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I've been thinking (and posting) a lot about voting and one issue that's come up over and over is the chilling effect that downvoting can have on Meta discussions and feature-requests.

Downvoting is an essential tool and is very effective at sorting out "good" ideas from "bad" ones - or, rather, signaling the larger community's feelings on a particular topic.

But I think there's some legitimate concern that well-meaning Meta users can take a huge rep-hit, not to mention getting Q-banned, over one or two exceptionally unpopular ideas.

On Stack Overflow, most heavily downvoted questions are eventually deleted, potentially restoring the OP's rep. Stack Overflow has a grand total of 6 questions with a score of -20 or less.

On Meta, though, these questions are often not deleted because, though the community strongly disagrees with the idea, the discussion is still on-topic and thus "valid". These questions generate upvoted answers, preventing the OP from withdrawing their discussion or feature-request. These questions hang around in the system like an albatross around the neck. Meta has a grand total of 263 questions with a score of -20 or less. Meta is far less active than Stack Overflow, yet has over 43 times more of these unpopular (yet undeleted) questions.

For Meta specifically, does it make sense to have a per-post rep cap limit?

Comparing the reasons for a negative cap to the reasons for a positive cap

According to Revisiting the rep cap (yes, again), there are three (maybe more) purposes for the rep cap:

  • To prevent a user with a single popular answer from gaining significant privileges without really understanding the community in enough depth to use those powers wisely
  • To avoid a "rich get richer" sort of system
  • To encourage heavily active users to step outside once in a while

For Meta specifically (since heavily downvoted questions can still be on-topic and thus are not deleted), I think you could argue that a per-post negative rep cap would:

  • Prevent a user with a single unpopular answer from losing significant privileges, even though they understand the community well enough to use those powers wisely
  • To avoid a "poor get poorer" sort of system (since the posts hang around, are referenced, and continue eliciting downvotes)
  • To encourage active users to take a (limited) risk and make a potentially unpopular (but also potentially valuable) suggestion once in a while

Not much else would change

The post itself could continue to be downvoted, continuing to serve the purpose of signaling the community's feelings on it, but the OP could take comfort in knowing that the bleeding will stop. If the post is abusive (etc), the community and mods could still deal with it using the conventional methods - close, delete, ban the user.

What should the negative rep cap be?

I'm not really sure what a good per-post negative rep cap would be. -40 (20 downvotes/0 upvotes) seems like a good starting point. The negative rep cap would be calculated based on the total score of the question. A question with 5 upvotes (+25 rep) and 25 downvotes (-50 rep) would have a net rep change of -25, so it would not yet have reached the cap. A question with 5 upvotes (+25 rep) and 50 downvotes (-100 rep) would have a net rep change of -75. This would qualify for the rep cap, meaning the OP would lose -40 rep rather than -75.

Examples

Please consider holding your vote on these if this is the first time you've seen them. They are listed for reference and I'd like to avoid the "Meta effect" further punishing these OP's.

Look at the following posts for example, none of which are rants, off-topic or useless (they at least serve to reinforce/further define the community's thinking on a subject) but which the community generally disagreed with:

While I agree that these posts should be downvoted (and I would add my downvote if I had not come across them as part of my research), I do think the authors were asking questions or proposing features in good faith with good intentions. The huge number of downvotes is warranted (in my opinion), but the hit to the OP's rep seems unjustified since, on Meta, we encourage these kinds of questions.

Robert Harvey had a different suggestion for dealing with this problem, which I think would be effective if all users abided by his post. But as Shog9 pointed out, the suggestion is a good idea but largely impractical.

I realize that this post only deals with questions. Answers, however, can be retracted easily if the OP changes his/her mind or makes a concious decision to leave it out there despite its unpopularity. OP's do not have this luxury with questions and so they are a special class, in my mind.

Thoughts?

EDIT:

According to this query, of the 259 questions on Meta with a score of -20 or less, 145 questions hit the proposed rep cap. 66 of these were closed (for various reasons). Of those 145 questions, 75 represent a negative rep change of 50 or more (37 of which are closed), and 44 represent a negative rep change of 60 or more (19 of which are closed). The average rep "saved" on the 145 questions (that is, the absolute number of points after adding 40) is about 16-17. I did not take account deletion into consideration when calculating these numbers. I have not looked into all of these questions to their relative value to the community.

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    Ok, when you're comparing such small numbers, is it really appropriate to use something like 4000%? You're making it sound pretty extreme when you're only comparing 6 and 263... Besides, most questions on Stack Overflow which reach a score that low get deleted fairly quickly. Here's some real results: On Stack overflow, there are 221 deleted questions with a score -20 or less, and on Meta Stack Overflow, there are only 184 deleted questions with a score -20 or less. – animuson Aug 29 '13 at 18:12
  • @animuson - Yes, I specifically mentioned that we delete negatively voted questions on SO but we tend not to delete them on Meta. – JDB Aug 29 '13 at 18:14
  • @animuson - changed it to 43 times, which is still a big number, and emphasized the undeleted part. – JDB Aug 29 '13 at 18:16
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    It doesn't really make sense to have a number there at all, though. You're basically saying that Stack Overflow and Meta Stack Overflow are not comparable, and then you're going and comparing them with numbers. – animuson Aug 29 '13 at 18:19
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    @animuson - The point is that massively downvoted questions on Stack Overflow get deleted and the OP has their rep restored. On Meta, we often don't delete massively downvoted questions, which especially hurts the newer/less active Meta users. – JDB Aug 29 '13 at 18:23
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    I'd say just get rid of reputation entirely on Meta, have your reputation on Meta be equal to your highest rep on a Stack Exchange site (or total rep, let's go crazy), and let people upvote and downvote to their heart's content without any fear of reputation loss. Only problem is, that's a not-trivial change, and you get into wonky issues like how bounties would work, etc. – LittleBobbyTables Aug 29 '13 at 18:28
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    The only issue I'd have with that is that meta rep is an indication of how much you interact on meta - ie, how involved you are with the improvement of the site's functionality. That has some value (such as for moderator elections). – Joe Aug 29 '13 at 20:10
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    So the average rep lost for the selection of the worst downvoted questions on meta is 17 points? Doesn't that make the problem you're trying to solve sort of non-existent? That's not a lot of rep. – Mat Aug 29 '13 at 21:54
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The reputation lost by the users asking those questions you gave as an example is as follows:

(Obviously these may be different in a little while due to further votes, these numbers are as of the time this was posted.)

  1. 57
  2. 0 (the user deleted their account)
  3. 101
  4. -5 (the user gained 5 reputation from asking this question, as he had 1 rep when he asked it, and so had no rep to lose for all of the downvotes.)
  5. 93
  6. 23

So, with your proposed max rep loss of 40, of your 6 example questions, half of them don't even hit that limit. One person would be spared the loss of 17 reputation, another would be spared the loss of 61, and another would be spared 43.

These are not dramatic numbers. I don't see this as having a difference in how someone is affected, or feels they are affected, by suggesting a proposal that the community disagrees with.

It would be a lot of effort to implement, it would further complicate reputation calculations and the related FAQ/help content around it, and is unlikely to have any noticeable positive influence.

  • According to this query, of the 259 questions on Meta with a score of -20 or less, 145 questions hit the proposed rep cap. Of those 145 questions, 75 represent a negative rep change of 50 or more, and 44 represent a negative rep change of 60 or more. The average rep "saved" on the 145 questions is about 16-17 points. I did not take account deletion into consideration (perhaps the account was deleted after such a severe reaction to their question?). I thought I had calculated the score on all of the examples - clearly I missed two. – JDB Aug 29 '13 at 19:50
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    @Cyborgx37 I personally simply think that with so few questions affected, and with the amount of rep past the cap being so low, that this just won't be that big of a deal. People that get 50 downvotes are going to be equally upset at the loss of 100 rep as they are the loss of 40 rep, which in both cases will be way more upset then they probably should be at the loss of their Imaginary Internet Points. I simply can't imagine someone sitting there saying "oh, I hit the downvote rep cap, so it's not that bad". If anything, asking a question so bad it hit that cap could be more demotivating. – Servy Aug 29 '13 at 20:42
  • I am beginning to agree, although one thing that can't be measured is all of the questions that haven't been asked because the would-have-been OP was afraid of the potential "bottomless pit" that their controversial proposal could become. Knowing that you can't lose more than 40 rep on a question might make it easier to post. But - that's just speculation. – JDB Aug 29 '13 at 23:05
  • @Cyborgx37 Or it simply encourages people to write constructive posts instead that invite discussion of a problem in a way that doesn't alienate, provoke, or anger the community, which makes it much more likely that the idea (if there is something worthwhile in there) is going to be acted on in some way. If they aren't able to make the post more constructive, then their hesitation in posting it is likely beneficial. We don't want people just posting anything and everything that's on the top of their head, we want people to post quality content that they've spent some real time working on. – Servy Aug 30 '13 at 14:52
  • I had considered that as well, which is why I wanted to keep the rep cap relatively high (or, rather, low?) - there should still be significant pain if the post is not well researched. But occasionally a post is well researched - it's just plain unpopular. Example: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/132719/… All that said, I still think disassociation adequately addresses the issue for now. – JDB Aug 30 '13 at 15:00
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The core issue here is that reputation has nothing to do with agreement/disagreement. Using reputation to track this plain doesn't make sense. A correct approach would be to implement some entire other system to track it- if that's even desired. Else, you gotta live with the current hack.

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    I disagree. It's reputation - someone who posts one bad idea after another after another (with no good ones in between) should see a dent in their reputation and should have their priveleges slowly removed until they learn the site better. My concern is only for those posts which generate an unusually massive number of downvotes. – JDB Aug 29 '13 at 18:21
  • @Cyborgx37 There are some questions which deserve massive downvotes (like the "I'm a massive racist and want stack overflow to ban all the muslim users" [some paraphrasing]). But the facility to seperately vote against the idea and against the question would be very much appreciated – Richard Tingle Aug 29 '13 at 21:55
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    @RichardTingle: Those sorts of questions don't deserve anything but a quick deletion, a warning about conduct, and a suspension or ban for the user if they continue. They shouldn't be around long enough for massive downvoting. – Ken White Aug 29 '13 at 22:34
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As the statistics point out, a per-post negative rep cap would help a few people, but I agree that it simply "won't be that big of a deal" for most users. I think a cap could embolden those who have potentially controversial suggestions, but that's just speculation.

What I did not know before posting this question is that there is already a pseudo-solution: disassociating the question from your account. If the OP of an ill-received proposal has a change of heart and wishes to retract the post, they can flag a moderator to disassociate the question from their account, expunging the lost rep and removing the post from their profile. It's not quite the same (some people might want to continue to stand by their idea), but it's an existing solution which solves the problem versus my proposed suggestion which would, apparently, "be a lot of effort to implement". I think KISS wins out this time.

  • Thanks for clarifying that lost rep is recovered following a disassociation. From your earlier comment, I thought disassociation only affected future rep. – Peter Alfvin Sep 1 '13 at 4:19
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I think there should be a cap. Look at "this poor fellow". Sure, his proposal wasn't accepted by the community, but that doesn't mean he still deserves to lose reputation because of it. Ok, the lost rep to that user is nothing, but my point is: what if that was a new user that asked that?

Ok, votes mean different things here on meta. We all know that. So if they mean different things, should we have a rep cap at all? If we are going to have a rep cap here, at least make one for downvotes also.

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    If the user is that concerned about their reputation loss on Meta, they can always flag the question to have it disassociated from their profile. I asked a bomb of a question early on, got downvoted rapidly, while answers got upvoted rapidly so I couldn't delete it. Solution? Flagged for disassociation. – LittleBobbyTables Aug 29 '13 at 18:16
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    @Cyborgx37 - what do you mean by "can you do that?" I'm pretty sure I just said you could. As to whether it's a better solution or not, I don't know -- it's an existing solution that doesn't require any system changes at least. – LittleBobbyTables Aug 29 '13 at 18:22
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    @LBT - Yes, I know you did that, but can just anyone do that, for any question, and have the mods respond to it? Does it restore lost rep, or does it just stop the bleeding? I've never heard of this option before. (Unless by disassociate you mean CW, in which case those are, to my understanding, often denied.) – JDB Aug 29 '13 at 18:25
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    @Cyborgx37 It's an explicit right of every user. – Bart Aug 29 '13 at 18:25
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    That "poor fellow" currently has 38.8k rep on meta. I'm not sure my heart bleeds for his -306 loss of reputation, but I think this sort of experience is hard on relative newcomers. – CodeGnome Aug 29 '13 at 18:32
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    @Cyborgx37 Disassociation completely removes their name from the question. All traces of it will be removed from the user's history, including reputation. – animuson Aug 29 '13 at 18:33
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    @CodeGnome Actually, he only lost 180 reputation from asking that question. There are 42 upvotes (sadly) on that question, and since upvotes are worth more, it offsets a lot of the rep that would otherwise be lost. Losing 180 rep for a user like that is nothing. – Servy Aug 29 '13 at 18:51
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    @LBT - Personally I find it a bit extreme, but I'd like to upvote that as an answer and perhaps accept it if that's the solution that is most appropriate. – JDB Aug 29 '13 at 20:11
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    You realise that was a satirical post right? Written especially to lose rep – random Aug 29 '13 at 20:20
  • @animuson does it disassociate completely? Like from the database? Or does it reassociate it to Community? – Cole Johnson Aug 29 '13 at 21:35
  • @random why would someone do that? – Cole Johnson Aug 29 '13 at 21:36
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    @ColeJohnson: It literally involves modifying the database and removing the user ID associating with the post. I believe in the end the post ends up associated with plain-text like "Anonymous" or something like that. I know Community does not take ownership of it. – animuson Aug 29 '13 at 21:41
  • @ColeJohnson Because it's funny and he had so much rep that he felt like throwing some away. – Jeremy Banks Aug 29 '13 at 23:10
  • Adam has been trying to get rid of excess reputation for a long time now, in various ways. He's asked downvote magnets, set zillions of bounties, and pulled other shenanigans. Meta rep is meaningless, he's not the only one who knows it. – Cody Gray Aug 30 '13 at 4:34

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