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At the expense of becoming public enemy number one, I have decided to post a grumpy post. (It was rather grumpy when I first posted it, I hope it reads better now.)

This is hardly a new call to action, but the last time we had a meta discussion on this topic was quite long ago.

Overview

Votes are the primary mechanism by which the quality of questions and answers are established. Every day, we have 40 votes to use. However, even the most prolific of voters on here barely use one-fifth of their available daily votes (SEDE query).1,2

Downvotes

I feel that, in general, we give out too many upvotes and too few downvotes.3 One can also see this in the query results. (I must say that I am not sure if the results include votes on deleted posts. If it does not, then I would expect the up/down ratio to be severely skewed towards upvotes, as it is right now.)

However, that is not my impression of the front page. A lot of things that arguably deserve downvotes get passed over and ignored, hovering around a neutral score of 0.4 Closing a question, or deleting an answer, often takes several hours since we do not have a lot of people here. Downvotes would help to clearly signify that such questions are not welcome here.

I hope that we do not refrain from downvoting merely because we are afraid of hurting somebody's feelings. Downvotes are not something that you or I should be ashamed of, especially if the content is objectively bad. Examples include: entirely wrong answers; one-liner or otherwise poorly substantiated answers; zero-effort HW questions. I would also like to point out that downvoting questions costs no rep and downvoting answers that eventually get deleted also costs no rep.

I have removed the paragraph that used to be here, because I do not want to specify or dictate what should or should not be downvoted. That is something that everybody has to decide individually. However, the point still remains: we as a community need to judge post quality more.

But downvotes are rude and not nice!

If you feel that a question has potential room for improvement, then please leave a comment saying whatever you feel is relevant. It doesn't have to be a really long essay, even a short comment gives people some feedback and sometimes it does lead to the question being improved via editing. This meta post may help as well.

Upvotes

With that said, not all content is bad. Every day I also see good questions that only reach a max of +2 or so. Please do upvote good questions by new users (there are many of them). As a bonus, it also motivates us to write good answers to them. Here's an example of a good question.

I think that, as a first rule of thumb, if you could envision a question receiving a good answer, then it is worth upvoting. Of course it is more nuanced than that, but I feel that that is a good starting point. And if a question already has a good answer that you upvoted, do upvote the question as well! If you think the question can be further improved, edit it! Our entire purpose is to create and curate good, quality content. I know I ranted about downvotes signifying bad content, but we also need upvotes to signify good content, and not only on high-rep users' questions/answers.


Footnotes

1 For those who don't understand the SEDE syntax (like me before this afternoon), this query lists the top 100 Chem.SE users by their votes per day. Only users who 1) were active in the last 30 days, and 2) have 100 or more total votes, are counted. This is to get rid of outliers, for example, someone who registered yesterday and voted 5 times.

2 I know that this is an inherently flawed query. It does not account for periods of time where people are away from the site, amongst other factors, and I wanted to try to construct a query for votes in the last 30 days, and I'm sure that would show higher voting rates, but I believe SEDE doesn't allow me to pull vote times, so this is the best I can do.

3 I am not trying to call out any particular user or their voting pattern, so please do not take it that way. I am glad that there is lots of content that we upvote, but we just shouldn't ignore the rest.

4 Some even inexplicably get upvotes.

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    $\begingroup$ I promised myself many times to vote more frequently, but each and every time I had forgotten about this promise to myself so quickly, that I seriously want SE developers to consider some non-intrusive mechanism of reminding users about not using their 40 daily votes (at least if a user does not do so for some period of time) until it becomes a habit... $\endgroup$ – Wildcat Oct 2 '16 at 11:29
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    $\begingroup$ Couple o' things. I'm one of those shameful "prolific" editors. These days I don't get around to spend my votes, but usually, when I feel like it, and when you see random old posts getting upvotes, that's prolly me. Nowadays I just hastily find a couple of highly voted posts for the day and read them and add my vote. I also usually don't downvote homework dumps and questions likely to be deleted. Or you'd see an artificially skewed number there. I make my stings count. #DOWNVOTE_ALL_TEH_THINGS $\endgroup$ – M.A.R. Oct 2 '16 at 16:29
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    $\begingroup$ Maybe you can modify the SEDE query to count votes divided by days active? I don’t know if it’s possible to modify the query accordingly, but for example I have really long periods of zero votes and if they are subtracted I should come out at something like ten to twenty votes a day. $\endgroup$ – Jan Oct 2 '16 at 20:51
  • $\begingroup$ Hm, considering the information of which days you were online is not public, it probably can’t get accessed with the data query either (see the argument in your footnote 2). $\endgroup$ – Jan Oct 3 '16 at 0:37
  • $\begingroup$ I am sure all of us, especially the regulars, vote much more than the query suggests. When I first started, I was also much less active than I am now. Oh well... I am not very knowledgeable about the syntax (I just read the tutorial yesterday after all!) Maybe someone else can find a way around it. $\endgroup$ – orthocresol Oct 3 '16 at 5:35
  • $\begingroup$ Anyway, it is probably not so important to see exactly how much everybody is voting. I don't wish this to be a directed complaint, like "hey I vote a lot and you guys are lousy because you don't". I just find that this is something that as a community we can do better (and that includes myself as well. I have only used my 40 daily votes once in my time here and that was in a special effort to get the badge). $\endgroup$ – orthocresol Oct 3 '16 at 5:39
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    $\begingroup$ My personal observation is that a really good question gets the necessary attention and eventually a good answer(s). Does upvoting a question/answer 1000 times make it any better? A good question and answer contain a useful bit of knowledge for everybody to see. That's all that really matters. $\endgroup$ – vapid Oct 3 '16 at 9:32
  • $\begingroup$ @vapid If we do not vote, then how does one tell whether a question/answer is good or bad? Sure, you or I may know how to tell what is good and what is bad, by virtue of your experience in the field, without having to rely on the score to tell you. But there are also a lot of things I do not know about and cannot judge myself. There are people out there who have not been chemists for years and do not know enough to judge quality by themselves. The voting system is there for a reason. I am just asking people to please use it for that very reason. $\endgroup$ – orthocresol Oct 3 '16 at 9:57
  • $\begingroup$ @orthocresol You are right, but I think it already works the way that you are saying. Most questions only get one answer. An average good answer to a decent question (~20-30 views) gets something like 3 to 5 upvotes, and a crummy answer gets 3 downvotes, more or less. Isn't it sufficient to discern between a good or poor answer? Do you need dozens of votes to make up you mind? $\endgroup$ – vapid Oct 3 '16 at 11:28
  • $\begingroup$ Public Enemy? No @orthocresol this only makes us respect you more! $\endgroup$ – Pritt says Reinstate Monica Jun 6 '17 at 12:09
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As a longtime sporadic SE lurker, it didn't even occur to me that voting could affect the page until I read this post.

Seriously. I've been on the Stack Exchanges for a little over 3 years now, and I have always viewed it as asking questions and writing answers. The upvotes/downvotes just came as part of doing a good/crappy job on those activities. Of course, now that I think about it, it makes perfect sense that voting on questions/answers is another way to participate---it just never struck me as such before.

So I guess one question is how can we impress on new users (and I suppose existing ones) that voting is also a form of contribution to the exchange?

(As a side note, I also never realized that downvoting questions costs no rep. If you'll forgive me, I'm going to go on a spree later this week...)

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    $\begingroup$ Ah yes, the hidden features of Stack Exchange … buried deep within the help center and other resources … Take my upvote ;) $\endgroup$ – Jan Oct 11 '16 at 19:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Jan eh, I never claimed that I'm a good SE lurker :P Really though, I think I formed that impression after I downvoted an answer and lost the corresponding rep. I probably just never thought to check if it was the same for questions. $\endgroup$ – chipbuster Oct 11 '16 at 20:26
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I personally try to avoid downvoting new users. In addition, I think the reputation that is needed for some "privileges" are somewhat silly. I personally dislike the fact that you need a certain reputation to comment. I understand that there is chat, but I would prefer to take my time and reply to the asker/answerer instead of setting aside who knows how much time for the chat. Unfortunately, most questions come from new users. Unless it is clear that the new user is just here for homework questions, I do not downvote. I try not to downvote unless the user has more than 100 of reputation. Sort of like a grace period to get used to the website.

The problem with helpful comments is that they aren't anonymous. Maybe we could implement an anonymous comment system?

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    $\begingroup$ While answers are monitored for spam and rudeness, comments are not. Therefore the restriction to post comments is necessary to avoid an influx of spam. Our community is small so we don't have to deal with that a lot, but for others it would be a huge problem. Some sites are unable to clear their review queues as it is, adding another task would further slow things down. For the same reason I would say anonymous comments are a very bad idea. $\endgroup$ – Martin - マーチン Oct 14 '16 at 19:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Martin-マーチン Interesting point. But we have a flagging system for comments. Couldn't we have some sort of rule for comments as well? We could enforce a rule that prevents users to comment if they have more than x flagged comments in the previous y days. $\endgroup$ – CoffeeIsLife Oct 15 '16 at 9:02
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    $\begingroup$ I really do not understand how that would prevent any influx of spam. If you are able to comment anonymously then certainly that would not work at all. Additionally, if you have x comments in y days you most likely have this really ridiculously small amount necessary to comment everywhere already. Also there are already threads that create more comments than there is value to the post itself, this would become more horrible than it already is. Comments are for critique and clarification; a post should be edited accordingly and the comment should be removed. $\endgroup$ – Martin - マーチン Oct 15 '16 at 9:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Martin-マーチン I am simply throwing it out as an idea, maybe someone else can come up with another solution for participation. Also, I would expect that moderators would have access to who is posting the comments. Not the normal user. Furthermore, I did not know that spam was such a serious issue. Although I do not spend that much time in stackexchange pages, I have no memory of a post having "spam" during the four years that I have been here. Of course, maybe what you consider spam is different. $\endgroup$ – CoffeeIsLife Oct 15 '16 at 10:48
  • $\begingroup$ I took a look at the twenty most recent questions and they do not seem to have a comment problem in my opinion. Maybe you could post some examples? $\endgroup$ – CoffeeIsLife Oct 15 '16 at 10:49
  • $\begingroup$ Nevertheless, my main point is this. I am ok with the status quo. I agree that there is more need for participation. BUT some of the stack exchange sites are becoming too critical in my opinion... They drive users away and then wonder why there isn't enough participation. It is easier to have votes, reviews, etc when there are more people. $\endgroup$ – CoffeeIsLife Oct 15 '16 at 10:57
  • $\begingroup$ That you don't see any spam here is proof that the system works. In general spam-flagged posts will be removed within a few minutes. Once you have 10k reputation you will see any posts that have been deleted, you might notice that the popular posts have quite a bit of spam. This is the reason why some questions have to be protected; i.e raising the reputation limit to answer. Dealing with comments is a whole different can of worms. They just clutter the site. I can't give you many details here because even those are deleted now. I find comments very distracting, but they are necessary evil. $\endgroup$ – Martin - マーチン Oct 15 '16 at 11:03
  • $\begingroup$ @Martin-マーチン I see. Thank you for the enlightening discussion. $\endgroup$ – CoffeeIsLife Oct 15 '16 at 11:12
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Downvoting is a thing which often misused.

You have to realize that a lot of persons have no idea what they are doing. Even some of the successful ones are lacking in certain areas. The reason they are succeeding is that there are very few people out there who do know what they are doing (in all areas), meaning there is essentially no competition. You get the picture. So sometimes, downvoting is just mean of protection "my" territory from invaders. The more unsafe person feels about his high status, more aggressive he protects his territory.

Lets look on that from a different angle. Example from my practice. I am an experienced software developer. The last thing I questioned in my domain of expertise was "eval" function. It was a very good question of expert level. Concept "eval" is just like concept "downvoting", it is considered to be bad practice to use in the most cases. Most participant of that branch just reacted on the keyword "eval" downvoting it, same as jellyfish reacts on light, didn't even try to understand how valuable my question was. That's how most software developers are learned to act in their professional life, simple condition -> simple reaction. Not too intelligent behavior.

Another side of the problem. We have to admit that for many people downvoting is just a way for self-affirmation and negative emotions sink. Everybody experience in his/her life negative emotions time to time. It's the fact. People who cant find the healthy output for their negative emotions, for example, sport, use the Internet for the purpose. And a level of intelligence does not matter in this case.

I explained 3 reasons why downvoting is often misused. I believe open-minded community ( if it is so ) should protect their newcomers from negative emotion and passive aggressiveness of residents and downvote only if question violates the rules abruptly. If you think a question is stupid, please, pass on. If you think you are too intelligent to answer so trivial question, please, leave it. Let others give an answer.

Don't expect new users to know all the rules — they don't. And be patient while they learn. If you're here for help, make it as easy as possible for others to help you. Everyone here is volunteering, and no one responds well to demands for help.

In gamification theory, the first emotions user experience entering into a system determine a lot. It is the most important moment of user engagement. Single downvote could kill newcomer's internal desire to ask questions here for the lifetime. Did you get my point?

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    $\begingroup$ I agree that downvotes can be misused. The entire voting system, with its anonymity, does not require any individual person to justify their downvotes. However, I would like to point out: 1) I am not calling for people to downvote illogically. I would like to believe most people exercise their voting rights within reason. 2) Right now, the fact that there are so few voters, means that a question score of +0/-1 makes it look like the entire community does not like a question. I want that to change. [...] $\endgroup$ – orthocresol Oct 2 '16 at 12:57
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    $\begingroup$ [...] A vote score of -1 should not mean anything, because it is just one person, and that one person can downvote anything he likes. I want question scores to be representative of what the entire community thinks of it, not what a single, perhaps illogical, person thinks of it. And if our entire community is so stuck up, insecure, and only uses questions as a punching bag, then I don't blame you if you leave. (For what it's worth, I saw your question on Chem.SE, and I don't think it deserves the -1, but what can I do? I don't have control over someone else's downvote button.) $\endgroup$ – orthocresol Oct 2 '16 at 12:59
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    $\begingroup$ We have a bunch of misunderstandings here. Downvotes are on the content we provide, not on us. Everyone gets downvotes. I do. You do. Ortho does. It's ideally because someone didn't deem the content we contributed as high quality. There are other reasons, one of which, and a really minor one, being spite. Sadly, sometimes people take downvotes way more seriously than they should. That said, we should be somehow discouraging you, from rashly asking. SE should be a last resort. You should always try Google, textbooks, and Q/A sites first. $\endgroup$ – M.A.R. Oct 2 '16 at 16:02
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    $\begingroup$ The second misunderstanding is that if a downvote is quick it must be rash. That's not true. You're just devaluing valuable feedback from someone who's been doing this a lot. When I see a badly formatted homework question and I vote it down 30 seconds of it being posted, I know what I'm doing perfectly. The third misunderstanding is that we downvote because you're lowly and we're chemistry Gods. That's just not true! I'm not even a chemist. That doesn't stop me from voicing my opinion on questions, and that doesn't mean I want to feel superior. I'm just rating content. $\endgroup$ – M.A.R. Oct 2 '16 at 16:10
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    $\begingroup$ The final misunderstanding is that downvotes are misused. They're the most effective ways of helping moderate the site, and that's not what I assert, but what data has proven. Over and over and over. $\endgroup$ – M.A.R. Oct 2 '16 at 16:12

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