I have seen the pattern many times and it always gives me a sad face. It goes like

The Problem

  1. Peter puts up an answer
  2. Anonymous downvotes Peter's answer, without commenting
  3. Peter asks "@downvoter, can you please comment?"

If Anonymous comments and gives reason for his downvote, everyone knows he downvoted. Since downvotes have (unfortunately) some sort of negative emotion attached, Anonymous fears for his reputation within the community.

The solution

I think that the major reason people not comment on downvotes is because they will be known as "The downvoter". We can rid of this problem by showing the name of the downvoters. Being known already as the downvoter, the downvoter is much more likely and from what I can see even wants to give reason of why he downvoted.

Everyone is pleased to know the reason of a downvote, so this will do everyone a favor. But there might still be some people who are too afraid of this. In such a case, I think those people should pay the absence of their name being shown with reputation points. For people that make their name known as one of the downvoters, I think we should not or should take significantly less rep from them. So Anonymous has two alternatives:

Alternative 1:

  1. Anonymous decides to downvote and to make his name public
    • He won't pay any rep, and will be urged to explain his comment
  2. Peter will be pleased to know why he was downvoted.

Alternative 2:

  1. Anonymous decides to downvote and not make his name public
    • He will pay a downvote fee (-2, -5 ?).
  2. Peter won't be pleased, but Anonymous had to pay price for this.
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    There is another reason why people may not want to comment on their down-vote - retaliation. I have been victim on more than 1 occasion of being down-voted back in retaliation and even one case where a 40k user went through my entire answer backlog and down-voted each accepted answer I had with 0 votes. – chibacity Jan 22 '11 at 17:13
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    @chibacity then the guy doing retaliation will have to pay downvote fee for not making his name public (and we can request more fee than we do currently). If his name is shown, but he doesn't give a reason for dowvoting, he will be blamed for a downvote not called for, which is bad for his community reputation. Even worse than the -1 being displayed next to his post caused by your downvote, I would think. – Johannes Schaub - litb Jan 22 '11 at 17:19
  • @Johannes I hardly think a 40k user is going to care about losing a little rep if what they are doing is being vindictive. – chibacity Jan 22 '11 at 17:23
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    @chibacity this is what we currently have already, so the proposal wouldn't change anything to the worse. It would change it slightly to the good by requesting him to pay a bit more. That said, you have a point here. Retaliation is some difficult thing to solve, but it depends on how common it is. It appears the majority of uncommented downvotes shouldn't be caused by retaliation. – Johannes Schaub - litb Jan 22 '11 at 17:28
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    @Johannes Retaliation is not entirely rare if someone suspects you have down-voted them. Usually it is kept within a question though. – chibacity Jan 22 '11 at 17:31
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    @chibacity Retaliation is childish and nobody should do it. I don't do it. I think the long term solution is to bite the bullet and comment. – bobobobo Jan 22 '11 at 18:10
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    While I don't really see this as a real problem, your "alternatives" are some of the more realistic I've seen suggested here. – C. Ross Jan 22 '11 at 18:11
  • @bobobobo I agree that retaliation is immature, but unfortunately that observation does not stop it from happening. However, having thought about it, I would be more inclined to report it for moderation in the future. – chibacity Jan 22 '11 at 18:11
  • @chi the pattern voting detector legendarily unwinds such behavior, and the team seems more than prepared to fix exceptions. – Rosinante Jan 22 '11 at 18:19
  • @ros Sadly on the occasion I'm thinking of the down-votes were not unwound. I'll bear your point in mind if it happens again. Thanks. – chibacity Jan 22 '11 at 18:47
  • @Johannes why not just force users to leave a comment when downvoting, and let them choose if that comment is anonymous or not, but I think the current points sacrifice for downvotes is good. Downvoting without leaving a comment is rubbish in my opinion. People need feedback so they know why their answers are bad/incorrect/etc. and do not make the same mistake next time they post an answer. – ubiquibacon Jan 22 '11 at 20:50
  • Is down vote really useful in a crowded community like this one? – user150926 Jan 23 '11 at 9:51
  • @Pierre: See Should downvotes be made... less worthless? – Aarobot Jan 23 '11 at 16:56
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    @Pierre: The current weighting favours posting borderline or mediocre questions/answers for pity upvotes in order to gain rep, so I do think the weight should be higher for large sites like Stack Overflow (not necessarily startup Stack Exchanges). But my opinion hardly matters here; the feature request is an old one and it's up to the team to decide if or when it's worth doing. – Aarobot Jan 23 '11 at 17:51

There is no such thing as the 'uncommented downvote' problem. There is no problem with uncommented downvotes. There is no requirement to comment. There is no purpose in particularly encouraging commenting with votes. Crowd-sourcing means trusting the judgement of the crowd. The net vote ends up where it ends up, and the individual votes just aren't very important. The 'pity upvote' effect, in any case, has turned out to mean that the occasional downvote is the best rep thing that can happen to the average producer of mediocre content. No downvote- net vote 0, net rep 0. One downvote followed by pity upvote: net vote 0, net rep ...

To address some comments:

In the immortal words of Tom Lehrer: "The problem with folk music is that it's written by the people."

Voting is crowd sourcing. By definition, a crowd includes your crazy uncle Joel Earl and the professor from down the street. It works because, on the whole, it adds up to something sensible. Expecting individual votes to make sense is unrealistic. Expecting that every single downvote will come with an explanation is unrealistic. If you get an unexplained downvote, you shrug your shoulders and go on. If your post was a good one, someone else will wander along and upvote it. You Will Get Downvotes. If, contra Jeff's answer, the sites demanded an explanation, plenty of the explanations would be aligned with the 'tinfoil hat' crowd, and wouldn't make any difference to what you post. If you believe that many really good posts are languishing in negative numbers, go set an example and vote them up, and others will follow the example and vote for yours.

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    Apart from (indeed) there not being a requirement: note that upon one's first downvote, one is actually reminded about the possibility to comment. Hence, people know they can comment; not doing so is indeed their own choice. – Arjan Jan 22 '11 at 17:31
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    +8. Visit math.stackexchange.com for more math help. – bobobobo Jan 22 '11 at 18:33
  • "There is no purpose in particularly encouraging commenting with votes.". No there isn't. But there is in encouraging votes with commenting. Are you OK with someone downvoting you without commenting? – Johannes Schaub - litb Jan 22 '11 at 18:47
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    I am perfectly OK. It has never bothered me at all. Maybe they don't like my choice of font, or humor, or use of the letter 'e'. It's their privilege to downvote. – Rosinante Jan 22 '11 at 18:49
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    @Rosi, alright. But a lot of others are bothered. – Johannes Schaub - litb Jan 22 '11 at 18:54
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    @Joh somewhere on meta is an answer of mine offering a 'main sequence' of SO users: when they have a little rep, downvotes sting and they complain. Once they get a few thousand, the pain subsides. My megaphone is deployed to encourage people to develop a thick skin as soon as possible. If the team decides that they like your idea, more power to it. – Rosinante Jan 22 '11 at 19:00
  • @bob faking comment upvotes again? – Rosinante Jan 22 '11 at 21:38
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    @Johannes: Being "bothered" by some happenstance does not validate the argument that there is a problem with the system. I'm bothered by frivolous, ill-advised, endlessly-repeated complaints like this one, but that doesn't mean people shouldn't be allowed to post them. – Aarobot Jan 23 '11 at 16:51
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    -1: There is a problem with uncommented downvotes. Reading the SO FAQ, users are at least encouraged, if not required to comment on what specifically is wrong with an answer that prompted the downvote: "Above all, be honest. If you see misinformation, vote it down. Add comments indicating what, specifically, is wrong." from stackoverflow.com/faq – John Dibling Jan 24 '11 at 15:17
  • @Joh the fact that people are encouraged does not, logically, make it a problem if they don't choose to do so. – Rosinante Jan 24 '11 at 16:58
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    @Rosin: fine, then the fact that SO's purpose for being is to disseminate accurate information makes it a problem if people don't explain why they downvote an otherwise apparently correct answer. – John Dibling Jan 24 '11 at 18:36
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    @John: It's possible to be entirely correct without being helpful... What you need to realize is that not everyone is voting for the benefit of the person whose post they're voting on - they may well be voting merely for the benefit of other readers. – Shog9 Jan 25 '11 at 0:10
  • @shog9 or for the benefit of the voices in their head. – Rosinante Jan 25 '11 at 0:35
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    <sigh> Am I really the only one who cares about accuracy of information? – John Dibling Jan 25 '11 at 6:12
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    -1: I don't agree with that: If the crowd disagrees with you, you exactly know why! But here, you don't know anything, why your posting was bad, where the error was, and how you could improve your question/answer. – Marcus Feb 12 '13 at 15:10

Editing out my prior frustration in favor of Shog's eloquent summary:

Oh, it's been debated. It's been debated on SO. It's been debated on the blog. It's been debated on UserVoice, and it's been debated on Meta. Some day, they're gonna break open a hidden tomb somewhere in Egypt and find hieroglyphics on the walls depicting down-voters wearing masks with frustrated chisel marks scrapped across them. It's done been debated!

The whole point of voting is that it is egalitarian and anonymous, just like in a democratic political election.

And just so you know, every downvote by a 2k or lower rep user is presented with this <div>:

please consider adding a comment if you think this post can be improved

(don't worry, no actual post scores were harmed in the making of this post.)

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    Sorry, just curious again: so every downvote until someone gets to 2k triggers this message, or only the first? It's just a detail, but when implemented it said when they cast their first downvote. – Arjan Jan 23 '11 at 10:09
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    I find it very frustrating that the admins of this site seem to not be willing to even consider the idea that they may have been wrong. This site is successful because of the quality of the content found here. That content comes from the users, not the admins. If some of those users think something about this site can and should be improved, the admins should at least enter in to debate on the point, and not simply say "nah, I don't like it, so it will never happen. Contributor opinion be damned." – John Dibling Jan 23 '11 at 16:22
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    @John: Oh, I'm sure they consider it. But this issue has been debated so much and for such a long time. Not to mention that these people are asking for a feature that literally goes against a core principle; it's like those requests asking for all Stack Exchange sites to be merged into one mega-site so we're more like Yahoo Answers. Not gonna happen. – Aarobot Jan 23 '11 at 17:00
  • @Jeff are you considering becoming a fish? – Rosinante Jan 23 '11 at 17:32
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    @Aarobat: AFAIK, it's never really been debated. It's been brought up a bunch of times, to which the admins have always said "I don't like it, so not gonna happen." That's not debate. – John Dibling Jan 24 '11 at 2:50
  • @Aarobat: I thought the core principle of SO was to provide quality information. Anonymous downvoted go directly against that core principle. – John Dibling Jan 24 '11 at 2:51
  • @Jeff: This isnt a political election. Some answers are right, and some answers are wrong. If the downvoters don't explain the reason why the downvote an incorrect answer, the incorrect answer will persist, and often becomes the accepted answer. This happens all the time. When an incorrect answer becomes accepted, this is a fundamental failure of SO. Otherwise, SO is nothing but a rep farm. – John Dibling Jan 24 '11 at 2:54
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    @John: oh, it's been debated. It's been debated on SO. It's been debated on the blog. It's been debated on UserVoice, and it's been debated on Meta. Some day, they're gonna break open a hidden tomb somewhere in Egypt and find hieroglyphics on the walls depicting down-voters wearing masks with frustrated chisel marks scrapped across them. It's done been debated! – Shog9 Jan 25 '11 at 0:04
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    @John -- do you understand how this place works? These aren't volunteer admins of a socialist workers paradise. These are the founders and employees of a (hopefully) profit-making business. They chose the rules based on their judgement call. Sometimes they even listen to us. – Rosinante Jan 25 '11 at 0:36
  • @Ros: Uh, yeah. I understand how this place works. And I understand it could work better. – John Dibling Jan 25 '11 at 6:13
  • @Jeff is meta.stackexchange.com/questions/35347/… a "offtopic" question, as indicated by the close reason? – Johannes Schaub - litb Jan 25 '11 at 11:08
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    @Jeff - Stupid question: Why not make downvote comments anonymous? If the big fear is retaliation from losing the anonymity of a commentless downvote, then simply don't attach a name to the note in the UI. That way, the voter doesn't have to worry about retaliation, and the poster can get the feedback needed to meaningfully improve their posting (or write the person off as part of the TFH crowd, as some cases may be). – Shauna May 17 '11 at 19:32

There is a problem with uncommented downvotes. Here's the problem.

This site is all about information. People ask questions, and other people disseminate information to answer those questions. Some answers are better than others. Especially with programming topics, the quality of the answers are often proportional to the experience of the person giving the answer. Some answers that are easy to understand without the benefit of experience are either incorrect or could be improved.

When a contributor downvotes an answer without explaining why, they are withholding information. If they know that an answer is wrong but don't explain how, then SO disseminates bad or incorrect information. It seems to me this goes directly counter to the purpose of SO: to be a one-stop-shop for quality information.

Downvotes should be explained. I propose the following solution:

Downvotes themselves are still accompanied by a reduction in rep. But all users should be prompted to explain the downvote. the explanation should be in the form of comments. Other users can then vote up these comments, and the downvoter can gain rep by these upvotes.

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    I think this above all describes a problem with pity upvotes. – Arjan Jan 23 '11 at 16:42
  • ↳ this not explaining any downvote, as I did not downvote. – Arjan Jan 23 '11 at 16:49
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    Read the tooltip that shows up when you hover over the downvote button. It says, and I quote, "This answer is unclear or not useful." That is all the "information" that is required. – Aarobot Jan 23 '11 at 17:01
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    One problem of all these proposals (including mine) is that any other downvoter downvoting for the same reason will have to add an identical downvote-comment, which isn't really viable. Maybe the downvote comment should be owned by the "community" user (and visibly marked as downvote-comment, so downvoters can't just put "+1 nice answer" into it), and be internally associated with all the downvoters that choose that downvote comment as their reason. All those associated users would then get their rep back when the comment gets upvoted, in the way you described above. – Johannes Schaub - litb Jan 23 '11 at 17:37

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