I recently answered a somewhat subjective question with what I genuinely hope was good advice. It got downvoted, which is fine, except that I have no idea why.

I understand that voting is probably secret to encourage honesty, but I'm wondering if there is any intent to address the votes with no apparent basis. For example, would it be at all useful to prompt for an optional (or even mandatory) explanation when voting?


The idea would be for the comment to be either mandatory or strongly suggested, but anonymous by default. This lets people downvote anonymously but still offer some basis. And if the stated reason is dumb, well, then that would speak for itself.

  • If a downvote is "damaging" then the cost to them is half. IMO, that means more than a Microsoft-type "Do you really want to do this?" annoyance.
    – Axeman
    Jul 13, 2009 at 21:49
  • 5
    How many times are we going to discuss this? Anonymous voting is good. Thats it. If you don't like it, I am sure you can find other sites.
    Jul 13, 2009 at 21:57
  • I agree with Rich on this one... I think that you can still seek out the info, but the site shouldn't force that to occur.
    – RSolberg
    Jul 13, 2009 at 22:06
  • 3
    To clarify, I didn't suggest we remove anonymous voting. I suggested we add anonymous comments to explain those anonymouys votes without, you know, losing anonymity. Aug 2, 2009 at 5:52
  • 2
    This could really use a better title...
    – womp
    Aug 16, 2009 at 19:24
  • @GEOCHET the question does not oppose anonymous votig, but it opposes Arbitrary Negatives without reason. This is very differen.
    – gorn
    Aug 3, 2014 at 21:26
  • @gorn: Silly semantics that mean nothing here.
    Aug 5, 2014 at 1:24
  • @GEOCHET Of course it is different - there can be anonymous voting where the original author gets anonymous, yet relevant feedback.
    – gorn
    Aug 7, 2014 at 1:35

5 Answers 5


I've seen one effect. I used to give a comment on most of my downvotes, until one poster reacted by sifting through my recent posts, and downvoting nearly every answer I had made in the past 2 weeks--even some answers already classified as "Good Answer". My objections weren't abusive and usually contained enough information to indicate where I thought the answer got off track.

Of course I think an answer is to allow non-trackable comments on downvotes. Possibly change the name of this comment to "suggestion"--so that it even points at the idea of being helpful rather than anything else.

In the case of suggestions about an answer, perhaps the user could delete this when they got enough RTFMs or equivalents--or perhaps suggestions could be voted on, like comments. So it's RTFMx8 (and would take up less space.)

EDIT:  If you like the idea of an anonymous suggestion, the feature is being discussed here: Encouraging people to explain down-votes, please upvote Peter Mortensen's answer.

  • 2
    Good point; retribution is not a desirable consequence. Perhaps a downvote comment should have the option of anonymity. Frankly, I'd rather know WHY I was downvoted than by WHOM. Jul 13, 2009 at 21:48
  • Exactly. I never even thought of retribution until it happened to me, and I had seen a few downvotes on my own posts by that time.
    – Axeman
    Jul 13, 2009 at 21:52
  • I saw a humorous but spot-on article about Wikipedia as a MMORPG. It would be a shame if that applied here. Jul 13, 2009 at 21:56
  • 2
    Well, it would solve edit wars :D. "You slay your opponent's edit with your +5 axe of No-Changes. You are the victor." "I cast a level 10 Can't-change-my-title spell!"
    – Axeman
    Jul 13, 2009 at 22:01

There was a recent change implemented that suggests on down-vote to leave a comment as to why. You probably won't see this go much further than this because all of the voting is supposed to be 100% anonymous to the users unless there is a comment (+1 or -1) type of thing going on...

You could always add a comment such as "why the downvote?" For things that are fairly discussion based/oriented, you can mark your answer as community wiki to prevent the rep damage.

You also could be getting gamed a bit, where other folks who have answered the question voted yours down to push theirs above yours.

  • I just tested this out, and I did see the notice. It's obtrusive, but I think it doesn't go far enough. What if it prompted the user with a textarea and put up a confirm y/n dialog if it's left blank? Jul 13, 2009 at 21:47
  • @Steven- if you go that far, you completely discourage voting and take out the anonymous aspect of it. Sometimes you just have to take the -2 for what it is and continue on. I recently lost 8 points for an answer that was 100% correct. In fact, I answered second and had my answer sniped by the first poster and the 3rd and 4th. Due to some game play by the snipers, I lost 8 points and didn't even get awarded the answer... It is just part of the sytem...
    – RSolberg
    Jul 13, 2009 at 21:49
  • @RSolberg, I'm personally uninterested in the points. I just want to encourage conversations as opposed to thumb-pointing. Axeman suggested that these comments can still be anonymous, and I agree that this strikes a good balance. Jul 13, 2009 at 21:51
  • @Steven - A vote up or down is supposed to be "thumb-pointing" and nothing else...
    – RSolberg
    Jul 13, 2009 at 21:56
  • I understand that, but I'm suggesting that we benefit from a voice behind the thumb. So far, we have the idea of a pop-up requesting an explanation, which allows anonymity but also requires you to very intentionally opt out. What would you say to adding a dropdown list of canned reasons, such as "Code would not compile" or "Performance will suffer" or "I do not consider this code to be maintainable"? Jul 13, 2009 at 21:58
  • If as a user you are forced to specify those, you lose the anonymous aspects of a down-vote. You also lose participation in the site because people will be less willing to vote at all. Why not just add the comment to your answer and say, why the down-vote?
    – RSolberg
    Jul 13, 2009 at 22:05
  • I'm sorry, I wasn't clear: In this scheme, the explanations for why you downvoted would be anonymous by default. Jul 13, 2009 at 22:29
  • @Steven - even if it were to remain anonymous, I think that I would find the added step to be a hassle... If I wanted you to know why I didn't like the answer, I'd tell you directly in a comment, email, etcetera.
    – RSolberg
    Jul 14, 2009 at 0:13
  • @RSolberg: I'm sure you would, and I appreciate it, but this feature's not for people like you, just for those who might be hasty about downvoting and too shy to explain themselves. I agree that it would make it a hassle, but I'm not sure that's a bad thing. Keep in mind that, as discussed, they would still be able to downvote without leaving any sort of comment. It would just have to be an active decision, not the default. Jul 14, 2009 at 1:28

I've just seen the suggestion. It needs to permit an anonymous comment, or it won't get used very often.

I personally would like to find out whether there are good reasons my answers are being downvoted. If the downvote was for no good reason then we'll get no better comments than "because I felt like it", or something less polite. But we can ignore those comments if we also get some good, brief reasons for the downvote.

When we do, we may find that there's a group of downvotes that happen because people don't understand what downvotes are for. In that case, we can improve the FAQ to educate future new users. I (for one) may be getting downvotes because people think I'm being mean (like I ever do that). In that case, I can decide to be nicer (or not).

But we can't do anything based on ignorance.

  • I certainly can't argue with any of that. I'd be fine with the downvote I got if only I had some clue of what so offended them. So, if there's any sort of general agreement about this feature, how would we determine this and what would the step after that be? Jul 14, 2009 at 0:00

I figure it this way, you can't please everyone. If you get net positive votes, that's the best you can hope for. I think the isolated down vote is basically meaningless and unless I get several, I didn't do anything wrong.

There are so many reasons people cast down-votes that are not related at all to the quality of the answer (and in my opinion against the spirit of the community) like down vote so their answer goes above yours, down vote for personal reasons (not to say anyone does not love you personally :) or just down vote to be difficult.

Per comment: I don't think they are necessary. If you're a constant, good contributor, your rep will increase. If you get mired down in thinking about every +/- 2 swing you get, you will drive yourself crazy.

  • Ok. How do you feel about the specific proposals intended to limit the negative effect? Jul 13, 2009 at 22:31
  • I've edited the question to specify anonymous downvote comments. Jul 13, 2009 at 23:59

This has gone around many times on UV, and I still think it's a bad idea. People are aware that they can leave a comment explaining the down vote if they so choose. The only possible reason to require it would be to try and prevent gaming, which is futile. If you aren't requiring comments, then you need be be very certain that your mechanism for encouraging them doesn't discourage voting on the whole. (Anonymous) voting is the lifeblood of the reputation system, and it must continue to flow.

My thoughts (bullet-points for easy consumption):

  • Requiring a comment doesn't require it to make sense. At best, it'll be a good reason which a thoughtful person would make without being compelled to. At worst, it'll be a thinly veiled effort to make gaming seem like legitimate objections.
  • When someone thinks they've been downvoted without "good reason", they will want something to be done about it. We'll very quickly get to meta-moderation, voting whether one another's votes were justified to begin with, which will leave to even more enflamed tempers, calls for punitive or corrective measures, and plain old fashioned retaliation (i.e. more gaming).
  • All in all, the fact that downvotes hurt the voter half as much as they recipient is a fine system for keeping downvotes in check.

Eliminating anonymous votes by requiring comments is, in my opinion, more problematic than leaving the system in place. It may not be perfect, but nothing is.

  • Ok, but what about anonymous downvote comments? Jul 13, 2009 at 23:26
  • Anonymous comments on downvotes suffer most of the same problems as those I outlined. The main difference is that you can't retaliate against the person, but the anonymity would make them more prone to the first problem: thinly veiled efforts to make a "gamed" downvote seem legitimate. I don't see how anonymous comments would help anything. Jul 14, 2009 at 11:34
  • @Adam: 1) Downvote comments would be strongly suggested by the workflow, but not mandatory. After a downvote, a textarea would prompt for comment, but clicking on "Done" without filling it in would bring up an "Are you sure? Y/N" dialog. I believe this avoids the problems you outlined with mandatory comments. Jul 14, 2009 at 12:10
  • @Adam: 2) I'm sure some people would leave comments that are thinly-veiled efforts to justify the downvote. Of course, these would speak for themselves, in that you'd be able to judge how reasonable they are. Silence, on the other hand, commits the downvoter to no specific claim, so there is nothing to evaluate. The goal here is to support a culture of reasoned disagreement, where people routinely write things like "-1 because this won't compile" instead of thrusting their thumbs down for no reason anyone can guess. Jul 14, 2009 at 12:13
  • @Steven 1) I think that introducing that many hoops to jump through will discourage voting, since it is currently a fairly painless process. I don't think the problem is big enough to warrant that kind of obnoxiousness. 2) You aren't really making a point here, but re-stating your original proposal. My objections as outlined still stand. Sometimes things will happen that bother you and that you can't make sense of. No system can be devised that will prevent that. But the system we already have does a better job as it is, IMHO, than it would with your proposed changes. Jul 14, 2009 at 12:57

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