Discourage "downvote and move on"

Hi all, I’m sorry if this has already been decided, I tried to search and didn’t see anything that answers my question.

On Stack Exchange, there is an officially encouraged culture of “downvote and move on.” Or in other words, if you don’t like something, you should downvote it. And if you really feel like it, you can suggest an improvement to the author, but… eh. Don’t worry about it too much. Yeah, there’s a small banner at the top of the page asking people to comment if they want, but who reads those anyway?

This leads to the pretty common scenario where an author - often but not always a newer author - makes a post that gets 1 or 2 downvotes, and they see the rep hit in their notification bar, and leave a comment on their own post asking something to the effect of “downvoter, why did you downvote?” More often than not, they get no response, walking away with a feeling of either “gee, people aren’t very welcoming here.” or “what did I do wrong?” Both of which, in my opinion, are not reactions we want people here to have.

People downvote for a couple of reasons. Either they disagree with the answer, they believe it’s poorly written, or they think it breaks the rules (and proceed to flag it.) I believe that, when you downvote on Codidact, a pop-up should come up with these three options and an “other”. (similar to the flag/CV dialog on SE.) This feedback will then anonymously be sent to the user somehow (I’m not sure how), but the downvoter will be given the option to offer more details, which will leave a regular, non-anonymous comment on the post.

This, in my opinion, is a good compromise between the comfort level of the downvoter expressing their thoughts and helping the poster improve their contributions and understand where they may have went wrong.

So what do y’all think? Sorry if I’m overstepping, I know I’m new here; I’ve tried to brush up on some of your more important-looking discussions.

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There was a discussion here, don’t know where exactly, in that direction. It was a huge discussion, and I think the fact that the plan is to not have reputation is (partly) a result of that. I think the end result, anyway, was that it’s up to the communities - we’re just building the software to house those communities.

Does somebody have the link to that discussion?
Because it doesn’t make much sense to do this again when there’s already 100+ posts (IIRC) about this. As a summary, the specific point you’re mentioning comes down to this:

  • What you mentioned, yeah it’s not ideal, but on the other hand, it doesn’t keep the site from working. The good questions still come through. A couple of users are not happy with it, but it’s the ones who do not ask good questions because they do not follow the rules/guidelines.
  • OTOH, if a comment is left, the OP arguing against the comment happens more often than OP fixing the question. So they bind the community’s resource that is subject matter experts’ time… on something without much merit. And with SMEs being way less common than beginners who didn’t read the guidelines, this would be a way bigger problem than a couple users thinking the community is unfriendly.

So in short, the current way to handle this is the lesser of 2 evils.

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Yes. This is primarily a matter of site culture and site scope. Each community decides for itself what types of content it wants and is responsible for guiding people. That said, we do want to have good “just in time” guidance in the software platform itself – hints and/or notifications that you receive while you’re doing something or after something happens. We haven’t developed this idea much (not MVP), but we aspire to provide useful feedback focused on what the recipient can do about it.

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In my role as a moderator I used the “… and move on” formulation with users who were getting personally involved (needing to “fix” another user). The point being to get them to disengage.

When site regulars are maintaining some emotionally distance you’d like them to revisit content they’ve acted on to be able to give positive feedback on improvements (even if that is only removing downvotes).

On Stack Exchange I used comment left on posts as a trail of breadcrumbs that let me come back for another look. Which I suppose brings up a possible feature: “what have I voted on or moderated recently?”

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Downvote and move on is about…

Not creating more curation work than it solves

Comments on down votes often lead to protracted discussions… that then need to get flagged and cleaned up. There’s even a 10k tools page for posts with lots of comment activity.

The amount of volunteer time to answer questions and curate the site is a limited and frankly, a scarce resource. Getting caught up in comments on a question is time and sometimes emotionally draining. Writing a comment about why a post was downvoted will likely mean another 15-30 minutes of commenting in the future as you are pinged and a half dozen retaliatory downvotes later each time the OP gets down voted on some question.

Not spending time on things that are unlikely to create good content

While it isn’t always the case, it was rare that a comment about a downvote would inspire the OP to do the additional necessary steps to correct the post. Most times, the ability to get corrective action is tied to comments after a post has been closed.

Much of this is tied to the amount of collective time that the people who are going to help new users understand a site. The larger the site, the less time per down vote a person has.

Personal experience

May times when I did down vote and comment on a post, I got back the comment “if you don’t like it, just don’t look - no reason to down mod me” or “why can’t you just answer the question.” These are often posts from users who don’t {grok, understand, recognize, accept} the Q&A as a seed of the library. There is no good way to fit into the text box of a comment sufficient information to persuade them that I wasn’t just being mean or trying to keep my reputation higher than anyone else’s so that employers would pick me rather than them, or (discriminatory) gatekeeping or…

They had a different vision for what the site should be than I did. Adding comments that they took as personal critiques only made their experience on the site worse (aside: consider how many years it takes for a programmer to not take the criticism in a code review personally). Unfortunately, I can count on one finger the number of people that I was able to understand the model with a comment… and I can’t count on all my fingers and toes the number of times I was given a metaphorical one finger for my efforts in explaining down votes.

The equation of where to spend my time on either answering or improving questions versus commenting on questions that are unlikely to improve becomes very clear at that point.


See also:

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This is the SO core model: everyone on SO thinks “if I just down/close vote this and move on, I haven’t wasted much of my time and now the bad content will go away”. The are multiple fundamental flaws with that reasoning and SO is also per design built to ensure that tons of time is spent with every bad post.

First of all, this doesn’t necessarily provide meaningful feedback to the OP about why their post was down-voted into oblivion. Elitist reasoning or not, yeah the domain expert is (arguably) more valuable to the site than the clueless newbie. But if the clueless newbie remains clueless, it often means that they keep on asking bad questions. The down/close vote removed the symptoms not the cause.

It might also mean backlash in the form of the OP getting frustrated or angry, which they can express either in non-polite forms, meaning more moderator work. Or they start some meta discussion where they constructively ask what’s wrong, in which case someone has to teach them how to use the site - which is a good thing, but again goes against “veterans wasting time”.

Instead of going through the whole draining process of bad post -> providing feedback - > providing moderator efforts -> new action from OP -> someone teaching OP, why couldn’t we have skipped all of this and went straight to “someone teaching the OP” before they even posted on the site? Less effort for everyone, and whoever is using the site for what the site is actually meant for don’t even need to get involved. And lets not even mention all of the extra pointless busy-work the above process creates in the form of close-vote queues, flag queues, edit reviews.

If stopping bad posts from ever hitting the site isn’t possible, then the second worst option is to remove them as swiftly as possible. Then hopefully someone can pick it up from there and give feedback to the OP. What’s very harmful is the SO model of “remove bad posts as slowly as possible”. 5 close votes, multiple down votes, public shaming, public screaming in comment fields… and the post is still not removed, because you also need 3 delete votes or some Roomba script that only kicks in when lots of time has passed. It’s a design for maximum drama and frustration for everyone involved.

If 1 single trusted user could just delete the post completely from the site with one click, none of this drama would happen. How to provide feedback to the OP from there is another story, but if it needs to be done by humans, then it should be done by someone who is patient & willing to do so. Not by people who are deadly tired of seeing bad posts popping up & just want to use the site as intended.

One root of all the flaws in the SO model is the “crap hugging”, where everything ever posted on the site is regarded as an invaluable resource to mankind. SO must dissect, evaluate & refine the crap in endless edit & review queues, until the result is shining, polished… crap. Since the contents of the post were not valuable to begin with and it could just have been swiftly deleted with one click.

Down votes should be used for moderating content on posts that are otherwise fine and on-topic, not as some “close-vote lite”. Close votes/closed state should mean that the post goes to a state where it is no longer visible save for the OP and those moderating the post. And there’s no need for consensus - either we trust someone to close posts or we don’t.

The SO model with “we trust you a little bit” is harmful since it leads to “remove bad posts as slowly as possible”. Whereas the “dupe hammer” or moderator deletion carried out by one single user work much better. When I “dupe hammer” something swiftly after it gets posted at SO, even before anyone posts an answer, there’s almost never any follow-up drama. Such posts tend to just sit there, zero comments, zero votes, until the Roomba bot eventually deletes it.

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I don’t think a lot of people will agree with giving certain people almost dictatorial powers like an immediate unchecked banhammer.

The mentor thing has been tried before on SO, and I remember someone sharing their experience here as “1 in 7 users actually writes a better answer afterwards”. So you gotta divide the merit of this solution by 7 (plus the increased effort).

Honestly, I personally came here with the thought “the system works, the company sucks”. Then again, codidact is already so different, might just become a mentor’s hub, too.

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I am pretty sure I have said something like this before, but I keep seeing the same discussion over and over. Should I mark this discussion as "duplicate? :slight_smile:

But seriously, I think a lot of the problem with downvote/close-for-duplicate is the perception by new users, who are likely (but I don’t have the data to prove it, just a hunch) the source of the vast majority of duplicate questions. Some experienced users are part of the “problem” too, because they answer what has already been answered elsewhere (either to be honestly helpful or for Reputation points or whatever) and they wouldn’t if the new questions didn’t exist.

The Problem

Essentially the typical new user has the following problems when asking:

  • They don’t know how to search the site well, or even that they should try to search to look for a duplicate. Solution: More/better automated keyword-based guidance when they start asking a question.
  • They don’t realize the site is supposed to be a repository of knowledge - i.e., they think it is Radio Shack :tm: you’ve got questions, we’ve got answers. Solution: short (because if it is more than a few lines most people will not read it at all), but long enough to be CLEAR, explanation of what the site is about. This should be presented at registration and at “start of first question”.
  • If, despite all that, they ask a duplicate (e.g., there are multiple terms to search to describe the same problem and they pick the wrong ones and just don’t find the duplicate, or they find a duplicate but think their question is unique), they get extremely negative responses - down votes and close votes. Solution: Provide a way to duplicate flag/close without it sounding just as bad closing for spam, trolling, hate speech, etc.

Of course, the end result is hard to say for sure, but I would bet that a huge percentage of new users who come in, ask one little (but important to them at the time) question, get a barrage of down votes and very nasty (based on perception of the SO system messages) flags/close votes, NEVER EVER COME BACK. I believe that many of those same people might become regular, and productive, members of the community if they were treated well at the time. That does not mean “allow duplicate questions”. The rationale for removing duplicate questions is, IMHO, 100% valid. The problem is the way we deal with them, and especially the way things are explained to the (likely very new) user.

The Solution

  • A lot more automated prompting and messages and easy to find help pages. But not so overwhelming that they become “more walls of text to ignore like license agreements and privacy policies.”
  • Clear information about potential duplicates and the benefits of not posting a duplicate question (both to the user - gets a faster answer by finding the question that already has answers - and to the community). I just started the Ask Question process in SO and noticed that it shows “Similar” but doesn’t say anything, at least not without diving in to help pages, about duplicates.)
  • A kinder, gentler way of handling duplicates when they occur. Language does matter. Even though I agree that the end result will be effectively the same - question closed - from a user (especially new user) perspective, the current Close process seems pretty ominous. Maybe a totally different category of “action”, perhaps two three different sections (right now SO has everything together plus a mess of pointers - e.g., you can Flag->Duplicate or Flag->Close->Duplicate):
    • Close - This means extremely unlikely to be salvageable, let’s just get rid of it:
      • Spam
      • Trolling/Hate/etc.
      • Opinion Based
      • Too Broad
    • Needs Improvement - This means "there is some hope, with effort from OP and/or assistance from experienced users**:
      • Needs More Details
      • Major Formatting Issues (e.g., didn’t put code in a code block, more than a few grammatical/spelling errors, etc.)
      • Needs More Focus (e.g., 3 questions in one - all might be good, but needs to just pick one and ask the others as separate questions)
    • Duplicate

The end result of all of these will be close so that nobody sees them except very high privilege users if OP (or others on their behalf) does not make significant changes. But they are really three very different groups of problems - “bad” (by any objective sense), “needs work” (which is not inherently bad) and duplicate (which is truly a category of its own - and the OP needs to understand what is going on in order to either revise the question so that it is not a duplicate, or agree (which includes “by default if they do nothing within a certain amount of time”) in a way that they understand what is being done and why it is being done and not lumped together with bad questions.)

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Maybe a simple solution to that would be to have the ask button not on the main page but on the search page. So that a necessary first step to ask a question is to search for an existing question.

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I don’t think that will actually help much. But how about:

If you have a low Trust Level and/or have asked fewer than ‘x’ questions, when you start to ask a Question instead of just adding some “help around the edges” suggesting duplicates, etc., present a Search Box right there so that you are essentially forced to:

  • Actively do a search - even if it is with what you were going to use as a title (SO actually does something similar by showing “similar” questions, but it is informational only, no action needed to get past that)
  • In addition to the results of that search, present 2 options:
    • “Search More” (e.g., the results weren’t duplicates but they got the OP thinking)
    • “My Question is Different”

That provides the “look for duplicates” information without it (hopefully) being perceived as yet-another-click-here-to-continue prompt.

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Related discussion:

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So you don’t think we should have moderators? :slight_smile:

Immediate, unanimous delete votes is essentially just outsourcing moderator work to trusted users. Users who might actually be more suited than the moderator to judge the content, in case the user has specific domain expertise that the moderator lacks.

Of course there must be a way to “moderate the moderators”. Some way to question why a post was closed etc. How to do that, and how hand out trust and to whom is another story though.

My point here is that we should be removing bad posts from the public eye as swiftly as possible, with as few involved in the actual removal action as possible. From there on, the final word on the fate of the post has not been said, but beating the post in shape is not something that should be done through a public comment field.

Also, in case we fear that some posts get incorrectly deleted, that might actually be perfectly acceptable collateral damage, compared to endless drama and endless review queues. In case a post gets incorrectly deleted, the poster will blame that individual moderator. In case a post gets slowly grinded down into the mud by down votes, close votes and comments, the poster will blame the whole community.

It works better on some sites than others. Sure we can just use the very same system as SO, but it is good to identify why there’s constant friction, why people feel unwelcome and why SO in particular has a reputation of rude users. SO is still struggling hard with this. I’ve been using that site for ten years and I only recently started to realize what I believe is the root of the problem. Which can be summarized as: public shaming as a means to self-moderate the site is quite effective content-wise, but it will undoubtedly give the site a nasty reputation.

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To address duplicates specifically, the best way is to address the cause and not the symptoms. One way to do that, is to have some working FAQ as the first stop before asking a question. SO doesn’t have this, so it is destined to eternal bombardment of duplicates.

In the main tag I’m active on at SO, I gathered a large number of “private favourite” links that I used as duplicate targets when close-voting. Then I started to realize that every high rep user was sitting on a similar golden link collection, though nobody was sharing it with each other, since there was no working FAQ system.

Then I tried to arrange a FAQ for the tag - every major programming language on the site has a FAQ of sorts, but every tag does it differently since the site itself doesn’t support it. It ended up with a link collection below the tag wiki. A nice place to go for veteran users looking for dupe vote targets. But it is not a place that new users are likely to find!

Pondering this further, I realize that it would be possible to write a FAQ based on the question the OP is having, rather than the solution. If they ask “I have a segmentation fault”, they can get a list of further questions prompting them for information, “are you doing x?”. Like most self-help tech support sites out there, just more detailed.

Putting a lot of effort into a community-maintained FAQ system with site support, easily accessible by new posters, might reduce the number of duplicate posts quite a bit. Not necessarily MVP but something that would be great to have, eventually.

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I saw your response in the “what to do about duplicate threads”. Your post hits the nail on the head. The lowest hanging fruit here has never been addressed, and SE has only recently started moving this direction. Perception. When people talk about “toxcity” and “being welcoming” often what they are really talking about is the perception that they are being slighted through the normal curation process.

To solve this, don’t make QA personal, don’t state names of people who voted to close, downvoted etc… to normal users, especially those new to the site. Just don’t show them that a person was involved in the decision to close/mark as duplicate/downvote etc. Use language that cannot be interpreted personally or that is hostile.

If you want people to explain what is wrong with a downvoted question, make sure that they stay anonymous. No retribution if they explain. Maybe don’t even give the asker the ability to respond, so that at least they know what was perceived as wrong, but no exhausting back and forth can take place. Though in that case it might be better for each site to have a list of prepared responses that a downvoter can choose from, a response that is also aimed at being non-confrontational and impersonal, to avoid any bluntness that could come across as toxic from an exhausted curator’s custom message.

IE

“The system has detected that this question Y is very similar to question X, if this was not the case do a,b,c”

or (based on closevoters/downvoters pre-selected reasons for downvoting/closevoting, phrases/wording used are just strawmen, not actual suggestions)

"The system has found potential issues with the quality of your question:

  • Your question’s scope may be too large to effectively answer…
  • Your question may contain more than one question, it helps to focus on one question because…
  • Your question may be answered by cursory research…
  • Your question…

Make newcomers think there’s some sort of nebulous “ai” at the helm, if they choose to get mad, they’ll blame this “software” and not the community. That will result in a change of the ratio of non-curation to curation based discussion with users. With no downvote/close vote related discussions happening on a question, when actual human to human conversations do happen, they will be far more likely to happen in productive positive scenarios, thus reducing the appearance of toxicity further. One could imagine a new person’s worst case experience being:

“The post quality checker system was garbage, but the people I talked to were helpful!”

Furthermore, if standard practice is to downvote click a reason and move on, with out any potential backlash from question askers, people won’t feel “ethically pressured” to discuss reasons for downvoting, the askers have their answer with the pre-made reason. You get rid of a whole lot of stress on the part of the downvoter/close voter etc…

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If my experiences as a moderator are any guide this will generate a different kind of resentment that is every bit as heartfelt and virulent. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve been compared to various dictators and police states because of the Stack Exchange policy of keeping many moderation actions anonymous or unexplained.

And this despite the moderation on Physics being kittenish compared to that on some other sites.

(BTW, the reason for not being able to enumerate them off hand is not because it’s a huge number (I’d guess it at a dozen or two), but because I don’t pay them much mind.)

However, that kind of rhetorical language was used (in my view quite intentionally) to foment dissent on Physics Stack Exchange. It may not have been one of the main motivations for the formation of Physics Overflow, but unhappy people were entirely too willing to use it as a lever to rile up emotional responses.

I’d caution against thinking there is a single cause or a single solution to the dissatisfaction many feel with Stack Exchange. As I’ve written before there are multiple distinct causes and not only are some non-trivial to solves, but some should not be “solved” if your goals for a site a similar to those of Stack Overflow or Physics Stack Exchange. There is simply a limit to the extent that you can have both “this is a repository of curated, high-quality material of a well defined subject” and “we let everyone post the things they want to post.”

The Codidact software as currently envisioned should eventually be able to support sites with highly divergent policies on what contents is allowed, so we don’t have to resolve these questions here, but I am strongly in favor of there being support for good curation from the get-go.

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Preventing the “back and forth” and making feedback anonymous is a way to reduce drama, not a way to make people feel more welcome.

The root of all this is that humans in general respond poorly to critique, even when it is constructive and correct. Nobody likes it when someone points out that you are wrong. If in addition the critique is given in public, for a lot of people to see and hear, they are even more likely to get upset and defensive.

The solution is to take the critique to a private place with limited access, preferably only by the OP and whatever moderator/trusted user that is giving the critique. Take the problematic question away from the site asap, let it be fixed in a calm constructive atmosphere, not under a constant barrage of down votes, close votes and comments. These always tend to escalate into a “bandwagon” of negative feedback. First you have one person telling the OP the problem, possibly even constructively. And then you get some 5 to 10 others just chiming in, piling on “you are bad” or repeating what’s already been said. Most of them not caring about the bad post at all, or site moderation in general, they just want it gone. Don’t create a site model which is forcing moderation and teaching new users onto people who don’t have the slightest interest in it.

Forget about “every user is a moderator”. A whole lot of users are only there for the actual community content, including domain experts that are very valuable to the site, yet at the same time hopelessly bad at moderating.

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That’s great if you can find people willing to do this. That may not be easy, because people don’t come to a site to read the guidelines to new users. I do agree though that removing the bad question from the site as quickly as possible is useful.

Ultimately though, it’s the new user’s responsibility to learn the site norms and posting guidelines before posting. Some people aren’t going to do that, and I we need to recognize that some users just aren’t going to be a fit for a site. “Welcome to all” sounds nice, but is a misguided policy in my opinion.

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If none is willing/available to give them feedback manually, then naturally they should be directed to help sites pretty much the way closed questions are currently on SE. Ideally something fairly detailed like this great help page: https://stackoverflow.com/help/minimal-reproducible-example.

Though if newbies only get help from volunteers that actually explicitly agreed to help with the task of helping newbies (like the SO mentor experiment), rather than from frustrated veteran users forced into “helping” when they just want the bad question gone, it makes for a better experience for everyone involved. The newbie get personal assistance, the helper will provide higher quality feedback than just posting some comment of diverse quality in a comment field, and the veteran user doesn’t have to view the crap any longer than it takes for them to click the button that removes it from the site.

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I like your main idea of moving questions that need work off to a separate holding area, where those so inclined can work with the OP before the question is released back to the main site. That addresses my main issue of “Get this crap out of my face”, and also doesn’t leave it where others see it, might think it’s OK, and give the general impression of trash littered about.

However, that requires a cadre of users who are willing to work with the OPs of bad questions. I don’t see that happening (after all, it’s not what people came to the site for) without some motivation. This is yet another aspect where the gamefication of the reward system is important. Let those that help with bad questions earn some rep for their efforts. After all, they are contributing to the site, just not in a very visible manner.

Maybe you get some points for every question you helped “graduate” to the main stream site, and/or get some points from the voting on such questions. Including downvotes decreasing your score would provide some incentive to not release crap just to go thru the motions. Put another way, if you help, your rep is on the line too if you declare the question good enough to release.

I would be reluctant to agree to a one-on-one with an unknown user simply because you never know how much work and drama you are signing up for. (I’m thinking of my experience Physics and Stack Overflow in particular, I’d feel a little different on, say, SF&F.)

For every would be question poster who just needs a little guidance, there are two who don’t yet have the foundational skills to recognize the difference between their proposed version of a question and the “grown up” version. For every new user who can take advice and run with it to accomplish more learning than was contained in your comments there are two who will doggedly insist that the experts haven’t given their ideas proper consideration.

To do the difficult cases justice requires a lot of typing (as does figuring out that the other user just isn’t listening).

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