical, totally-rejected algorithm, and obviously greatly preferred from a site quality standpoint to adding a near-identical comment. – Peter Alfvin Aug 25 '13 at 23:04

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