Currently, the downvote button's tooltip says

This answer is not useful

That's how it looks like:

enter image description here

Consider a question with 5 answers, of which only one happened to be useful for me. Obeying the downvote button's tooltip, I'd downvote all of the other answers...

Actually, downvotes should occur when an answer is significantly unclear, or worse and more often, when it's just wrong or misleading.

I suggest rewording that tooltip, to something like:

This answer is wrong or misleading

This should give more focus as to what are we downvoting for (mankind as opposed to myself :-) ).


Since this comes a bit hard here, I'll elaborate some more:

There are actually not so much reasons for which we should downvote:

  1. Unclarity isn't reason enough for downvote. It should be commented or edited. We've got the power to do that.
  2. A comment-answer is a usage problem and should be treated otherwise: directing the responder to the the answers guide.
  3. Dead link answer should be commented as to give a chance for fixing it.

What are you left with? Wrong or misleading.

What do I propose? Exactly that.


Furthermore, users that read an answer as a possible solution for their own problem, don't need downvotes in order to understand that a broken link, an unclear answer or a comment-answer are non-useful.

Where do they need downvote most? In the wrong and misleading answers. There's no other tool for them to distinguish the good from the bad.

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    Ask yourself: would a wrong or misleading answer be useful? – devnull Mar 2 '14 at 14:04
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    Well it depends on what you deem "not useful" -- generally these sort of things aren't too specific so to not leave out contrived cases. – Qantas 94 Heavy Mar 2 '14 at 14:04
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    "not useful" is not the same as "not the most useful". Sometimes many answers are correct and useful: go ahead and upvote them all. The downvote is for the answer that's wrong, that says your line 3 is causing your problem when in fact line 3 is fine and the problem is on line 5. That's not useful, after all. – Kate Gregory Mar 2 '14 at 14:09
  • @devnull you're reversing the logic. The problem is that people actually don't downvote for all that "not useful" covers. Decorating the downvote button with this tooltip is misleading. – yair Mar 2 '14 at 14:15
  • @KateGregory you're actually backing up my claim... – yair Mar 2 '14 at 14:17
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    @yair The problem is that people don't vote according to any logic whatsoever. Poorly written questions and answers continue to be upvoted. See this recent question for example. – devnull Mar 2 '14 at 14:19
  • @devnull if people don't bother to use any logic whatsoever, why bother having a tooltip? – yair Mar 2 '14 at 14:23
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    @yair The tooltip is a recommendation. We want people to follow those. Those can't be enforced, however. – devnull Mar 2 '14 at 14:25
  • @devnull so lets recommend the best practice, rather than "anything not positive". – yair Mar 2 '14 at 14:29
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    I disagree completely with this interpretation. While we can edit for clarity and utility, never should it be required instead of a downvote. – fbueckert Mar 2 '14 at 14:40
  • @fbueckert that's not what I claim. I claim that downvote are for wrong and misleading answers. Not for all other "non-useful" answers. – yair Mar 2 '14 at 14:53
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    This feature request is not useful. – BoltClock's a Unicorn Mar 2 '14 at 15:19
  • @BoltClocksaUnicorn Apparently it isn't. For some reason I thought it would be :) – yair Mar 2 '14 at 19:45
  • I usually downvote if a question or answer should not be there, i.e. garbage. In other words, poster does not know a thing about what they write - reserved for such extreme cases. Constructive posts never get a downvote from me, even if they are not useful. And yes, I agree that downvote should be reserved as a last measure, i.e. the question or answer is so bad, that it can't be improved by simply commenting or editing. Don't be discouraged by getting downvotes here on meta btw, it's very common (I got the same treatment). Just keep up the good work on SO main. – Neolisk Mar 3 '14 at 0:07
  • @Neolisk you're my sunshine! :D Thanks. Actually I'm not intimidated at all by the downvotes I got. And proud of myself for this question and not changing my mind. That's why I'm not deleting this question, nor accepting any answer. Thanks for the warm words! – yair Mar 3 '14 at 10:24

Actually, downvotes should occur when an answer is significantly unclear, or worse and more often, when it's just wrong or misleading.

Well, 'not useful' covers all these things:

  • An answer is unclear: it's not useful.
  • An answer is wrong or misleading: it's not useful

And it even covers some more things when an answer should be downvoted (and removed):

  • An answer is not an answer but a comment: it's not useful
  • It contains only a dead link: it's not useful
  • It is spam or offensive: it's not useful As stated in this question, spam posts should not be downvoted.

So, "not useful" is a perfect description to put in the downvote tooltip.

  • That's exactly the problem: "not useful" is covers too many options of un-usefulness. – yair Mar 2 '14 at 14:13
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    @yair: Because you can't put all reasons on a small tooltip, "not useful" fits perfect. – ProgramFOX Mar 2 '14 at 14:15
  • There aren't so much reasons. Unclarity isn't reason enough for downvote. A comment is a usage problem and should be treated otherwise (directing the responder to the the answers guide). Dead link should be commented. What are you left with? Wrong or misleading. What do I propose: "This answer is wrong or misleading. – yair Mar 2 '14 at 14:21
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    @yair: Dead link answers should also be downvoted. Because they are not useful. – ProgramFOX Mar 2 '14 at 14:22
  • This can be argued (and here I do it :-) ). I think they should be commented and given the chance to be updated. – yair Mar 2 '14 at 14:23
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    @yair: You can remove your downvote after the answer is improved. In the meantime, the answer is not useful, so a downvote is correct. – ProgramFOX Mar 2 '14 at 14:25
  • Downvote without an explanation would be useless. OTOH, Leaving a comment without a downvote is enough for helping the responder to fix it. – yair Mar 2 '14 at 14:32
  • @yair: You're right for answers that are not only a link. In my answer I say: "It contains only a dead link". So, if an answer contains explanation and code, a comment is enough. Otherwise, downvote and comment. – ProgramFOX Mar 2 '14 at 14:34
  • Well, an answer that is only a link is not good anyway. A comment is still enough though. – yair Mar 2 '14 at 14:51
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    @yair: Because a (dead) link-only answer is not useful, I would downvote it. Anyway, nobody says that you must downvote bad answers, so if you don't want to downvote them, then nobody will make a problem of it. – ProgramFOX Mar 2 '14 at 14:56
  • But the tooltip actually guides us to downvote any non-useful answer. This guidance is wrong, and is actually generally ignored, as shown in the meta question I mentioned in my original question. – yair Mar 2 '14 at 15:00
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    @yair: Indeed. But as I already said, a downvote is extra encouragement to fix an answer. – ProgramFOX Mar 2 '14 at 15:06

Downvotes provide a much higher signal that something is problematic than comments do. They are meant to be used for content that you, personally, find problematic. It doesn't matter if it's a dead link, a comment answer, unclear, or whatever. That downvotes signals your interpretation of content as not useful, signal that the system can use to help filter out more bad content by the same user.

I want to address your argument that instead of downvoting for unclear information/comment answers/dead links, you should comment or edit instead. Remember, the whole point of downvoting is signal. By downvoting, you're signalling that the content is bad in some aspect. That's exactly what those types of posts are. Sometimes, people don't have time (or the expertise) to comment or edit. By trying to require that, you would lower the amount of downvoting that happens dramatically.

It should also never be a requirement to edit or comment instead of downvote. There's no way for the system to determine signal from either of those actions, either positive or negative. A downvote might be ambiguous for why you downvoted, but it's not ambiguous in relations to the content; it has a problem. That is what downvotes are for.

  • Higher signal should fit higher problem. Dead link is not like technically wrong answer. – yair Mar 2 '14 at 15:05
  • The point of downvoting is letting the right answer float up and the wrong go down. Did you read the meta-question I linked to in my original question? – yair Mar 2 '14 at 15:07
  • And exactly where does that signal come from? Upvotes and downvotes. It's signal for both the system, and future readers. – fbueckert Mar 2 '14 at 15:07
  • People that don't have should not downvote without an explanation. Downvoting with an explanation is like yelling unclear utterances. – yair Mar 2 '14 at 15:08
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    No. Absolutely not. Downvoting without commenting is one of the main points of the system. It is not, and never will be required. – fbueckert Mar 2 '14 at 15:09
  • You didn't explain yourself here. Saying it's a "main point" of the system is not actually an argument... – yair Mar 2 '14 at 15:11
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    It's been hashed out ad nauseum. Essentially, by requiring a comment, the amount of downvoting that would happen would drop precipitously. The value of downvoting is too great to restrict it in that manner. – fbueckert Mar 2 '14 at 15:12
  • Can you prove that? – yair Mar 2 '14 at 15:14
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    Try searching for some of the other meta questions about requiring comments for downvotes. It's been asked for so often, everyone is tired of repeating themselves over and over and over. – fbueckert Mar 2 '14 at 15:15
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    @yair "Higher signal should fit higher problem. Dead link is not like technically wrong answer." True, but it's an entirely useless answer, in fact it's less than useless, it's harmful to the health of the site as it will waste the time of anyone who reads it or follows the link. It is a post of exceedingly low quality. Not downvoting that, just because it's not "wrong", is harming the quality of the site. Downvoting it helps the site, by diminishing the attention given to such a post. We want posts like that to be downvoted. – Servy Mar 2 '14 at 15:40

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