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I'm wondering whether the ability to downvote questions in the currently implemented way is the best way to handle bad questions. I'm ignoring meta sites for this, as they're far more complicated and voting works differently there.

The benefit of downvoting answers is very obvious to me, if an answer is wrong or simply not a good answer, downvoting it pushes it to the bottom and lets better answers rise above it. For questions it is not as obvious to me, especially as it's far more nebulous what actually defines a bad answer. For questions there is also a parallel quality control mechanism in close votes. And downvoting questions doesn't let better questions rise to the top in the same way it works for answers, it doesn't do anything for question lists or specific tag views, only for the frontpage.

One important aspect of downvotes is that they feed certain automated mechanisms designed to reduce moderator burden and clean up the site, the automatic question bans/throttling and the automated deletion of questions after a certain time.

One drawback of the current way downvoting works is that it is often perceived as very hostile, probably to a largely irrational degree. Even as an experienced SE user I still get a bit frustrated when I receive downvotes that I don't consider justified. And this effect is certainly much worse for newer users. I don't want to open this specific discussion here, but the perceived hostility is a significant issue in my opinion because it likely reduces the number of new users starting to participate, and a steady stream of new active users is necessary to sustain an SE site.

In my subjective observation there is also plenty of spurious voting on posts that are not actually bad. There is no general agreement on several aspects that people consider to make a question a bad question. A single downvote doesn't mean anything, there is too much noise in downvotes to gain any information from it.

Another issue I have with the current downvote mechanism is that there's often an excessive amount of downvotes for really not that terrible questions. The amount of downvotes is driven by attention (just like upvotes), and it often feels like kicking a user again when they're already down when you drive their question far into the negative score.

To me, closing is the primary way of moderating questions. Downvoting questions feels like an inferior parallel moderation system to me. The advantage of closing is that it actually explains to the user what is wrong with their question and gives them a chance to fix it, even though few take it. Downvotes don't tell you what is wrong.

The negative reputation penalty of downvotes also doesn't serve any useful purpose in my opinion. It's too small to have a serious effect on people that ask crappy questions, and it's large enough to simply annoy people.

What would happen if we remove the ability to downvote questions entirely? The question ban and the automated deletion script would likely not work well anymore. I'm not sure the experience for answerers would substantially change. The frontpage would also show questions that would have been below -4 score previously, and the worst possible score would be 0 for any question, so you would not quickly distinguish questions with no feedback from questions with negative feedback (but still unclosed). The asker would receive less feedback that their question might be bad, but only in cases where people don't post that feedback as comments and also don't close the question.

If we assume that community moderation in terms of closing questions works well, I don't see many drawbacks in eliminating downvotes on questions. This is a rather big "if", but maybe more an argument for improving the close system than having a lesser, parallel moderation system in downvotes.

Do we actually need downvotes on questions, or are they a superfluous parallel moderation system alongside close votes?

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    I have concerns when it comes to SO. Not enough close voters there to close the questions that need to be closed. – rene Mar 28 at 20:59
  • You raise lots of valid concerns here, so a +1 from me as I consider this a useful discussion. I also especially agree with the fact that there is no take-home message from a score of -1 on a question. I don't think the system is superfluous though; consider the current system already sends the signal to the voters that they can and are supposed to rate contents on the question, and without a downvote counterpart it'd feel more like a game of popularity (like social networks). Taking away votes entirely would be even worse. – Margarine Mar 28 at 21:00
  • @rene what exactly does downvoting provide in this case, when questions that should be closed are not closed? The best we can hope for in these cases is that the bad questions are automatically deleted. So maybe a bit more aggressive automated deletion for questions that received no positive feedback at all would be sufficient – Mad Scientist Mar 28 at 21:02
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    @MadScientist automatic deletion (roomba) relies on downvotes and/or closing. If we have no other means to indicate the content is off for reason shared by 80% of the community I think we do a disservice to those who care and those who visit. Askers are only a small part of the puzzle. What bothers me most that it poblably will take longer (on SO at least) to get rid of LQ. – rene Mar 28 at 21:06
  • To buttress your point: youtube.com/watch?v=rPiF475oSc4 (applies to Reddit, but semi-applicable to SE) – Sonic the Inclusive Hedgehog Mar 28 at 21:23
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    So you included a nice big old list of problems that would be caused by implementing your proposed feature. Then you just say, "that's not a big deal". That list of problems looks like a really big deal to me, especially with nothing to replace any of those factors. Those are major problems. It's also an incomplete list, i.e. we lose the ability to distinguish controversial content from good content (+5/-5 would now become +5/-0). – Servy Mar 28 at 21:56
  • @Servy What is the benefit of distinguishing controversial questions (outside meta)? For answers the benefit is obvious, but that's not what I'm talking about. And this is intentionally a discussion, not a feature request. Maybe removing downvotes on questions entirely has too many drawbacks, but that still leaves the option of changing the system in other ways (I skipped some parts I originally wanted to include because the post got far too long already). – Mad Scientist Mar 28 at 22:02
  • If 5 people think a question is good and 5 think it's bad, it's probably not a very good question. If five people think it's good and none think it's bad, it's probably a rather good question. Mistagging your feature request as a discussion doesn't change the fact that you're requesting a feature, it just means it's not being properly categorized with the other feature requests until someone fixes that mistake. If you have other proposals that accomplish something positive without the drawbacks, then by all means, write another feature request to propose them. – Servy Mar 28 at 22:06
  • @Servy It doesn't seem like a feature request to me. The ending question is, "what would happen?". – Sonic the Inclusive Hedgehog Mar 28 at 22:08
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    @SonictheWizardWerehog "What would happen if we implemented this feature?" is a feature request. That's precisely what every single feature request out there is asking. Feature requests are someone describing a possible feature, and a discussion taking place over whether that'd be a useful feature to implement. That's what all feature requests are. – Servy Mar 28 at 22:10
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    @MadScientist Oh, and on the matter of "controversial" posts, also consider that even on very poor posts, the votes won't all be unanimous. A post a -50/+5 is a really bad post. Like, "not worth anyone's time to read at all" bad. With this change it would now look like a +5/-0 post, which as mentioned earlier, is a pretty good question, certainly worth having a look at. – Servy Mar 28 at 22:14
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    @CodyGray that duplicate is 9 years old, a lot has changed in that time. And while the general topic is the same, the details aren't. Making it impossible to revisit topics even after almost a decade doesn't seem useful to me, it just shuts down discussion. – Mad Scientist Mar 29 at 8:18
  • The amount of downvotes is driven by attention (just like upvotes), and it often feels like kicking a user again when they're already down when you drive their question far into the negative score. been saying the same thing, less eloquently, for years +1 – Mari-Lou A Mar 29 at 8:53
  • Your attempt to reply didn't ping me. I disagree that the age of a question is relevant when considering duplicates. That isn't how it works on Stack Exchange. Furthermore, even for your argument that we should be able to "revisit topics", that's not applicable in this case because the system has not fundamentally changed in any way that would be relevant to this discussion. In fact, Shog's answers to the two questions are extremely similar. This is not mere coincidence. – Cody Gray Mar 30 at 6:00
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First, I feel compelled to note that voting itself isn't necessary. The goal here is to compile answers to questions; that doesn't require voting. Plenty of forums and wikis work just fine without voting...

That old euler diagram with Wiki-Blog-Reddit-Forum shown as the inspirations for the medley of features that makes up these sites

So when we talk about voting, we have to talk about what it enables above and beyond those most basic goals. You've identified some of that:

  1. Automated user moderation (bans / rate-limits)
  2. Automated content moderation (question deletion)
  3. Automated content filtering (homepage score threshold)

But there are a few other things we should consider here:

  1. Reputation - this is a big one actually. Folks often talk about this as gamification but that's only a small part of it...

    People are keenly aware of their status in relation to others, and go to some lengths to keep track of it even when nothing in the system explicitly encourages doing so; that's just part of being human. In a forum-like system, folks default to obsessing over obvious indicators (how many posts have I made vs. everyone else?) while also maintaining a small mental list of people they encounter on a regular basis for more nuanced comparisons (I remember who "Jeff" and "Jay" are, and know that I write more detailed answers than Jeff and less detailed answers than Jay).

    Reputation does little or nothing for those nuanced comparisons, but in a large system with many active users it dramatically alters the broader comparison: I've written 484 answers on SO (that aren't deleted); Jakub Narębski has only written 408, but has earned a lot more reputation than me - by having Reputation, I'm giving a (slightly) more nuanced factor to consider when comparing myself to others. This has subtle but extremely powerful long-term effects: in systems where count is the only factor provided for this purpose, the natural tendency is to optimize for volume, in some cases even at the expense of utility!

    Providing reputation for asking questions - and removing a token amount of it for asking questions that others do not like - offers this nuance for askers as well as answerers.

  2. Manual content filtering. Closely related to #3 above, this allows you to do things like create nuanced searches or watch-lists for your own use, minimizing the time you spend on questions that your peers have already identified as problematic.

  3. Catharsis. No really! When folks are bothered by something they see, they tend to want to act on that feeling... A pile of downvotes may seem cruel, but a pile of critical comments - or answers - is in many ways far worse. Indeed, I've often wondered if it was a mistake not to have downvotes on comments (or even just call comment flags downvotes) - it might well reduce the number of bitter or mean-spirited responses that we see in comment threads.

So to answer your question again: no, we don't need downvotes on questions. But having them does provide us with a lot of useful things, things that would take some non-trivial amount of work to provide otherwise.

  • the -2 rep aren't really large enough to affect reputation scores on a large scale, if negatively scored answers were supposed to actually affect the user's reputation, that penalty would have to be larger. Upvotes and attention are the important factors here, downvotes only play a role in more extreme situations, and those often end in question bans or suspensions anyway – Mad Scientist Mar 28 at 21:57
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    So, funny story... Lots of other people said that too. Which is why questions only give you +5 per upvote - downvotes have a bigger impact that way. Question bans would effectively not be a thing without downvotes (we'd essentially need to design an equivalent system to support them); suspensions don't scale, which is why we have question bans in the first place. – Shog9 Mar 28 at 23:13
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It looks like your premise is that bad questions, the ones people are downvoting, are also close-worthy so they should be doing that instead. While I agree that people often don't vote to close when they should, you're missing another big category: questions that are on-topic, aren't too broad, aren't opinion-based... but are still bad. They might show zero effort, for example, or be founded on an obviously-wrong premise. I'm not going to name and shame here, but I've seen lots of examples on the sites I frequent where questions deserved downvotes but not close votes.

Further, that downvote is frustrating to receive. When I get one, I always look again at my post to try to figure out what's wrong and whether I can fix it. Did I leave out something important? Did I fail to say what I've already tried? Would it be better if I quoted that source I'm basing my question on instead of just linking to it? Users who are engaged with the site are likely to care enough to try to fix the problem.

On meta sites there are additional considerations; voting on feature requests or site policy proposals or the like shows how the community feels about them, and for that you need both directions to be available. I consider it a deficiency that people with low rep can vote in only one direction on per-site metas.

(By the way, I did not downvote this question because it is a , but would have if it had been a . See how that matters?)

  • My premise is more like "Would it be so bad if we let bad questions just drop out of sight with a score of 0, instead of slightly hiding them in a few places, but not everywhere with a negative score.". Downvoting a question doesn't remove it, it doesn't prevent answers, it doesn't really do all that much in the end. And I forgot to explicitly exclude meta, that's far more messy with the multiple meanings of votes there. – Mad Scientist Mar 28 at 22:19
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    Downvoting allows us to indicate that a bad question is a bad question even though the answerer decided to upvote it to attract more views. Removing one without the other loses half the signal. – Kevin B Mar 28 at 22:20
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    @MadScientist downvoting feeds many of them to the Roomba. Are you perhaps thinking there should be a limit on the amount of downvoting, that -10 doesn't accomplish anything that -5 doesn't already? – Monica Cellio Mar 29 at 0:29
  • @MadScientist: "Would it be so bad if we let bad questions just drop out of sight with a score of 0" But that won't actually happen; such questions will always get a pity upvote or two. – Nicol Bolas Mar 29 at 13:57
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Downvoting on questions distinguishes zero scored questions that have not had much attention, from those that have had some but are impossible to answer in their current state.

It takes time for all but the most egregious and spammy questions to accumulate 5 close votes but a downvote is instantly visible against a question.

There's a tension inherent in bad questions that are not yet closed between:

  • encouraging people to look at them so they can be closed.
  • discouraging people from looking at them so they can spend their time answering questions that can be answered.

Downvoting of questions supports the second of these and thereby suppresses the first to some extent.

There are many answerers that don't involve themselves in moderation (lots more than those that do) and we ought to guide them as much as we can towards questions they can answer and away from questions we can't as they are a limited resource. After all that's why most people visit here, for answers to their questions.

You can see the questions score from the list view but you can't see the number of close votes from there so until you visit a question you can't see that it has close votes. There's no close signal in the question list view till the close process completes.

This is not to say that we couldn't have other mechanisms to direct answerers away from bad questions - we could display questions in the list view that have 1-4 close votes differently for instance. But we ought to consider what we'd lose by discarding downvoting of questions and put mechanisms in place to mitigate such losses if indeed that's such a thing we want to do and overall I'm not so sure it is.

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