# Are we scaring off new users?

The last 10 questions asked have all been down-voted. I think maybe we are being a bit too aggressive is down-voting questions, particularly for new users. What can we do to improve the situation?

(Personally I never down-vote a question. If its off topic I Vote to close. To me Down-voting a question seem to be saying "This is a bad Question.". I'm in the "there no such thing as a bad question" camp)

• I'm in the "there no such thing as a bad question" camp Well, care to explain those 12 down votes that show in your profile? – yannis Dec 27 '11 at 16:42
• I was using those down-votes as a vote to close, Before i knew what i was doing... I'll go take those back. – Morons Dec 27 '11 at 16:48
• How do Find my downvotes? – Morons Dec 27 '11 at 16:50
• How do Find my downvotes? Through your profile page, of course I can only see the total sums, not individual votes. Here, see mine (bottom right of the page). – yannis Dec 27 '11 at 16:55

I downvote questions quite often. Though interestingly, I dont think I downvoted any of the questions in your screenshot.

Some say 'there are no bad questions'. I say there sure as heck are.

Part of being a good developer is knowing how to ask good questions. When you work with technical subjects, questions must provide enough context to receive a technical answer. If I see a question where the poster has clearly not stopped for a minute to think if they've provided all the necessary information for someone to answer their question without a bunch of back and forth conversation, I downvote. If I see a question thats clearly off topic, thus indicating the poster didnt read the site's FAQ, I also downvote.

Is that scaring users off? I have no way of knowing. What I do know, though, is that if there is no feedback about good vs bad questions, you will not encourage good questions, and only encourage the lazy question writers who find it easier to ask a bad question than to do a few minutes worth of research.

• "knowing how to ask good questions" Agree totally. – Jesvin Jose Dec 29 '11 at 5:28
• I'm not sure a down vote counts as "feedback". There's no informational content to it. At best people will look at the guidelines -- which are fairly rigorously conceived but extremely difficult to understand, and as a result both followed and enforced erratically. In most cases it would make a lot more sense for people to ask that the question be rephrased or reformulated, than for the question to be condemned with no realistic prospect of it ever being looked at again. – Rei Miyasaka Jan 2 '12 at 9:01
• I agree with @ReiMiyasaka. If you downvote, it might be a good add a comment describing the reason, even if it's boilerplate. – Mike Partridge Jan 3 '12 at 17:30

The text of the down arrow on a question does read

This question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful

Strictly speaking, questions that do not belong here aren't useful to this community and there's no problem with downvoting them.

However, I don't vote that way. Questions that I downvote are questions that are too unclear, too simplistic (easily solved with a search), or so argumentative or blog-like that they, in my opinion, can't be fixed. I might not be able to fix it because I don't have the knowledge or expertise in the topic area to understand the question, but if I open a question and see a possibly good question hiding in there, I don't downvote. Likewise, a clear, well-written question that doesn't belong here doesn't get a downvote from me, but I do vote it as off-topic so it gets closed (and hopefully moved to the appropriate site, if one exists).

Perhaps people are being too aggressive with the downvote and not trying to fix questions to make them viable. Or perhaps these are questions that can't be reasonable fixed to find a place here. I do hope that people aren't downvoting questions that can be fixed or edited, especially shortly after they are asked, but I'm not sure there's any way to be sure.

• I do hope that people aren't downvoting questions that can be fixed or edited Well, looking at the second last paragraph of the top-voted answer here, clearly they are. – Rei Miyasaka Jan 2 '12 at 9:19
• This is how I vote, too. – TehShrike Jan 3 '12 at 2:29

First of all, we need to stop confusing the question of "are we scaring off new users" with the question of "are liberal downvotes good".

Obviously we are scaring off new users. I don't think there should be any debate about that. Heck, I've been here for over a year and I've only asked two questions here because I'm afraid of the down votes.

As for whether or not this is a good thing, it isn't. Sure downvoting has benefits, but they don't outweigh the problems that they cause when they're done as often as they are now.

• They have no informational content to address what the asker could have done differently with their question.
• They condemn a question, however reparable, to having no realistic chance of being looked at ever again.
• They make the website's content look poor in quality.
• They discourage other people from asking questions.
• They squelch controversial but otherwise good questions.
• They affect other users' opinions irrationally.
• They're a vehicle for public humiliation. Only the asker and the question's viewers needs to know that their question needs improvement -- not everyone visiting the site root.

• They provide a way for moderators to know what needs attention or to discover other trends.
• Are quicker than writing a comment.

You could probably list a few more pros that I might have missed, but there's not a chance that they'll ever outweigh the cons.

Are we scaring off new users?"

Yes, of course we are. You have a burning question, you ask it, it gets down-voted and closed... you think what a bunch of jerks I don't need them.

What can we do to improve the situation?

This is a Q&A site with a social component, not a Social site with a Q&A component. The down-votes and closures are imperative to ensure the quality of the questions and answers, we leave that alone.

So what does that leave? LOTS:

• Lower the barriers of entry: Make it easier for new users to understand what the site is about, how it should and should not be used. This is a hard problem and I see continuous improvements here - kudos to the staff. Leave a suggestion on meta if you think of something good.

• Edit: If you take that burning question and alter it so that it meets their needs and the needs of the site you create a good question, help the user get an answer, and help them understand the site better. There are a few people that do this often, thank you!

• Comment (Nicely): If you have the time leave a comment about your vote or edit. BUT, The votes and edits are the most important part of the process so don't let your lack of commenting time stop you from cleaning house. I know some of you do this and the mods do more than anyone (thank you mods!)

• Flag: Is there a comment where someone is being a jerk to a new user? Flag that thing and get it out of here. It happens and there are some users that do this regularly, I'm sure I'm not the only one that checks their other activity for things to flag when I come across them.

• Think of new badges and ways to earn reputation to reward the items above and anything else that you can think of, drop these suggestions on meta.

I think part of the problem is that it's not obvious what this site is about so new users end up asking 'bad' questions. This results in a lot of downvoting and closed or migrated questions.

The solution is to either allow a broader range of questions or clarify what the site is about.

• Although it only applies to the main StackOverflow site - new users (<= 10 rep) are required to read a how-to-ask-questions page. – Cyclops Dec 30 '11 at 13:21
• I really don't see how it's not obvious what the site is about. But I can't really say I remember if it was obvious in my early days. Could you care to expand on what you feel is the problem? There is certainly room for improvement, but I think your perspective would be far more valuable in identifying them than mine, especially since this meta discussion is specific to new users. – yannis Dec 30 '11 at 15:30

If someone is going to down vote something, at the very least give a reason why? Some questions can be questionable so it's hard to figure out what is wrong with the question so some feedback would be nice.

• But most times, comments explaining down votes lead to ugly debates. Read this related meta question, and I think you'll agree that the consensus is against such comments (not really against, but I don't think most of us find them helpful). – yannis Dec 27 '11 at 18:13
• Yea the problem is the some people can't take constructive critisim. The one that can just want to know the reason so they can learn about it or discuss about it to understand it more, which at that point isn't bad. – nhat Dec 28 '11 at 14:17
• And the more important problem is that not all comments are used as constructive criticism. We can't really make sense of what happens when, and there is no point in focusing on individual cases. The general feeling all over Stack Exchange is that comments are abused more often than not (and I'd happily provide references for that), and they don't really serve their purpose. Whenever you feel you can help, please do leave a comment, but I don't think you should avoid down voting regardless. Down voting is part of reviewing the quality of posts, it's as useful as up voting (imho) – yannis Dec 28 '11 at 14:23
• Oh, and since you're new, down votes on meta mostly means "I disagree with you", and up votes mean "I agree with you", it's not an indication of post quality as in the main site. – yannis Dec 28 '11 at 14:25
• Pretty confusing but thanks for the info. – nhat Jan 3 '12 at 15:44

Are we scaring off new users?

No we are not.

It's just how the system works, bad questions get down votes. Whether some of them get closed or not is irrelevant, closed doesn't necessarily mean bad. Up and down votes is how we comment on a post's quality, and close votes are how we denote a question outside the scope of the site. Different things, that may sometimes overlap, but not always.

There is a very simple reason more and more people come here for help, the system works. You can't please everybody, obviously, today is just a bad day. I've also noticed, some time before you did. I've went through all the questions, and I'm fairly confident that all down votes are justified, and happy that there are some helpful comments that guide askers on how to ask better questions.

I don't know if there's an actual problem, but if there is I'd say it's more that new users don't read the guidelines as careful as they should or that the guidelines aren't as clear as we think.

Nevertheless, the "why the down votes?" question is a wrong one, a better one would be "why no upvotes?". Down votes, as is everything, are peer reviewed, it takes just one up vote to cancel out one down vote - or five down votes, reputation wise.

• "some helpful comments that guide askers on how to ask better questions" Not leaving those is intransparent. The first close-voter should leave such a comment. – Jesvin Jose Dec 29 '11 at 5:31
• @aitchnyu And askers should read the faq carefully, and search for similar questions before asking. Why should I waste any time for a comment when the person asking for help didn't bother wasting 15 minutes familiarizing with the site before asking? We can argue this ad infinitum, let's not. – yannis Dec 29 '11 at 5:46
• And you are scaring off old users too! No need to segregate into old and new... – Christopher Mahan Jan 3 '12 at 23:26
• @ChristopherMahan If you have something constructive to add, why not contribute an answer? – yannis Jan 4 '12 at 0:37
• @Yannis: Which part of "You are scaring off old users too" is hard to understand? – Christopher Mahan Jan 4 '12 at 1:38
• @ChristopherMahan I didn't say it was hard to understand, read my previous comment again. What I'm saying is that a knee jerk comment is useless, if you have suggestions on how to solve the problem (that you think exists), I'd be happy to read them - otherwise I really don't care about your opinions. – yannis Jan 4 '12 at 1:45
• @Yannis, I am entitled to my opinion, just as you are to yours. I am entitled to place comments on this site, just as you are. I believe that just listening to people's frustrations can be just as constructive as getting a suggestions on how to solve problems. I do not have a knee-jerk reaction suggestion on how to fix this problem, and I need to think about this some more, but that does not invalidate my voicing my frustration, does it? Would you rather I said nothing and just abandoned the site never to return? – Christopher Mahan Jan 4 '12 at 1:52
• @ChristopherMahan Would you rather I said nothing and just abandoned the site never to return? No, but you shouldn't make decisions like that based on what I or anyone else may think. Personally I would prefer if people didn't use comments just to express frustration, and instead answer with suggestions on how to improve things. But that's just me, feel free to ignore me. – yannis Jan 4 '12 at 2:00

I think downvotes on questions (and answers) improve the quality of stackexchange sites. It probably does scare off some users but the ones who can't see what was wrong with their questions and ask better ones - those are the people whose absence adds value. I looked at a couple of the questions in your screen shot, and it might have occurred to me to ask them but I would have thought it thru and not asked.

• but I wouldn't go as far as saying that it adds any value to the community. I strongly disagree with the substance on that. But I am a relativist. I think the harshness to people who should read and not talk makes the site better. I'm not saying it's morally good or that I'm glad they don't get answers. Just that, relative to their being visibly present, their absence is a good thing. – MakeMinePanacea Dec 30 '11 at 17:08

Yes.

• This forum has a lot less traffic (in the form of new questions). Yeap but it's not a replacement for SO. If people knowingly ask off topic questions here, because somehow they feel they won't get answers on SO, that's blatant abuse. The two sites may belong to the same network but have distinct and different scopes. And neither of them is a "forum". One of the questions I was looking at here, belonged on SO ... the question was downvoted and closed. So what? Flag the question for moderation attention and ask for it to be migrated. Downvotes don't follow the migration. – yannis Dec 30 '11 at 21:16
• @YannisRizos, I was answering the question, so that even if it got migrated - which it didn't - it would have an answer. "We" are too much like barracks-room lawyers and are too uptight about what belongs where. The person who closed it is an admin, and she could have migrated it herself to SO. I suspect when I hit 10k rep, I'd have access to the tool to migrate it to where it belongs myself. – Tangurena Dec 30 '11 at 21:31
• I can't really comment on an individual question, unless of course you ask a specific meta question about it. As on if we are too uptight, I'm on the exactly opposite side, too much is slipping through. Let's agree to disagree... – yannis Dec 30 '11 at 21:35

I think maybe we are being a bit too aggressive is down-voting questions, particularly for new users.

I've checked in a few times recently, and decided not to participate because the first page features questions that have mainly been closed, migrated or downvoted.

What can we do to improve the situation?

I think it's partly to do with improving questions before destroying them, and partly to do with ensuring that newcomers are aware of the site's scope.

Are we scaring off new users?

• Much of our statistics are visible publicly on Stack Exchange sites. Our rankings really haven't changed much in the past year, and the relevant statistic (new 200+ rep users) has consistently been one of the highest on the network. – user8 Jan 2 '12 at 21:22

I don't think we are. However, personally, I don't down-vote anything. Instead I try to find the good stuff and vote it up. I know the first time one of my questions was down-voted didn't feel very good and I guess when people see no up-votes on their question they will get the message eventually.

And if a question is really bad and/or doesn't belong on the site, I just flag it appropriately. I have also been trying to (time permitting) leave a comment to point the OP in the right direction, if I can't improve the question myself through suggesting an edit.

I actually kind of wish there was an option on the flag dialog à la "Do you want to leave a comment notifying the OP of this flag?" with a kindly worded comment template to make this easier.

I have been hanging around SE for some time now, waiting to get the hang of it before I express any opinions.

I suppose that there is a philosophy behind SE: this is a place where someone will come if they have a specific question to which they want to get a specific, quick, and if possible definitive, answer. It is not a site for debates. If someone wants a debate, they can always go to a forum.

Once this philosophy has been decided upon, (and I believe it has, hasn't it?) the course of action is clear: if the question is not suitable for SE, it should be booed, downvoted, closed, deleted, obliterated and forgotten.

However, it seems as if the vox populi suggests otherwise. There seems to be a huge number of people who will ask unsuitable questions, and also people who are happy to answer, if they are quick enough, before the questions get closed.

So, let me suggest something: create forums, and move questions unsuitable to SE there. Also, if a question suitable for SE gets posted on the forums, bring it to SE. This way, you would be keeping everyone happy. You would not be alienating people who failed to read the entire FAQ and get a clear understanding of "what SE is all about" before daring to ask their (in their mind, undoubtedly:) innocent question.

• @YannisRizos The whole point is not let this degrade to a forum...  And that's precisely why I suggested that separate forums be created. So that the degradation can be kept separate and at the same time people do not get alienated. It is simple business sense: if you specialize in selling various different varieties of coffee, and you pride in the awesome smell of coffee that entices customers to buy, and yet you notice lots of people stop by asking "do you sell any tea?" well, you should take it as a hint to open up a tea store next door. A separate tea store, right next door!. – Mike Nakis Jan 2 '12 at 14:17
• @MikeNakis There already are forums and sites out there that fill this need (Quora, Reddit, etc., etc.). There's no need for SE to build a set of forums when it can just focus on Q&A and ask people to go elsewhere to discuss things that don't fit into the Q&A model. – Adam Lear Jan 2 '12 at 15:58
• I do not think you people understand me. It turns out that there is a need. By juxtaposing the forums vs the Q&A site and moving posts between the two (to the place where they are more appropriate) you will be keeping all the traffic for yourselves, and you will not be alienating people who happened to make the (always) right question in the wrong place. These same people will make the right question in the right place next time, because they will have figured out the pattern in a nice way. But if you alienate them on their first visit, they are likely to never set foot here again. – Mike Nakis Jan 2 '12 at 16:04
• And look at what is going on: the majority of questions appear to be posed by first-timers, and the majority of those are brutally downvoted and closed. I am not saying they don't deserve to be, I am saying that this situation shows that something needs to be done about it. – Mike Nakis Jan 2 '12 at 16:05
• @YannisRizos relax, pal; I never implied or even thought you are on the take. – Mike Nakis Jan 3 '12 at 4:45
• @YannisRizos I do not know how to ping in chat. Can you do it? – Mike Nakis Jan 3 '12 at 20:19
• – yannis Jan 3 '12 at 20:24
• I have to agree with @MikeNakis on this. This is something I've long thought they should have. The Q&A format is great, but its not suitable for every situation. Forums could act like a release valve. I know this is what the chat system is supposed to be, but I think a forum format would suit it better. Sure, there are other sites out there for forums, but thats what they are, other sites. Wouldnt we all rather be here? – GrandmasterB Jan 5 '12 at 6:11
• @GrandmasterB Wow, at last, someone who agrees with me. Yes, "release valve" is a good word I needed. Also, what I was thinking when I was writing "juxtaposing the forums vs the Q&A site" was that the purpose of one becomes more evident in the presence of the other. Then again, if the SE team does not care about the traffic, or if it is overworked and does not want another burden, maybe they could strike up a deal with some existing forums place so as to circulate posts among the two. – Mike Nakis Jan 5 '12 at 9:05
• @GrandmasterB I don't really see how Forums could act like a release valve, although some of the tension regarding downvotes/closevotes will disappear, I think it will quickly be replaced by an horde of people nagging because their posts got "relegated" to forums. Chat is a pretty good alternative for casual conversations, but people tend to ignore it and always go for the exposure of the main site. Unless a forum can be perceived as equally important as the main site, we'll be opening a very big can of worms. – yannis Jan 10 '12 at 8:25
• @ZaphodBeeblebrox, I think a forum is a good idea on its own. That it could act as a release valve by migrating off-topic questions is just a side benefit. The Q&A format here is good for Q&A, but not general discussion. And there's very little social interaction. A lot of folks, I think, would appreciate an area where open-ended discussion about programming was allowed, allowing people to socialize more, and just get to meet some of the people behind the user names. – GrandmasterB Jan 11 '12 at 19:28