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What purpose does downvoting questions serve?

I've been using SO for a while now, and I've noticed that some questions get voted down without people saying why they vote down.

My understanding for when one should vote down, is:

  • The question is offtopic (probably the most common closing reason)
  • The question lacks information
  • The question is subjective and argumentative

Besides these reasons, there seems to be a hundred other reasons why people see the urge to vote down.
The question is, why would someone vote down a question, probably wanting to make future questions better, and not comment on it?

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    An important distinction, were any voted down on MSO? The ecosystem here is a bit different. – jcolebrand Jan 2 '11 at 6:06
  • "In which case commenting on it would still help" and yet they disagree. You can't use technology to force a social change. Sadly. – jcolebrand Jan 2 '11 at 6:31
  • Please edit your question to include links to the posts that were downvoted -- we may be able to give you more direct guidance than simply answering the question posed here. – Jon Seigel Jan 2 '11 at 6:40
  • @Jon Seigel: Actually, I didn't want to include any links, to keep the question objective... – user153773 Jan 2 '11 at 6:57
  • Well, downvotes (and voting in general) is inherently subjective. I understand abstracting the question here (although we could surely say this topic has been covered on Meta before), but I think you'd get better feedback by citing specific examples. – Jon Seigel Jan 2 '11 at 7:13
  • @Jon Seigel: Indeed this topic existed before on MSO, but I guess bringing it on just once again doesn't hurt... – user153773 Jan 2 '11 at 8:26
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    See: What purpose does downvoting questions serve? and Why is down-voting a question important? - and FWIW, I don't down-vote to make future questions better, I down-vote to let other readers know that the post I'm voting on is a waste of their time. – Shog9 Jan 2 '11 at 19:59
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    @nebukadnezzar: -1 You wrote Indeed this topic existed before on MSO, but I guess bringing it on just once again doesn't hurt – user150068 Jan 2 '11 at 21:02
  • @Alejandro True. But it got closed anyway. – user153773 Jan 2 '11 at 21:16

There is no requirement to explain a vote.


Every day, hundreds of truly awful questions arrive on the sites. Some people take the time to downvote them. A very few takewaste the additional time to explain. It's not like it's genetic engineering to tell what makes a good or bad question. Just reading the FAQ and paying some tiny bit of attention to it will pretty nearly guarantee you a positive vote count.

While there are, of course, some drive-by downvotes of innocent questions, there are far more 'pity upvoters' of downvoted questions, however awful. So you really have to work hard to make a question so poor that it ends with a net negative tally.

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  • I forgot to add that I was talking about quite wellformed questions, questions where you can see that the author took the time to write a good question. It's just my opinion, and I always add a comment when I don't agree with a question or an answer. – user153773 Jan 2 '11 at 20:12
  • @nebukadnezzar: so, uh... why are you down-voting good questions? – Shog9 Jan 2 '11 at 20:14
  • @Shog9 What are you talking about? – user153773 Jan 2 '11 at 20:17
  • @nebukadnezzar: you wrote that you were talking about good questions, and that you always add a comment when you down-vote. But by limiting the scope to questions you already like, you're implying that you down-vote questions you don't think are bad. – Shog9 Jan 2 '11 at 20:27
  • @Shog9 I rarely vote down or up, how does this relate to anything? I don't browse SO daily either, so I can hardly decide when a question is 'good' or 'bad' - asking in general is a good thing, IMHO. – user153773 Jan 2 '11 at 20:33
  • @neb: so then what was the point of your first comment on this answer? – Shog9 Jan 2 '11 at 20:35
  • @Shog9 It seemed like @Rosinante was referering to MSO, instead of SO. And I can understand that some questions on MSO tend to be not exactly perfect - it was merely a misunderstanding from my side. – user153773 Jan 2 '11 at 20:37
  • @nebukadnezzar I think Rosinante was indeed referring to SO proper, not Meta. – Pekka Jan 2 '11 at 20:44
  • @Pekka so it was nothing but a misunderstanding. :-) – user153773 Jan 2 '11 at 20:50
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    @nebukadnezzar yeah. And I wholeheartedly agree - there simply is too much bad content coming in for there to be time to leave a comment, especially if there is strong indication that it's going to be useless anyway because the OP doesn't want to learn anything. – Pekka Jan 2 '11 at 20:52
  • @Pekka I see. But I can assure you that I don't ignore comments I receive - but as you said, this seems to count only for a minority of people. – user153773 Jan 2 '11 at 20:57
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    @neb it's SO I'm talking about. As always around here, if you can't link to it, it never happened. If you have a population of good questions that ended up negative, post links. – Rosinante Jan 2 '11 at 21:26
  • @Rosinante See my comments to the original question. The linked question doesn't include links either, and I'm not going to add any. – user153773 Jan 2 '11 at 21:41
  • @nebu: your inability to add to what's already been discussed here is why this was closed as a duplicate. – Shog9 Jan 2 '11 at 23:09
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    @neb mene mene tekel upharsin. – Rosinante Jan 3 '11 at 0:33

An important distinction, were any voted down on MSO? The ecosystem here is a bit different. – drachenstern

drachenstern already said this, but I thought it was important enough to get an answer:

On MetaStackOverflow, sometimes all a downvotes means is "I don't aggree", "I don't think this is a good idea", or even "I don't like you". Conversely, sometimes (On MSO) all an upvote means is "I aggree", "I do think this is a good idea", or even(yes, even this) "I like you".

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  • "I don't like you" and "I like you" seem to be fairly common reasons on SO ;-). Not saying how this affects downvotes or upvotes, but I figure you can imagine what I mean. – user153773 Jan 2 '11 at 20:14
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    @neb: Those are not valid or common reasons anywhere. On Stack Overflow an up/downvote means "this is [not] useful/correct". On Meta it means "I agree/disagree". I seriously doubt "I don't like you" is anywhere near as common as you seem to believe. – Aarobot Jan 2 '11 at 20:51
  • @Aarobot On a second thought, I'll have to agree - I meant to say it's one of many reasons - Sorry for implying. – user153773 Jan 2 '11 at 20:56

There's a lot of petty retaliation here, too. If someone dislikes an answer, they'll go and vote everything a user did down. Sometimes it has nothing to do with a question.

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    The fact that this got voted -2 is a clear indication of "petty retaliation" – thrillscience Jan 2 '11 at 20:07
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    @Thrillsciense I've got to agree with you here - I see no reason either to vote down here. – user153773 Jan 2 '11 at 20:14
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    Petty retaliation? You accuse the entire userbase of vote-abuse, with no proof and in ignorance of the systems and policies in place to restrict such behavior, and the only reason you can think of for being down-voted is that folks hate you for something else you wrote? – Shog9 Jan 2 '11 at 20:34
  • You really need to define "a lot." Yes, it happens, but compared to legitimate downvoting of bad questions we get very few reports of retaliatory downvoting. – Bill the Lizard Jan 2 '11 at 20:43
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    @Shog9 I doubt he meant the whole userbase. – user153773 Jan 2 '11 at 20:51
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    I'm sure there's a little bit of petty retaliation. There are also a lot of terrible answers. This is one of them. – Aarobot Jan 2 '11 at 20:53
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    @thrillscience maybe you want to back your claim up with some actual data. – Pekka Jan 2 '11 at 20:54
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    @neb: fair enough - he only fingered every user who has ever disliked an answer posted by another user. – Shog9 Jan 2 '11 at 20:55
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    @thrillscience: Well, you would know about petty retaliation. You did exactly that with me, after I asked you to clarify what "does not work" meant (not that -40 points matters to me). But that's the only time it happened to me, so your claim that there is "a lot" seems doubtful. – Lennart Regebro Jan 2 '11 at 22:02
  • @Lennart don't worry, those upvotes will be cancelled within 24 hours by the anomaly detection system. If they don't, E-Mail team@stackoverflow.com – Pekka Jan 3 '11 at 0:23
  • @Pekka: Nice to know. (Although as mentioned 40 point here or there is rather irrelevant). – Lennart Regebro Jan 3 '11 at 8:54