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Folks, this has nothing to do with reputation. It’s about ranking answers. Please stop trying to close it as a duplicate of one of the decade old discussions about reputation.

I think it would be beneficial if the ranking of very old answers that have already accumulated a lot of votes was more dynamic. There are many ways to implement a more dynamic ranking. One of them would be to have the scores we're using to rank the answers decay either over time or based on some activity measure, so that new votes, which tend to be more informed than old votes1, would have more impact on the ranking.

I'd like to discuss whether allowing answer scores to decay toward zero would be a useful to make that ranking more dynamic, and if so, talk about ideas on how we might go about it without causing larger issues than the ones it could solve. This is not a proposal for a change. Think about it more like brainstorming. Stack Exchange is founded on collaboration, so let's collaborate and entertain some crazy ideas. Maybe the discussion will spawn some ideas that aren't crazy.

Thinking about the discussions around pinning accepted answers and dealing with obsolete answers, I started wondering why twelve year old votes (up or down) on posts stick around forever. I don't have a specific proposal, so this isn't a feature request (I would be surprised if some version of this hasn't already been suggested). I think there has been talk of weighting the score of an answer based on the age of the votes, but I wasn't able to find anything about letting them age away.

It seems to me that if answer scores were more dynamic, it would be easier to solve the outdated answer issue and we wouldn't need to pin an answer to the top of the list to overcome popular-but-wrong answers with insurmountable scores. Allowing votes to decay over time would also mitigate that early votes (and the choice of accepted answer) may be cast with knowledge of only a fraction of all the answers a question might get in its lifetime. If we let answers decay to a zero score, we could also reset certain questions back to "unanswered" if there is no accepted answer and have the community bot bump them for the community to take another look at.

I don't think there should be any changes to anyone's reputation or badges as votes decay; What has been earned should stay earned and I don't see that forcing people to constantly earn reputation to keep their privileges has much benefit compared to offsetting the huge advantages in score old answers have over newer ones.

In my opinion, only the answer scores should need to be freshened up with new votes. Questions don't compete for visibility using score; they can be bumped and bountied for example. I think both downvotes and upvotes should decay. I feel that post activity (views, comments and edits) should affect how fast votes decay, but I can see a lot of tricky bits around that. Maybe whether the user who posted the answer is still active would be a factor to consider when decaying the score? Active users might be more likely to keep their answers updated, so decaying the votes might be less useful?

What do you think? What factors would you use to mitigate the momentum of old answers that have had a lot of views and votes? What factors should speed up or slow down the decay of votes on an answer if we did let votes decay? Would the decay possibly helping users get out from under an answer ban be a good thing or bad thing?


1. Newer votes are more informed because ideally the question would be clarified and improved over time and there would be more answers to look at when deciding whether a particular answer should be upvoted or downvoted.
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    If a niche question as multiple answers with 0 votes, how will a user distinguish the rubbish one from the good one that gets occasional upvotes, which have decayed again? Sep 14 at 14:26
  • @samcarter_is_at_topanswers.xyz That's why I want to have this discussion. This is not a feature request, I'd like to explore the idea. Ideally, votes wouldn't decay too quickly. Or, they could decay only to some minimum dynamic threshold. What happens now when all answers to a question are equally zero because there were no votes?
    – ColleenV
    Sep 14 at 14:27
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    It would make it harder to reason why people have the rep they do have. You'd get complaints that userXXX's posts all have 0 score and yet they have oodles of reputation. Sep 14 at 14:33
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    @RobertLongson Yep, there are a lot of potential issues. I'm donating my reputation to try to poke people into maybe thinking about things a different way. Apparently I can't handle the stress of being able to use the 10K tools :)
    – ColleenV
    Sep 14 at 14:36
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    Does this answer your question? Has Stack Overflow considered a sliding score for reputation? - that's one of the prior discussions for this question.
    – Rob
    Sep 14 at 16:17
  • @Rob Nope. That's about reputation. This is a discussion about answer score.
    – ColleenV
    Sep 14 at 16:27
  • ColleenV, Perhaps these are closer to your question: "Introducing Outdated Answers project", meta.stackexchange.com/q/71522/282094, meta.stackexchange.com/q/144786/282094, or meta.stackexchange.com/q/11705/282094 (that last one has a number of "linked" Q&As about outdated answers).
    – Rob
    Sep 14 at 17:03
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    @Rob This is a discussion and I would like to get the current community's thoughts about decaying answer scores, not a solution to dealing with obsolete answers. I'm not sure what you think will be accomplished by pointing me at 1) The outdated answers project post that inspired me to ask for this discussion 2) A decade old discussion about marking answers obsolete that doesn't discuss score decay at all 3) A 9 year old discussion about flagging outdated answers that doesn't discuss score decay 4) An 12 year old question asking for how to deal with obsolete answers.
    – ColleenV
    Sep 14 at 17:14
  • Reducing your question to a few points: 1. ".. why twelve year old votes (up or down) on posts stick around forever. I don't have a specific proposal ...", 2. "... if answer scores were more dynamic, it would be easier to solve the outdated answer issue ...", 3. "... answer scores should need to be freshened up with new votes. Questions don't compete for visibility using score ...", 4. so you end with 5 questions - (in prior comment): "I'm not sure what you think will be accomplished ...". - We see that, work (reading and voting) shouldn't be done automatically; that has been discussed.
    – Rob
    Sep 14 at 18:11
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    @Rob Well maybe instead of linking pages of decades old discussion that may or may not apply to the modern community and the current state of the network, you could write an answer explaining your point of view so that I could understand it better.
    – ColleenV
    Sep 14 at 18:47
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    While I support it, this has been proposed many times and been rejected. Perhaps add a review of previous proposals and argue why it should reconsidered? Sep 15 at 12:45
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    A slightly younger proposal (technically not a decade old): Shouldn't rep gains from old questions & answers eventually stop (or at-least reduce)?. Sure there must be others(?). Sep 15 at 12:51
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    @ColleenV: They are non-trivial to find, but it is very much an FAQ (or frequently proposed feature (FPF)(?)). Sep 15 at 12:56
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    Or make it clearer why this is not like those other meta questions. This could be done by listing some of them and list arguments why this is different. Sep 15 at 12:59
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    @ResistanceIsFutile A lot of what I tossed into the question was intended as fodder. As I was thinking about votes decaying, it occurred to me that might also help people stuck in a ban. I don't think decaying the actual votes is feasible though, so I agree that answer banning might deserve its own brainstorming session.
    – ColleenV
    Sep 15 at 18:01
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I see a few downsides. Maybe they're not something that can't be overcome, but they are things that should be kept in mind when decaying votes in my opinion. But at the moment I don't see a way to fix these issues, which makes me lean towards saying that decaying votes on answers isn't a great solution and shouldn't be done.

Decaying votes but not reputation.

This isn't necessarily a bad idea, but it should come with an extra caveat: People should get only get to vote for each post once, just like now.

This should remain as such to avoid abuse of the system and people using decaying votes to vote + award reputation more than once and/or tactical voting to keep posts on top that don't deserve it. Seriously, this is stuff that could be scripted and turned into a business model if implemented otherwise: I promise to vote again for your post once it ages away, just pay me $1 a month. So it needs to be kept at 1 vote, only 1 opportunity to 'gift' someone reputation and a chance of taking the spotlight.

Exhausting the pool of people that can keep a great answer at the top

Following the above, if people only get to vote for a post once, eventually the pool of people that can vote for a post to keep it stuck to the top will dwindle to almost nothing. There are great answers out there, that don't lose their value over time. Think stuff like how to exit vim or how to parse HTML with regex. If thousands of people have already voted for those, they will eventually end up aging back to a low score just because you can't vote twice, and the pool of people that can vote for a specific answer is dwindling. I don't think that is right.

Decaying both upvotes and downvotes

There are plenty of questions on Stack Exchange, and I bet a lot of those may get some views but little voting over years of time. Especially not since it takes more reputation to earn the privilege to be able to downvote than it takes for the privilege to upvote. So, these questions may very well have a great answer and a lousy answer, but because not enough people come across it, both may eventually end up scoring 0. On top of that, it is my subjective observation that users in general seem to be upvoting much more than downvoting.

If you really want to use votes to rank answers, to get the best answers to float to the top, decaying all scores back to 0 eventually isn't going to help in the long run. It's going to end up closing the gap between good and extremely bad answers too fast, the ones that need downvotes just won't get enough of those to keep this feasible.

(BTW, are we getting the reputation penalty for downvoting an answer back if our vote ages away?)

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    All excellent points. I just threw some thoughts on the page to start the conversation instead of taking my usual 3 days to write something, and vote exhaustion is a big issue that didn't occur to me. I already feel like the hundred rep I'm likely to lose on this boondoggle will be worth it ;)
    – ColleenV
    Sep 14 at 15:35
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    @ColleenV eh, don't think you'll really lose a hundred :P Once it's off the front page and people aren't constantly answering/editing, it's rare to end up with a score lower than -20 ;)
    – Tinkeringbell Mod
    Sep 14 at 17:04
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    I should work on being more ranty :) Although, I think you underestimate the collateral damage to my other meta posts that posting unpopular stuff or pushing back in comments can cause...
    – ColleenV
    Sep 14 at 17:16
  • Thinking about the vote exhaustion - votes and score being so tightly coupled makes decaying the votes explicitly a huge problem. If the vote decays in a way that would let us vote on an answer again, then long time users lose a huge chunk of our "memory"/history. We wouldn't be able to tell if we had voted on it before, our voting stats would get super complicated, etc. For this to work we would have to loosen up the bond between the score used for ranking and the votes cast/reputation consequences, and that has it's own huge set of issues.
    – ColleenV
    Sep 15 at 13:27
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There are several issues with this proposal

  • Not all answers age equally
  • Not all answers are in high traffic tags (this is especially visible on Stack Overflow where differences between tags are huge)
  • Not all aged answers are irrelevant (just because some technology is old, doesn't mean it is not used anymore)
  • Post activity is very poor representative of the post relevance and accuracy - even recent voting patterns may be highly inaccurate (imagine serial downvotes or upvotes on answers with low overall score in low traffic tags)

Votes are cast by humans. Some votes are cast on poor answers, but there is very little we can do about it, except leaving comments, editing answers with warnings, and downvoting. Still, votes on majority of answers are representative.

Adding any kind of automatic process would cause more issues than it would solve. If answers require any kind of additional quality control, then this must be strictly manual, human reviewed process, by knowledgeable people in the topic.

When it comes to technical sites, most notably Stack Overflow my answer to this proposal is strong:

NO

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  • I tried to scrub the "time" aspect from the question--initially I was thinking more about activity than age. It's discouraging to see a one link-only answer with a high score and a newer comprehensive answer with a low positive score and know that that the old answer will always rank above the more useful answer. What if it wasn't time based? What if the decay had little to do with votes and more to do with the score for ranking?
    – ColleenV
    Sep 15 at 14:32
  • You seem to be imagining a specific implementation of how the score would decay, and I concede that making votes decay explicitly is problematic. Is there some more creative way than aging away votes that we could make the ranking more dynamic? What factors could we look at to detect if an answer is aging well instead of poorly?
    – ColleenV
    Sep 15 at 14:33
  • I am not sure what you mean by "little to do with votes and more to do with the score" as score depends on number of votes? Sep 15 at 16:56
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    To make it more clear, I cannot imagine any specific implementation where automatic decaying (or ranking) would yield good results. We can only manually detect and deal with aging answers. One thing in good direction has been done - unpinning accepted answer, but for the rest, some sort of manual "flagging" and marking would be necessary. Sep 15 at 16:59
  • Currently votes => score => ranking. What if votes => score + (???) => ranking? "Sort by votes" is actually "Sort by score"... answers with zero votes and answers with an equal number of downvotes and upvotes are ranked the same, but are they really the same? The drive-by visitor from a search engine can't even see whether the score is controversial or if no-one voted on it. I think you're right to be skeptical of an automated process, but what if the automated process is just a nudge instead of a "fix"?
    – ColleenV
    Sep 15 at 17:58
  • I wouldn't mind if answers with equal score would have additional something to determine better rank. If I am not mistaken, such answers position is determined randomly. For me that is good enough, too and I don't think there is enough such answers (on high quality questions) that changing rank would be significant improvement for those. Sep 15 at 18:04
  • I was always against blocking people to see vote breakdown, but I also don't think that downvotes should weight more than upvotes (unless answers have same score). Sep 15 at 18:07
  • Yeah, I think every vote should count equally. I wonder if there's some combination of age, views, interactions with an answer (comments, edits), a "controversy" measurement, and other factors that we might use to adjust the order answers are displayed in? Maybe we side-step the thorny issues around adjusting scores and add some information in addition to score that humans cans use to search for and sort answers. Right now it's hard to use score in a meaningful way because it is dependent on views and age.
    – ColleenV
    Sep 15 at 18:31
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    I have been thinking about it a lot lately, but no matter how I turn it I couldn't imagine anything that would not make even bigger mess. And every other metric is just as fallible. On technical sites adding versions and version sorting could alleviate some issues that arise with changes in technology, but this cannot be applied on other sites. For instance, I cannot see how old math answer needs to age away to give more room for new one. Sep 15 at 19:27
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This idea might be feasible (even though I am not sure I like it), if it is connected not to time, but to the number of views (which is somewhat proportional to time, but has more granularity), preferably making a distinction between the views from people who CAN vote vs other views.


Connecting the answer score simply with time does not seem like a good idea, particularly, because it is very hard to adjust the behaviour for niche subjects. There, the votes are much more scarce, and thus, should probably have a longer-lasting effect on the score.

One way to mitigate it is to connect the "decay factor" to the number of views. Say, with every X views, the scores decay by 1, where parameter X should be chosen differently for each community, and maybe, even by tags.

Now, I would differentiate the views by those individuals who have the privilege to vote up (denote by Y) and those who do not (or are not logged in; denote by Z). Then X = Y+Z/F, where F is a "discrimination factor". Careful analysis is needed to determine appropriate X, Y, Z, and F — or any other meta-parameters in the score decay model.

However, to me, the need to do all those calculations points to the problems in the original premise that the score should naturally decay at all without users explicitly interacting with a particular answer.


Note, this is just my poke at the proposed idea :)

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  • I like the idea of it not being directly time related - I let "time" creep into my title, but that wasn't how my thoughts started out.
    – ColleenV
    Sep 14 at 14:41

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