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What purpose does downvoting questions serve?

It seems like an off-topic question will get a few negative votes, in addition to eventually being closed. Isn't closing the question punishment enough for the user? Should they really also lose reputation? This seems very discouraging to new users, where every point of reputation is hard-won.

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    Ha, thanks for the negative vote on this question. Very funny. Maybe now it can be deleted! Two now! – Scott McIntyre Jun 1 '11 at 14:57
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    The beatings must never cease; I'd think with a name like "smackfu" you would appreciate that. – user1228 Jun 1 '11 at 15:01
  • I also like how someone has now downvoted it AFTER it was closed as a duplicate. Bravo. – Scott McIntyre Jun 2 '11 at 18:02

If the question doesn't belong (i.e. it gets closed), then the reputation penalty can be removed when the question eventually gets deleted via recalc. So in terms of reputation impact, on new and old users, that's not really an issue.

Negative voting is necessary on questions because it provides signals to both the system and the community. To the community, it helps indicate poor quality questions, and this is an important utility. To the system, it does much the same, but the system capitalizes on this by monitoring users who consistently provide low quality questions.

A user that provides many poor contributions may eventually be prevented from posting further questions. Whether it's because they're consistently posting just plain junk, or if they're posting something that's off-topic every time, it's basically the same signal - they're contributing noise.

Closing isn't used as "punishment" on users. It's administered to the question, on the merits of the question as presented, not on the behavior of the user. As such, closers in the community aren't what's "punishing" the user. It's their own questions that's doing so.

  • What do you mean by "can be removed"? If the negative vote eventually goes away, that satisfies my complaint. – Scott McIntyre Jun 1 '11 at 14:53
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    @smackfu I mean it exactly as it sounds. Deleted posts do not affect your reputation - if you run a reputation recalc to sync your reputation, then it will remove the reputation loss you may have from any negatively voted questions that are deleted. – Grace Note Jun 1 '11 at 14:54
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    @smackfu, they are gone when the question is deleted. Although you probably have to start a rep recalc. – Toon Krijthe Jun 1 '11 at 14:55
  • Thanks, since you said it is not really an issue, I was wondering why it was "can be removed" rather than "will be removed". – Scott McIntyre Jun 1 '11 at 15:00
  • @smackfu I originally said "will be removed", but then I revised it because it's not automatic, and so I didn't want to imply it. Reputation recalcs are triggered by the user by going to /reputation. – Grace Note Jun 1 '11 at 15:02
  • @Grace Note, so if I understand right, it really needs to be deleted as well as closed, so duplicate or moved to another site won't do it. – Scott McIntyre Jun 1 '11 at 15:08
  • @smackfu That's about the whole of it, yes. – Grace Note Jun 1 '11 at 15:09

Yes, they make a lot of sense. Downvoting questions helps to weed out the bad ones, the ones that don't belong on the front page. Remember there's only a limited number of spaces available, both in the physical sense of the site's layout and in the mindshare of our users. Bad questions detract from the other good questions, pushing them off the front page and out of the minds of users who could otherwise provide a quality answer useful to many other people.

Beyond that, your premise is fundamentally flawed: not all bad questions eventually get closed (or deleted), and especially not as "off-topic". There are a number of questions that I simply can't find an applicable close reason for, but I still think are bad questions. In fact, this one is a good example: it's completely on topic, but I don't think it's a very good question. It doesn't show much research effort or thoughtful consideration. So I downvoted it.

Edit: Never mind. I found an applicable close reason: it turns out that this is a duplicate. Doesn't change the fact that I think it deserves to be downvoted, as well. I disagree with the interpretation that the only "bad" question is one that shouldn't have been asked in the first place. There are lots of things to go wrong with questions. If you haven't seen them all, you clearly haven't spent enough time on SO.

  • So you think I shouldn't have asked this question? That is the only reasonable definition for bad question. – Scott McIntyre Jun 1 '11 at 14:58
  • @smackfu: According to whom? Who says that's "the only reasonable definition"? – Cody Gray Jun 1 '11 at 15:00
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    @smackfu It's a bit different on the Meta site. Here, bad questions actually help us because it helps provide perspective. I'm not sure that kind of use is seen all that much on the parent Q&A sites, though. – Grace Note Jun 1 '11 at 15:03
  • @Cody Gray, Well, you want to close/delete it, right? Which makes it like I never asked the question. – Scott McIntyre Jun 1 '11 at 15:03
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    @smackfu I imagine the only reason this would be closed is for being a duplicate, and those we keep and do not delete, generally. They're a bit of an exception. – Grace Note Jun 1 '11 at 15:04
  • @smackfu: No. The original point is that there are plenty of questions that should be neither closed nor deleted (necessarily), but are still bad questions and still deserve to be downvoted. My point was foiled here, because I identified a question that this one is a duplicate of. But the point still remains that not all bad questions should be closed or deleted. That's what downvotes are for: to fill in the gap. – Cody Gray Jun 1 '11 at 15:05
  • @CodyGray, practically speaking, do you see that much on the non-meta sites? Can you think of an example of a bad question that wouldn't be closed as subjective or off-topic or a duplicate? – Scott McIntyre Jun 1 '11 at 15:09
  • @smackfu: I see it all the time. Nothing I'm saying here is really about the Meta sites. I use "Not a Real Question" as a catch-all close reason pretty frequently, but there are still a non-trivial number of questions that I see that I don't think I can legitimately vote to close, but that I honestly think are just bad questions that shouldn't be cluttering up the front page. Here are two examples pulled from the site at right this moment: stackoverflow.com/questions/6203428, and stackoverflow.com/questions/6203362 – Cody Gray Jun 1 '11 at 15:12
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    Maybe those are duplicates, but I'm not really sure. I downvote after reading the question. Only later do I hunt for duplicates, if I even care enough to spend the time. And they're definitely questions. And they're definitely about programming, so they're clearly on-topic. But they're bad. There are at least 5 more in the list of newest questions at any given time, at least with the tags I browse. Your mileage may vary, I suppose, depending on your interests/expertise. – Cody Gray Jun 1 '11 at 15:14

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