I just saw an answer from a new user (1 reputation point joined today) with 3 downvotes I'd be surprised if that guy ever decided to return to the site because of the welcome he received. Only one person who downvoted decided to leave a reason for his vote.

I think it might make sense to give new users (by length on site or after a certain amount of questions asked/answered) a protected status.

Now that I'm thinking about it...what point does a negative vote have? If the idea of the system is to bubble quality answers and questions to the top, shouldn't an upvote be enough? A bad answer will remain at zero, good answers will get more points.

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    FWIW, I've tweaked that answer to make it more worthwhile. It was essentially a link-only answer before. But you raise a good, broader point to discuss. – user53019 Mar 7 '13 at 15:39
  • related discussion at MSO: How many down-votes is enough for a user to understand their problem? – gnat Mar 7 '13 at 17:17
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    The irony of the downvotes on my first Meta question about downvoting discouraging users is not lost on me :| – Michael Brown Mar 7 '13 at 20:43
  • Remember that downvotes are different on meta - this is part of the FAQ. – user40980 Mar 8 '13 at 12:54
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    Counter-question: Should the community be protected from new users who can't be bothered to read? From programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/how-to-answer: "A link to a potential solution is always welcome, but please add context around the link so your fellow users will have some idea what it is and why it’s there. Always quote the most relevant part of an important link, in case the target site is unreachable or goes permanently offline." – Robert Harvey Mar 8 '13 at 19:43
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    @RobertHarvey that kind of belligarant attitude towards new visitors will be the death of this community. – MattDavey Mar 8 '13 at 21:13
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    @MattDavey: What belligerent [sic] attitude? Did you see me posing that question to the person who posted the link-only answer? The text I quoted comes directly from How to Answer; I didn't write that, and the user had to click a checkbox indicating that he read it before posting his answer. – Robert Harvey Mar 8 '13 at 21:15
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    As @GlenH7 mentioned, he improved the question with a quick edit, demonstrating what the community expects and the answer is now the highest scoring (and to me the best) of the lot. Anonymous downvotes with no reason could be intimidating and frustrating to a new user. At the very least perhaps (as has been suggested else where) requiring the user to select a reason for the downvote would provide more feedback. – Michael Brown Mar 8 '13 at 21:20
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    @RobertHarvey I was referring to "Should the community be protected from new users who can't be bothered to read? " - this implies that new users to the site are perceived as somehow being a threat to its integrity. If the community is no longer open and welcoming (and respectful) to new users then it doesn't have much hope imo. – MattDavey Mar 8 '13 at 21:25
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    @MattDavey: The question posted here implies that we are rude to new users by downvoting. I am implying by my counter-question that new users are being rude to the community by ignoring all of the site instructions when they post. I am merely parroting the wording that the OP used here. I'm sorry if I wasn't clear, but to a certain extent, I am demonstrating absurdity by being absurd. – Robert Harvey Mar 8 '13 at 21:27
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    @RobertHarvey I'm not saying that we are rude to them...it's just that a new user might feel intimidated when his good answer is downvoted to oblivion because of a fixable error and not knowing the culture of the site. By "protected" I mean should there be a limit of how many downvotes are allowed for an answer posted by a new user. Or lacking that, provide a mechanism to provide feedback to the user why their answer doesn't fit. You took my question wrong. – Michael Brown Mar 8 '13 at 21:32
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    @MikeBrown: You can call it what you like, but it still amounts to a negative emotional response by a new user, does it not? Just as some veteran users respond negatively when they see a new user trip over the usual SE land mines. If downvotes can't be applied to new users, then what's the point? Read any psychology textbook; negative feedback is how we learn. We don't have to be uncivil about it, but we don't have to make exceptions either. You don't get a free pass for speeding if you just got your driver's license. – Robert Harvey Mar 8 '13 at 21:34
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    No we learn via constructive criticism. Just voting a person down doesn't teach them anything. You point to psychology, ever hear of the Monkey banana shock experiment? The downvote is like a shock but there's no context. The new guy doesn't know why he was penalized and people are too happy to downvote without giving a reason. So bring the barrier down, give them a dialog to express why they downvoted easily. – Michael Brown Mar 8 '13 at 21:40
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    @MikeBrown: Encouraging people to explain their downvotes has been discussed to death on Meta. I don't always explain my downvotes, but when I do, I always quote the FAQ, how to ask, or how to answer. This helps avoid protracted (and often heated) discussions with the poster. – Robert Harvey Mar 8 '13 at 21:58
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    ... The interesting part of your question is that you're right in bringing up the discussion about the impact. Down votes can pile on quickly, often without an explanatory comment. That can be very off-putting. I think @RobertHarvey helped shift the discussion by pointing out an equally opposite and extreme tack that is to be avoided. The value of this discussion is to find that common ground compromise which encourages community growth. – user53019 Mar 8 '13 at 22:11

Downvotes have clear and specific meanings and you can see them from the tooltips.

For questions it's:

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

For answers it's:

This answer is not useful

If the answer is wrong then it should be down-voted. However, that doesn't mean you can't add a comment either before down-voting to give the user time to improve the post or afterwards. If you do it afterwards you should, as a matter of courtesy, go back and check if the post has indeed been improved so you can remove the down-vote.

The mistake a lot of people make is confusing a vote on the post with a vote on the person. I understand this can be hard to do, but people need to keep this in mind. Perhaps this should be made clearer in the FAQ or About page, but I'm not sure it will help.

New users should not be immune to down-votes otherwise we have no way to indicate that this is a bad answer?

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    You are absolutely right that downvotes serve a useful purpose, but it is also very discouraging for new users. It should be very strongly suggested that downvoters make a comment regarding why they think that question/answer doesn't belong. For a new user whose only feedback is a negative score on their question it is surely a frustratingly opaque method of learning how to use the site. And, of course, people don't use the downvotes properly, they use it to say "I disagree". Does this question really deserve a score of -7? – John Cartwright Mar 8 '13 at 6:33
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    @JohnCartwright On meta.*.stackexchange, a downvote is "I disagree". downvotes on meta are different – user40980 Mar 8 '13 at 15:03
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    @MichaelT Technically that's not actually true. A downvote on meta can mean "I disagree", but that is not the only way up/downvotes on meta are meant to be used. See my MSO proposal here for more info, or Jeff's downvoted but correct answer here – Rachel Mar 8 '13 at 20:30
  • @Rachel Heh, I was going to rant about Jeff's answer there, when I notice I've already done that (first comment under the answer). Jeff's brilliant, but that answer - although technically correct - is not one of his finest. – yannis Apr 21 '13 at 6:33

Allowing downvotes on answers is necessary, and so is to allow downvotes to bring an answer below zero, for the following reasons that I see:

  • A plain downvote: An ostensibly correct but factually wrong answer can get upvoted (for example, misunderstanding an unclear question that gets clarified after the initial upvotes on an answer). A down-vote can help to balance the rest of the answers more quickly, and can help stem a flood of "me too" upvotes of people that may have missed the changed context. Etiquette should demand that the downvoter also upvotes at least one correct answer, provides a correct answer, or provides a comment why the given answer is wrong, but just the downvote is already useful information.
  • A downvote below zero: an expert with information about the topic will not necessarily stay "live" with a question and its answers during the activity period on that question and its answers. At the time that they see the questions and answers they may all be at or near zero, but some of them may be right and some wrong. The expert needs some way to indicate an answer is "wrong" even if no-one has upvoted it yet so that their opinion carries in later activity. If you peg at zero and later on when the expert is no longer watching, a wrong answer may start getting voted up for the same reasons as above. A "wrongness" buffer (negative answer score) can prevent that answer from getting that momentum.
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    I wonder if it's worth "freezing" the negative down vote at -1 for lower rep users. In other words, a -7 item would show as -1 for users with < 100 rep or so. -1 becomes a sign post for "this sucks but we're not telling you how bad it sucks." – user53019 Mar 8 '13 at 22:17
  • @GlenH7 certain site behaviors such as "hiding from the front page" don't kick in until larger negative values. There is also the sorting on a page ordered by votes. – user40980 Mar 8 '13 at 23:27

I say, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It seems that we've all finally agreed what P.SE is about. There's consensus. You can feel the community come together. It seems like a bad idea to encourage people who aren't will to read the FAQ, relevant meta posts, and relevant StachExchange blog posts before posting. They shouldn't have special rules.

It's a slippery slope problem. If you change the rules for low-rep users, you'll eventually have to change the site scope. I'd hate to see that happen now that the site has stablized. Our mod policies are finally working. Let's not mess that up.

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    My perception is that the rampant down/close voting and over zealous moderation is strangling this community to death. And there's a huge tear down the middle between people who think stricter or looser rules are required to save it. I'm not saying your opinion is wrong, just pointing out that there's a huge divide in perception here. You see a community which has finally got its act together; I see a community which is tearing itself apart. – MattDavey Mar 8 '13 at 21:52
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    @MattDavey I agree and is actually the main reason why I haven't contributed to Programmers.SE though I enjoy reading it. I did ask one question a while ago that received many up AND down votes, which even when a moderator reopened the question after receiving the 5 close votes, it received another 5 close votes, soon to be reopened a second time. I later anon'd the question (for other reasons, mostly my Careers 2.0 account), but that was an influencing factor nevertheless. I'm now too cautious to post another answer or question since. – Adam Elsodaney Mar 8 '13 at 23:36

"Down" and "closed" could reasonably be perceived as negative words.

It may be that the goal is to encourage people to ask better questions and/or to improve their questions so that they can be re-opened. But I think new users could be understandably discouraged by being downvoted and having their questions closed right off the bat.

Should we care if someone's feelings are hurt? I don't know. It's pretty standard internet protocol to slap down the newbies. Then they either learn or move on.

Seriously though, the problem may be one of terminology. I don't know if there's a better way to say "Your crappy question is not welcome here" but there may be a better way to say "Your question has potential, please work on it and/or here are some ways to improve it.

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