Parabolically, suppose that Quentin asks a question that may as well be well-thought-out and interesting; suppose Albert and Beatrice work out answers A and B, that Albert's answer looks good and arrives early and is well-upvoted before Beatrice's answer arrives; and suppose that Beatrice's answer is actually better-thought-out, and more appropriate to Quentin's Question — this is a reasonable scenario, in that good thinking does take time.

What is the benefit to later readers in seeing the vote counts on answers A and B? What is the benefit to them of knowing Albert and Beatrice wrote them, or what Albert's and Beatrice's respective reputations are? What is the benefit of these things to Quentin?

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    What does "parabolically" mean? – Lucia May 29 '15 at 16:52
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    @Lucia, my first intuition was that it refers to infinite speed of propagation (which may be a good description of internet discussions), but on a second thought I think it refers to the parable. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable – Joonas Ilmavirta May 29 '15 at 17:07
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    Doesn't seem like an allegory or a parable to me. My guess is that the intended word was "hypothetically". Anyway, an interesting word parabolically, since it does make some sense to use hyperbolically or elliptically, and now parabolically adds closure! – Lucia May 29 '15 at 17:15
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    By up-votes you probably means score, i.e. the difference between the number of up-votes and number of down-votes. The number of up-votes/down-votes is only shown to users with 1k+ reputation. – Martin Sleziak Jun 1 '15 at 4:34
  • In general I believe it is beneficial for everybody to have as much information as possible. – მამუკა ჯიბლაძე Jun 19 '15 at 5:56
  • @მამუკა ჯიბლაძე, I'm mildly inclined to agree; the principal concern is whether the visible numbers are information or noise; if information, who holds the keys for decrypting it, et.c. – Jesse C. McKeown Jun 20 '15 at 15:51

What is the benefit to later readers in seeing the vote counts on answers A and B? Questions on ME sites are supposed to be interesting for non-expert readers as well. A layperson benefits from reading an answer that hits the nail on the head (at least more than from reading one that misses the nail entirely) but may not be able to recognize such an answer — vote counts help in this respect. In short, I think the main point of vote counts is to highlight the most useful content of the site. (Vote counts also have the effect of rewarding users for good contributions, but this is not a benefit directly for the readers.)

What is the benefit to them of knowing Albert and Beatrice wrote them, or what Albert's and Beatrice's respective reputations are? When people publicly stand behind their words, they are more likely to write something useful and meaningful. There are anonymous users as well, but even they often want to keep their reputation in the eyes of the community. (By 'reputation' I do not mean here the points formally awarded for being a good user at SE sites.) Just as people tend to trust people who rarely or never lie, it is easier to take seriously posts by a user with a history of highly voted posts. The reputation points are an indicator of reputation — not a perfect one but it still gives a rough idea.

What is the benefit of these things to Quentin? Quentin has the same benefits as other readers. If he happens to understand the answers well and be able to put them in some context, vote counts are not very useful for him. (He should upvote good answers, though, to reward those who helped and help those who understand less.) If he is not an expert on the subject or the tools used in an answer, other users may vote the answers to point out the most useful answer to him. It is also important to remember that the answers are not supposed to be useful to Quentin only.

I'm not trying to argue that having all the mentioned information public is a good thing in all respects. What I am trying to say is that it does have its good sides.

What is the benefit to have such a system at all? For each question, there are many perspectives on it. Various presentations can reach wider audiences, if they are on topic, well written, and show some degree of relevance.

The StackExchange platform is intended to encourage good questions that others can use, as well as good answers to those questions. Until an objective measure of "good" is determined, one has to approximate it by how useful it is to the community. Even then, community utility is not easily measured; votes and reputation are measured easily however, and serve as an effective filter for determining "good".

Your question might be better answered by comparing this platform to other platforms. As an example, before StackExchange and MathOverflow, the USENET newsgroups sci.math and sci.math.research were (in my view) the closest to providing anything like the services we get today. Sci.math got overrun by spam, and moderation services on sci.math.research were small enough that (among other reasons) resources constrained it to have a small flow and user base. Even the collection of mathematical newsgroups on USENET lacked the advantages the current platform has, the primary one being involved community moderation. Votes and reputation may not be ideal; that should not keep you from designing an even better platform. Better here includes community approval and participation, so be careful about your design.

Gerhard "Ask Me About System Design" Paseman, 2015.05.29

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