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This is tangentially addressed here, but it seems to me that allowing the down vote of a question only serves to discourage the asking of questions.

It was the recent asking of this question (and the one down vote it received when I encountered it) that got me thinking about this.

Most often, I have interpreted the down votes on questions to mean "I don't like this question", though I realize the idea is supposed to be that the question isn't particularly useful. The problem is, what might be especially useful to one person, might seem like a "dumb" question to another person.

We have mechanisms for editing, clarifying, and closing questions. So, at least to me, the option to down vote a question does nothing more than discourage the questioner.

What am I missing?

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    We do want to discourage the asking of bad, low effort questions. Apr 24 at 3:51
  • @curiousdannii I disagree. We should encourage all questions. Then use the mechanisms that are in place for editing, clarifying, and, if necessary, closing. What is your definition of a "bad" or "low-effort" question? If someone has a question, any question, why isn't that a legit question for them? In addition, with this being a site accessible internationally, sometimes language barriers or errors in translation are perceived as "bad, low effort" questions, when the are in fact actual questions that posters want the answer to. ..and thanks for the down vote...I see what you did there.
    – moscafj
    Apr 24 at 10:18
  • 2
    A low effort, bad quality question looks like “How grapes? When is?”
    – Preston
    Apr 26 at 21:13
  • @Preston...maybe....but then the question could be asked to be clarified, and if not, closed, eliminating the need to discourage the questioner with a down vote. You probably know that many legit questions get down votes, so it is not only the incomplete ones. I hope you see my point.
    – moscafj
    Apr 26 at 22:40
  • How do you tell the difference between a question nobody thinks is good, and a question that people think are bad? How do you tell the difference between a question that is kinda okay and a question that is controversial? How do you allow the system to know what good posts look like, and which users should be considered high-risk for low quality, without a means of pointing out bad posts?
    – Nij
    May 8 at 10:52
  • @Nij....The questions you raise are valid, but my point is that the answers to your questions are too subjective. We have mechanisms for dealing with questions without down voting (which can discourage participation). Those mechanisms are asking for clarification, editing, and closing the question. They all serve the purpose of ensuring that questions are appropriate for the site, and structured appropriately. If an aim of StackExchange is to encourage participation, I am suggesting that down voting questions does the opposite.
    – moscafj
    May 8 at 11:19
  • Honest question: a bit curious why the question implied that closing a question is not discouraging since the usual complaints were generally about both downvotes and close votes.
    – Andrew T.
    May 10 at 6:12
  • @AndrewT there are specified criteria for closing questions, and the questioner can be asked to clarify first or be directed to the help page to learn what kinds of questions are acceptable. We also work to eliminate duplicate questions. I'm not reacting to complaints, rather, I often see good questions, misinterpreted questions, and questions asked by speakers of languages other than English down voted. I would prefer to see more people participating. The fact that an earlier reader of this question down voted it makes my point (though I've been around here long enough not to be put off).
    – moscafj
    May 10 at 10:23

1 Answer 1

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As for the history of the option: it has been around since the inception of the network, and a major cornerstone of the SE philosophy. In fact, I believe there is an old blog post where Jeff Atwood announces that he made downvoting of questions cheaper in rep for the downvoter, since the feature is used too seldom.

The reasoning behind it: it is done in order to make it easier to distinguish between good and bad questions. The most direct positive effect is on the "silent readers", which is the millions of people who read sites on the network without ever making a post or a comment. (That's the demographic whose interests are given preference in SE network design). Sorting by score is an important way for them to get quicker to more informative pages. Also, negative scores are a very good information source that enables not only sorting, but also automated cleanup*.

As for the more active community members, they also enjoy the advantages provided to the readers (sorting, less garbage on the front page, etc.), but are also given an important tool to actively communicate their opinion on what kind of question they don't want to see. This is even more important than upvotes, especially when one notices how rarely a downvote is given.

And lastly, for the asker, it is a very strong incentive to discourage the asking of similar questions. While every site has a handful of people who persistently ask questions which get regular downvotes, most people are sensitive to negative feedback and react to it by either learning more about the rules of the site, or by refraining from posting.

And yes, I am aware that some people find the principle unfriendly. This is seen as an unavoidable side effect of the network's main goal, which is to provide strongly curated content. We are an environment which provides content very selectively, and where there is selection, there is also rejection. The founders saw this as entirely appropriate for a professional, content-oriented resource which actively deemphasizes the social nature of other formats such as discussion forums.


* I am aware of the irony of this very question having fallen victim to unwanted automated cleanup. Sadly, it does have side effects.

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  • While I appreciate the history, the question is raised in the spirit of encouraging, rather than discouraging participation. The obvious problem is the subjectivity of "good" vs. "bad" questions. I would very much like to see some debate on why the mechanisms for claifying, editing, and closing questions are not sufficient means to achieve the goals listed in your "reasoning" above. ...and thank you for locating and reopening the question.
    – moscafj
    May 14 at 17:52

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