OK so I have seen the following before writing this post:

Meaning of downvotes in Meta vs Main sites?

Change the meaning of downvotes on meta, or make it more apparent to new users that they mean something different?

I logged in today thinking more about how to contribute to meta & not just SO. My problem in the past was the issue of misunderstanding down votes here and taking offense. In fact I think once upon a time I got kicked out of here due to my responses because my reaction was like this:

"Oh wow, on SO I may have gotten 1 downvote ever and now the 1st question I ever asked is downvoted by 15. What the heck, these people are mean here!!"

So I realize changing the voting system here as opposed to SO may not be desired or feasible, but what if upon asking a question and having meta note that I'm under a particular rep line (i.e. below 500?), I would be explicitly informed on how to digest and interpret downvoting?

I realize the FAQ states this, but as pointed out before it may have not been read or not realized to have differences from SO. Especially with low rep users. I know it's just like documentation in software, people still ask questions that are already documented and it drives us crazy. But it's also a fact of life that people typically will not read something buried in long read paragraph formats as opposed to a small. explicit, blip of important information. Since the downvoting meaning on meta is fundamentally different than SO, it might be worth having it stand out better to lower rep users.

The implementation of this information is semantics. Upon pressing 'Ask Question' or 'Post Your Question' maybe one of the following could occur for the use case described above (not for everyone just lower rep users):

  • Dismissable disclaimer explaining downvoting purpose on meta
  • Contrasting color section on page with information directly from FAQ about downvoting
  • Clickable link about 'What does downvoting mean on meta?' or something similar

The above are just brainstormed ideas. Again semantics on the implementation, but the purpose is to inform lower rep users on the process of downvoting. It might be a win-win situation, because higher rep users don't have to see the 'extra' information about downvoting, and the potential for lower rep users to be better informed about downvoting on the spot to lessen the occurrences of misunderstanding on meta.

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    And what makes you think people will actually read and not just dismiss the box? Mar 13, 2014 at 13:07
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    There are many more problems new users that don't check out the documentation have to learn on the fly; downvoting being different is just one of them. For those cases, a quick 'downvoting is different on Meta' comment suffices. Mar 13, 2014 at 13:08
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    @MartijnPieters - If I could have bet beforehand 1 million dollars I would get that response to this post, I would be a millionaire right now :D New here but not to documentation arguments :P It has to do with the difference between something on a detached link in long paragraph form vs 'in your face'. For example, if you were about to take a trip down the road and given a list of the speed limits along the route, would you remember them all? It's nice to have that sign be very explicit along the road to directly inform you. Some people still ignore and they get penalized, but it helps...
    – atconway
    Mar 13, 2014 at 13:36

1 Answer 1


As a problem that I personally have seen (probably literally) hundreds of times I fully support that something needs to be done. Documentation is all well and good for things people know they don't understand but it is useless for things people wrongly believe they understand. On all other stack exchange sites we have carefully shown people what downvotes mean there, there is no reason for them to believe they are different here.

To give an analogy, if my program can stretch an image but it isn't entirely clear how to do that because it’s an advanced feature then its fine that that’s "in the docs" because people will go looking for it. On the other hand if I've written a text editor, but for some reason in my editor the delete key adds a new line and the enter button deletes all your work then its not ok for that to just be "in the docs" because people won't go looking for that because they already know what the enter key does. At the very least not until it smacks them in the face, perhaps never. If people have to read the docs for everyday operations then you've already failed, this affects almost every new user; there is no telling how many never come back as a result, I almost didn't.

I would support an "auto comment" on receiving a negative score since for some reason people read comments much more frequently than banners (and it mirrors what happens manually now)


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