I came across this SO meta Q titled:Should the weight of downvotes be increased? that I believe Jeff Atwood asked. It ultimately got declined and was wondering if anyone knew the back story as to what happened and why it was declined.

  • Not sure why you posted here; people on MSO are more likely to know the history, if anybody does – Michael Mrozek Nov 16 '13 at 8:36
  • Was a little intimidated to ask this over there, I thought maybe one of our mods knew why. – slm Nov 16 '13 at 13:27
  • If you scroll down far enough, there is a checked answer (from Jeff Atwood himself). Reason #1 is parallel to mine ("Downvotes go from being cosmetic and psychological to weapons of war"). – goldilocks Nov 17 '13 at 17:54

I don't have the answer but I do have an opinion (TL;DR -> Positive reinforcement is a better motivator than fear of punishment). It's interesting that:

When we started Stack Overflow, we wanted to make sure that downvotes were more of a visual and psychological motivator than a punitive action.

That seems like a wise choice to me, because it emphasizes that what's significant is the question's score, not how many points it did or did not generate for the user. The critique that:

downvotes don't quite carry enough... -5 downvotes and +1 upvote (for sympathy) yields zero points overall

Sort of turns this on its head and implies that what's most important is the number under your name. Of course, it's somewhat important, which is why this is even a question, but it should not be the ground of the whole scheme.

Right now your user cred is mostly about people giving (or not giving) you points. If the game became more about people taking points, my feeling is this would just attract more negative behavior, grudges, etc.1 It's one thing to be told you are wrong, it's another thing entirely for someone else to be able to arbitrarily penalize you for it.

Also, I don't want to be a cop, and if I knew that someone might be sitting there going, "Oh that sucks my points are down", then I would be less inclined to down vote -- I'm already disinclined as it is. I don't want to punish people, I just want to draw their attention to their mistakes. Consider on U&L:

goldilocks upvotes cast 658 down 24
slm upvotes cast 5831 down 104

Looks like I'm relatively stingy, :( hmmm...food for thought...better get out there and vote...anyway, I imagine what would happen if you changed the penalty would be some people would downvote less and some other people would downvote more. Betcha. Would that be better?

Finally, downvotes should reflect more on the anwser/question than the answerer/questioner, which they do. Again, gaining points is what creates the game and encourages us to try and do a good job of it, but losing points can only discourage people from trying.

1 As is, making the penalty minor and including a small cost to the downvoter probably discourages "retribution votes". If downvotes were more serious affronts to the user, you'd see more people getting serious about retribution.

  • I 100% agree with your synopsis. Seems like we're on par with each other; I have roughly an order of magnitude more votes in both categories, but we're roughly the same run rate of up's to down's, which is exactly what we should see within the site. The only reason I asked about this was that I've noticed some users here using the same tactic on SO where they provide 1-2 sentence answers that show little effort to me, so I was curious what options we as a community had at our disposal. I like you don't like to DV, and I feel funny DV, an A that's kinda correct, but lacks details. – slm Nov 18 '13 at 1:26
  • These 1-2 sentence answers are a consistent pattern on SO where ppl are trying to throw as many A's out there to generate UV's. This site has seemed pretty immune to this tactic, and I'd aim to keep it that way, but I've notice several of these high rep'ed SO users driving by here on occasion. – slm Nov 18 '13 at 1:28
  • Well -- the world ain't perfect, and attempts to push it further toward (some vision of) perfection can have unintended consequences ("throwing the baby out with the bathwater" and all that). I realized writing this that I should upvote more, which of course doesn't discourage the machine gun answers but hopefully encourages something else. – goldilocks Nov 18 '13 at 21:02
  • 1
    Sorry I didn't mean to imply that I thought changing the voting ratios around would solve this particular problem, I was researching what to do and came across this Q&A and was more curious than anything whether this went any where or not. I'm glad that didn't change the ratios since I don't think that would've solved anything, just created a whole knew set of problems. – slm Nov 18 '13 at 21:14

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