What does it mean to vote up?

The documentation, IMO, is not clear. This results in questions like:

If you notice, those questions are full of things like "Well, what I do is XYZ..." And there's disagreement! Jon Skeet has even blogged about it.

The Documentation

Here's the documentation on when to vote up. From the privileges page:

What is voting up?

Voting up is how the community indicates which questions and answers are most useful and appropriate.

When should I vote up?

Whenever you encounter a question, answer or comment that you feel is especially useful, vote it up!

Also, when you hover over a question, it says:

This question shows research effort; it is useful and clear

And an answer:

This answer is useful


What does useful even mean? Does it mean correct? Does it mean high quality? Does it mean valuable? Does it mean it's wanted on this site? All of the above? Only some?

durron597, why are you even talking about this? Because off topic or duplicate questions get upvoted all the time. Because people upvote answers that don't really answer the question, or only answer one small piece of it. Simply, the result has been that people upvote whatever they like, and don't upvote what they don't.

So, community, I ask the question: Should we have a more well defined standard for when to vote? Additionally, should this question be fleshed out and tagged ?

I can think of two possibilities:

  1. This is , with the idea being that most people don't read the documentation anyway, people will keep voting the way they want to vote even if we clarify it further and I'm just bikeshedding.
  2. There actually is a more well defined sense, among the SE staff, about what voting up should be rewarding, but it hasn't really been communicated to the community.
  • Why do you assume it's subjective? Why are you throwing out the fact that it can be very objective?
    – random
    May 15, 2014 at 21:32
  • 1
    @random For a single user, it can and often is objective! But different people have different objective rules... which is the very definition of subjective.
    – durron597
    May 15, 2014 at 21:33
  • So take their free will away and you'll solve all the issues
    – random
    May 15, 2014 at 21:37

3 Answers 3


Votes are meant to capture the wisdom of the crowd. In order to do that, certain specific conditions must exist, including the ability for each person in the crowd to make their own decision, using their own criteria:

It was in 1906 that Galton made his discovery of what is known as the wisdom of crowds. He attended a farmers' fair in Plymouth where he was intrigued by a weight guessing contest. The goal was to guess the weight of an ox when it was butchered and dressed. Around 800 people entered the contest and wrote their guesses on tickets. The person who guessed closest to the butchered weight of the ox won a prize.

After the contest Galton took the tickets and ran a statistical analysis on them. He discovered that the average guess of all the entrants was remarkably close to the actual weight of the butchered ox. In fact it was under by only 1lb for an ox that weighed 1,198 lbs. This collective guess was not only better than the actual winner of the contest but also better than the guesses made by cattle experts at the fair. It seemed that democracy of thought could produce amazing results.

However, to benefit from the wisdom of crowds several conditions must be in place. First each individual member of the crowd must have their own independent source of information. Second they must make individual decisions and not be swayed by the decisions of those around them. And third, there must be a mechanism in place that can collate these diverse opinions.

  • So to solve all the problems on SE sites, we just have to get every person to read every question!! (just kidding, this is a great answer)
    – durron597
    May 15, 2014 at 23:04

As I see it, up voting is just like rating products. Imagine you visit a computer parts website looking for a cpu. When your sort by rating, you may find that one part has thousands of reviews, and averages 5 stars. There is no clear explanation of what "five stars" actually means, and very little has been communicated to the users about how to give ratings. However, you may be convinced to buy such a part on the basis that a very large group of people somehow felt that the product warranted a high rating.

Similarly, up voting cannot be made objective--if we tried, we would simply cause more arguments and discussions about the "right" way to do it. Rather, up voting is more of a statistical measure. In statistics, increasing the sample size increases the likelihood that the result is actually representative of the population.

Likewise, an answer that has two or three up votes may not apply to your specific situation. An answer that has 500+ up votes is much more likely to contain a working solution for visitor with a similar problem.

In conclusion, I agree that up voting (and many other things on this site) are subjective. I think the best thing that we can do is just let people do what they already do. Let the randomness of the results work the same way it always has, and people will figure out what up votes mean to them.


It means exactly what you've quoted from the documentation (emphasis added):

Whenever you encounter a question, answer or comment that you feel is especially useful, vote it up!

The purpose of voting is to indicate that in your opinion (it is your vote you're casting):

  • The poster has put sufficient effort into their question to provide enough information to make it clear what they're asking.

  • The poster has put enough effort into solving it themselves first before posting a new question.

  • The question will be useful to others who see it in the future when trying to find the answer to their own question.

Each vote you cast (up or down) is your own personal vote, to be used as you see fit (as long as you're not using it in a malicious or prejudicial manner toward another individual - serial up or down voting is not acceptable).

Others will indicate their own opinions about the quality and usefulness of the question and cast their own individual votes. The scoring next to the question simply tracks those opinions for the benefit of the community as a whole - sufficient downvotes and no answers can cause a question to be automatically closed (and even eventually deleted), which reduces the clutter and noise here.

  • So, it's all about feelings? Well, that actually explains quite a lot about our voting system... ;P
    – yannis
    May 15, 2014 at 23:09
  • @Yannis: No, it's about opinion, which is not the same as feelings. I can have a positive or negative opinion about something without any emotional involvement whatsoever. I don't get angry or irritated when I downvote a question for not being useful, and I don't jump for joy or feel elation when I upvote a really well asked question. (I wouldn't have used "you feel" in the docs myself, but it's not meant in that context as emotional feelings. I thought the rest of my post made that clear.)
    – Ken White
    May 15, 2014 at 23:12
  • Ninja edited a ;P at the end of the comment, wasn't supposed to be a serious one. I get what you're saying, and I agree with you (that's my upvote there).
    – yannis
    May 15, 2014 at 23:13
  • @Yannis: :-) I would have seen it if it were there, but I didn't have any feelings about your comment. :-) Thanks for the upvote.
    – Ken White
    May 15, 2014 at 23:15

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