In a previous discussion, the general consensus was that whether or not to upvote is, for most people and most questions, a function of the number of existing votes. To put it another way, the number of votes represents a sort of 'post quality'.

This, in conjunction with the up/down-vote asymmetry, leads to an interesting possibility.

Lets say an answer is 'worth about a 4' to most people, and it gets downvoted. It is subsequently more likely to be upvoted. In fact, the chance of being upvoted becomes higher the more downvotes it gets, as the pendulum swings away from equilibrium.

This damping loop is obviously by design. Answers will tend to converge on their 'true value', as determined by the audience. But the reputation adjustment is skewed in favour of upvotes. It takes 5 downvotes to match one upvote.

So, if you had an endless stream of views, and an answer that:

  1. Was downvoted every few votes
  2. Was perceived to have a positive value to most people

Then you would have an infinite reputation generator.

There are some special situations that can reach this state. Here is an example of an answer I had like this: 3 downvotes, 5 upvotes, interleaved in quick sucession. It's not a great answer; taken in conjunction with the others, it's worth probably 1 vote. But the key feature is that the answer wasn't stable until after the explanatory comment and my subsequent edit.

The reason was that the original answer was ambiguous; it was technically correct, but not considered good form. The first two downvoters left no comment, so this was not made explicit. It was clearly 'worth something' to a casual observer, but offended those with relevant experience (the other answerers, for example). The original question was a rep generator.

The point is, an answer that was worth 10-20 reputation actually generated me 44 - almost as much as the top answer.

Another, more familiar and extreme example is with polarised opinions, but usually these are nullified by the community wiki attribute. Facetious or moderately funny (but not too funny!) answers that appeal to some but not others are a third common example.

There are some relatively subtle consequences:

  1. Downvoting rival answers (that are actually reasonable) on a question you are answering will backfire in the medium term. So not only is that an ugly gaming strategy, it doesn't even work.

  2. Downvoting for any reason unrelated to answer quality will backfire, long term. This implies that behaviour such as 'revenge downvoting' is at best ineffective, and will probably cause a net reputation gain over time for the targeted user.

  3. Answers that are good enough to get a vote, but controversial, misguided or imprecise enough to annoy knowledgeable users will reap much more reputation than they are worth.

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    This Question is sooo long it deserves its own abstract/executive summary. I bet you tried to make your argument 'complete', but fact is...I just can't bother to read it all without knowing what I am getting into. Even then, first paragraph has me lost. Commented Sep 3, 2009 at 22:55
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    Interesting essay; i can't help but feel though, that it was cut short, perhaps due to interruption by a knock on your door, heralding the arrival of a long-lost nephew returning from The Orient with spices and curious sculptures of fanciful creatures out of a foreign mythology. I fully understand the resulting confusion and hasty posting, but do hope to see this fascinating tale brought to a conclusion before too much more time elapses! Yours,
    – Shog9
    Commented Sep 3, 2009 at 23:21
  • @Stu: I specialize in being terse. Some people call that rude, crass or disrespectful, but whatever.
    Commented Sep 3, 2009 at 23:27
  • @Rich B: Well, I just may start calling you "sensai". (Select SOpedians gasp in horror.) Commented Sep 3, 2009 at 23:44
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    ...from which it follows that Rich B has caused around 20,000 points of undeserved rep growth over on SO?
    – John Fouhy
    Commented Sep 4, 2009 at 0:02
  • With an "endless stream of views" your question would have an infinite number of downvotes and an infinite number of upvotes.
    – devinb
    Commented Sep 4, 2009 at 12:18
  • @devinb: Reputation = 10p - 2n, where p and n are positive and negative votes respectively. As long as 10p > 2n, your reputation is always strictly positive. If your p>=4n ("perceived to have a positive value to most people"), then your reputation limit is positive infinity. Which for practical application here means "grows without limit". Commented Sep 21, 2009 at 16:11
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    @ire_and_curses While I get your point, I belive that on low traffic zones, a question/answer will converge to a finite total number of VOTES, not number of upvotes. Ie - I belive that a good question may only generate N people to care about it, upvote or downvote doesn't seem to matter, at least in my experience.
    – SPArcheon
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 9:37
  • Shouldn't people be voting based on if they think the question deserves an upvote or downvote and not based on what the current score is?
    – Joe W
    Commented Oct 29, 2013 at 20:45
  • @JoeW yes but by nature people are influenced by numbers! Commented Oct 30, 2013 at 1:29
  • I think the opposite applies. Higher score means community thinks this is a good answer. This may increase the likelihood that I do too.
    – David W
    Commented Nov 18, 2015 at 15:03
  • @David W - That's a different case. A good answer will be positive, and if it is easy to validate and seen by people regularly, will continue to accrue votes. This is about the case of ambiguous answers that oscillate. The asymmetry between down and up is what generates the rep. Commented Nov 18, 2015 at 19:46

5 Answers 5


One way to mitigate this would be through showing upvotes and downvotes separately, as suggested in this feature request. That would allow people to see when someone has earned decent rep from an answer (or question) that otherwise appears to have a small vote total, and use that in the decision of whether to cast their own vote or not.

I always remember that my votes are limited, and information like this could be of great use in my decision-making process. I might not spend an upvote on someone who's already earned, say 24 rep (+30, -6) just to get them from showing -1 to 0.

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    Yes, I like this idea, although I think it could be taken further. It distinguishes between 'agree/disagree' and 'quality', but they are still linked. Commented Sep 4, 2009 at 0:27
  • Anyone that propose to have the "Show split vote" privilege available by default instead of begin an 1k gift has all my support. Away with that useless restriction, give that to everyone.
    – SPArcheon
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 9:40

I know that this problem exists, but I have no ideas on how to fix it. Sometimes I'll feel more strongly against an answer than others, and will down vote it. Others will come by and think "this doesn't deserve -1" and up vote it, earning the poster 8 rep. If I didn't first down vote, I can almost guarantee that post would have remained at 0 votes.

In this sense the system is actually sort of against you. You're much better off to leave "somewhat right" answers alone, because you'll usually rock the boat in the other direction.

  • 1
    Exactly. There is a popular notion that voting is about "agree/disagree". In most cases it's not. It's about distance from an answer's average "fair" quality level. Commented Sep 4, 2009 at 0:37

So, perhaps the mythical "rep recalc" should recalibrate the reputation granted by each answer. The OP's referenced answer that settled on a score of +2 should, in the end, grant him +20 rep, rather than +44.

The technical details here would be somewhat tricky - you'd have to track not just which questions, but also which votes on those questions had been through the normalization process, but it would work.

I have a similar answer on SO, which was a snarky and not-very-helpful response (but was considered humourous to some, including me). It got 4 upvotes and 4 downvotes, settling at a (IMO reasonable) score of 0 but it still got me +32 rep. [Corrollary conclusion, worth considering separately: we're not rewarding good answers, but controversial answers.]

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    So you are proposing that a downvote takes away the same amount of rep that an upvote gives?
    – Joe W
    Commented Oct 29, 2013 at 20:41

At the end of the day though, everyone can only vote on a question once. The likelihood of this actually happening is small enough as to be completely insignificant, especially when you consider that not everyone on the site is reading every question and answer.

  • I have no idea how rare rep-generators are in practice; and without the up/down breakdown, nor do you. But they're certainly easy to make, as I've explained. What I'm trying to say is: The style of some users will produce these types of answers often. They will be significantly rewarded for that. Commented Sep 4, 2009 at 0:43

I upvote answers if they solve my problem as a refinding helper. So even if the numbers are high, I still have a personal incentive to vote. The only problem for me is I can't search my upvoted answers/questions. Maybe this feature request would help?

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