I'm struggling with the intended scope of "not useful" used in the question downvoting tooltip.

For question upvoting purposes, I generally interpret "useful" personally. That is, I upvote a question if I actually get "use" out of it. That means I don't upvote many (presumably) "quality" questions because they deal with domains I have no real understanding of, let alone "use" for.

For downvoting, however, this strategy doesn't work. The fact that a question isn't useful to me personally generally doesn't mean it's not useful to someone else.

So with respect to downvoting questions, what is the intended meaning of the "not useful" tooltip? Not useful for the entire community (i.e. no reasonable person would benefit)? Something else?

I'm particular interested in any intended scope that is not within the "vote-to-close reasons", as I've recently seen statements that there are reasons to downvote questions (even on SO) not covered by "vote to close".

  • "This is the code of my application( some 2-3-4K LOCs of unreadable code), it has bug X reproducible in this way. How do I fix it?" This would have been handled with the "too localized" that now is gone.
    – Bakuriu
    Aug 30, 2013 at 19:03
  • 1
    Do you happen to know the history behind that case? Is there any controversy over whether they should be closed? Is it just a case of it happening to fall outside of the re-crafted wording? Or were they intentionally ok with it being treated as "other"? Aug 30, 2013 at 19:42
  • @PeterAlfvin the "too localized" close reason was phased out because it was misapplied to too many questions. It was intended to be for questions that we on-topic, but only applicable for a specific period of time or geographic location. Typo questions were a common target for "Too Localized" Aug 30, 2013 at 23:19

3 Answers 3


Not useful means not useful to any future users (Any SO community members)

According to the Help Center

When should I vote down?

Use your downvotes whenever you encounter an egregiously sloppy, no-effort-expended post, or an answer that is clearly and perhaps dangerously incorrect.

Currently there is no built-in vote to close reason for such questions, but in old Vote to Close options there was one called too localized. So now you can use a custom reason for Closing such questions

  • That sounds like it would be covered by the "vote to close" reasons. Do you know of any question usefulness case not covered by "vote to close"? Aug 30, 2013 at 18:55
  • @PeterAlfvin: Currently No, but in old Vote to Close options there was one called too localized. You can use a custom reason for Closing such questions
    – Midhun MP
    Aug 30, 2013 at 19:03
  • Thanks. This is all part of my quest to understand why someone would downvote a question on SO rather than vote-to-close. So far I've come up with "because it's easier" and "because I feel like it". Aug 30, 2013 at 19:29
  • @PeterAlfvin: By giving downvote you are giving a chance to OP to improve the post, but if you are closing it can't accept new answers even it is edited
    – Midhun MP
    Aug 30, 2013 at 19:32
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    Not sure I follow your argument. The OP has a chance to improve the post under either scenario. It's just new answers that are blocked if it's put on hold, which I'd argue is a good thing (e.g. even more of an incentive to improve the post). Aug 30, 2013 at 19:35
  • Downvotes aren't and were never synonymous with "too localized". "Not useful" and "too localized" are two totally different things. Aug 31, 2013 at 18:37

I believe "Not useful" is intentionally left vague because we (meaning each member of the community) are supposed to decide for ourselves what is useful and what isn't.

So, I think you need to decide for yourself what constitutes "useful".

If you decide "not useful" means not useful to you, go ahead and downvote. But if you decide "not useful" to mean not useful to the community at large, then don't downvote. If you think posts with poor grammar, or are sloppy are not useful, then downvote them and/or improve them. Is it off-topic, dowvote (and vote to close).

It is entirely up to you to decide what it means.


In general, I downvote a question if I think it's poorly worded or scoped. I also put a comment under the question suggesting potential changes to the question that will make it useful to the general community.

There's a bit of a fine line between a question that is not useful and one that should just be closed. I don't think that line is defined anywhere on SO, it's really a judgement call between whether or not you think the question is salvageable.

  • At the risk of asking a stupid question (what the heck, it's just a comment ...), is there any consensus on which of downvote vs. vote-to-close is used for salvageable vs. non-salvageable questions? Aug 30, 2013 at 19:07
  • So you use downvoting-plus-comment to provide constructive feedback for questions you think are salvageable? I thought one of the key purposes of vote-to-close was to provide specific feedback to help the OP improve the question to an acceptable level, for cases where that's possible (e.g. quality related, not truly off-topic). I thought the "close" language was just a vestige of the old system, prior to questions being put "on hold" for improvement purposes. Aug 30, 2013 at 19:14
  • If it's closed, how can he improve it? Aug 30, 2013 at 19:19
  • It's not really closed. It's just "on hold". The OP can still improve it, after which time it can be "unclosed". Aug 30, 2013 at 19:24
  • Well, if it's a dupe then it should be closed. If it's WAAAY off-topic and can't be salvaged, it should be closed. Other than that, I say give them an opportunity to re-word or narrow the scope. Aug 30, 2013 at 19:28
  • Right. The question in my mind is how to most effectively and constructively give them that opportunity. Aug 30, 2013 at 19:32
  • Definitely leave a comment. The downvote is optional. Without the comment, they'll never know what they did wrong. Aug 30, 2013 at 19:35
  • If you check my activity, you'll see that you're preaching to the choir on that point. :-). However, not everyone views it that way. The "right to cast a downvote without comment (or even comment upvote)" appears sacrosanct to many. Aug 30, 2013 at 19:38

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