Something has been bothering me for a long time.

Voting is a central concept of Stack Exchange, it is the mechanism through which the community maintains the sites. Voting affects the fate of individual questions/answers as well as the lives of their authors on the network. Therefore the consistent and responsible use of this right is critical for the network to function.

At the same time, I feel that its function is not communicated and its misuse is not prevented well enough.

The relevant help page says:

…voting down a post signals … that the post contains wrong information, is poorly researched, or fails to communicate information.

The tooltip of the down button says:

This question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful

Based on these, a downvote signals content that does not comply with the guidelines of the network for content, and is, therefore, detrimental, so may necessitate an action.

All too often, however, one sees questions that are clear, well-written and researched as far as it can be expected, downvoted, seemingly based on the voters unapproval of the subject matter.

I have two examples of my own questions:

I have yet to receive a justification for the downvotes pointing out how do these questions not live up to the expectations laid out above. The controversy around the subject matter, however, is clear from the discussion, which is telling.

I don’t think that Stack Exchange should penalize members of the community based on their opinions. I do think that – like any good democracy – it should be value-neutral, and only protect the system from misuse. Penalizing those whose opinion differ is the characteristic of dictatorships.

I have already decided never to contribute to Server Fault again, because of this intellectual nazism which seems to be especially prevalent there. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has already been driven away because of this.

So, I would like to know if my understanding of the concept of downvotes is correct, is the network, as I hope, respect their member’s experience and judgement, and I would like to see these ideas, i. e.:

  • upvoting a question – this question brought up something that I was interested in, it is well-written, it is researched;
  • upvoting an answer – this post answers the question or provides additional useful information, it is well-written and to the point;
  • downvoting a question – this question is unclear, poorly written or does not provide sufficient context
  • downvoting an answer – this post does not answer the question, it provides the wrong solution, it is unclear, poorly written, or does not provide sufficient context

better communicated to and acting in accordance with expected from individual community members.

  • 5
    -1 for "intellectual nazism". There you go, explained. – Bart Oct 2 '14 at 12:32
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    I would like to see that everyone who downvotes be Forced rather than asked to add a comment, too many people don't bother. I also don't think this question deserves downvotes. – Alexander Craggs Oct 2 '14 at 12:35
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    @PopeyGilbert you might want to read up on the dozens of discussions that have been had on similar requests, should you think about making a new one. – Bart Oct 2 '14 at 12:36
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    @PopeyGilbert - I point you at my question on this subject for more than you'll ever want to know – ChrisF Oct 2 '14 at 12:38
  • @Bart what is your problem with that expression? – Joó Ádám Oct 2 '14 at 12:39
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    Wow. Godwin's Law got invoked pretty quickly. – Fish Below the Ice Oct 2 '14 at 12:44
  • @FishBelowtheIce I think I'm missing the point of that law, surely everything increases towards 1 as a discussion increases? @ ChrissF Wow that's a lot of upvotes. I do agree with "Waffles" saying that people are too lazy to explain their reasons. – Alexander Craggs Oct 2 '14 at 12:49
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    You were making some decent points, but you lost all credibility when you starting bringing nazis into the argument. Nothing that hasn't been brought up before, though. Remember, how you say something matters just as much as what you say. – fbueckert Oct 2 '14 at 15:49
  • @fbueckert I’m sorry, but I stand behind that censoring (by means of downvoting) discussions based on not following some perceived best practice can be characterized as “intellectual nazism”. I’m also sorry that you discredit an argument based on use of a figure of speech. – Joó Ádám Oct 2 '14 at 18:39
  • @fbueckert “Nothing that hasn't been brought up before, though.” – Did these earlier instances result in some consensus? Whether my points are new or not, users misuse a feature, at least based on the help pages rationale of this feature. Either the rules should be changed or user behaviour (by better advertisement of the intentions or by administrative means). – Joó Ádám Oct 2 '14 at 18:45
  • By equating downvoting with censoring, you're completely misunderstanding the point of the voting system. There's been literally dozens of questions asking exactly the same thing you are, and it all boils down to the same thing: throwing a barrier in the way of voters, up or down, means less voting is going to happen. That voting is critical for proper judgement of the post's utility. Let's face it, you want people to upvote you, and you don't want them to downvote you without justifying it. Thing is, justification is not the point of voting. Quality is. – fbueckert Oct 2 '14 at 18:50
  • There’s no disagreement on that, the voting system is there to weed out low quality content. I just like to believe that my questions are at least of expected quality, given that when I ask, I tend to spend quite some time ensuring that it is clear, well structured and provides all the necessary information (hell, that it is readable, given that English is not my first language). Equation of them with all the trash that is posted day-to-day on the sites is, well, offending. – Joó Ádám Oct 2 '14 at 19:08

There's nothing that SE can do to force people to down-vote "correctly" - for any definition of "correctly" that you might want to think up. There is no way that you could program this into the system that wouldn't be detrimental to the sites. Actually there's probably no way you program this into the system full stop.

However, what you are forgetting is the third reason given on the tooltip

This question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful

emphasis added

It could be that the down-votes are from people who don't think your questions are useful. It might be a perfectly clear, well researched question, but ultimately it's just not useful.

  • And then again, some of the comments the OP received do seem to point out possible "gaps" in the question asked. I wouldn't be too dismissive of those. – Bart Oct 2 '14 at 12:37
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    I interpret that part as “it cannot be useful”, rather than “it is not useful for me”. Imagine if everyone would downvote posts on technologies they don’t use! – Joó Ádám Oct 2 '14 at 12:52
  • @JoóÁdám - I am assuming that people are using the first interpretation too. I didn't realise you meant the second interpretation in your question. – ChrisF Oct 2 '14 at 12:54
  • Sure, there’s no way you can handle this problem only in software, but at least the point of downvoting should be communicated to users, because this practice 1) drives away people, 2) promotes dogma. – Joó Ádám Oct 2 '14 at 12:57
  • @ChrisF I don’t want to focus on my questions, but I don’t think one can possibly decide that these are questions that can’t be useful for anyone else. (No one would wonder if Screen is an appropriate solution to run a long-lived process; no one would use SSH to connect to machines in a secure environment.) – Joó Ádám Oct 2 '14 at 13:04
  • @Bart could you please elaborate? – Joó Ádám Oct 2 '14 at 13:06
  • I suspect the downvotes are saying "this is not useful for a professional sysadmin". Analogously, I would expect them to be downvoted into oblivion on StackOverflow, since they're not directly related to programming. However, I think those questions would be well received on SuperUser, or U&L. SF isn't a site for "technology questions", but only a certain subset as defined by their community. – dsolimano Oct 2 '14 at 13:41
  • @dsolimano Well, I will certainly ask questions like these on U&L in the future, at least if this mentality persists at SF, but the thing is that both questions came up in relation to professional system administration. I admit that I’m more a developer, but in recent years I did operations on my own, on public production systems, so I suppose I qualify as a “professional sysadmin”, even if a beginner. Are beginners unwelcome at ServerFault? At which point will I qulify for the club? – Joó Ádám Oct 2 '14 at 18:54
  • @JoóÁdám, a good question, and you'd have to read through their meta and FAQ to get a good answer to that question, I'm not really sure where the line is. It's sort of a unique site. – dsolimano Oct 2 '14 at 20:43
  • @JoóÁdám I didn't vote on either of your example questions (somewhat surprising, since I vote the most there, or anywhere else on SE...), but the way it often works on SF is that 1) it doesn't count against you if a question is basic b) OTOH, it doesn't count for you if you're a "professional sysadm." The "professional" part is following the best practices that many/most/all professional sysadmins follow. For the SSH question, the best practice would be to use keys, but you say you don't want that solution, so it's not a good fit for the site. – Ward - Reinstate Monica Oct 4 '14 at 4:41
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    Or, you were given config parameters to change to do what you want, but you say they didn't work for you. At that point, you're pretty much on your own because it's hard to troubleshoot exactly what's different about your environment. Then, for the screen question, the professional sysadmin "best practice" would be to simply run a web server as a service. – Ward - Reinstate Monica Oct 4 '14 at 4:45

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