Some quality users leave Stack Exchange because of a slight imbalance in the current voting system
The ultimate problem is that some people who write quality answers are driven away by a slight imbalance in the voting system for answers. The imbalance is unnecessary and correctable. By making small, deliberate, well-considered changes, the SE community will attract and retain more users who write quality answers.
- I strongly support the downvote function.
- I agree that downvoting should be anonymous.
- I do not think that downvoting should be connected to comments (i.e., less reputation loss if a user also leaves a comment).
- I believe that most downvotes are appropriate and legitimate,
(I originally wrote this for the English Language & Usage meta, but moved it here because this is the best place for it—to get trashed.)
- A minority of EL&U users downvote "inappropriately," to troll, to be mean, or for a reason other than a "legitimate" reason for downvoting.
- I have not found an official Stack Exchange list of legitimate reasons, but the SE FAQ includes When should I vote? with some thoughtful answers.
- The above FAQ post references Why do you cast downvotes on answers?, which has even more discussion.
- If you need proof that a few users purposely abuse downvoting, then see this answer about a "sockpuppet account." What to do against downvote troll?
- "Illegitimate" downvotes on answers do not matter to some users, cause some users to rethink their writing, and have a negative impact on some, but not all, users. Three (or four) sources of evidence that illegitimate downvotes affect some users:
- The post, Yes, there are mean spirited, small-minded, humourless users in EL&U. What to do? The poster listed the option "Leave EL&U and close my account A possibility." But luckily for us, she did not leave. This is evidence that for some people the downvotes hurt, and it strongly suggests that some people leave without having a meta discussion first.
- Search the EL&U meta forum for terms such as downvotes, downvote, and downvoting. I searched because I wanted to see if someone else had already made my suggestion (below), but with hundreds of results, it was impossible for me to read everything. Downvoting is important enough to some users that they ask questions in meta about it. And the quantity of questions about down-voting suggests that many people are upset by the current system. Some answers also say that some people, however, are not negatively effected by downvotes.
- Look at the tags in the meta section. Especially when you remove the mandatory tags and the moderator tags, the "down-votes" tag is one of the most frequently used tags of the approximately 150 tags in this forum. Furthermore, when you compare the "down-votes" tag to other tags related to voting, vote-to-close, votes, voting, and up-votes, the down-voting tag is the most frequently used. This is a topic that is important to some users.
- I think there are too many illegitimate downvotes, and I believe the system can be improved.
- Upvote question: +5 for the author, +0 for the voter
- Upvote answer: +10 for the author, +0 for the voter
- Downvote question: -2 for the author, -0 for the voter
- Downvote answer: -2 for the author, -1 for the voter
Gaining reputation works as an incentive to write well. The SE founders explained their thoughts for their original scoring system in the context of increasing the penalty to the author of a downvoted answer. Downvotes on answers cost the voter reputation "to make sure downvotes are cast only when you feel strongly that something is incorrect / wrong / dangerous / of low quality." (Emphasis in original.)
Because there is enough illegitimate downvoting on answers to affect multiple users, the current system obviously does not meet the goal of only downvoting when a user feels strongly about the answer.
Suggested change to downvoting
To discourage illegitimate downvoting, increase the penalty to the voter for downvoting answers, but do not change downvoting questions. How much? There are many ways to derive the amount of change, so the amount of the increase is not as important as deciding that an increase would help dissuade illegitimate downvoting of answers. A few possibilities: A/B testing, modeling, incrementally increasing the penalty until some benchmark is achieved then stopping. The amount of the increase is not as important as agreeing that an increase is good.
Second suggestion to bolster the change in downvoting
As the SE founders wrote, their primary goal was to differentiate the answers based on upvotes. The lack of votes, especially on questions has been noted in many places. Therefore, giving some sort of reward for upvoting would encourage upvoting. I am often surprised when I see an answer with multiple positive comments but few upvotes. If an increased downvote penalty on answers accidentally dissuades legitimate downvotes, then offering a reward for upvoting will help offset that problem. It will also move the "tone" of the website in a more positive direction.
Changing costs will have a positive effect
All things being equal, upvoting good answers has the same effect as downvoting bad answers—except that an environment with more upvoting is a healthier environment and will attract and retain more users. (This post discusses the negative effects of excessive downvotes but the author of the post accidentally buried his ideas in hyperbole.)
Net effects of changes
With some creativity and planning, all of the following would happen:
- Total voting on answers would increase, which would help to separate good and bad answers.
- Illegitimate downvotes on answers would decrease.
- If legitimate downvotes on ansers decrease, the increase in upvotes on answers will more than offset the change.
- Important: the users who allegedly "have trouble with receiving criticism" to their answers (see below) and sometimes stop using SE (see above), would be less likely to leave this community.
If you have trouble with receiving criticism, that's not beside the point at all - in fact, that's a good reason to keep downvotes. Over time, hopefully Stack Overflow will help you to deal with criticism better (just like it helps us to communicate better) - and it does this in a harmless environment, compared with having to learn via getting annoyed with your manager, for example.
The above quote is patently false: SE does not exist to "help [users] to deal with criticism better." Blaming the people who believe the downvoting system is not well balanced only drives those people away. It is possible to change the balance in the system, and keep more users involved.
Please consider what I am not saying
Please consider that I am not saying any of the following.
- I am not saying that illegitimate voting is a rampant problem. I am saying it is a problem and I provided proof.
- I am not saying that most people believe the downvoting system is out of balance. I am saying that a significant minority of people believe it is out of balance and that those people would like to see some change and some people quit SE because they believe the system is out of balance.
- I am not suggesting a dramatic shift in the current system. I am suggesting a small move in a more positive direction so that it benefits many users without hurting any users. (If a user is "hurt" that downvoting someone's answer costs them more reputation, then there is something seriously wrong.)
- I am not suggestion changes to voting on questions.