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Update April 3rd, 2024

We have posted an update on the status of this experiment on MSO. Please leave any feedback, questions, or critiques on that post.


TL;DR: We are interested in finding 2-3 Stack Exchange sites willing to volunteer to test lowering the reputation required to upvote and downvote to 1 so that we can understand how this change impacts participation on sites. This test will be run with direct communication between the company and the moderation teams and we will be monitoring user behavior during the tests for specific indications that adjustments to tooling or ending the test may be necessary. If successful, we'd like to expand this change to the network.

What is the background of this experiment?

We've long understood that many users find it difficult to participate on Stack Exchange in some ways. We have collected user research over the years indicating that many people have struggled to participate because they feel the restrictions about who can vote are too limiting and prevents them from indicating when questions or answers are good or bad. While one of the core concepts of Stack Exchange is that anyone should be able to freely access the content and have the opportunity to ask, answer, or edit, this openness doesn't extend to other privileges on the sites.

We’ve historically used reputation as a way to prevent misuse, but in doing so we’ve made it hard for people to participate at all without creating content. By removing or changing some of these barriers to participation, we hope to spur participation and engagement - including posting, voting, and curation/moderation. The goal of this particular project is to understand the impact of removing the reputation required to upvote and downvote.

Reputation is a simplistic way to prevent abuse, but it doesn't reflect actual risk or a user's experience with the site or subject. By understanding the impact of removing the reputation barrier, we can find more targeted ways to address abuse for users of all reputation levels rather than sticking to the rather simplistic solution of relying on a reputation barrier to prevent wider-spread misuse of votes.

We have these restrictions in place for a variety of reasons, but the core concept behind all of them is to prevent misuse and protect the perceived value of the content on the sites. We do not want to make it more difficult for mods and community members to moderate content on the sites, nor do we want to see people inappropriately voting on content and thus reducing the value of the library of information.

As such, while removing the reputation required to vote is a five minute change to our privilege settings, we've spent the past few months understanding the potential risks of this change and adjusting our plans for this project. Based on voluminous thoughtful feedback from moderators across the network, we've made improvements to some moderator tools and have enhancements in the works based on their recommendations. While these changes aren't going to prevent all issues, they should make identifying and acting on them simpler.

Before we build additional moderator tooling and before we expand this test beyond these initial test sites, we want to see this change implemented on a few sites to see how it impacts engagement. It's important for us to hear from sites directly and see these changes in action to learn how changing the reputation to 1 changes voting behavior or if it adds an unreasonable amount of work for moderators and CMs to investigate. Our goal is to use this information to guide our future efforts, identify any necessary additional moderation tools, and validate whether these voting updates lead to increased engagement.

What would change for sites participating in this test?

There are three main privilege changes happening here as part of our test:

  • Reputation required to cast upvotes is changing from 15 to 1
  • Reputation required to cast downvotes is changing from 125 to 1
  • The 1 reputation cost to downvote answers will be removed

We will notify logged-in users with <125 rep to let them know that they can vote with a popup.

To understand motivations for new downvoters, the first few downvotes from a <125-rep user would require them to explain their downvote - this information will not be posted anywhere, but will instead be collected by our research team and bucketed into categories so that we can better understand reasons people downvote. While we expect that many voters may just enter gibberish, we feel like we'll get at least some usable information.

While we have considered various options for this test, since our goal is to be as permissive as possible, we want to start with opening voting to everyone. Regarding removing the reputation required to downvote and the cost to downvote answers, this is a situation where we want to balance the system. Users don't like receiving downvotes, but they are vital to a quality-based system. When we're looking at things like an aging content base, we recognize that giving even passive users the opportunity to say "this answer doesn't work" may help combat that to some extent.

One major thing is not changing - having a registered account will be required for voting. Unregistered accounts and logged-out users will not be granted the ability to vote. Additionally, users who are suspended will still not be able to vote during their suspension.

What are the risks and challenges of this test?

Over the last few months, moderators have shared their feedback and concerns about this experiment, which have been related to changes to vote quality, disproportional increases in vote fraud, and difficulty identifying handling sock puppets with the existing moderation tools. We understand those concerns and have done our best to adjust our test plan to find a path forward that allows us to test our hypothesis without risking negatively impacting the entire network by suddenly changing voting practices. Much of our test plan is designed to catch cases the moderators have identified and give room for communication throughout the test.

To address their concerns about identifying vote fraud and sock puppetry, we've made various improvements over the last three months to these tools. While we generally avoid speaking too publicly about moderator tooling, here are some of the general improvements we've made or are planning to make:

  • We have overhauled a moderator dashboard that draws attention to potentially suspicious votes and made it easier to find (live on site for use).
  • We have overhauled the Moderator Messaging and CM escalation UI to show mods and CMs more history about the user in the message context (live on site for use).
  • We are making it easier for moderators to find and act on sock rings (in design phase).
  • We are making it easier to escalate groups of suspicious votes for CM review and invalidation (in design phase).

We're still working out some bugs in these tools but the feedback we've gotten indicates the updates are well-received and they're looking forward to further improvements.

What is the test plan?

We want to find 2-3 established sites that are willing to volunteer for this test. Preferably, these will be larger sites that have moderators willing to work directly with the members of the Community Enablement team, the team dedicated to this project whose primary responsibility for the past year has been creating and improving moderator and community management tooling.

Our specific plans for data collection include:

  • Reviewing existing voting and participation data and analyzing the impact of the changes in collaboration with site moderators and community members
  • Conducting user research to assess perceptions of post quality before and after this change
  • Analyzing voting differences based on various factors including:
    • Reputation
    • Account age
    • Final outcome of the post - e.g. if a question is closed or deleted and why, or an answer is deleted
  • Keeping an eye out for changes in users going undetected by tools that use reputation as a signal to block participation
    • This includes both built-in tools like SpamRam, as well as community-created ones like SmokeDetector.
  • Setting guidance before the test that will help us identify cases where rolling back the changes or making other adjustments are necessary.

We intend to run this project as transparently as we can, considering it relates directly to voting, which is something that we try to keep as private as possible. Due to the sensitivity of this data, some of the communication will be on a Private Team with the moderators of these sites. We will ensure there is open communication of publicly shareable information with the sites directly through the moderators and staff working on this project.

Because our test includes regular monitoring and clear guidance on when reverting the change is the best course of action, our plan is to retain these changes unless we see evidence they're causing negative impacts that we can't address quickly by making changes to tooling or automations.

After the test has been running for a month, we will create a report to share with here on Meta Stack Exchange before we determine the next steps for this project.

Which sites will be chosen?

This is a big change, and we would really love to find sites willing to volunteer - we don't want to force any sites into this test group. While we have sites we think would be good options and we'll be reaching out to them directly, we encourage members of sites to discuss whether they're interested in participating in this test on child meta sites. We would like to have some of the larger sites participate and will likely lean towards them as the impacts of these changes will probably be seen more quickly than on very low-activity sites.

Conclusions / asks

Removing the reputation barrier to voting for all users is a change we feel will lead to more users being able to indicate post quality and usefulness, but we recognize that it will require a lot of care to ensure that we are educating voters about when to vote and encouraging them to follow acceptable voting practices while also preventing or removing votes that were cast inappropriately.

We recognize that you may have many questions or concerns about this project and that this post may seem like it doesn't include a lot of specifics about the risks of this change. In writing this question, we're trying to focus on the test to keep it short(er) - the version of this that was posted on the Stack Moderators Team three weeks ago was significantly longer, as it responded to many of the mods' specific concerns.

  • If you think a site you participate in would be willing to test this, let us know in a comment so that we can reach out on the child meta site or start the meta discussion and flag the question to request mods to feature it on the site. We can create an answer with links to site discussions network wide.
  • If you have questions, please ask them in answers so that we can respond to them individually. It really helps if you can try to limit answers to one primary concern.

We have spent over three months reviewing and re-evaluating our plans for this project based on a huge amount of very helpful feedback from moderators over the course of two questions on the mod team to get to where we are now. We really appreciate the feedback they shared with us because we want to investigate this change in a way that works to avoid negative impacts to the sites.

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    "We really appreciate the feedback they shared with us because we want to investigate this change in a way that works to avoid negative impacts to the sites." - our feedback saying the tooling isn't ready for the increase in abuse this will lead to apparently didn't make the cut
    – Zoe
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 16:44
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    @Zoe I understand that you and others have concerns - we've specifically made huge changes to this project plan to address those concerns and have clearly stated that we have additional changes in design and have planned to make further changes but need some data to know what changes are needed. This post doesn't invalidate those concerns - it actually recognizes them and validates them.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 16:52
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    You're still massively underestimating the tooling requirements, particularly for SO. Your plan still doesn't include massively extended and improved automated tools. The current automatic vote invalidation system is a potato, and the abuse vectors for evading detection are well-known. You're dumping a massive increase in workload on us, and not doing close to enough to reduce, automate, and improve the workflow for dealing with vote fraud (but especially reduce and automate)
    – Zoe
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 17:00
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    Remember, even a 1% increase on small sites might just be a couple cases, but on SO, it's hundreds, if not thousands (partly depending on how you count it) of cases per week, most of which will have to be manually handled when the brand new sock rings that can be established with no cost and with a disgusting number of users casting few enough votes to remain undetected start firing up
    – Zoe
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 17:05
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    Many low-rep users don't understand how SO works, don't understand how to ask a good question, and, a lesser proportion, don't accept and/or acknowledge an answer / respond to requests for clarification. How much confidence do you have re: voting for helpful answers. Yeah, I'm a little jaded on this. I also echo the sentiments re increased abuse and moderator effort.
    – QHarr
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 17:10
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    I generally expect that upvoting things that are useful, and downvoting things that aren't is a fairly common thing across the web... not something unique to SO that users who previously couldn't vote at all won't be able to grasp. I welcome this change and hope the issues it may cause can be addressed.
    – Kevin B
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 17:36
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    @QHarr I'd argue that equating voting to the complexity involved in creating and improving posts isn't quite right. While I wouldn't go so far as to say that voting is simple, by comparison to asking a question, it's a breeze. I think that it'd be far easier to educate users to vote properly and let them than it would ever be to educate them in how to create content or edit so they can come up with an idea for a question or answer or submit a bunch of edit suggestions just to earn reputation and then be allowed to vote. To me, that makes little sense.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 18:24
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    @Zoe I understand your worries. A major point of this test is to better understand what tools are needed. This is why I would deter us from testing on SO - while we need bigger sites, most sites have a fraction of the flag queues and suspicious votes list we see on SO. I really don't want to burden the SO mods further while the tools are still being developed. But I do believe that on most other sites, we'd be able to monitor votes throughout the test without creating a burden for those sites' mods.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 18:33
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    I'm concerned that new users may not be able to recognize a good answer from a bad one and might upvote convenient answers over correct answers. I'm all for engagement, but I hope that SE will take steps to check if "average voter behavior" is significantly affected by this change, which would be a significant red flag wrt the quality of the new votes. Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 20:17
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    @A.R. The comparisons you mention we should do are in the list of data we're going to gather because we understand this concern. I've gotten a lot of mentions of exactly that concern and I seriously have to ask - does having 15 or 125 reputation actually mean you know how to vote? I feel like there's a fallacy in arguments like this because of an assumption that privileged users vote "correctly" and that unprivileged users can't (excluding overt vote misuse). I think we should instead consider that "correct" voting isn't as uniform as we expect and address that for all users.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 21:02
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    @A.R. "I'm concerned that new users may not be able to recognize a good answer from a bad one and might upvote convenient answers over correct answers." If you have ever looked at the HNQ, this should not be a concern, it should be a known fact. It happens all the time, and if users earning the association bonus are free to do it already, I don't see any difference in letting every new user do it.
    – Nij
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 12:45
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    @Nij HNQ has limits. The scale of the voting this proposal allows is the problem. Also the spammers that will get free reign. Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 13:25
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    What is so important about users "engaging more"? I think at some point you have to choose between content quantity and quality. The current voting system seems to strike a healthy balance - why then are you pushing for more quantity? Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 13:50
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    The voting system is already overburdened in the functionality that it encapsulates. It is the sole unmoderated, public marker of quality, interest, accuracy and also often stands as proxy for feedback on the user/poster's behavior. This breadth already points to a broken system and that is before one considers the 'point' values assigned to it and the privileges those points afford the user. A single highly rated question regardless of its quality will afford the poster vastly more power on the site than a user who diligently closes duplicates for years.
    – pilchard
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 9:20
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    Is there any point in continuing discussion here now that @Catija got laid off in the most recent round of lay-offs? Is any other SE staff member going to take over? Is this experiment still on-going?
    – brhans
    Commented Oct 17, 2023 at 17:03

48 Answers 48

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+50

I totally understand why you're asking for volunteer sites, instead of forcing this on any site that doesn't want it, which would have gone down way worse with the mods/communities of those sites and with the broader SE community. But, I just thought of a potential drawback of that approach.

Any site willing to volunteer for this experiment is probably a site less likely to suffer negative consequences.

Thinking about some of the sites I'm familiar with, I can think of one site that would never volunteer for this, due to too many people willing to try too much abuse, and another site that's much more peaceful and might potentially volunteer in order to get vote numbers up with a relatively low risk of widespread abuse.

Please account for this kind of "selection bias" when analysing results.

If one site volunteers for having 1-rep voting and it goes reasonably well, that doesn't mean it would go similarly well on another site, with a completely different community! The sites most likely to suffer from it are also those least likely to volunteer for it, while any site willing to take the risk of volunteering is probably one that's risking less by doing so. Essentially, by asking for volunteers, you may end up skewing the results towards more positive outcomes.

Maybe this is obvious, but I thought it was worth mentioning explicitly ...

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    In the longer term, if the experiment doesn't point to total disaster for any site willing to allow 1-rep voting, maybe this could be opt-in for individual sites, or maybe even vote thresholds could be adjusted according to each site's needs. Many small sites suffer from not having enough voting, but rolling out such a change on high-traffic sites is likely to lead to chaos. Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 18:29
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    Right now I am far more worried about this than I am about any short-term effects on whatever sites end up as guinea pigs. Or, more generally that the test will not surface problems that an eventual network-wide rollout will. Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 21:25
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    This is a fair point. There's a lot that testing on 2-3 sites will tell us but there's a lot that it won't. I think the impacts of this change will vary significantly depending on the categories any one site is in. E.G. - I would be cautious about changing this on a more subjective site like Parenting or Workplace if we'd only checked it on primarily objective sites. I have personal experience with the impact of HNQ status on IPS and that was just users who have the association bonus... that said, it would have been interesting to see the impact if the bonus granted both up- and downvotes.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 22:33
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    While discussing eventual rollout plans is jumping ahead somewhat since we haven't even identified a list of sites to test on, let alone seen the impacts of the change, this sort of answer will help us be more thoughtful about pacing that rollout if initial tests prove positive results. I appreciate you calling this out if only so I can respond to acknowledge it.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 22:36
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    I think this approach does not take into account that One size does not fit all or to put it another way reputation algorithms do not scale across 180+ different sites.
    – MT1
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 6:19
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    Couldn't agree more. Unfortunately, that's been explicitly rejected as a reason to scale privilege levels to site size in the past. I suspect that all the SO proper mods/members that previously objected to the idea that one size does not fit all and hamstrung smaller sites with their pseudo-democratic mass (in many cases likely because they did not think the small spin-offs should exist at all) may change their tune in the near future. :)
    – goldilocks
    Commented Sep 23, 2023 at 18:41
  • (+1) excellent point, my Lord Dragon. Commented Oct 16, 2023 at 22:38
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If more users could vote, would they engage more?

Of course. It's like putting a bowl full with candies in front of an hungry kid.

Is this good?

No. I really don't think so. Here are couple of reasons:

  • The eager 1-rep users will start by downvoting each and every post of each and every user who dared posting a comment with any hint of criticism on their posts.
  • Those users will then upvote blindly the first 20 (or whatever the votes limit is) posts they see.

There is a good reason why Stack Overflow cofounder decided to put in place reputation threshold for voting. That reason has never changed.

I understand the desperate times. I really do. And yes, desperate times call for desperate measures, and that's just one of many Stack Exchange is doing in this new odd AI Era. But I'm just saying: it's a mistake. It won't work in the way you think/hope it will.

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    Hopefully, the results of this experiment conducted on 2-3 guinea pig sites will bear out what you predict (I agree) and they won't then take it further to the whole network. Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 17:48
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    These are exactly the sorts of things we'll be checking for. The former will already be removed by our system automatically and the latter is something we already see - we get occasional reports from mods about users who are dumping votes on sites in pursuit of badges. While we expect these will be more common, that doesn't mean they're not already happening. Seeing how common they are during these tests will help us prioritize either improving or supplementing automations or adding additional tools.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 22:46
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    As a CM, I see these situations happening already and would love to have better ways to handle them or be able to avoid manually handling them at all. It's valid to draw our attention to these outcomes but I also think we need to address these concerns in a measured way. Preventing all low-rep users from voting because some will misuse those votes doesn't seem reasonable to me and earning reputation doesn't equate to knowing how to use votes. I'd rather address actual misuse. It's certainly easier to use rep but that doesn't make it the right solution.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 22:54
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    I'm willing to accept that we're underestimating the negative impact of this change and that's why we'll be monitoring this and looking for abuse that's both overt and subtle. By the same token, I think many people overestimate the negative impact of this - which I don't begrudge! Either way, making decisions based on assumptions and mental images of users - whether angelic or devilish - risks us making mistakes. That's why we want to see what actually happens.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 23:00
  • @Catija You have tools that can detect if one user is regularly downvoting another user, correct? And such votes are automatically undone. But is there any sort of punishment for the user that does this?
    – trlkly
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 5:55
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    @trlkly We have a variety of tools for detecting targeted votes. Some remove the votes automatically while others are added to a tool mods can investigate more closely or contact the CM team to request a deeper investigation and possible vote invalidation. This may lead to a mod message or suspension for the voer. For automatic invalidations, we don't notify mods or the voter when these occur. I think notifying mods in cases of extreme or repeated invalidations would be a nice improvement, and would let them look for other voting issues and contact or suspend the user if deemed appropriate.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 6:42
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    This is exactly the point of the experiment: to find out if that's true.
    – OrangeDog
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 10:38
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    IMHO the biggest problem of SO is that bad answers are not downvoted enough, so that would be actually good.
    – Agent_L
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 12:52
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    "If more users could vote, would they engage more?" ─ Even this is not so simple. The engagement SE wants (i.e. people posting good content) is what would earn people the reputation they need to be able to vote. So that engagement is currently incentivised by rewarding people who do it with voting privileges. Then why should we expect engagement to go up when one of the incentives is removed?
    – kaya3
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 22:18
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    @kaya3 The voters are not necessarily the only people this change will cause to engage more. If someone spends time on a good answer and earns no upvotes, they may decide it's not worth it to take the time any more. Now we have fewer people creating good content. By having more people with the ability to vote, a higher percentage of consumers on the site will be able to indicate whether the posts are good which may lead fewer people to get frustrated that their efforts are unrecognized.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 23:13
  • I think that users being allowed to vote is a good idea. Commented Sep 22, 2023 at 13:42
  • @Agent_L "Bad answers" is subjective though. What about the polarizing answers that some users find helpful and others find unhelpful? Should we discourage the contributors of those answers? Sometimes people post good content but receive all kinds of flak for it not being in the format that SE is accustomed to, and reasons of that nature.
    – Mentalist
    Commented Sep 25, 2023 at 9:08
  • @Mentalist Yes, that's precisely what the up/down system is meant to show. Remember that SO is not for people who ask questions, nor for those who answer them. Majority of traffic is passive readers, so the prime objective should be to provide them with unbiased review of presented answers. High number of both up and downvotes is a conveying "this is controversial" message. We're not after any content, we're after helpful content.
    – Agent_L
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 8:28
  • @Randal'Thor It seems a bit wrong to hope for the negative case to be true. Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 12:35
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    I read somewhere the other day that SO traffic has declined 50% in recent years. This may be due to the constant push to dumb down the site and allow trash content to be generated. This is a site for programmers -- it should not be dumbed down. If you dumb it down, you let non-programmers mess it up for everyone else. For me, this is a professional resource and over the past few years it has become less and less relevant, correct, and useful. I would pay, real money, hundreds per year, for something like SO but without all the crap like this 'test'. Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 12:44
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Can those sites have the association bonus disabled/turned off?

One major concern that I (and likely others) share is that this may (and likely will) lead to voting rings and (rule breaking) sockpuppet accounts. As an added measure to prevent the effects of that spilling over to other sites, can that bonus be disabled, please?

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    We've had several discussions both with Mods and internally about the Association Bonus and we're definitely thinking about it. Based on my last conversation about it, we see several options for this and have documentation of those options. The main thing I'd like to state is that while I agree this change might exacerbate problems caused by the Association Bonus, I think many of y'all would agree that it's flawed as it is and needs to be overhauled entirely. It's a great concept but it leads to many problems. ... comment thread incoming. (Apologies)
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 19:03
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    A bit of background - you many not realize but I actually wrote the initial version of the Association Bonus FAQ and still have enough of the characters to be the top contributor on the wiki answer. While that doesn't mean I know all of the random stuff it gets misused for, I probably know more than most people. While I have a mental plan for what the Bonus V2 should look like - or at least how the Bonus can be changed, these things haven't been dummy checked.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 19:08
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    It really peeves me when I see users dump the bonus on a bounty, award it, and run delete their profile... only to come back and do it again. Similarly, someone who posts a question or answer that gets downvoted to the point they've lost all of their rep can delete their profile and start over with the bonus intact. The Bonus is attached to the user's account rather than requiring a consistent amount of reputation, which means a user who deletes all of their profiles and starts over from scratch will have 101 rep everywhere and it's super confusing.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 19:11
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    Users who have votes invalidated and drop below the 200 rep needed do not lose the bonus because once earned, forever kept. So, while some of my proposed solutions (these are personal ideas for the Bonus and not anything we've committed to, to be clear) may be half-baked so I'm not going to cover them here, they're based on a good understanding of those issues and a wish to address them. This is what we need in any situation. A good FR isn't a really great explanation of a cool feature - at its core, it's an explanation of a problem so that a PM can understand the struggle.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 19:16
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    So, how does this relate here? Our current plan is to keep an eye on users earning the bonus but not prevent it. While this is not set in stone, I'm not sure how simple it'd be for us to remove a site from being able to award the bonus. While we've discussed it, it seems like this might be more complicated than one might expect because it is awarded on a network-wide basis. We'd also have to ensure that blocking it wouldn't prevent users from having the bonus if earned on another site added to their rep on one of the test sites.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 19:22
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    This is likely one of those things where we'll have a mitigation in mind if we see this is actually an avenue being used to circumvent restrictions on other sites to post spam or otherwise misbehave but, if not, retaining the bonus is our preferred option. As with rep requirements to vote, restricting everyone because of a minority of bad actors is something we'd like to move away from. We want to focus on the bad actors rather than relying on simple solutions that impact the majority of users participating as we would expect.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 19:26
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    Alternative suggestions: Let's prevent association bonus abuse
    – Laurel
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 19:54
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    @SonictheAnonymousHedgehog I'm not sure how easy it would be to find that data. I don't remember whether the network annotation referenced the Team specifically or just attributed it to SO in general - though users with <200 rep on SO would be a decent indicator. That said, because this existed for all Teams users, I don't actually think I need data to confidently state that there would have been orders of magnitude more people who earned the bonus on a Team and never participated on the public sites than people who intentionally created Teams to abuse this loophole.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 13:49
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    @Catija Firstly, thank you for the response. I do have a few questions, though. (1) You've stated that SE will be monitoring users earning the bonus - has that monitoring plan been shared with diamond moderators? (I'm specifically not asking you to publicly reveal it to avoid divulging information about voting ring detection). (2) Can the mitigation plan (for if too many users are creating voting rings) be determined in advance and shared (publicly)? Thanks!
    – cocomac
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 16:44
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    @cocomac 1 - The Mod Team post I shared with them a month ago specifically mentions the bonus and my explanation in that post was shorter than my comments here but contained the same core points. That's as specific as the plan is currently. We plan to hold off on finalizing the test plan (as a whole) until sites have been selected and we've had the opportunity to refine the metrics with the mods on those sites. 2 - I can't commit to sharing the mitigation plan publicly at this point but I will keep it in mind as we move forward.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 2:53
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    There's a lot about profile deletion that could use some investigation, @TylerH - there's actually a few improvements that have been made that are less visible publicly but make it much easier to address situations where a user profile gets accidentally deleted (rare but happens). We used to have to have the user create a new profile and now we just have an undo deletion button. There are potentially cases where someone can/should legitimately have the association bonus reinstated after a profile deletion but there should be a way to flag that account to indicate when it shouldn't be.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 16:32
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    Late post 2 @TylerH - I wouldn't be in favor of requiring multiples of 200 rep to get the bonus on each additional site - if nothing else, that would require the user decide (no take-backs) which site they want to grant the bonus to, which seems a bit... a lot. It would also hamper community projects like Charcoal, which relies on the bonus to allow flagging. I know there are issues (I know you see that) but the solutions are going to take some thought - I'd love a discussion here on MSE about how to reimagine the Bonus to address these issues (slightly different than Laurel's).
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 18:30
  • 1
    @TylerH Sure, no worries! I think that the goal right now isn't to solve the problem with the Bonus so much as it's to recognize that there is a problem and start figuring out how best we can address the issues while retaining the benefits. To some degree, this may change drastically as we move away from relying on reputation to grant privileges. In a distant future where privileges are based on taking trainings and doing tasks that are peer-reviewed, we could consider whether earning an individual privilege on one site would grant it network-wide without granting based on rep only. :)
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 18:51
  • 2
    To use Charcoal as an example, we could have a per-site training for how to flag on that site for various reasons (assuming the trainings are customized), and then a Flag spam/abuse network-wide privilege that was granted based on a training related to identifying spam and abusive content. Who knows. Could be cool... could also be hard. But there's so much room to change the status-quo.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 18:53
  • 6
    @Catija Yeah, I find it hard, for example, to think of a reason why 1000 helpful flags (or 100+ helpful mod flags) on one site would not automatically indicate (very strongly) that you should have at least some additional flagging capabilities network-wide, for example.
    – TylerH
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 18:59
100

Whatever poor sites decide to volunteer to be a guinea pig for this, they're going to be in for a world of hurt with limited hope to clean up afterwards.

Voting is one of the most subjective activities we do here, and there are people who already don't downvote questions based on their own belief system, not on the actual fact that a question or answer is bad.

The idea of opening the flood gates to literally everyone to vote on content is probably THE single riskiest experiment that you could hope to accomplish. In its wake would be the abrupt end of sensible curation.

The plan also does underpin and highlight a key dependency on the community to help with detecting patterns of bad behavior, which is...sure, that's what they're good at, but it'd be nice to have the assurance that they're on board with your changes here.

But more fundamentally, one thing I don't see called out nearly loudly enough is

how you plan to educate users on what to upvote, what to downvote and what not to upvote or downvote

and this is a problem that is so fundamental that it pains me to feel that I need to explain it.

I don't see myself having a future on this network if this experiment actually does succeed. I can't accept a world in which we just let everybody come here and rate content based on how they feel.

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    "I don't see myself having a future on this network if this experiment actually does succeed." What do you mean by "succeed"? If the experiment shows that lowering thresholds increases voting and participation with little to no negative effects, doesn't that improve the network? And isn't this experiment exactly the right way to figure that out?
    – LShaver
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 18:05
  • 11
    @LShaver: I think the "succeed" that I had in mind was their intent to simply lower reputation thresholds to 1. I feel like this has been floating around for a long time as something they wanted to do (case in point) but now, they are trying to do so more broadly. Whatever internal metrics they have of "no negative effects" are still questionable to see if they could be achieved, since...well, motivated actors could easily rig this system in their favor with consequences that would last longer than the experiment.
    – Makoto
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 18:16
  • 2
    I'd say the current UI and guidance for how to vote are either easy-to-miss or inadequate/confusing - if not both - and not flexible enough for the entire network. Onboarding is something we generally need to improve and how to vote on SE sites is one aspect of that. That said, the stated purpose of votes is to indicate whether that post is "useful". On very objective sites - the "useful" guidance is actually more subjective to me than voting. On primarily subjective sites, vote practices become very obscure and confusing and really more of a set of guidelines and recommendations.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 4:20
  • 4
    (for brevity, "bad" is defined here to mean "uninformed/problematic" but non-fraudulent votes) Your concerns about an increase in the volume of "bad" votes are valid and as far as I'm aware, we accept that's likely the case, so I don't want these comments to seem dismissive of that or defensive. There's definitely an expectation that the quantity will increase (more votes implies more "bad" votes) but what this test is designed to determine is whether the percentage of "bad" votes will be higher. I don't know the answer to that.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 4:31
  • 2
    Votes can mean a plethora of things across the internet - and even within this network - but it's not clear to me whether voting rules here for the average voter are particularly prescriptive or arcane or absolute such that someone who has never posted on a site would be unable/unlikely to vote in an expected manner without going through a training. Do you have evidence that low-rep users would be more likely to vote based on how they feel rather than whether an answer works than current voters?
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 4:43
  • 3
    @Catija: To the last point about evidence - it's a search away with "hate stackoverflow downvotes" or "never downvoting on stack overflow", and I know there were several Meta discussions about users on this very site who simply never downvote anything. The manifesto is all the same - it's not based on any actual concrete metric or any concrete rationale other than "they don't like it", without the same understanding that voting is intended to help us rank the usefulness of a question or answer. Instead, you get blogs and articles about how the votes make people "feel".
    – Makoto
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 5:42
  • 3
    @Catija: So, if you let everyone vote, now you let everyone's feelings take over in place of logic and reason. I cannot see how this ends any worse for the network now that people who have "felt oppressed" at how voting "worked against them" can finally "do something about it".
    – Makoto
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 5:43
  • 5
    @Catija: The charge though really should be to improve the guidance on voting. We've sorely needed that for well over a decade and it simply hasn't come. This means that while most site veterans understand the thrust of what voting is, non-veterans are going to disregard that with no consequence. I don't see how it's exactly fair to punish someone for not following guidelines if the guidelines were so unclear they managed to get their keyboard stuck in their toaster oven.
    – Makoto
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 5:44
  • 3
    I feel like I'm missing something core to your argument that isn't in your post explicitly and that's leaving me confused so maybe I need a bit more help understanding - how does people who already have the privilege not downvoting correlate to this change? No one can be forced or coerced to vote - up or down and, other than addressing socks and voting rings and some other cases, we don't really have any way to judge whether votes should be removed. People have weird rules for why they vote and no amount of education will change that if they really feel their method is the "right" one.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 5:52
  • 3
    Regardless, we have years of baseline voting on most sites to compare to votes from these newly-privileged users to see if there's actually a difference in behavior and what that difference is. We'll be able to dig into cases where vote habits differ to see if these new voters are actually voting in a way that conflicts with site norms and - by being in close communication with site mods - we'll be able to have an expert on hand to indicate whether those vote trends are concerning. While we'd be willing to investigate cases community members flagged, we wouldn't rely on them alone.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 6:03
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    Why would it be hard to undo? The system should still know who had enough rep to vote under the current system, and keeps track of all votes. So it should be able to retroactively remove those votes if the decision is made to pull back. I'm all for testing assumptions with empirical data rather than taking on faith that a certain idea was correct because the founders came up with it.
    – trlkly
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 6:08
  • 2
    @Catija: I'm not exactly addressing people who already have the privilege. I'm more addressing people who don't and are unfamiliar with how the voting scheme is intended to work. I'll agree that people have weird rules and vote in that fashion, but in general the main intent is to vote to rank quality content. I would prefer if the company invested more in educating users about the system rather than wanting to make it open season on the most fundamental thing we can do on the network - rank content.
    – Makoto
    Commented Sep 22, 2023 at 4:30
  • @trlkly: Where do I mention "undo"? I mention "clean-up". Undoing something is something that's isolated to typically one or two things, with the limited impact being only impactful to one or two actors. Voting and privilege spider out in such a way that the overall impact of cleaning things up would be a lot harder. You get enough people to upvote/downvote something, now you've impacted privileges, maybe bounties, and a lot of that has a cascading effect on how the site overall is used. There would be some undeniable level of legitimate activity, so I could see hesitancy to revert it.
    – Makoto
    Commented Sep 25, 2023 at 1:32
  • @trlkly: So just keeping track of it doesn't buy you anything, because now you could quite easily screw up an entire user's experience of a network site in such a way that really can't be remedied by "this was an experiment, soz, need to roll it back now".
    – Makoto
    Commented Sep 25, 2023 at 1:33
  • @Makoto I didn't say you said "undo." But that is a form of cleanup, and one that Stack Exchange tends to use. It very much does not limit its impact to one or two actors. Nor is the legitimacy of actions considered. For example, if a Question is removed, , it doesn't matter if you put in a very good Answer. You still lose all those points. You gave a bounty? You get it back. You accepted a bounty? You lose it. And that's a very small example of things--they've done site-wide recalculations before.
    – trlkly
    Commented Sep 25, 2023 at 1:50
97

Voting is for winnowing and content curation. Are one-rep users really experienced enough to do that effectively?

The current thresholds are there for a reason. Simply removing or reducing them would be mayhem.


One tiny thing that may help would be to make users take the Tour to receive the ability to vote. That way, new users at least have an idea of what to do with their votes, though whether they pay it any heed is uncertain.

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    I agree. Even users who know what to do with their votes don't know enough about the community to know which posts are suitable for that community and which aren't. That comes only with time spent as part of the community. I would actually be OK with substituting another metric for reputation, like reading and engaging with post, but it's hard to imagine something easy to measure but not easily gamed—so why not go with the gameable metric we've already got?
    – LSpice
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 21:52
  • 21
    I really like the tour idea; obviously some folks will click through anything we give them without reading, but it still sounds like a cool idea, and a decent way to get the tour in front of more eyeballs.
    – zcoop98
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 23:07
  • 15
    I'm in favor of giving users a comprehensive test before granting them privileges. Let them sit through a queue of scenarios (if they don't have rep). Prove to the community that they know when to upvote, downvote, closevote, flag, answer and comment. Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 7:38
  • 14
    There's a badge for taking the tour, right? The voting privilege could be tied to that.
    – LShaver
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 11:53
  • 4
    It would also weed out a lot of spammers (if the tour is spam bot resistant), at least the lazy ones. Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 19:44
73

I predict chaos if either of the two down voting proposals are adopted. A lot of first time users have little understanding of the site or its purpose. Having a small cost of down voting makes people think a bit before doing so. And requiring some experience also guards against malicious users.

Some down votes on sites I use (GOAT at two of them) are because people just don't want to hear the answer, even if it is correct. Even now, I suspect some down voting on questions is because people just don't agree that the question is important enough to them, irrespective of its importance to the OP.

Some more of the down votes I see have comments that suggest that a word or two in an answer caused someone to object, even though the answer itself was fine (valuable).

I have less to say about up voting, but a middle range option might be to have new users with little reputation only add, say 5 rep to an upvoted post rather than 10.

And if the changes to down voting are made then the site would need to be especially vigilant about serial down voting, possibly removing users who do it and reversing their votes. But that seems like a nightmare. This would especially apply to removing any cost of down voting.

Think of the bots.

As a side, I find the down voting criteria (This answer is not useful) to be extremely weak advice. Useful to who, exactly. Why, exactly. My personal criteria for down voting answers is whether the advice would be dangerous for the OP to follow. But I don't down vote answers giving different advice than I would give otherwise.

For many things a flag will do. For others, a comment is enough, and it may cause a writer to re-think their advice. A down vote alone gives little guidance to a writer unless there are a lot of them and even then, some answers with a lot of down votes are still valuable. I have a few highly down voted answers at Academia, and I'll still stand by the advice.


Actual engagement with the sites is when people ask and answer questions, not so much when they vote, which doesn't actually even require reading posts. An alternative "carrot" for engagement might be an automatic rep boost for the first few (3-5) questions and/or answers made by individuals. It might lead to junk, of course, but might be worth a test. It might even get low rep long term users more engaged, not just newcomers. It would also get new users closer to the current limits and permit voting themselves.

To try to avoid junk, this proposal might award, say 50, rep points for the first five question posts on a site provided that the question itself has both a positive vote count and an answer with a positive vote count. And similarly for any of the first five answers with a positive count.

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    I mean, it's fairly well known at this point that even people who understand the purpose of the site and what it is looking for refrain from downvoting answers they think are wrong or not useful due to the rep cost.
    – Kevin B
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 18:01
  • 6
    @KevinB - upon what do you base that hypothesis/wild claim? Citations please.
    – Tetsujin
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 18:12
  • 35
    From 13 years of people saying as much on MSO.
    – Kevin B
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 18:13
  • That said, there's a lot of answers here with various opinions on things that prevent people from casting downvotes. meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/398537/…
    – Kevin B
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 18:15
  • 11
    The cost to downvote has never affected my choice to downvote. It's so minimal that it has always seemed like it might as well not be there. The only time it would have affected me was if I just didn't have enough rep. Number go up isn't really all that much of an incentive: the reason why I like my rep is because it shows me people find my posts useful. That doesn't change if I spend my points.
    – trlkly
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 5:57
  • 1
    The G.O.A.T. is the user that currently has the highest rep on a site: Greatest of All Time. But, of course it is a temporary thing as one can be passed. I will likely lose the designation on one of those sites. It is just a fun thing here.
    – Buffy
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 12:47
  • A question for the mods and staff: Should I make my engagement proposal at the end of this a separate meta post?
    – Buffy
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 12:48
  • 8
    I've seen posts on Politics SE already being voted into Hades because the person dared to suggest that Donald Trump may not actually be evil. Removing barriers to downvotes would intensify that happening.
    – Richard
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 12:23
  • @trlkly but you've probably also never used sock puppet to milk association bonuses for bounties or serial downvotes of people commenting on your answers. Or any of the other things that the main proposal in this Post has been criticised for.
    – Jontia
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 18:55
  • 4
    I think this discussion shows some major differences between sites. Reputation on MSO, even more so on Mathoverflow is considered precious, you need to provide meaning mathematical insight to get it, on MO it even needs to be meaningful in the eyes of a professional mathematician. Even if an answer is objectively wrong people often prefer to comment hoping for a fix rather than downvote. On the other hand, upvotes on politics often simply follow for matching political views and similarly people downvote because the politically disagree.
    – quarague
    Commented Sep 22, 2023 at 6:16
73

One of the big reasons that I use and contribute to Stack Exchange sites is because of the barriers to entry. Those barriers aren't difficult to overcome for someone who genuinely wants to participate, and they're generally effective at keeping the bots and trolls at bay. The SE network is one of the few places left where you can get trustworthy answers from knowledgeable people. Other sites (e.g. Reddit) allow anyone to vote on anything and they quickly become breeding grounds for trolls. Voting ends up reflecting what people personally like instead of what's accurate, so sites become self-reinforcing echo chambers and you can never tell what information you can believe. Users need to understand how the site works and how it's different from other places before they start skewing vote numbers (i.e., the quality indicators that comprise most of the SE sites' intrinsic value).

If you enable this feature on the Politics.SE page, it will devolve into Propaganda.SE faster than you can imagine. You cannot possibly build up moderator tools that will counteract the power of state-sponsored troll farms run by world leaders that can't handle any sort of criticism. I'd also expect heavy troll pressure on History.SE as well as any of the religious sub-sites. I highly recommend not implementing this sort of change on those sites at any point for any reason.

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    Re "it will devolve into Propaganda.SE": Yes, just look at YouTube comments (it doesn't matter what the subject is (if the video or channel has a significant number of views)). Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 8:19
  • 5
    I really like this callout; it sounds important to recognize not just the impact of the change on existing members of the communities and individual bad actors, but also larger-scale "raid"-style attacks as well... it's way easier for (e.g.) a swarm of folks on Reddit to dogpile voting on content here without the rep-based vote limits in place... Maybe we'll need protected questions to also block out low-rep votes, as well as answers.
    – zcoop98
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 17:58
  • 6
    Like the answer Rand wrote warning us about selection bias, you give a specific example of a site that would need special treatment, which is a useful reminder, too. There are a few sites like Politics that need additional barriers to participation - and many of them already do. This is because our privilege system and other site settings are rarely hard-coded. For example, while most sites allow users to create unregistered accounts, Politics does not. CMs often adjust these settings as-needed by request of sites.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 22:06
  • 5
    Some sites actually have more permissive policies than the standard - for example some set rep required for meta participation to 1 (vs. 5). This project won't lead to the site settings for reputation required to up- and down-vote being removed and all sites being hard coded into the same bucket. While I think most sites fall into one category, I'd estimate 10-20% need overrides. The added benefit of this system is that we can determine a network default that works for most but override the sites that need it.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 22:24
66

Will more users vote if you give more users the right to vote? Yes, yes they will. That is, however, not at all what would be desired, or likely, even tolerable.

Looking back at the initiatives put forth by the administration in the recent years, I can only recall those designed to increase user retention and not the quality of content. This is a metric that a social network would be interested in. A place where anyone can say anything, no matter how demonstrably false it is. Stack Exchange is designed to be the opposite of that.

As a meritocracy, we are not interested in as many people as possible clicking the buttons. We are interested in competent people clicking the buttons, and others not so much. Which, and that scares me the most, is likely no good for a social network manager, because the number of users engaged is countable and reportable as a managerial achievement, whereas the quality of said users is much harder to quantify.

It is absolutely to be expected that there exist people who do not qualify for a job.
I was born without either physical or psychological capacity to play basketball professionally, and if I showed up at an NBA office complaining that I felt excluded at the basketball field and asking them to put it in the rules that the basketball hoops must be lower and larger, I would be laughed out, and rightly so.

I understand that this mindset goes against the principle that anyone can be anything. That principle, however, is verifiably false, whereas the success of Stack Exchange, built on a different principle, is verifiably true. I would hate to witness a real and good thing to fade away because of a false and not so good idea.

With that being said, do note that the hoop that we have for full-fledged voting is not very high-hanging at all. Pretty much anyone who can communicate with sense can clear it in a very short time. Removing even that would serve no real purpose other than inviting people to your house you didn't really want to invite after all.

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    I don't think that the mindset does go against "anyone can be anything" (which I more or less believe, even though I also agree with this post). I think it only goes against the mindset that "everyone is already everything." New users of an SE site are not yet ready to be informed participants in its culture. They absolutely can be, but they aren't yet. And the way that they show they're ready is by earning some reputation. (Well, really, by participating. But hopefully, if they do so in a way that fits in with the existing community, they'll earn reputation along the way.)
    – LSpice
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 21:50
  • 3
    Stack Exchange is asynchronous. We don't care whether it takes you five seconds or five hours to come to a conclusion; all we care about is how good the conclusion is. Most people can get a basketball into a hoop, given sufficient tools and sufficient time; likewise, most people can contribute to Stack Exchange.
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 23:35
  • 2
    The analogy may be flawed, but the main point still stands: It should primarily be ensured that the quality of the votes by low-reputation users is up to SE's standards (which is not trivial to do, but for starters just comparing their votes against those of high-rep users would probably be very insightful; significant statistical deviations would have to be sampled, and the samples manually investigated), not that their engagement increases.
    – Luatic
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 10:49
  • 8
    I'll note that the main reason I stopped answering questions on SO is because the majority of my answers never got any votes (and not because they were bad - if other answers existed, they also did not get votes, and sometimes I even got comments from the OP saying thanks and it fixed it!). Votes on Stack Exchange are very "heavy", compared to reddit or Facebook or whatever, which is good in some ways but also removes a lot of motivation for people to help in low-traffic places. The argument for heavily gating votes would be stronger if folks did sufficiently much voting, but they do not. Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 18:36
  • 1
    It's unclear whether you're implying that this project is only interested in user retention/creation. Assuming that you are, while I can understand that assumption based on the context of your answer, it fails to recognize that how we are encouraging users to engage in the context of this project is quite different than pure user retention. I will agree we have made many design decisions that focus on "vanity metrics". When Jobs was on SO, we built creating a Jobs profile into the account creation profile - which caused confusion particularly for users who just wanted to ask a question.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 4:31
  • 2
    This is just one (old) example where we prioritized increasing adoption of a product (Jobs) over the primary needs of users (asking a question). I do not put this change to voting privileges in that same bucket for a variety of reasons, most notably that the kind of engagement we are looking to impact will specifically increase the volume of content quality signals we are getting without increasing the prevalence of low-quality signal. More accounts or visits per day is a vanity metric, more (good) votes is a quality metric.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 4:52
  • 2
    @XiongChiamiov's experience is not unique. The number of voters on SO is quite low and the people who do create content often get discouraged because they don't see their posts being well-received. This varies by site and (within SO at least) by tag as each group have different voting habits. Some sites have users who cast many votes per day while other sites have active users who vote infrequently... I don't have data for this but, anecdotally, I have talked to some people who save all or most of their daily votes to downvote for quality reasons (legitimately) and rarely upvote because of it.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 5:00
  • 3
    If this is a meritocracy as you claim, I feel it's a terrible one. Where SE fails as a meritocracy is that it measures achievement based on - at most - three skills (asking, answering and editing) and treats all other skills as second-class or lower since they have no impact on privileges. Merit is awarded by people who have already earned merit and - as you and many people who have thousands of merit points say, earning the ability to judge merit here is so "easy", they don't understand why people complain about the restrictions. I say this as someone with >100k points on MSE.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 5:21
  • 1
    Your comparison to the "anyone can be anything" principle is flawed because you rely on extreme cases that are easy for everyone to agree with. You paint all low-rep users as lacking in merit but SE merit is not absolutely needed to judge whether content here is good or be a subject matter expertise. A more accurate depiction of this situation is someone who plays basketball professionally in one country not being able to do so in the NBA because they don't have a visa. Paperwork does not define someone's skills. Ability does.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 5:33
  • 2
    To take your analogy further - remember how I mentioned that we only care about three skills? Saying "Pretty much anyone who can communicate with sense can clear it in a very short time." is the equivalent to saying "You're hired as an NBA referee but you can't actually start until you've scored six points in a regular season game. We don't care whether you score two three-pointers, three two-pointers, or six free throws, you just need six points." This makes no sense to me. Not being willing or able to play the game and score points has no bearing on voting ability.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 5:45
  • 1
    A good meritocracy is one that takes all of a system's needs into account and rewards people for being good at those tasks. Players play, coaches coach, refs blow whistles, cheer squads cheer, janitors clean up after the game, mascots make trampoline-based dunk shots. Forcing everyone to succeed at the same role before they can start specializing is a bad meritocracy.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 6:01
  • @Catija but the voting system as it stands doesn't even begin to represent a good meritocracy. A single highly rated question regardless of its quality will afford the poster vastly more privileges on the site than a user that spends their time closing duplicates will ever gain. The fact that active curation by normal users (flagging, commenting with related questions, voting to close as duplicates) doesn't increase standing makes the brokenness of the voting system even more frustrating. And the fact that downvoting blatantly inaccurate questions impacts the voter more than the poster...
    – pilchard
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 9:25
  • 1
    @pilchard yes, that's my point. My comments above are specifically focused on showing that is the case. While I opted to focus on different aspects of why the meritocracy is bad, if I were writing a complete persuasive essay on it rather than comments, points like yours would have been included very prominently.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 13:11
  • @Catija I think you get that NBA analogy wrong. Think more of it like the NBA needs tons of referees but for some reason cannot carry a full ability test for each one of them. Instead they tell you that if you want to be a referee you need ten previous referee's loose approval. Of course that's not perfect, as some will give their approval more easily than other, but if you simply remove this entry barrier then anybody can declare themself a referee. While having a few bad referees in the NBA isn't a big deal, in a place where the fake accounts can outnumber the real ones that's bad. Commented Oct 10, 2023 at 14:01
65

If more users could vote, would they engage more? Testing 1 reputation voting on some sites

1-rep users can already cast votes.

This is the message shown to all logged-in users who have less than 125 reputation on a given site:

modal window indicating feedback has been recorded for voting attempts below 125 reputation

Note this part of the message:

your feedback has been recorded

What about this data which you have been collecting for some ~13 years doesn't satisfy your needs?

Why can't that unsatisfied need be rectified by just changing the text of the modal rather than granting a dangerous privilege to people with zero experience on the site?

You could say something like

A new modal saying "Thanks! Your feedback has been recorded, but you need at least 125 reputation for your vote to be visible

or something similar.

The impact of this proposed change is an unfair and untenable asymmetrical shift in power toward 1 rep users.

Currently, users of the site who have skin in the game (read: who answer or ask questions) can rest easy knowing that if someone wants to downvote them or upvote them, that someone will have at least also provided some kind of contribution. They've submitted some quality content at least somewhere on the network, either directly on that same site, or so much on another site that they've earned the association bonus on another site.

It's very easy to create an account, and if there's no requirement to learn how to use the site before that account can cast votes, you will see a huge increase in people casting votes for the wrong reasons, especially fraudulent ones. Voting rings will become a major issue for mod teams to deal with, more so than they already are (ask Stack Overflow mods if they want to increase the voting ring work they are doing by an order of magnitude).

As for removing the 1-rep cost for downvoting answers, I'm hesitant that will lead to more meaningful use. There's already no cost for downvoting questions, and those don't get downvoted nearly enough. I worry we'll just see people competitively downvoting other answers to questions they've posted their own answer to.

16
  • Remember the "Thanks" reaction? Kevin B suggested something similar to your proposal in this extremely well-received comment. Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 19:58
  • 2
    Haha. Turns out I responded to him there: "I kind of like that idea. Occasionally I upvote an answer on an SE I'm not a part of (because I forget it goes to /dev/null). It'd be nice if those three people on Seasoned Advice got upvotes if I ever did join, but the chances are slim. Here's the worry I have: it's going to provoke more cycles of battle between vote rings and vote-ring-detectors." Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 20:04
  • 2
    Note - this statement has proven to be incorrect. See statement below for update. <strike>If I remember correctly, it does not record who cast the vote. As such, the same user can have multiple upvotes, downvotes or both for a single post. The focus of recording the feedback is for that 10k page which is designed to highlight posts that get lots of feedback or different feedback than votes or... whatever. There's not 13 years of data from this that's actually usable in the way you're indicating.</strike>
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 21:03
  • 1
    @Catija Oh no! I thought this idea was good. It still could be good if you did start recording the user who took the action. Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 21:19
  • 21
    @Catija So the modal has been lying to us this whole time... great :-( I thought it was recorded and shown as aggregate information in the data dump as well. Here's my request for y'all to start actually logging that information...
    – TylerH
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 22:03
  • 3
    I think it's technically accurate... we do track the feedback. It doesn't claim that we tie it to the voter. You can interpret it that way, so I understand feeling lied to, but I'm not sure how to phrase it better - my five minute (not-serious) attempt is: "Vote attempts from unprivileged users are thrown in a bucket of anonymized feedback about this post. You need n reputation for your vote to be actually be recorded and linked to your (possibly non-existent) account." (Hopefully this is met in the lighthearted way it's intended but let me know if otherwise).
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 22, 2023 at 21:41
  • @Catija How will the 1-rep users notice that something has changed? Contrary to most people here, I worry that normal users will not notice they have gained this new power and therefore will fail to use it. Meanwhile, experienced users wishing to use the change maliciously will definitely know about it. So the data will be skewed towards malicious usage. To avoid this outcome it would be necessary to make sure that the UI actually advertises this change in a way people understand.
    – Nemo
    Commented Sep 25, 2023 at 12:35
  • 2
    @Nemo from the question : "We will notify logged-in users with <125 rep to let them know that they can vote with a popup."
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 25, 2023 at 12:54
  • @Catija if it is tracked without association to a user/person, then that means 1 rep users or logged-out users can "vote" a thousand times for some content to have that content show up on the data dumps, inflating the value some content gets in the data dump that isn't reflective of reality. This is obviously small fries compared to other issues the team is facing on their to-do list, but "the integrity/accuracy of post scores in our publicly available data dumps is, well, less than we thought" is certainly a problem that ought to be addressed eventually.
    – TylerH
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 14:23
  • @Catija but back to the matter at hand, I truly do think allowing 1-rep users to click the vote buttons and have it stick, but not having it change the visible score, is a much better way to implement this.
    – TylerH
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 14:24
  • @Catija but how will that notification/pop-up be different from what they got so far?
    – Nemo
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 18:38
  • @Nemo So far they haven't had the option to vote on posts and have it "stick" (read: have it count). Now they will, hence the notification.
    – TylerH
    Commented Sep 26, 2023 at 18:59
  • 1
    @TylerH regarding the data dumps - they are one of the areas I'm least knowledgeable about, so I don't know how impactful it is. I also think it's unlikely that users are sitting around for hours giving tons of feedback on one post. I obviously don't know but it seems like a very odd choice.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 27, 2023 at 6:26
  • 2
    @Nemo the current UI only appears when someone tries to vote. The new UI will show up on page load (question pages only) for anyone who hasn't already dismissed it and has under 125 reputation. I think it's a pretty standard way to let users know about new features. It's how we currently notify them about other privileges they unlock.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 27, 2023 at 6:28
  • 8
    Rather than removing my prior statement and avoid it looking conflicting, I'd like to correct it. We do track who cast vote attempts, both by user ID (if logged in) and IP (if not). Additionally, as far as I can tell, we only retain one vote per user/IP, though I'm not sure how we handle someone who upvotes and downvotes. I'm not certain where I picked up the idea that we don't track who cast the votes. I would not have stated it if I hadn't had some confirmation of it at some point. Apologies for the confusion.
    – Catija
    Commented Oct 2, 2023 at 16:24
42

When it comes to the cost of casting downvotes on answers, would that change be retroactive, resulting in some users receiving a sudden influx of rep when this is added, and then losing it again if the test were to be disabled? Or will correct reputation levels be retained by calculating rep based on before experiment vs during.

7
  • 1
    Would be interesting if people were suddenly getting thousands of rep back...
    – canon
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 18:17
  • 14
    I feel that retroactive changes for rep would be a disaster. Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 18:42
  • 3
    I feel the delta of the change will be very small for the overwhelming majority of users, and the users where the delta would be large have enough rep that it doesn't matter anyway, or, they and the community will benefit from them gaining access to new tools. On SO i stand to gain anywhere from 30-40k rep if it were done retroactively there... but... i already have 90k. who cares about 30-40k more at that point.
    – Kevin B
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 18:50
  • 6
    This is an open question internally, both for the duration of the test and retroactively if we make this change permanent on sites. I don't think we have a "right" answer here, so my preference would be to retain the rep loss at least initially and have a discussion here on MSE about what the best path forward is. If we did nothing, I would guess that the rep recalc would take the current site setting and apply it to past votes, which would remove the cost retroactively.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 18:53
  • One note, @KevinB While you have that many downvotes, more than half are on questions. - it's worth considering how many of those downvoted answers have been deleted - the answer being deleted should refund the rep anyway, right? So if half of the answers you downvoted were subsequently deleted, you'd probably see closer to 10k than 30k-40k. Feel free to check my math! :D
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 18:57
  • @KevinB for what it's worth, you can go to the /reputation page and then count the -1 rep changes.
    – VLAZ
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 19:00
  • Ah, right. so 11k, that's far better than i was expecting, so even less of an issue ;)
    – Kevin B
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 19:03
36

If the end goal is to increase engagement, is allowing them to upvote and downvote posts with 1 rep the only option we had? And why did we directly reduce the reputation requirement to bare minimum? We should have taken a gradual approach (first reduce a bit, see the results and then decide if it should be reduced more or stay the same).

We could have done other stuff like (just my personal opinion):

  • letting them post comments everywhere with low rep (not 1, perhaps 40).
  • letting them downvote with perhaps 50 rep
  • set bounties with perhaps 55 rep

And why a one size fits all approach for a testing phase? All communities would love to see increase in engagement, but I guess they know their communities better than us. Instead of us directly deciding 1 rep as the requirement for the testing phase, we could have asked sites to decrease the rep count to a number which they like (based on community consensus in meta, if they would like to reduce the rep requirement). They can analyse the output with SE's help and then decide together what could be the way forward (decrease rep requirement further or bring back to original or stay as is for some more time).

8
  • 2
    We considered many different options, and the plan originally shared with mods several months ago was very different than this one. But the issue with any option other than 1 rep to vote is that it still gates voting behind a requirement to create well-received content (including suggest edits). Insisting content creation is necessary to validate if someone is capable of using a privilege, is a model we want to move away from. It may have gotten us here but that doesn't mean it's a good model.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 6:57
  • 16
    The suggested edits queue on SO is nearly always full. Imagine if, instead of perpetually requiring all users with <2k rep to suggest edits because the edit privilege is locked to 2k rep, we instead granted the privilege to anyone who had at least 20 suggested edits and at least 19 of their 20 most recent suggestions were accepted. This could incentivise good edits, reduce the suggested edit queue size and maybe even earn a new suggested edit reviewer. If we stop granting edits at 2k by default, we could also reduce bad edits by high-rep users who don't actually know how to edit appropriately.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 7:05
  • 5
    The two systems are very different but I use the edit privilege because it's been useful in showing users why the reputation-based system is flawed. We're preventing known-good editors from just doing what they do while we let someone who has a bunch of reputation but has never edited someone's post or had a suggested edit approved - edit freely with only the recent activity pages to invite any review from other users. Why? By using reputation to grant voting privileges, we're "trusting" users with 15 or 125 reputation and reducing the pressure to build tooling to review vote quality.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 7:16
  • 1
    @Catija I'd love to see a system where people who upvote posts that get deleted as spam lose the ability to upvote, if that sort of thing is where those comments are hinting... Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 12:45
  • 2
    @Catija I appreciate your comments and I feel you briefly mentioned them here. I would have loved this project if we focused on giving edit access to good editors instead of high-rep users, instead of voting since voting is a complicated topic. Also, I concur with curiousdannii's opinion that people who don't use their votes properly, should be deprived of the privilege to vote. Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 17:38
  • 1
    They're not either-or, @RandomPerson - this is the first part of the project. While much more complex and harder to sell than the edit privilege changes I spoke of, it's one the product team has determined for various reasons is significantly more potentially valuable. I understand and agree with these reasons and have actually identified additional ways this change could really help sites. I have my own reservations and I accept that this is a big change with risks involved. Which is why we're working so hard to do it right. Once this is underway, expect to see me back at the edit privilege.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 17:43
  • @Catija "Past me" would have been very excited about the "Good edit suggesters skip the queue" idea. Definitely more excited than about 1-rep votes. (Well, I think there is a decent case to be made for making the votes 'count' once you reach the rep thresholds, but I'll let other people describe that in their answers.) Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 21:15
  • 3
    @Catija Side note: I wanted to give you recognition for engaging in the comments. I disagree with the main proposal, but I admire the way you are talking with people even so. If I were in your place, I would not sound so even-tempered. Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 21:26
33

A list of per-site meta discussion

Because I like lists (except when chatgpt makes them).

From searching is:q [discussion] created:2023-09-19.. url:meta.stackexchange.com url:393127 on stackexchange.com. In order of number of site questions. Help is welcome with keeping this up to date.

Please avoid "meta-meta-effect-ing" these meta discussions: If you don't frequent said site, and you're not going to voice something specific to that community and its specific situation, leave their discussion be and let them have their talk (I'd even include leaving their voting be, but of course, I can't force you to do anything- only ask politely).

31

Stack Exchange is facing an existential crisis . . .

and it has been for some time.[^1] Back in 2014, I proposed 4 attributes of a healthy Q&A site based on a 2011 ACM paper:

  • Number of active users,
  • Percent of questions answered,
  • Speed of answers, and
  • Question views.

The first and the last directly impact the company's bottom line and the middle two matter to users. In 2016 gerrit noticed answer rates falling on Stack Overflow. Median time to first answer was also rising, but that's a lot harder to suss out from just using the site.

And then it became quite obvious that you can get faster answers from ChatGPT than from asking on the internet. LLMs always answer your question and it can be argued that since they use a massive corpus, the number of people contributing to each answer dwarfs the competition. Shame that the answers are simplistic and buggy, of course. Still, you can always ask again and maybe you'll get lucky.

It's important to see that ChatGPT was the catalyst and not the cause. Q&A sites can thrive if there's a reasonable chance the asker will get an answer before the problem is overtaken by events. Stack Overflow sucks up a lot of the attention, so let's look at Mathematics instead. Here's a graph of the average number of answers per question and the rate of questions that go unanswered after 30 days on that site:

Answers per question and unanswered question rate for Mathematics

This is not as scary as Stack Overflow, but it's nearing the point where getting an upvoted answer to a good question[^2] on Math is about the same as flipping a coin. Since getting answers is the best encouragement for asking another question, this is a particularly detrimental to a Q&A site.[^3]

There's nothing sacred about the voting model

I was a beta user on Stack Overflow. As such, I was invested in the project of creating a community for programmers. Thankfully my argument for not having closed questions did not win the day. But Joel and Jeff did take suggestions from the community. In order to get the site up and running, they also made decisions based on educated guesses of what would work rather than any sort of scientific experimentation or data analysis. Given the tremendous success of Stack Overflow it's easy to assume those choices were correct.

Still, even if those decisions were perfectly tuned (they weren't) a lot has happened in the past 15 years. It's important to verify that assumptions made in the past still hold. For instance, did you know there was a time when people worried that Stack Overflow might become "brainless LOL-fest like Reddit or Digg"? Five years later someone commented (incorrectly) that people without reputation weren't able to ask questions at all. Pretty sure the network dodged the mindless fun bullet.[^4]

My point is that it would be foolish to not question or test the assumptions made early on.

Letting new users vote probably won't make much difference

When the feedback mechanism was introduced, it was a separate UI from the voting mechanism. At some point, the voting interface was repurposed for anonymous and low-reputation users to count as feedback. (Certainly by May, 2013. Probably late February of that year.) But it's never counted as an actual vote. Indeed, the action is recorded in an entirely separate table (PostFeedback) than regular votes (Votes on SEDE and Post2Votes, if I recall correctly, internally).

The proposed change moves the votes from registered users who can't vote because of reputation limits from the feedback table to the proper votes table. It also subjects these votes to all the restrictions of a real vote that (as far as I know) feedback is not subject to. For instance, votes will be rate limited and trigger voting fraud checks. So at least initially, there will be fewer votes than feedback events recorded. Over time the number might increase as users discover their votes now count.

So how many votes are we talking? For the week of 2023-07-04 on Mathematics, there were:

Week of Vote Type Daily Average
2023-07-04 UpMod 1350.857142
2023-07-04 DownMod 267.571428
2023-07-04 AcceptedByOriginator 93.142857
2023-07-04 ApproveEditSuggestion 51.714285

So ~1,300 upvotes and ~270 downvotes a day. Here's the post feedback for the same week:

Week of Vote Type Daily Average
2023-07-04 Anonymous DownMod 1278.428571
2023-07-04 Anonymous UpMod 795.571428
2023-07-04 Registered DownMod 1.285714
2023-07-04 Registered UpMod 1.142857

Since we can differentiate between anonymous feedback (I believe tracked by IP internally) and low-reputation user feedback (tracked by user ID), we can see that visitors click the downvote arrow almost as many times in a day as voters upvote. People who find posts via Google, are much less inclined to select the up arrow in this sample. But the number of registered users who have attempted to vote before they have enough reputation is a tiny fraction of feedback. As in, I rounded off more when I summarized the vote averages just now. So if Mathematics volunteered for this experiment, most people wouldn't likely notice any difference. I haven't found any sites that show different results when I use this query.

No silver bullets and no poison pills

So why bother? I suspect the people who make strategic decisions at Stack Exchange Inc. view this as low-hanging fruit that will make a small difference with minimal work. But there's also a chance that this experiment will suggest other solutions to the problem. We've learned a lot more about how online communities operate since the privilege system was invented. Indeed, other community platforms learned from the Stack Exchange model to refine the concepts:

These are very different ways of determining when a new user can be trusted. I have significant experience with Discourse's Trust Level system and it works incredibly well for our community. While forums aren't the same as Q&A, requiring reading rather than posting seems a better way to bring people into a community. Removing the reputation gate to voting could allow better (or at least different) gates to be considered.

It's extremely unlikely this change will solve Stack Exchange problems. It's also unlikely the change will destroy Stack Exchange communities. As important as the privilege/reputation system is for those of us who deeply interested in online community platforms, the details don't really register for most new users. It's the accumulation of good incentives that create good communities.


[^1]: We tend to think of crises as fast moving: tsunami, stock market crash, terrorist attack, etc. If you are facing a slow-moving crisis, you will find it much harder to raise the red flag since people don't usually feel the pain until it's too late to do anything about it. I'm obviously writing now because I believe there is still time to make changes that will keep Stack Exchange afloat.

[^2]: Note that the questions in the sample had a positive score and weren't closed or deleted in the 30 days after asking.

[^3]: Some might ask why encouraging a second question is valuable if we already have too many questions on the sites. I'd suggest that asking questions is a skill. I don't have proof, but I suspect the second question is almost always better than the first. I expect asking is also a path toward answering in the future.

[^4]: From experience I know someone reading this is thinking of a recent question that strayed into the mindless fun zone and would love to tell me about it. Don't bother. If you ask 100 people who have heard of Stack Exchange but haven't contributed whether fun questions are allowed, I'd be shocked if fewer then 99 said anything less than "hell no!"

11
  • 6
    I have theorized that many people currently don't vote as actively as they would because when they try to vote, they are told that their votes don't have "full effect". Like "what's the point if it doesn't count?". see also Why do I forget to upvote useful questions and solutions?. If that theory holds water, then your "won't make much difference" may not hold true as people gain "real" voting privileges.
    – starball
    Commented Sep 29, 2023 at 19:37
  • 3
    @starball: That would be interesting to know! I don't have access to detailed voting data, but I suspect someone could get some idea of what would happen based on voting patterns after people get the voting privilege from 1) organic activity on the site or 2) the association bonus. Commented Sep 29, 2023 at 20:44
  • 1
    also, there's the fact that if you try to vote without an account, a popup appears that you need X reputation to vote up/down and makes no mention of anonymous feedback, and says: "Join Stack Overflow to start earning reputation and unlocking new privileges like voting and commenting.". Which I think can lead to people not even trying to vote if they make an account until they get the vote privilege and get the privilege notification.
    – starball
    Commented Sep 29, 2023 at 20:49
  • 1
    @starball While I may not have mentioned it in my post, we'd also be changing the copy in the register modal shown when someone who's not logged in attempts to vote.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 29, 2023 at 21:33
  • 6
    I appreciate the work you've done to investigate this! I'm also really interested in understanding whether we'd see a big change in participation with this change. I do think it's interesting how many more anonymous downvotes Math gets than up! I noticed that a few months ago. Since I didn't look into which posts are getting downvoted (which would be really interesting!), I'm not sure whether those downvotes are "appropriate", so maybe I'll see if there are any specific posts seeing >5 downvotes from anon users and then see what the current score on those posts is.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 29, 2023 at 21:40
  • 2
    It's worth saying that what @starball is questioning is why we're not taking the data directly as a prediction of the impact of this change and wanting to test it. I'd personally stop trying to vote if I knew I couldn't, so if that's the case for many users, a popup that their votes are counted now would hopefully lead them to start voting again.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 29, 2023 at 21:48
  • 1
    "we can see that visitors click the downvote arrow almost as many times in a day as voters upvote. People who find posts via Google, are much less inclined to select the up arrow in this sample." That's a very surprising statistic, but one that greatly assuages my concerns here.
    – TylerH
    Commented Sep 29, 2023 at 22:13
  • 4
    @TylerH: To be clear, those sentences aren't about people who would be newly enfranchised. Registered users who don't have enough reputation to vote currently are still slightly more likely to downvote than upvote in this sample. That's in sharp contrast to current voters who are far more likely to upvote than downvote. I suspect the downvote penalty plays some role, but it's possible people will change their voting habits when the vote count. Commented Sep 29, 2023 at 23:39
  • 3
    I did some poking around to see which posts are getting the most up/down feedback attempts. This is covered in the 10k tools but it doesn't actually show how much feedback was given that month. I looked at the posts with the 1000 most up and down on Math. There were some very odd extreme cases where questions received over 50 "downvotes" in the last month (7 posts), by the time the 1000 was rounded out, they were down to 5. "Upvotes" were lower, only 3 above 50 and down to 3 by 1000. This indicates to me that, for the most part, these vote attempts are spread around.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 30, 2023 at 8:27
  • 7
    The skew between up and down on SO isn't so severe... but the gap has closed over the years since I first started paying attention. If memory serves, it tracks pretty closely with the vote patterns for very high reputation users, which suggests a natural tendency toward folks being more motivated to report disappointment than satisfaction, in keeping with patterns seen in other public review systems.
    – Shog9
    Commented Oct 1, 2023 at 16:17
  • 1
    Sorry, @Michael, my query was for the top 1000, so when I got to 999 or 1000, whichever it shows last, only three up or five downvotes had been cast on those posts. My point being, while a small number of posts may see an outsized number of votes, on a site with over 3 million posts, only 1000 of the posts saw 3 or 5 anon/low rep votes in the last month. If we assume (possibly incorrectly) that the anon users are unlikely to join merely to vote on a single post, then the number of those vote attempts that become real votes would be lower.
    – Catija
    Commented Oct 2, 2023 at 15:23
27

Removing the reputation barrier to voting for all users is a change we feel will lead to more users being able to indicate post quality and usefulness, but we recognize that it will require a lot of care to ensure that we are educating voters about when to vote and encouraging them to follow acceptable voting practices while also preventing or removing votes that were cast inappropriately.

I can't say that SE has a good track record in educating users. I am not saying it is not possible, but so far most of the users in the network are poorly educated when it comes to how sites function, what is their purpose, which questions are on topic and which not. Most of the time users cannot even ask the question on the right site, so I am pretty skeptical that educating will work.

But main problem is not education, nor how you will do that. You are approaching this purely from the perspective of "good" users and problems which can arise when genuine users will use the sites where there is no reputation limit to voting.

Main problem are bad actors and the damage they could do to the sites, because there will be bad actors. And in quantities you will not be able to cater for.

Besides possible abuse with upvotes, there is also possible abuse with downvoting. I am less concerned with ability to downvote as this could be beneficial for question moderation on smaller sites, where you may have a number of otherwise experienced users that just don't have appropriate reputation on some sites in the network.

I am more concerned about removing reputation cost for downvoting answers which opens doors for revenge downvoting on answers. Now, this is not such an issue with answers that have plenty of upvotes, but on smaller sites where there are only handful of votes on answers this could be a real problem for answers that are of high quality but were being picked as a target. And you will not be able to catch and reverse all such downvotes.

At the end this might make people more reluctant to participate in moderation activities and this is what is your end goal.

4
  • 1
    What education needs to occur in this case? A question or answer is either useful to the user or it isn’t. We certainly didn’t “educate” any existing users who can vote any better.
    – Kevin B
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 17:04
  • @KevinB Probably that you are not allowed to abuse votes and what kind of voting patterns are considered as abuse. Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 17:52
  • 4
    How does earning 10 or 125 rep teach you that?
    – Kevin B
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 18:11
  • 11
    @KevinB It doesn't. But it implies that you have at least spent some time around the sites which cannot be said if you get voting privileges immediately. But educating is less of a problem comparing to what we have now. Bad actors are main issue when all safeguards are removed. Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 19:05
25

If you only do this for engagement, why not show the upvotes from low-rep users only to themselves (shadow-ban-like)?

Possibly with a tiny popup explaining that their upvotes won't be visible to others until they gain X reputation (whether this should retroactively apply past upvotes is up to discussion).

This precludes any curation quality issues.

1
  • 1
    this. or some similar form of it, such as showing the ratio of upmod to downmod votes. I've also been thinking of this. I don't see why not.
    – starball
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 20:15
24

Is SE prepared to make any commitment about the amount of developer time that will be allocated to building new tools to address the specific concerns raised by moderators (and users) about this change, based on feedback from the sites involved in the experiment?

This would influence my degree of enthusiasm for contributing to such a pilot.

1
  • The answer is no. You don't need an official answer (which you won't get) to see that. Commented Oct 3, 2023 at 1:43
24

I think that such an experiment should come with severe reductions in the limits on voting for the users who gain voting privileges due to this (but not those who already have it). Maybe something like 50 40 upvotes (or whatever the current daily limit is) for a whole week, and the daily limit lowered to a fifth or a seventh of that. If the experiment doesn't prove disastrous in the first week or so, then the limit can be slowly raised, say by another 50 votes per week or so until either the experiment ends or the existing voting limits are reached.

This will lower the monitoring burden on the staff conducting this experiment and lower the potential impact if the experiment goes haywire.

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  • 8
    I was even thinking 1-3 votes per week.
    – starball
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 3:37
  • 1
    On that note, how many votes can a regular user cast on a day? Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 3:54
  • 4
    @RandomPerson I went looking, and meta.stackexchange.com/help/privileges/vote-up says: "You can vote on posts 30 times per UTC day, plus 10 more times on questions only." It's the same on SO and AU, I don't know if any site has different limits.
    – muru
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 3:58
  • 4
    From what I understand, we're not against an option like this as a next step. As part of discussion internally we considered this in a doc called "Scaling votes for low-rep users", which outlines a variety of options for awarding votes to users without relying on reputation. If you're familiar with way we award additional flags per day, that might give an idea of the sorts of things we were considering. For a test, we decided that a solution like this would add significant complexity to the voting rules and might not actually prevent misuse. It could also cause issues with data gathering.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 5:25
  • 3
    When it comes to data, we want to know whether these new users would even use more than 3-5 votes per day and how their habits differ from privileged users. If we restrict their votes per day, we can't see if their behaviors are out of the norm and if that changes over time. And, no - I don't think we're putting the needs for complete data above the needs of the site. I'd argue that depending on how this was designed, it could actually make it more difficult for us to find and remove inappropriate votes.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 5:41
  • 3
    Imagine if we create system restrictions that limit a user to a few votes per day - this could prevent or slow bursts of junk votes. It'd also make it significantly more difficult to detect the votes. A user dumping 30 votes in a day in a short period of time is easily flagged for investigation or handled by automations. A user casting 3-5, even if that's the upper limit, is more difficult to differentiate from normal use without there being something else concerning about the votes - such as them all going to a single user.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 5:44
  • @Catija if the mechanism is too complicated to implement, then of course, nothing can be done, but assuming it can be, then your other two comments are addressed by scaling the limit up week by week (presumably you are going to run this experiment for more than just one week?). The point is to "flatten the curve" a bit, not to stop abuse - voting limits have never stopped abuse, as you well know. See how new users do with a limit of normal-use-level, then scale it up and see how they do with more. Wouldn't that actually give you more data on user behaviour?
    – muru
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 6:01
  • 4
    It's not too complicated to implement - it's overly complicated to explain to users during a test why they only have 5 votes one week but have 10 votes next week and 15 the following. I can't see how slowly scaling votes for all users simultaneously as the test progresses would be useful. I don't have any data at hand but my understanding is that the average user doesn't vote 40 times per week. I'd be surprised if they voted more than 0-2 times per week, so I'm actually even more confused at this point.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 6:13
  • 12
    @Catija come now, that's infantilizing. I think people can understand easily enough the concept of being allowed to do more the longer you have been using a system. Or are you trusting people to understand voting, while expecting them to be unable to understand that?
    – muru
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 6:24
  • Yes, more rate limiting would allow the persistent ones to vote. They just have to wait longer (they are persistent, so it will not be a problem). Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 19:50
  • I think I'm not understanding what you're saying, then or my mental image is far more complex than yours. If I was an occasional user of a site and I came one day and had a notice that I could vote but only 10 times, I'd say "cool - 10 seems like a lot". If I came back the next week and got a similar message but it's now 20 - well... I only used four but, OK. Maybe I'll need them some day. Week three, new notice, 30 votes.... at some point I'm going to get annoyed by the notifications or confused about why it's changing constantly.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 22:28
  • @Catija "Hey new user! We're trialling out allowing all users to vote on Stack Overflow! Because it's a trial, the number of votes you are allowed each week might change, as we try to figure out usage patterns. blah blah blah"
    – muru
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 23:04
  • Telling people so overtly about the test plan is not something we're planning to do. If you tell them it's a trial it risks them using votes differently than they might normally. Our current designs only tell users they have the ability, nothing about the test. We won't conceal it - meta posts may be visible but that's not the same at all.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 23:19
  • @Catija I have no idea what your designs look like, post them and then I can think of better suggestions, and even if I can't, other users definitely will. But going with the limited information you're giving me, I guess you have the limit in some sort of dismissible notice? Don't mention the limit after the first time. When they do hit the limit, just let them know they'll be "getting even more votes next week, be sure to come back!" And as you say, normal users don't vote that much. So only a few unusual ones will be seeing that, right?
    – muru
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 23:26
  • 1
    If a measly 125 rep is to be considered too high a barrier, then I would be much happier with giving low-rep users a much smaller number of votes per day than those with (currently) full voting privileges. Like maybe 1 upvote (and no downvotes) per day. Commented Sep 23, 2023 at 14:10
22

I want to respond to a comment, but I feel the response is more generally applicable.

Insisting content creation is necessary to validate if someone is capable of using a privilege, is a model we want to move away from. It may have gotten us here but that doesn't mean it's a good model.

I actually roughly agree: the ability (and desire) to moderate is distinct from the ability to write good content, and it might not be the best idea to have content creation be the (only) criterion for moderation, as is currently the case.

However, what you're proposing here is to completely remove the criterion and not replacing it by anything.

So the question this experiment tries to answer is: "is this criterion better or worse than no criterion". I doubt that it's worse (at least on sites that are already struggling with quality control... which is most sites I've used). Creating some good content (or at least positively-received content) seems unlikely to be a net-negative criterion for being able to judge what good content looks like, even if it isn't a good criterion.

The better question to try to answer is: "is this criterion better or worse than some other criterion". This experiment would only give us information about that if our current criterion is actively harmful, which would make it worse than any criterion that provides any benefit whatsoever. But if it provides some benefit (however small), this wouldn't tell us how it compares to other possible criteria.

A better criterion might be to somehow "educate users on what to upvote, what to downvote and what not to upvote or downvote" (and possibly also including a test to make sure they actually read any of that and understand it).


I suppose we might also have different priorities when it comes to judging what's "good". You seem to be largely/primarily motivated by the "hope to spur participation and engagement", whereas I care more about retaining and improving quality, even if that means limiting participation.

On that note, you seem (for a long time now) to be moving away from the model of a limited number of users creating a Q&A to be passively used by a large number of users, and moving more towards trying to maximise the number and degree of engagement of active participants. There are already many, many sites focusing on the latter, but quite few focusing on the former.

I suppose the question is also then how you'd judge the results. If there's a slight decrease in quality, but there are more votes, would that be considered a success?

As a side note: the score of a post could skew people's perspective on the quality of that post. It's not inconceivable that people think quality improved simply as a result of new users upvoting things more and there thus being fewer negatively-scored posts. I'm not sure it's even possible to avoid that, without making people aware of their potential bias ahead of time (but that creates other problems).

11
  • 2
    I would suggest that the ability to ask good questions and write good answers does correlate pretty well with being able to identify good questions and good answers. It may not be causation, but it sure is better than nothing.
    – Jon Custer
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 17:24
  • 3
    @JonCuster I think the basic exposure to and familiarity with how things work is probably most important, after which reputation may become more arbitrary. ... but that basic exposure is exactly what they're proposing be removed.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 18:11
  • Forgive the quibble but we're not proposing to "remove the criterion" and I find that framing is unfair. We're proposing to test removing the criterion on sites that volunteer for it. That test plan includes a commitment to actively monitor the sites during the test and seek out indications of users voting in ways outside current community norms so that they can be investigated and determined if they are problematic and would need to be addressed. We have even stated that the test metrics are not final because we want the sites participating to help us define them.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 19:52
  • We additionally outline that we will (with the sites) identify a rollback plan should the voting behaviors lead to issues we can't quickly address by adding to existing tools and automations or the volume of issues becomes too much for the moderators or site to handle. Creating additional criteria when we don't even know for sure that they're needed could lead to us simply replacing existing bad barriers with new ones. Many of the ideas that have been floated about additional criteria I've outright said that we've either considered or would consider if we see a need for them.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 19:58
  • 2
    Votes by definition are the backbone of how this platform indicates quality. If there's a drop in the percentage and absolute number of votes and voters per day (which is seen on many sites), keeping current barriers to voting is going to eventually cause quality indicators to be non-existent. When we say we want to spur participation and engagement through voting rather than through projects like Jobs or Documentation, we're trying to invest in and increase quality signal on these sites rather than pulling engagement off to non-core Q&A work.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 20:09
  • 1
    Along with this drop in voting, I'm pretty sure there's fewer users who write more than one answer in some period of time along with fewer curators, editors, flaggers, even people willing to be moderators. Here's a comment on this page of what not earning votes on good content can do to user motivation. It's not about moving away from the library concept that relies on a a small group creating a big resource.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 20:19
  • But at some point you have to ask "is that small group too small?" and start looking into why that is the case. We don't know that voting is a panacea. It probably isn't. But if we can do it carefully, thoughtfully in a data-driven way, it might start moving the needle back towards having more quality signal and more incentives for new content creators who might become the next million-rep user. We want to let people show us they can vote well and figure out where to give them a nudge if it's needed rather than assuming they won't.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 20:23
  • 2
    @Catija If long-term users participate less, and you replace them with new users who don't know what's going on, or who don't really care about the quality of the site, that'll probably push long-term users further away. On 2 of my most frequented sites I just stopped participating altogether because too many others don't seem to care about quality, or they're actively and loudly opposed to having pretty much any quality standards (not that those users were necessarily new). Whether you "see a need" for additional criteria depends to a significant degree on what you want the site to be. ...
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 23:29
  • 2
    @Catija If you want a high-quality Q&A, I don't see that happening without some guidance or barrier of entry for new voters. Otherwise the site will shift towards what people like instead of what meets the guidelines and what you've established is a good fit for a Q&A (and detecting that could be quite hard). Bad votes are worse than fewer votes. But "high-quality Q&A" doesn't seem like it's been a goal for probably the last decade or so (even if something in line with that pops up every once in a while).
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 23:29
  • 2
    @Catija There are drops in participation for reasons that have been detailed on Meta. I don't think "too few voters" ranks in like the top 10 reasons, so this seems to be less about bringing those people back and more about just pumping some life back into the site. How many users are too few? I expect on Stack Overflow, you can cut the users down to 10%, or even 1%, and that would only improve things. There seems to be some odd combination of too many question askers, so many duplicate and unanswered questions, but also too many answerers, so frequently duplicate answers per question.
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 23:29
  • @Catija More voters doesn't seem like it would improve things there. But then you aren't proposing this for Stack Overflow (yet). Maybe some smaller sites are desperately in need of more voters, I wouldn't know. I suspect more would struggle with having too few people asking or answering questions, or too few moderating (voting is a small part of that, but more for downvoting than upvoting, and in my experience, new users are much more likely to upvote things, even bad things, which certainly doesn't help).
    – NotThatGuy
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 23:30
21

I was going to post this as a comment, but I decided to post as an answer instead to try to get more visibility to this issue.
Forgive me if others already mentioned this and/or if I am missing something obvious.

Isn't this "test" virtually the same thing that was attempted on GenAI and caused an incredible amount of backslash??

What would be different this time? What made the company believe that something like a proposal that already caused a lot of negative feedback in the past (even if it was later revealed to be a partial misunderstanding due to poor wording) would be received positively now? Didn't the users already point out all the mess this would cause back then?

To put this into context:

I am very opposed to setting a 1 rep threshold for up and down voting because these have an implication across the network. Unless you plan to exclude GenAI from granting the linked account reputation bonus, this could negatively impact other sites by granting users who have no or limited understanding of the system or the network with additional powers.
Thomas Owens, GenAI

One major concern that I (and likely others) share is that this may (and likely will) lead to voting rings and (rule breaking) sockpuppet accounts. As an added measure to prevent the effects of that spilling over to other sites, can that bonus be disabled, please?
cocomac, this post

I'll leave finding the other overlapping answers as an exercise for the reader.

If I just read this post without any further context I am left asking myself if anyone in the company read that discussion again before posting this? It got "shot down" when we were talking about a single and new site, and now we are back at arguing if it should be made for multiple existing sites at the same time?

I would also wonder why wasn't the association bonus - something users already warned you about - mentioned by design this time, and if we really needed cocomac to mention it again before someone remembered to address it here.

But then when actively asked about that Catija mentioned that:

We've had several discussions both with Mods and internally about the Association Bonus and we're definitely thinking about it. Based on my last conversation about it, we see several options for this and have documentation of those options.

Based on this, and further comments below it appears that the issue was internally mentioned. But then why did you choose to not include it in the summary when you already knew how important it was for some users? That line should have been posted from the start, and preceded by a "We remember your concerns when a similar test was proposed for GenAI so we are currently discussing a solution so that said problem can be circumvented".

Again, I get your attempts to make things short and easier to read but... you really have to work on how you communicate things and what to keep/drop.

8
  • "Forgive me is others already mentioned this" just two comments from my ctrl+f in devtools. no answer posts before yours- at least- none that link to that MSE post. meta.stackexchange.com/questions/393127/…, meta.stackexchange.com/questions/393127/…
    – starball
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 9:11
  • 4
    I mean, I think it’s silly to assume they weren’t aware of all of this given their past comments on these very things in the past 8 months.
    – Kevin B
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 17:20
  • This project actually predates the GenAI site by quite a lot. Despite statements I've seen made in some places, the GenAI site was not an alternate way to test this project. They are not related at all and different CMs are involved. These two projects are different in several key ways. This is only about reputation to vote, involves significant amount of data gathering and support by staff during the test to enhance tools and automations based on that data throughout the test.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 21:19
  • That proposal was about reducing all privileges to mimic private beta levels on a brand new site. It was posed to the community directly with no indications of it being a "test" or having any product support to address voting issues. While many of the concerns related to voting privileges directly, the huge differences that do exist in the projects would not lead me to say they're "virtually identical" unless maybe I was only looking at the titles of the questions.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 21:20
  • 3
    Your assertion about the Association Bonus being ignored or forgotten is incorrect. The question states that it was drafted to be more on the short side - it's still four pages long vs the 8-9 of the Mod Team post. That's not to hide things, it's because if I had included everything that I knew people were going to ask about, it would be three times longer than it is now and I don't think that's digestible. As such, I made an intentional decision to respond to direct questions/concerns about specific things as they came in. I stand by that choice.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 21:31
  • 2
    @Catija See the last see the last passage in the post. I didn't meant anyone wanted to "hide" things. I am pointing out it looks like it was a very bad idea to not include a central point of the previous similar discussion (especially if the company did do its "homework" internally and further discussed it) because the obvious outcome is that people will look at the post, see it is again about the same basic idea, see that their concerns weren't addressed and once again think your left hand doesn't know what the right one is doing.
    – SPArcheon
    Commented Sep 22, 2023 at 7:59
  • @Catija it is not a "work" issue - it is a communication one. The summary forgot to include things that IMHO should have been at the core of a similar communication, with the outcome of making the company again look like it does not care for feedback. And in this case this is not true by your own claim, so allow me to say it is quite a pity.
    – SPArcheon
    Commented Sep 22, 2023 at 8:01
  • @Catija Anyway I have edited the post based on the new information you disclosed so that it should be more evident that this is a critic to the way the company communicates and not on the actual actions (that said, I will also add that imho this idea is still very useless if not actively bad) . As for the "similar only in title", I'll agree to disagree. Context may be different but the outcome and more importantly the effect - again imho - did greatly overlap, especially in relation to the association bonus issue.
    – SPArcheon
    Commented Sep 22, 2023 at 8:09
19

This experiment identifies a discrepancy between "outcomes that benefit StackOverflow Inc." and "outcomes that benefit StackExchange Users", in a way that is going to make it hard for mods to trust any results of the site test.

Let me explain.

This question is posited as "would lowering voting thresholds increase engagement". But engagement, as in "users spending more time on the site", is not what most SEs need. Most of the SEs I participate in need more quality questions and answers.

So from a perspective of mods and other users of SE, what we'll want to know is "does being able to vote sooner result in users posting their first question/answer sooner, and how good are those questions/answers?" There is absolutely no reason to believe that it will, given that they haven't posted already, but I could be pleasantly surprised.

There are four possible outcomes for this test:

  1. No change in behavior
  2. Low-rep users do lots of voting but don't post
  3. Low-rep users post more, but the posts are low-quality
  4. Low-rep users post more, and the posts are high-quality

Of the above, outcomes 2 and 3 can be actually harmful to many or most SE sites' usability; they are certainly not clearly "successful" outcomes.

In contrast to this experiment, I'd be interested in one where we lowered the threshold required to comment. I can see a much more direct line from commenting to answering/asking than from voting to posting.

Another experiment that we could try would be to eliminate the "canonical questions rule", which is one of the major things driving the decline in user posting activity. As an SE ages, it gets harder and harder to ask an actually "new" question, so why bother?

23
  • 4
    "I'd be interested in one where we lowered the threshold required to comment" I would not. Not until the site UI does a good job of actually making people read /help/privileges/comment. why more comments? what value does that add? how does it serve the overarching mission in line with the overarching methodology? I could spend multiple eternities cleaning up comments that should not have been posted and never be done.
    – starball
    Commented Sep 23, 2023 at 0:03
  • 2
    I agree that the site UI should do a better job EVERYWHERE of linking new users to docs on how to use the site. The number of times I've linked "What to Ask" doesn't bear counting.
    – FuzzyChef
    Commented Sep 23, 2023 at 0:13
  • 3
    While I agree that some sites do need more Q&A activity, I think it's not universally the case or the only thing the site needs. On SO in particular they have so many duplicates asked that very few of the daily questions are novel and many others are low quality. But you seem aware of that considering your last paragraph. Your four possible outcomes don't consider secondary impacts. Someone who doesn't get votes on the content they create may disengage because it's not worth their time. How many people have left the communities because of that?
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 23, 2023 at 0:26
  • 3
    Catija: sounds like you're on your way to a robust set of metrics to figure out whether this worked or not; as long as you measure more detailed activity than "spending more time on the site" I'm happy. Looking at some of the comments I've realized that I mostly participate in SEs where there are still plenty of votes (and existing voting behavior already has issues), but Q&A activity has fallen. I'd assumed that this was common, but maybe it's just a subset of SE.
    – FuzzyChef
    Commented Sep 23, 2023 at 0:38
  • 2
    What I wanted to stress it that turning into reddit, where there are tons of votes but very little other user behavior, is not a successful outcome.
    – FuzzyChef
    Commented Sep 23, 2023 at 0:39
  • eh, giving people things they can actually do that doesn't require the stress of creating content can certainly ease people into the Q&A "ecosystem" and make them more likely to engage in asking/answering later.
    – Kevin B
    Commented Sep 23, 2023 at 3:47
  • I didn't say anything about spending time on the site - anywhere on this post. "Engagement" is not equivalent to "views" - it's actually interacting with the site rather than just consuming it. I'm willing to allow that in your opinion, only voting might as well not be considered more engagement than passive consumption. That may be true but (as @KevinB just stated) it can be a gateway. You may have experienced the feeling a bit yourself when you wanted to downvote this question - you couldn't vote and you commented on the irony of wanting to downvote and being unable to - on this question.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 23, 2023 at 3:50
  • You're a veteran user of the network and meta (though not MSE). As such, it doesn't surprise me that you would be willing to answer the question to gain the few points you need (downvotes on MSE actually only require 100 rep as it is) to earn the privilege. If you'd not written a post before - or your attempts to post had been met with downvotes or even no votes - can you see that it might leave you feeling even more frustrated to the point that you felt so left out you would just wash your hands of the site entirely? Maybe not the first time - but what if it happened every time?
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 23, 2023 at 3:56
  • Somehow in this whole conversation I've fallen into a sort of trap - in focusing on talking about 1 rep users unwilling to create content, I've forgotten all of the ones who have. While many of those may have been downvoted, it's also possible someone could have 1 rep because their attempts to contribute got no votes.... and if that's because a site has depressed voting, it's kinda a vicious cycle. People create good content, get no votes, can't earn the privilege to vote, and then fewer people vote. Communities aren't static. Members do leave, so without voting, the new members can't come.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 23, 2023 at 4:06
  • 1
    We've both been active on Cooking - it's a great site and I love the people I know from there. Some of the best lessons about how to help askers do better and being willing to actually do the work to save questions that show a spark of value came from that site. It's something I treasure about it. So when you say that SA has "plenty of votes", it confuses me. In the past month, only 15 users have voted more than 10 times. Of the open questions from the most recent 50, 18 have a score of 0, 17 have a score between 1-3, 4 between 4-9 and 4 a score 10+. Five were hot network questions.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 23, 2023 at 4:23
  • Now, I'm not actually reading the questions to see if they deserve votes or checking vote splits to see if those 0 scores are actually 0 votes, but even if they aren't, to a visitor, having 18/43 of the questions from the last 20 days with a score of zero could lead them questioning whether their question would get any attention. You've probably seen the questions and answers - why do you vote (or not vote)? Personally, I usually forget unless I'm really amazed by the post making my brain explode with an incredible answer. Hopefully most people aren't like that.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 23, 2023 at 4:40
  • 2
    Catija: looking over the most recently asked questions on SA, the 0 votes are almost all intentional. If you look at the 0 vote questions, you see that they're mostly questions on the verge of being closed (lack of clarity, missing details, etc.). They're zeros because they should be zeros. Personally, if I read a question that's reasonably well-written, I upvote it unless it already has a bunch of upvotes.
    – FuzzyChef
    Commented Sep 23, 2023 at 17:40
  • 1
    You're correct that the number of upvotes per question is small. That's because the number of active users in SA has fallen by at least 70% from 4 years ago. I don't think voting rights are the main reason for that. Instead, it's canonical answers, Google, first-to-post, absolute seniority, and the simple fact that it's hard to form a social community on a site where there aren't really places to socialize. The decline of the SE platform was inherent in its design; it simply doesn't give people good reasons to stick around. I don't believe that voting will change that.
    – FuzzyChef
    Commented Sep 23, 2023 at 17:45
  • 1
    @FuzzyChef Yet, as you mentioned from the problem of the discrepancy between goals. If question numbers are going down because of canonical answers, the received wisdom is that from the point of view of the users, that is a success, not a failure. Because it means people are able to find the answer to their question, without needing have someone go through the process of answering it. Now, there are issues with canonicals drifting, but it being harder and harder to ask a new question isn't in itself seen as a problem by the technical site userbases. Commented Sep 23, 2023 at 17:53
  • 1
    The goal is not to have people post their questions, its to get their question answered, and a question that is answered without them posting anything is a massive win. Commented Sep 23, 2023 at 17:54
19

You folks (owners and operators of StackExchange and StackOverflow) seem to have confused the Stack sites with a social network. That's wrong. It's as wrong as those who confuse the Stack sites with forums.

The Stack sites are about knowledge, not about random interactions with people. Voting on the Stack sites is not about social interaction. It is about evaluating content.

Given that, increasing user activity just to have more activity is pointless.

Would you suggest that Wikipedia encourage edits to articles just to have more activity? I'd hope not. On Wikipedia, you want directed activity to improve the content - not random edits just to generate activity.

Just so with the Stack sites. You want directed activity to improve the content and generate new content.

Because you are looking at the Stack sites as something they are not, you are also looking at the wrong metrics.

This is the the question you should be asking:

How many people per day are finding the information they need on the Stack sites?

Follow that up with:

Has the number of successful searches increased or decreased over the years?

From the publicly available data, it is clear that activity is dropping.

Other data may show an entirely different picture, but only the company behind the Stack sites can view that data - that's number of page views per day, number of pages views by new and returning people, and time spent on page.

That information would tell you if the Stack sites are still providing information to people.


For nearly any subject, there's a certain basic level of information that you need to be able to work in that area. Once you've covered the basics, it becomes far more difficult to find good (general) questions and good (general) answers - you start getting into details and questions specific to a particular usage. Those more specific questions will attract fewer votes and fewer answers (also with fewer votes.) They require more experience to understand and more experience to answer - and most people capable of understanding and writing such detail questions on a particular subject will be capable of answering their own questions without ever asking anyone for help.

Once you've gotten a huge base of basic questions, activity (creation of new content) will slow down.

When activity slows down, you need to take a good look at your content and the viewing patterns and see whether people are simply finding the information they need (loads of new people viewing existing content for extended periods or people returning with long view times) or if your site has become irrelevant (no new people visiting or short, one-time visits with no returns.)

Activity (new questions/answers, voting) are certainly down - the linked SEDE queries clearly show dropping numbers of new questions and answers for years. The information needed to see if Stack is still relevant is, however, not available through SEDE. The company needs to look at that, preferably while making the numbers and the analysis public.

  • Looking at the activity alone is not sufficient.
  • Looking at the Stack sites as you would a social network is wrong.
  • Look at details relevant to a knowledge repository (what the Stack system is supposed to be) to see if the Stack sites are still relevant before making random changes to what may be the wrong parameters.

Views per day is what drives your advertising revenue. If I suddenly started using up my voting quota every day, it wouldn't do your revenue any good - I'm already there every day, viewing dozens if not hundreds of questions and answers along with the ads.

Increased activity does not equate to more ad views and ad revenue - for that you need more viewers.

Are there sufficient viewers on the Stack system?

I don't know, but I seriously hope that the Stack owners can find out.


Out of curiousity, I checked the "Impact" rating on my Electrical Engineering stack page.

It says I've "reached" 2.3 million people. The pop-up says that's an estimate of the number of times my answers have been read based on how often the questions I have answered have been read.

I have 67,838 reputation points on that site. To simplify the math, assume each point came from an upvote (10 points.) That's that 6783 people who have voted on my answers. That means that only one person in 339 bothers to vote. It also means that the real activity (people reading existing questions and answers) on the site is over 300 times more than just the voting activity suggests.

This is, of course, just a quick look at a single data point.

I'd suggest that the folks operating the Stack system could look at aggregate numbers and come up with a better number for how many times existing questions and answers are read as opposed to how often people "interact" with the system - and I'd bet that the number of passive readers will drastically outnumber the "interactions" that the Stack operators are looking at.

The trend of the passive readers is what they need to be looking at - that's where the "eyeballs" for the ad revenue come from.


For a further comparison, I have a blog with a really simple voting system - users are not required to log in to vote on posts.

Since May of this year, there have been less than 100 votes (positive and negative.) That's in comparison to over 13000 page views.

That's a ratio of 130 views to 1 interaction - and that's where interactions are truly no effort for the readers.

As I mentioned in an answer on the Writing stack, people come looking for information - they are doing something and need information. They find it on my blog (or on some Stack) and return to what they were doing. They are concentrating on the task and are not interested in the least in "interacting." They have something to do, and they want (or need) to get back to it. I know this because I do it myself - need some obscure bit of info, search, find, return to task.

You need to look at what all those "passive" consumers are doing and stop concentrating on interaction.

18

...the core concept behind all of them is to prevent misuse and protect the perceived value of the content on the sites...

Let me focus on the core concept. Misuse is surely a concern for voting but another maybe underrated concern should be experience. Inexperienced voters could destroy the perceived value of the content on the sites by various actions including:

  • voting based on already existing votes or reputation of a content creator instead of voting based on content
  • voting based on a wrongful or missing understanding of the content and the context
  • voting based on sympathy with the contributors situation
  • voting not based on anything substantial (random noise)

and while this is true for all kind of votes, it may occur on a much larger scale with low reputation users. It doesn't require bad intent, so it doesn't represent an abuse, but still more votes of lower quality could actually be harmful instead of beneficial for the platform.

I therefore urge you to develop a success metric that directly measures how positive or negative contributions of increased amounts of votes impact the quality of the voting as best as possible.

And I advise to also try different thresholds and not simply lowering it to 1 in order to test if there maybe is an optimum somewhere. I think there might be.

Finally it doesn't necessarily need to be tied to reputation, maybe there are other ways to define how much weight a vote should have. And I think it's not so trivial to come up with a really useful metric for estimating the direct impact of this change on the quality of voting. In general, we need the right kind of people to vote on the right kind of content in order to maximize the value of voting, I think. Not sure how that can be achieved.

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    sympathy voting is something I suspect I see a lot on reddit with poorly asked questions. I'd much rather have people vote on stack exchange (like they generally should on stack exchange) be based on usefulness: "this question was useful because it was searchable when I had the same problem" / "this answer is useful because it helped me with the problem I had when I searched and found this Q&A".
    – starball
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 9:06
  • 8
    Said success metric should be defined and published to meta before going ahead with the test. Not after. Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 9:46
  • We don't have a success metric currently to share - because we want to understand what success would look like to the sites that are volunteering rather than making one up ourselves. All of your other suggestions I've responded to in other places, I think. The point of the test is to see what the bare impact of this is and determine how best to address any issues that show up. If the primary outcome is socks and voting rings, we'll work on that. If we see a lot of people voting out of alignment with existing voters, we'll work on that... or both... or whatever else.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 20:38
  • 3
    @Catija If you don't have a metric yet then I wanted to nudge you towards one with this answer. You won't know what success looks like otherwise. Specifically any conclusion like more votes are always better should be avoided. And typically it's best practice to define success goals before beginning an experiment. That avoids a lot of biases that might otherwise come into play later. This answer is simply what I think is the important thing here. Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 20:57
  • 2
    Several metrics have already been identified as thing that will be tracked and looked at, what i think is missing is statements on how the company expects these changes to play out and which metrics would be useful for proving or disproving those theories. Not necessarily stating "if it doesn't reach X bar it will be reverted", but rather "We expect to see an increase in voting that loosely aligns with existing voting trends and if we instead see trends that are different, we'll investigate why they're different."
    – Kevin B
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 21:32
  • 2
    Creating a hard line "if it doesn't do X, we'll revert" is a rather poor position to put yourself in when it's possible it could fail to do X but still succeed in another useful way that wasn't predicted.
    – Kevin B
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 21:34
  • 1
    @KevinB has sort of written my response for me here. The question and comment each indicate that we want to write metrics with the communities involved to ensure we're looking for harmful outcomes that the sites predict. Even if you think the company wants to set a metric like "more votes are always better" (which we don't, to be absolutely clear), do you imagine the communities involved would?
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 21:44
  • @Catija It's totally fine if the communities define the metric before the experiment starts. And while nobody has said that, more votes are always better seemed to me a bit like the undertone in this Q&A. I wanted to point out that a useful metric would also allow more votes to be worse sometimes. That as a minimal requirement. Otherwise you know how these experiments end. Somebody will write a conclusion and in that conclusion some metric will be chosen to justify further steps even if that choice might be biased. That's why one should do it before. Commented Sep 22, 2023 at 6:49
  • @NoDataDumpNoContribution I think the answers have assumed that is the position of the company. It is incorrect and the question specifically states that we're planning to compare voting between new voters and existing ones to see if there are differences. If we only cared about more votes, why would we assess whether the votes are aligned with community norms?
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 24, 2023 at 15:15
  • @Catija I just wrote what I think is best practice in this case. Maybe my concern will turn out to be completely unjustified. Who knows. Afterwards I will know better. Commented Sep 24, 2023 at 21:13
17

Setting guidance before the test that will help us identify cases where rolling back the changes or making other adjustments are necessary."

  1. so rolling things back (after the experiment ends) will be a possibility?
  2. is it just rolling back the votes, or also the knock-on effects of people using privileges they gained as a result of the change, such as commenting (imagine all the noise), doing reviews, making edits without review, etc.?
  3. if it's possible, what's the rationale for rolling back not being a given (instead of a decision point), given that this is just an experiment?
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    Our plan is to only roll back if we meet the guidance for doing so or if unexpected negative outcomes cause us to determine that rolling back is the best course of action. This can happen at any point during the test, not only after the test period has elapsed. If we can make adjustments or improvements to tools instead of rolling back, that's an alternative we will consider. We'd prefer finding ways to address issues rather than having to stop the test entirely but, in particular, if addressing issues would take too long, we will revert the change.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 2:59
  • 1
    The main change of a rollback would be resetting the privilege levels for up- and downvoting to their current levels (15 and 125) to prevent additional voting. In my understanding, we likely wouldn't remove all low-reputation votes cast during the test by default. Our general expectation is that most votes cast would be within site expectations so we'd focus on invalidating votes known to be problematic. That doesn't mean we wouldn't ever decide to remove all votes but doing so would likely be quite complex as votes give rep and rep gives voting... someone can earn the privilege mid-test.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 3:16
  • 2
    The main line of reasoning for not rolling back at the end of the test period is because we're going to be reviewing data throughout the process. If there's no overt negative impact we recognize during the test, it's unclear that rolling back while reviewing additional data is necessary. This also risks the impacted low-rep users being confused by the loss of the voting privilege they just gained... which might be reinstated again a short time later. This is a change from other tests we've run in the past but I think it makes sense in this situation.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 3:27
  • 3
    @Catija the way you describe the roll-back plan here reads to me as if SE has already decided to implement this plan come hell or high-water, but is 'whitewashing' it by announcing it as an experiment to make it look as though you're acting in good faith. The lack of a defined period of time over which this 'experiment' will run further reinforces this impression for me. In my mind, an experiment should run for some defined period of time while you gather data. After the experiment ends you make a decision - using the data you gathered - whether to implement the thing you experimented with.
    – brhans
    Commented Oct 2, 2023 at 13:10
  • 1
    If only "unexpected negative outcomes" might lead to a roll-back of this 'experiment', could you clarify what some expected negative outcomes might be, and why these negative outcomes would be acceptable and not real to a roll-back of the 'experiment'?
    – brhans
    Commented Oct 2, 2023 at 13:11
  • @brhans presumably that'd mean an unmitigable amount of fraud being caused by it, since that is the primary concern for the outcome of this change. Given it's going to roll out to select sites, not network-wide, during the experiment we should get a fairly effective view from that as far as what additional tools are necessary to mitigate any increase in fraud before it rolls out to larger sites. Put another way, a negative outcome isn't necessarily the end of the experiment, rather, it's an opportunity to mitigate those problems and continue.
    – Kevin B
    Commented Oct 2, 2023 at 14:40
  • 1
    @brhans I don't think that's quite correct. As my comments say, the goal is to avoid granting, removing and re-granting privileges in a short period of time. There is the potential that we'll look at the data after the test period and determine that it's causing more harm than good and roll it back at that point. I don't mention that, so it's understandable why you'd interpret it that way. The other thing worth keeping in mind is that this sort of change may not be immediately understandable. Removing the test after only a month could cause us to overlook much.
    – Catija
    Commented Oct 2, 2023 at 15:49
  • 1
    There could be positive or negative outcomes we'll only see in six months or a year because this change leads to a gradual shift. So, again, rolling back and considering the test "done" after only a month would negatively impact the long-term understanding of the change. When it comes to negative outcomes, we're thinking of huge increases in moderator flags or need to handle content, or the community indicating that they can't delete content that they should be able to due to an influx in upvotes on good content... or good content being downvoted when it shouldn't.
    – Catija
    Commented Oct 2, 2023 at 15:53
  • 1
    But in many of these cases, we'll want to investigate where these votes are coming from to better understand the motivation for these votes. Other possible outcomes are ones we see throughout this discussion - unexpected numbers of socks being created to target votes at specific accounts (up or down). It can seem somewhat hand-wavy because we understand that specific sites will have different situations that are concerning to them and we want to lean on the expertise of the site mods to understand what risks they see.
    – Catija
    Commented Oct 2, 2023 at 16:01
16

While not per se against this experiment, I always had the idea that the threshold to vote was to prevent against "voting rings" where a user creates two accounts and then these accounts upvote each others posts.

While such rings of course still can occur, for example if one of the accounts gives a proper answer or asks a good question, it thus means one should at least put a (small) amount of effort into it before the carrousel starts.

If we automatically give voting rights when registering a user, it thus is quite easy to set up such a ring, even in an (almost) fully automated way. Whereas detecting and eventually removing the rings is less trivial.

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    the goal of voting rings is to inflate the reputation of 1 or more accounts, often for the purpose of getting out of a question ban or making spam look more credible or inflating the imaginary internet credentials of a user. Making it cumbersome to start one is certainly one effective way to prevent it, we do have an example to look back on with Teams where the ability to easily get a voting ring going using the association bonus from teams (which was silly to exist in the first place) caused problems.
    – Kevin B
    Commented Sep 20, 2023 at 19:45
  • 2
    When I say that using reputation to prevent abuse is a simplistic solution, that's what I'm getting at. Yes, sock puppets and voting rings are real concerns because, people do not necessarily use votes as we permit - sometimes they honestly assume it's "acceptable" while others do it after being told to stop repeatedly. This test is a sort of cost/benefit analysis of removing this solution. We don't know anything about how potential voters would vote. We can guess. We can poke at unregistered and low rep user votes... but we can't actually know.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 6:21
  • There are a lot of assumptions out there about the amount of tooling that would be needed to address the new issues caused. We could invest a lot of time in creating those tools and automations and making sure they work and then remove the reputation to vote to see what happens. Best case, we've built all the right things and no additional tools are needed and all invalid votes of all types are handled and all is well with the site. This would be amazing but I think it overestimates our ability to predict human behavior. It doesn't allow us to test the impact on engagement.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 6:34
  • The other end of things is we just make the change with no improvements in tools and figure out what we need based on the test, leaving the sites to deal with the issues. This would save us from building tools that we thought would be helpful but ended up missing most of what they were intended to catch. It also ignores that we have existing tooling needs to identify vote fraud that mods have been really clear about needing. This is also higher risk as it could leave the sites unable to deal with issues until tools were built or would make rolling back the test more likely.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 6:40
  • 1
    Our proposed test plan is in the middle of these two extremes. We're building improvements to tools we already know we need to address current levels and types of vote investigations and let mods use and suggest improvements to the tools to ensure they're useful. When the test starts, we hope the bulk of cases will be identified by the existing tools and, when they don't, we seek out the new cases and build tools specifically geared to them. While there is some risk, it's not as high as the prior option but we get data without first spending 6-8 months guessing what tools we need.
    – Catija
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 6:54
14

This is just opening the flood-gates to users with no clue how the system works deciding on a whim, or mere capricious action, how a question is received; whilst having zero knowledge of how the SE structure is designed to work.

Unlike Facebook, the grumpy face icon posts don't just fall off the bottom of the interest list after a day or two, to never be seen again. This affects long-term visibility & usefulness as a future resource.

I'm really not sure about this idea, to put it politely.

I already think 125 rep is too low.
I would support that a consolidated network rep of maybe >50k could allow low rep users who have small sites to have additional privileges granted as a 'bigger' association bonus. https://meta.stackexchange.com/a/384293/276027 but I have no desire to see 'open season' declared.

Personally, on sites I have lower rep & less frequent engagement, or topics about which I have less knowledge, I am far more circumspect about my own voting; only voting when Q or A is clear to me with my limited grasp of a topic. I don't vote on things I don't understand.
Nor do I reflexively VTC as unclear - "Just because you don't understand something does not automatically make it unclear."

I have serious doubts new users would be so considerate.

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    While the SE model is certainly special, I don't think that the decision to vote here is some super hard-to-grasp concept; I think upvoting what's good and downvoting what's bad is pretty universal. I believe this experiment is useful precisely because there are so many strong opinions about how this will affect quality– either the cynical among us will be validated, or things will end up better than we imagined. Either way, lessons will be learned, and we can move forward better informed than we are now.
    – zcoop98
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 18:28
  • 9
    That aside, I also don't think YouTube is the best example; while you're correct about the public motivations of that change, the move itself has been pretty negatively received by most, in my understanding– YouTube removed a useful signal for quality because some people misused it some of the time, instead of building better tooling for creators experiencing the abuse. The change was a cop-out, IMO.
    – zcoop98
    Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 18:32
  • 20
    @zcoop98 YouTube removed a useful signal for quality because people used it for the exact purpose it was made for, to the embarrassment of corporate media. Commented Sep 19, 2023 at 20:38
  • @user3840170 I dunno. When any group does a "brigade" - telling all its members "hey go and downvote [or upvote] this object" - the upvote/downvote ratio on that object no longer correlates to audience perception the way it usually does. You seem to be claiming that it does still reflect audience perception which is embarassingly low, but it doesn't because it's now skewed towards the perception of that particular group. Commented Oct 3, 2023 at 1:50
  • @zcoop98 For this experiment to be useful, there needs to be measurable "fail" and "success" conditions to agree on beforehand. AFAIK there isn't, and as such any result could count as a success depending on how it is interpreted. Commented Oct 10, 2023 at 14:33
13

Keep the old thresholds for meta

The ability to post on meta on most sites is locked behind 5 rep (except if you're asking about your post). Even users with five times that amount tend to not understand what meta is about, based on what meta posts they're creating (mostly questions that they couldn't ask on the main site, being question banned). I would prefer if we kept voting to either its original thresholds or at least something that's higher than 1 rep to keep meta as a platform for active users of the site.

For example, by coincidence, I saw a meta post of mine ended up on Hacker News (and from there, Reddit), and it ended up with a lot of views. However, reading the comments on Hacker News, most of the users were talking about Stack Overflow, which was not the site I posted on. I wouldn't want anyone to be voting on my post based on their opinions of what should happen on Stack Overflow.

13

Votes are something very important in the SE system. If SE is willing to reduce the rep requirement to upvote/downvote to the bare minimum (1 rep), I feel it's time now that all users get to see vote count of posts (number of upvotes and downvotes) regardless of rep.

Related request Show the vote split by default

2
12

If the rep barrier will be removed, maybe add a time barrier to prevent (some) sockpuppets?

  • Either based on the age of the account ("created at least 1 month ago")
  • and/or based on participation ("visited the site on at least 10 distinct days")

Of course the actual limits are to be decided.

That way a user cannot quickly create a sockpuppet account to upvote their own posts, but (provided the limits are not too high) a new real user can soon participate.

11

I have concerns about how malicious users could exploit this change, but SE has heard those from me and many other mods already. In the end this will come down to how much effort SE will spend on mod tools and automated mechanisms to prevent abuse. I think most of this is fixable, it's just a lot of work. So in this answer I'll focus only on why I think that, if it can be done safely this change could be a good idea.

I do think it is worth to try this because the decline in voting is a fundamental threat to the Q&A model. Depending on which site and which tag on larger sites you post, voting volume in general can be extremely low. It's not unusual to post a reasonable answer or question and receive no votes at all. This is bad in terms of motivating users to post content, if nobody votes on it at all. It also means that essentially no real curation is happening there, you don't get any information what the community actually thinks about those posts. Okay, some of these are just meh posts and zero is an acceptable score for them, but for many of them it's just as if the voting system doesn't exist because nobody bothers to use it there. They are reasonably good or bad posts, probably not obviously excellent nor obviously terrible and they likely require some domain knowledge to distinguish if they're on the good or the bad side.

Post scores need a minimum level of voting activity to work. Giving more users the ability to vote will likely help with that and in the end add more signal to the post scores.

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    I'm kind of worried about roomba-ing capabilities. from my time on reddit (still ongoing), people write horrendously (compared to the standard of stack exchange) poorly defined, poorly researched, poorly titled questions, and many of those get net positive scores, which I think would be counter to the mission (make the internet a better place) and methodology (quality Q&A) of stack exchange.
    – starball
    Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 7:38
  • 1
    "the decline in voting is a fundamental threat to the Q&A model" On the one hand, voting is kind of second nature after some time, i.e. to automatically and almost sub-consciously estimate the quality of content and decide if it falls into the up or down area. On the other hand it is real effort and quite boring to thousands of times think about how bad or good the content is. I'm a bit tired of it. It's kind of understandable that others should do the job instead but can they do it as good or are they rather just adding noise in the voting, even decreasing its value? Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 12:22
  • 2
    Historically, everything goes down over the years at least on SO, questions, answers, .... why should votes be an exception. Commented Sep 21, 2023 at 12:24
10

We have collected user research over the years indicating that many people have struggled to participate because they feel the restrictions about who can vote are too limiting and prevents them from indicating when questions or answers are good or bad.

That's assuming that they know when answers are good or bad. We have no clue if they know anything about site conventions or rules; the way that they demonstrate that they do is through getting reputation.

Voting is a major way that communities enforce their community expectations, and allowing people who don't know those to vote will substantially undermine that. It's like a country opening up voting to anyone in the world whether they live there or not.

It's already easy enough to abuse the voting system. Opening it up to people who know nothing about the site would remove one of the most important safeguards against abusive voting. For example, it would make sock puppetry and voting rings vastly easier to set up.

Also, most people with 1 rep have not contributed a single question, answer, or approved edit. That means that they aren't really invested in the site and won't vote in a way that's in the site's best interest.

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