First off, I get that we should all post the most helpful things for the future sites, and not just what will generate the most rep. But we want the rep system to actively re-inforce that good behavior.

@Robert C's question here is focused on the "Meh" vote, and whether it's being abused, as well as whether we should implement a "Meh" penalty.

But the real problem isn't with "Meh". It's with getting people to want to post good, edge-testing, "off-topic" questions:

The combination of limiting both the questions one can submit and the number of "off-topic" votes that others can cast, while leaving the "meh" votes ~unlimited disincentivises posting good, boundary-defining "off topic" questions.

If you happen to nail it (and it's a lot harder to "nail" the off-topic - by definition, you're aiming for that contentious realm where some people do want them included), you might get one of someone's precious "off-topic" votes. But you're a lot more likely to get "Meh" votes from folks who do want that borderline topic included. Or who think it obviously shouldn't be. Or who are trying to get to 300 votes. Or who think a later, but similar example better exemplifies the idea for that boundary definition.

Plus, you've got to use some of your 5 total questions for a given proposal, instead of using them for an obviously on-topic question, which is way more likely to get upvotes, and almost certainly won't get downvotes.

How to Fix it:

Maybe the Meh vote should carry a penalty, as @Robert C. suggested. But more importantly, what the votes mean should be clarified:

  • Great Question - clearly on-topic and exemplifies everything the site is about.
  • Tough Call - this replaces "off-topic". It represents the questions that would likely get asked but are near the line. They may be just subjective enough to be closed, or just helpful enough to allow it. But they are not:
  • Terrible Suggestion - this is the "new Meh", and should be used for questions that are ridiculous, contentious, exact dupes, etc.

The fundamental change is that borderline questions would be encouraged, even though you can't be sure if they're just before or just past "the line".

Note that I think we should address similar borderline questions, ("What should I feed my Dalmation?" vs. "what shoud I feed my Husky?") by encouraging people to submit and vote for questions with a specific example clearly representing numerous "type" cases: "What should I feed my [African Parrot]? (Thanks to @The Cat for improvement here.)

And it can all be done without a huge change to the current system.


  • 3
    I agree - nailing those off-topic questions can be hard! It's difficult to pick those edge cases where it's just slightly outside of the purview of the site. Jun 5, 2010 at 16:44
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    I've posted only off-topic questions (we are talking Area51, right) - it's fun to try and think of wording that has something to do with the site, but still obviously off-topic. So - does this mean I'm irrational? Inquiring minds want to know.
    – John C
    Jun 5, 2010 at 19:22
  • @John C, no, you're not irrational at all; you're just more motivated by helping the process or a challenge than you are by rep, as you should be. I just think it would be optimal if the rep reinforced that behavior in everyone...
    – Jaydles
    Jun 5, 2010 at 19:31
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    @John C: I think jaydles is using 'rational' in the game theory sense, where the game is only to accumulate reputation. From that perspective, yes, you are an irrational agent! However, you're making decisions for a different set of reasons ('fun'), and the payoff for you is not rep-based, so from your perspective your postings are perfectly rational. Jun 5, 2010 at 20:03
  • Hm, maybe I should have put a smiley at the end - I certainly didn't take the OP as applying to me, it was just a joke. :) Besides, from a purely game-theoretic stance, if you get more points from "good off-topic" votes than you lose from downvotes, it's a net win, so it's a rational move.
    – John C
    Jun 5, 2010 at 22:39

3 Answers 3


I have posted several off-topic questions, but only just barely so (hopefully). I've tried not to skew results by voting myself or announcing my predilection in comments.

I've been surprised by voting on two of those, but that was before the reset.

Your system has merit, though, since I've seen the same tendency. But, if people are voting Meh for borderline on-/off-topic questions, they're doing it wrong.

However, we should be asking concrete examples. That's why they are examples! Use [brackets] or a comment to indicate how you think the question could be generalized or categorized.

In other words:

What should I feed my [husky]?   good
What should I feed my [breed]?   bad

  • You're doing the exact right thing. I just think we'd want to incentivise that behavior...
    – Jaydles
    Jun 5, 2010 at 16:44
  • @jaydles: There already is incentive: you get rep for either "yes" or "no" votes. For example, my nude subject question got a lot of votes (before the reset) precisely because I tried to make it borderline (check out the comments for "contrast against" questions).
    – Gnome
    Jun 5, 2010 at 17:06
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    @cat, I know there's an incentive for nailing the just over the line off topic question. But given how much easier it is to nail on-topic, and the fact that those have almost no risk of a meh, the rep system would seem to discourage folks from using many of their 5 questions on the higher-risk, off-topic questions.
    – Jaydles
    Jun 5, 2010 at 17:40
  • @jaydles: I see the distinction you're making there, but I don't vote "yes" for obviously on-topic questions either. (Perhaps this is a failing of how the system is currently structured.)
    – Gnome
    Jun 5, 2010 at 20:06
  • @Cat, interesting. I do vote yes for the obviously perfect ones. If we're trying to define "the list" that visitors will find, I'm thinking we're gunning for the very best, perfectest good ones, but the just-slightly-too-wrong-to-make-the-cut-bad-ones, since those two sets would seem to define the boundaries?
    – Jaydles
    Jun 5, 2010 at 20:17
  • Because I only have 5 "belongs on the site" votes, I want to make them "count more" by voting on edge cases. This clearly show a failing of the current structure, after thinking about it since my last comment. @jay
    – Gnome
    Jun 5, 2010 at 20:21

The point of NaGE

First off: 'Meh' votes don't delete anything, so if your question does actually add something it'll stick around in some form.

More importantly though, if you're gonna penalize the use of NaGE/Meh votes, then they won't get used much. That's already evident from the (lack of) down-voting on existing S[OFU] sites.

So then, ya gotta ask: what's the point? If folks are only gonna down-vote 'Meh'-vote the very worst questions, why bother with a separate vote that keeps those questions them around at all - why not just go back to the "delete" votes that were present prior to the current change... or encourage the use of "flag" votes to do the same?

General voting disappointments

Look, I understand the frustration with the new voting system. It's a shock, going from the previous setup where a decent question could conceivably reach "Off-topic/On-topic" status in a few hours to the current system where most questions will never see a significant number of votes apart from 'meh'. Personally, I think it's deeply flawed, but then again I don't pretend to understand the underlying goals for this "stage" (if indeed there are any concrete goals at this point beyond "see what sticks").

But assuming there is an actual problem, that is to say an unintended consequence of this change, a plethora of 'meh' votes isn't it. Whatever other goals were or were not a part of this voting system, encouraging people to vote on stuff they don't think is useful was most certainly explicitly intended... and so far as I can tell, it's working as designed.

An unnatural progression

Something else that might be skewing our perception here: because of the reset, many (if not most) of the people voting are re-ranking sets of questions (often quite large sets) that they've already ranked or at least read. Looking across the "food/cooking" proposal, I see a lot of early questions that were ranked high a day ago now ignored or 'meh'-voted as voters trickle in to re-apply their (now-meager) votes. I suspect this will be different for new proposals, where questions will be voted on as they're posted - perhaps with some votes retracted and re-applied as better questions appear.

A rose by any other name still has thorns

The rest of your suggestion is just yet another terminology change. I don't really have an opinion on that one way or the other; I suspect no matter what you call them, some folks won't get it.

  • Well, meh votes do remove rep from the questioner. And I think the terminology change is really not just semantics, it's an intent change suggestion, intended to help drive more off-topic question suggestions (the hardest part of this phase, I think). I'd suggest that a lot of the "Meh" votes now are for attempts at good, borderline cases that someone deemed too good (on-topic, but not exemplary) or too bad (way off topic).
    – Jaydles
    Jun 5, 2010 at 18:14
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    @jaydles: yes, but like all the other sites, the rep removed is less than the rep gained for an up-vote: it takes three people to 'meh'-vote you to overcome the rep gain of a single OfT/OnT vote. Looking at your profile though, I wonder if you (and Kyle, who commented on the rep hit elsewhere here) aren't overemphasizing it simply because you got grandfathered in: as early-adopters, you both have significantly more than 5 questions posted to some proposals... and naturally some of these are superfluous, effectively duplicating each other and/or other users' questions.
    – Shog9
    Jun 5, 2010 at 18:31
  • My last several months on SO have seen twice as many downvotes as upvotes, but yes, I see that trend in general -- and my trend didn't start that way until I was at least ~8k, which is rather high.
    – Gnome
    Jun 5, 2010 at 18:41
  • it's always wise to try to see if someone's opinion is more relevant to their personal situation than the system's. :) But I don't think I have much of a personal interest - I don't have many "off-topic" proposals, despite being grandfathered into having more questions on some proposals, as you point out. And net, they've helped me. And if they weren't, and I were that obsessive, I could always delete them now. I just think the "off-topics" are the tricky, debatable ones, and we should be encouraging more submissions.
    – Jaydles
    Jun 5, 2010 at 18:51
  • @jaydles: right, I'm not saying you're actually worried about your rep - you're obviously doing quite well in that area. More that you're more inclined to notice NaGE votes simply because you have a larger sample than the majority of users. But I thought of something else as well, see my edit...
    – Shog9
    Jun 5, 2010 at 20:02

The obstacles to posting off-topic questions are irrational ones: people don't feel good about them. There are nice, rational incentives for them: proposals need them to move to the commit stage, and if there are not so many off-topic questions, its easier to earn reputation from them, because there is less competition from the limited number of votes participants have.

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