Comparing stackoverflow and EL&U I have found that over at stackoverflow more questions remain at -1 compared to EL&U (answers are different).

The point is that for downvoting there is one reason - the question is bad. Usually a person will downvote and explain downvote and after that there is no reason for more people to downvote it.

The asker now has the option to improve the question.

Also, new users might not be able to delete their questions (?) and also get even more frustrated against improving.

It is also easier to look at questions that had a problem (bad questions that had activity).

Finally, if question is really bad, not improving, etc it should be further downvoted.

Let me just mention that this has nothing to do with closing, questions can be closed even without downvoting at all.

Although thinking about improving EL&U is the proper motivation for downvoting a question I think that downvoting more than once, actually, does not have that effect.

Here's a post that triggered the thinking for those interested. Also, this image compares the ratios of question scores:

enter image description here

  • 7
    Questions with enough down votes disappear off the front page.
    – user10893
    Dec 14, 2011 at 21:58
  • 8
    Okay, okay, you got me. I admit I am a sadistic unicorn who just likes maximizing my happiness by punishing the n00bs and downvoting them multiple times. Anyway, it really doesn’t matter if there are questions at all, does it?
    – aedia λ
    Dec 14, 2011 at 22:46
  • @simchona, that's a pity - it would be better if closed questions qould disappera. Btw, is there somewhere a concise presentation on how se sites function, but in such details?
    – Unreason
    Dec 14, 2011 at 22:58
  • @aediaλ, if I read that correctly that post came just around time when million users were reached and, to me it seems it pertains to the sites with many users, clear identity and faq that explains the scope of the site efficiently. I don't think EL&U is there yet.
    – Unreason
    Dec 14, 2011 at 23:18
  • 2
    A new user can delete their own question. Dec 15, 2011 at 10:03
  • There are questions on Stack Overflow that are down-voted more than once.
    – apaderno
    Dec 15, 2011 at 13:22
  • 1
    @kiamlaluno, as is clearly shown on the graph and in Hugo's answer.
    – Unreason
    Dec 15, 2011 at 14:31
  • 1
    Therefore, your assumption that on Stack Overflow, "downvotes normally are kept at -1 for questions" is not true. Maybe you have noticed the questions that receive an automatic down-vote when they are closed.
    – apaderno
    Dec 15, 2011 at 14:38
  • 1
    @kiamlaluno, I am sorry for being imprecise, but you adding to it with a misquote, what you are missing is "...compared to EL&U". Doesn't that change the sense a bit? But, still you are right it is imprecise and I will update it.
    – Unreason
    Dec 15, 2011 at 14:55
  • The phrase as it was sounded like "Normally I drive respecting the speed limit, compared to you." "Are kept at −1" sounds also as if, for every down-vote after the first, there is a user who up-votes the question, which is not what it happens. Anyway, your premise has been shown invalid from the answers.
    – apaderno
    Dec 15, 2011 at 15:23

2 Answers 2


First, about the chart. So EL&U is voting down a bit more than Stack Overflow, but the difference isn't all that much. (I'd be interested to see some stats from other sites too, particularly Programmer.SE and other *&LU.)

A downvote is a kind of flag. If you see a downvoted question, you might want to check it to see if further action is needed (perhaps a vote to close or some helpful comments).

If I think a question "does not shown any research effort; it is unclear or not useful" then it can be downvoted. But I have control over a single vote only.

Others might upvote for whatever reason, whether correct or not. If my downvote takes it to -1, I don't know if two more people will upvote it to +1 and the negative vote "flag" is lost. (Remember the poster still gets a positive net rep for one upvote and a downvote, even if the votes balance out.)

So, before I vote, if a question is already at -2, and I put it to -3, then those two upvotes will only take it to -1.

Additionally, votes are relative. Questions with +14 votes might be better than a +2. Questions with -5 might be a lot worse than -1. There's at least some value in seeing that.

Any spread of up and downvotes are also useful, it can show how controversial a post is.

All this is using the site's tools as a quick and handy way of communicating the relative value of posts.

Edit: Stack Overflow has negative votes down to -55! EL&U has negative votes down to -11, and Programmers down to -14. Here's a chart of all three, showing EL&U isn't so extreme comparison:

chart showing SO, EL&U and Programmers downvotes

Also, percentage of multiple downvotes (against total downvotes):

  • SO: 27%
  • EL&U: 38%
  • Programmers: 48%
  • To see stats use data.stackexchange.com/english/q/121758/… . Also, "not all that much" is a consistent difference in each category (from 18% to 45% for shown categories); furthermore if you compare the ratios of -1 and multiple downvotes on two sites the EL&U has 44% more multiple negatives. I think that it is hard to say that this is not signficant.
    – Unreason
    Dec 14, 2011 at 23:09
  • The rest of your arguments I find unconvincing, with exception of the claim that there is some value in multiple negative scores. This is the core point where we disagree. For me the bad question is bad (and the few thar are really horrible can be handled even through other means, but as I said in the question these will and should get downvoted further, no matter what). This is also begging the question and should not be used as an argument.
    – Unreason
    Dec 14, 2011 at 23:13
  • 3
    Another reason for more downvotes might be a reflect that we simply get more bad questions. A recent meta question pointed out we have 10 times more closed questions than SO.
    – Hugo
    Dec 14, 2011 at 23:20
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    And how can I singularly, and we collectively, maintain a steady -1 when often many general reference questions, which show no research at all, regularly get several upvotes?
    – Hugo
    Dec 14, 2011 at 23:29
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    we don't need to maintain a steady -1 (let me repeat for the 3rd time - "if question is really bad, not improving, etc it should be further downvoted"). Please try to understand what I am really proposing - and that is to stop wasting time on activity that is ultimately unproductive and that can alienate new users that might have good questions to ask.
    – Unreason
    Dec 15, 2011 at 9:28
  • +1 for data, however I will examine other sites too. I am not sure programmers is a good comparison (one hypothesis is that the downvote distribution is correlated to frustration related to off-topic and not reading faq for which programmers sound like a candidate, too)
    – Unreason
    Dec 15, 2011 at 14:29
  • 1
    @Unreason I am not even sure Stack Overflow is a good comparison either.
    – apaderno
    Dec 15, 2011 at 15:06
  • @kiamlaluno, let me offer a different extreme and argue that all major policies and rules are modeled for the Stack Overflow and then applied to other sites. Therefore, comparing to stack overflow is the most important since if we find statistic deviations from that site it can (it does not have to) imply that policies should be modified to accommodate for the difference and matters can be investigated further. (I know this not precise, but I do think it is more relevant than what you just said. Alternatively, can you tell us what would be good comparison in your opinion?)
    – Unreason
    Dec 15, 2011 at 16:08
  • @Unreason I don't think it's a matter of rules; there is no rule that forces you not to down-vote a question. Comparing a site about English language with a site about programming doesn't make any sense, if what matters is the quality of the questions being asked. If you compared EL&U with another SE site about a language, that would make more sense.
    – apaderno
    Dec 15, 2011 at 16:13
  • @kiamlaluno, I think effectively we do have rules and policies; they are not formal and single-voiced, but on average they exist and are formed through discussions here. In those often the articles from blog are used as arguments and these are really looking at the biggest of sites. Try to read that article for example, but not blindly, but in context of so. Then read it in context of EL&U. Nothing?
    – Unreason
    Dec 15, 2011 at 16:41
  • @Unreason That blog post doesn't say that you don't have to down-vote a question. Then, "rules" are not created for Stack Overflow, and then adopted to other SE sites; eventually, the "rules" are created for the Stack Exchange network.
    – apaderno
    Dec 15, 2011 at 16:44

The point is that for downvoting there is one reason - the question is bad. Usually a person will downvote and explain downvote and after that there is no reason for more people to downvote it.

Well, no. A down vote is not just a signal to an asker that their question might need improvement.

A vote is an expression that I as part of this community think that this question does not benefit this community.

A question with a score of 100 fits better than one with a score of 10, than one with a score of 1, than one with a score of 0, than one with a score of -1, than one with a score of -10, and at all points in between and beyond.

The fitness of a question is a spectrum, otherwise there would never be a need for questions to have scores above one, either.

Close votes are an extension of this, because members of the community, who should have a better understanding of what works for this community, are able to be more definitive at clearing away the crud.

Obviously close votes have another use: duplicates. Otherwise they are just stronger down votes.

  • 1
    Actually, there is no reason to believe that the spectrum of punishments/rewards/fitness is uniform or symmetric. Even the fact that you gain different amount on upvote compared to how much you loose on downvote suggest this strongly and this comes from the designers of the system, not to mention various landslide effects (this here is a negative landslide effect). Secondly, I do not propose to make it impossible to downvote multiple times. Obviously it is not clear what I was saying and I am really sorry for my poor skills when it comes to explaining ideas.
    – Unreason
    Dec 15, 2011 at 9:40
  • Punishment should not come into it. I acknowledge that it does, because because people get upset when they receive down votes. Punishment is a side effect though, not what the system is trying to do. Dec 15, 2011 at 9:48
  • Yes, the spectrum probably isn't symmetric - because of the punishment aspect. Once you remove that from the equation the the spectrum becomes symmetric. However delaying a down vote because a question already has one does not improve the system, in my view, because then the fitness of the question is not properly represented. Dec 15, 2011 at 9:54
  • 4
    I think your question makes sense, Unreason, I just disagree with the premise that people should hold back a down vote, once there is already one, for some amount of time. Dec 15, 2011 at 10:02
  • Have to disagree with "close votes are just stronger down votes"; see the discussion at meta.english.stackexchange.com/q/2071/8019 Dec 15, 2011 at 12:28
  • @TimLymington: I don't see anything that disagrees with my summation there. Dec 15, 2011 at 12:59
  • 1
    "...a well-researched and interesting question that is off-topic, as defined by the community at that moment, should be closed (perhaps migrated), but definitely shouldn't be downvoted". (OK, that was me, but the point remains.) If you agree, I think your answer should be ediited, as that's not the impression you give. Dec 15, 2011 at 14:07
  • @TimLymington: I disagree with you, then. Off topic is valid for down voting. If I posted a well researched interesting question, at EL&U, about ponies then I would expect to be down voted. Dec 15, 2011 at 14:21
  • Actually, a downvote means "This question does not show research effort: it is unclear or not useful". Off-topic is a reason for closing. (Not an opinion; that's what the rules say.) Dec 15, 2011 at 14:33
  • 1
    Off topic questions are not useful, and show a lack of research into this site. Dec 15, 2011 at 14:35
  • 2
    @TimLymington You could also argue that asking an off-topic question doesn't show any research effort in the site where the question is being asked (which means not looking in the FAQ what questions can be asked), or in its meta site.
    – apaderno
    Dec 15, 2011 at 14:41
  • @kiamlaluno, I would agree if the faq was clear but it still has, a few, issues. Also, I have, on multiple occasions, run into new users who have read the faq, but were still completely puzzled why their questions got downvoted or closed. So although theoretically you are right I don't think that you are applying the same criteria to quality of the faq and behavior of the newcomers. Heh, it would be interesting if people could vote on the quality of the faq...
    – Unreason
    Dec 15, 2011 at 16:21
  • @Unreason The FAQ reports which questions are off-topic; the fact somebody asks an off-topic question could lead me to think the FAQ has not been read. If the FAQ is not enough, the main site is full of questions that have been closed; it serves as example for the future questions. Being puzzled has nothing to do with the FAQ not being clear; I could be puzzled because I would not expect I get a down-vote, even if the FAQ reported I can get a down-vote in specific cases.
    – apaderno
    Dec 15, 2011 at 16:28
  • @kiamlaluno, and this attitude quite well illustrates why things are slow to change.
    – Unreason
    Dec 15, 2011 at 16:42
  • 1
    @Unreason Which attitude?
    – apaderno
    Dec 15, 2011 at 16:46

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