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Compared to other Stack Exchange sites, there aren't many downvotes or flags here. I can think of one reason: we have such a small community of regulars, and many of us may be hesitant to give offense, especially because downvotes are not entirely anonymous; it's often possible to make good guesses about who did it. But that may not be the only factor involved. Are there other reasons?

So what purposes do downvotes and flags serve, and should we encourage more?

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I participate in larger SE sites, and I have clearly seen how helpful downvotes are there. Authors of questions and answers get immediate feedback of what the community thinks of the post compared to other questions and answers. Newbies who post half-authoritative answers to "test the waters" get quick and honest feedback, and are often pointed in the right direction; those who do more than just lurk either learn the rules and become useful members of the community, or they leave or are forced out. Larger SE sites have plenty of users, and lots of questions are asked every day.

Our site is, well, different. I think of it as semi-functional. First, our subject matter, amateur radio, is in many ways a mature technology that is past its golden age. That's the narrow view. The broader view is that amateur radio is a broad pursuit and subject matter, and there are many interesting facets to participate in or learn about. Unfortunately many of ham radio's sub-communities are badly represented here, as evidenced by the questions asked in the last year or two. For instance I haven't seen many questions about contesting, QRP construction, VHF/UHF, satellites, VLF, DXing, etc. In many cases we have experts on such subjects in our community, but the questions just don't come in very often. It was not always thus; in the early days of the site, questions about these subjects were more common, and attracted many answers and vigorous discussions. It seems that once the "low-hanging fruit" were plucked during the site's early days, most of those users left.

The Area 51 statistics for the site back me up that something's not quite functional about our site: we have lots of users and visits, but not many questions or answers.

But it's not all bad news. We have a decent-size community of people that check in regularly or semi-regularly, including many astonishingly well-qualified experts, and the basic subjects such as electronics and antennas are quite well covered. Some sub-communities are well represented: ask a question about SDR here, and you are sure to get an expert answer.

So if our site is not exactly like the bigger SE sites that are healthy in every way, should it operate the same as the bigger sites? I believe @webmarc's answer makes the point that it's OK if we don't downvote questions and answers as vigorously as the larger sites, and I think I agree with him.

In particular I personally try to not scare off the newbies, because we could use more participation, and any improvement in the small fraction of new users that hang around for more than a post or two could help. So rather than downvote a newbie's half-baked question or answer, I will often try to write a comment with constructive feedback. Unfortunately I don't think my efforts have helped much, but I'll likely keep trying.

I can think of an instance when an answer clearly merits a downvote, whether written by a confused newbie or not: when it is factually incorrect. We don't want to see misinformation propagating here.

(My understanding of best practices here is evolving, and my opinion may well change in the future.)

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  • $\begingroup$ "we have lots of users and visits, but not many questions or answers" this is a great observation. I suspect this is due to the fact that the novice Q&A for our hobby is fairly well circumscribed. $\endgroup$
    – webmarc
    Jul 12 at 21:55
  • $\begingroup$ "I can think of an instance when an answer clearly merits a downvote ... : when it is factually incorrect. We don't want to see misinformation propagating here." That is exactly my point. $\endgroup$
    – Mike Waters Mod
    Jul 13 at 19:02
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After I wrote the below, I realized I didn't answer explicitly: I don't think the low volume of downvotes is a problem or something that needs active "fixing;" below is the meandering stream of consciousness that's behind this perspective.

And after further contemplation, perhaps additional focus should be on upvoting correct answers, and creating correct answers where there are none. The singular focus on downvotes is ... distasteful? negative? not constructive? in a community context.

—————————

I think that we probably have lower question volume than other stack exchange sites. In no particular order, and selected from some of the other SE sites I like to check out (so, you know, NOT scientific at all):

  • 159,534 questions on EE
  • 115,204 questions on Ask Different
  • 33,745 questions on RPi
  • 19,778 questions on Law
  • 122,098 questions on English
  • 463,368 questions on Super User

And on Ham: 3,827 questions.

If a question or answer is just awful and unfixable, it typically gets a flag for closure or removal... even better than a downvote IMO.

Since the purpose of voting is to help differentiate the relative value of questions and answers, I think we're probably ok. If we had a greater volume of questions — this week's volume is 7 questions so far on a Friday afternoon EDT — then maybe encouraging more downvote activity might be more helpful to differentiate the questions.

As it stands, I think answer score in particular is only helpful for those cases where there are several answers attached to a particular question.

BTW, from a scientific or data-based perspective, it'd be REALLY interesting to do a study relating vote volume to either question volume or community size.

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  • $\begingroup$ Please check out my answer in this other meta post. Questions welcome! $\endgroup$
    – Mike Waters Mod
    Jun 25 at 21:43
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    $\begingroup$ Consider that you have more experienced and knowledgeable participants! $\endgroup$
    – Gil
    Jul 8 at 17:14
  • $\begingroup$ @MikeWaters, I think your answer in the other meta post and my answer above are 100% compatible. $\endgroup$
    – webmarc
    Jul 12 at 21:57
  • $\begingroup$ Well, maybe I ought to edit my answer there. ;-) I do appreciate your opinion. $\endgroup$
    – Mike Waters Mod
    Jul 13 at 18:17
  • $\begingroup$ BTW @MikeWaters, did you see my answer there as well? $\endgroup$
    – webmarc
    Jul 13 at 22:23
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If a question or answer is just awful and unfixable, it typically gets a flag for closure or removal... even better than a downvote IMO.

Downvotes can be more important as flags. In fact:

The ONLY way to remove an answer that is wrong is to Downvote it.

Flags that mark an answer as technically incorrect will be rejected. That's just the way Stack Exchange works.

As explained here in the relevant help page:

Why is voting important?

Voting is central to our model of providing quality questions and answers; it is how …

  • good content rises to the top
  • incorrect content falls to the bottom
  • users who consistently provide useful content accrue reputation and are granted more privileges on the site

It’s only through voting that a class of editors, closers, and moderators can emerge to help run and govern the site. Voting is how site leadership forms. That’s why the reputation leagues show a breakdown of top users by reputation for the week, month, quarter, year, or all time.

Our sites are all intended to be a sort of representative democracy. ... but voting on questions and answers is the primary mechanism through which the community governs the site on a day to day basis. ...

Voting is so important that there is a variety of badges associated with different aspects of voting – like casting your first upvote or downvote, ...

Voting up a question or answer signals to the rest of the community that a post is interesting, well-researched, and useful, while voting down a post signals the opposite: that the post contains wrong information, is poorly researched, or fails to communicate information. The more that people vote on a post, the more certain future visitors can be of the quality of information contained within that post – not to mention that upvotes are a great way to thank the author of a good post for the time and effort put into writing it!

This is not to say that flags are not important.

A Theory of Moderation, while important, simply doesn't go far enough in explaining why.

Entire text at https://ham.stackexchange.com/help/why-vote


Related meta post

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  • $\begingroup$ Am curious, do you find that incorrect content doesn't fall to the bottom? $\endgroup$
    – webmarc
    Jun 28 at 15:36
  • $\begingroup$ @webmarc It does if it has downvotes. But perhaps not always; is that what you're saying? Or is something I wrote here unclear? (I'm prone to do that. :-) $\endgroup$
    – Mike Waters Mod
    Jun 28 at 16:07
  • $\begingroup$ Each of us can control how answers are displayed, by clicking on Active, Oldest, or Votes in the box between the question and its answers. I think the default is "Votes", which makes downvoted answers bubble down, but results are probably different for "Active" or "Oldest". $\endgroup$
    – rclocher3 Mod
    Jun 30 at 18:32
  • $\begingroup$ Hi Mike, I think I'm struggling to understand what problem this discussion is intended to solve. My reaction to "not enough downvotes here" is "why does it matter to Ham SE?" If there's a systemic problem with low quality Q&A bubbling up over higher quality Q&A, then "Yes! More downvotes!" but that doesn't seem to be the case in my (limited!) experience. So: What problem is a lack of downvotes causing? $\endgroup$
    – webmarc
    Jul 8 at 20:05
  • $\begingroup$ @webmarc I guess when I'm too close to something, I tend to leave out important points that are obvious to me. The main problem now is that there are technically inaccurate answers, though there's more to it than that. Check out our Tour as well as the Stack Exchange model itself. $\endgroup$
    – Mike Waters Mod
    Jul 9 at 21:27
  • $\begingroup$ @webmarc Okay, we left out flags! Edited question to say that. $\endgroup$
    – Mike Waters Mod
    Jul 9 at 23:18
  • $\begingroup$ Why not? How is it different from flagging or downvoting into a negative score... except even more helpful since there's context? $\endgroup$
    – webmarc
    Jul 13 at 22:21
  • $\begingroup$ @webmarc See my updated question. Another moderator pointed out the obvious to me. Flags cannot remove a wrong answer; that must be done by downvotes. $\endgroup$
    – Mike Waters Mod
    Jul 15 at 20:15
  • $\begingroup$ Incorrect content does NOT fall to the bottom because there are too few (or no) downvotes. $\endgroup$
    – Mike Waters Mod
    Jul 15 at 20:17
  • $\begingroup$ Looking forward to seeing examples. $\endgroup$
    – webmarc
    Jul 16 at 12:26
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    $\begingroup$ I feel that this answer is an overstatement — it is appropriate for a poor answer to be downvoted, but it is not literally the only means by which an answer can be removed. I'd like to ask that it be revised to be more precise. $\endgroup$
    – Kevin Reid AG6YO Mod
    Jul 16 at 22:04
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    $\begingroup$ @MikeWaters The way answers are removed is by somebody clicking "Delete". That can be done by moderators or by high-rep users on an answer with a score of at most -1. Downvoting does not cause removing answers, it enables an additional route for removing answers. I recognize that this is something of a “nitpick”, but it is important to be precise about what is possible and what actions are enabled. $\endgroup$
    – Kevin Reid AG6YO Mod
    Jul 16 at 23:46
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    $\begingroup$ Secondly, this meta question is about downvotes and not about deletions. If you think that downvotes are needed in order to enable more deletions, then make an argument that we need more deletions — don't just declare that that's what the votes are needed for. $\endgroup$
    – Kevin Reid AG6YO Mod
    Jul 16 at 23:48
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    $\begingroup$ @MikeWaters This -7 answer from 2019 hasn't been autodeleted yet do you still expect it to be? I can still vote, edit, and comment on it because answers aren't closed, questions are. $\endgroup$
    – webmarc
    Jul 19 at 12:04
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    $\begingroup$ @webmarc As a moderator, I think (and I asked Mike and he generally agrees) that it is unwise for any of us to do something like “compiling lists of bad content”. (Whereas, say, lists for retagging, or edge cases of the site topic, sure; those are less scornful.) Without that, it seems unlikely that this discussion will convince either of its main participants and I think it should be left at “agree to disagree”. (And I mean that for both Mike as well as webmarc.) $\endgroup$
    – Kevin Reid AG6YO Mod
    Jul 20 at 14:56

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