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I came across this question recently and asked the OP to explain some notation (see my comment below the question). As the OP was addressing my concerns, there was suddenly a down-vote (along with the resulting $-1$). Now, this is awful for at least two reasons:

  1. there is absolutely no feedback for the OP as to why a fellow MO-user had a negative perception of his question, and
  2. it now looks like I got annoyed by unexplained terms and down-voted even as this poor guy was addressing my concerns and defining his terms.

So, here is my question:

How can we encourage people who down-vote questions -- even bad, unsuitable questions -- to either leave a comment explaining themselves or to up-vote an explanatory comment that is already present?

This type of hit-and-run is really bad for our site and the way it is perceived by those not already using it regularly. When there are down-votes -- but not votes to close -- it is likely that low-reputation users are responsible. There is at least some accountability for voting to close (since your name is revealed upon closure), but almost no accountability for a random down-vote. We really should work on creating a better deterrent to this type of behavior.

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    $\begingroup$ This is an interesting discussion to be had, only I think the word "enforce" is not good. Because if you really want to enforce it the answers will be simple (yet unlikely to happen), such as change the software so that you can only downvote after posting a comment or voting on one, which would more or less enforce this (true somebody could vote up a non-critical cmnt, but it would catch most cases an one could develop on this). Or otherwise one needed to search the voting rec, when it happens, which seems even more infeasible or reveal downvotes. Perhaps change enforce to say encourage. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Jul 7 '13 at 18:44
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    $\begingroup$ @quid thanks, I've made the change you suggested. What I had in mind was something like -1 to your reputation if you explain your downvote but -2 if you don't. $\endgroup$ – Vidit Nanda Jul 7 '13 at 19:05
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    $\begingroup$ Thank you for the reply and the change. What you say would also be an option. However, since you mention -1 and -2, let me mention that since the change downvoting on questions does not cost any points. This change might contribute to possibly increased frequency of downvotes. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Jul 7 '13 at 19:12
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    $\begingroup$ If you feel that you don't understand a down-vote you can post a comment. For example, if you feel the reason for the down-vote is not clear you can post a comment like: "It is not clear to me why this post is down-voted." An someone else (not necessarily the user who down-voted the post) may reply explaining why a down-vote is reasonable. Even if no one replies your comment can still be helpful for the author to remain positive. $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Jul 8 '13 at 3:43
  • $\begingroup$ What if someone commented "-1 because I hate the OP"? $\endgroup$ – Joel Reyes Noche Jul 8 '13 at 4:36
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    $\begingroup$ The downvoters do not necessarily have to be established MO users, they can come from everywhere in the SE network since if I remember this correctly only 125 rep is enough to downvote which is not much taking the association bonus into account. Fully agree that spurious unexplained unjustified downvotes are horrible. $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jul 8 '13 at 11:44
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    $\begingroup$ @JoelReyesNoche: The comment would likely be flagged. Also, it is not permitted to downvote based on ones opinion of OP, or at least not solely based on it (by which I mean it is likely alright to be stricter with users doing repeatedly the same thing). $\endgroup$ – user9072 Jul 8 '13 at 19:51
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There are several significant problems with enforcing a comment for every downvote:

  • There is no good universal way to determine if a user already left a sufficient explanation, so a bad post will accumulate a lot of nearly identical comments that explain why it is bad. This creates a lot of unnecessary noise and also might look even more hostile to new users than unexplained downvotes.

  • There is a significant number of people that don't take criticism well, even if it is constructive. And if forced to leave a comment for every single downvote, quite some users are likely to resort to more direct and blunt comments. This would very likely increase the cases of revenge downvoting and conflict in comments.

  • It would almost certainly discourage downvoting and decrease the total number of downvotes. Downvotes help to remove bad questions from the frontpage, and to properly sort the answers and put the bad answers greyed-out at the very bottom. Discouraging downvotes might have a bad effect on the site due to that.

That said, commenting why a post is problematic is a good idea in general. I would personally avoid including that you downvoted, but explaining a user how they can fix their posts can be very helpful and should be encouraged. Explaining downvotes should be encouraged, but not enforced by the software.

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    $\begingroup$ Like I said, I don't think there should be a comment for every downvote. If there is already a comment which summarizes your negative reaction, just upvote that comment instead of posting your own. Otherwise, maybe there really are 2 different reasons to down-vote and hence twice as much feedback for the OP. $\endgroup$ – Vidit Nanda Jul 7 '13 at 19:18
  • $\begingroup$ Posts can also be sorted by upvotes, they are a much friendlier sorting tool ... $\endgroup$ – Dilaton Jul 8 '13 at 12:04
  • $\begingroup$ @Dilaton: posts are sorted by score in the votes few, as you likely know. If you have the option of affecting the score by +1,0, and -1 then this gives more power to influence the sorting with also using downvotes. The same could be achieved with adding a +2 instead of -1, but then there should in my opinion be at least some way to influence rep also in the negative direction (it is annyway minimal), so that pure noise-contributors at least do not rise too quickly. That being said, I do not downvote much myself. [I do not conside the Q that started this in thhe noise cat though.] $\endgroup$ – user9072 Jul 8 '13 at 19:59
  • $\begingroup$ "There is a significant number of people that don't take criticism well, even if it is constructive."-The people of MO are not very good are making constructive criticism. $\endgroup$ – Joseph Van Name Mar 21 at 22:35
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I did not downvote this question (or vote to close it), but I think whoever did was perfectly reasonable. The question as stated was pretty much incomprehensible, and the downvote is self-explanatory.

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    $\begingroup$ Steven, I agree that the question was vague, which is why I was seeking clarifications. Also, while I did not down-vote your answer here, I must confess that I was mildly amused to see the unexplained $-1$. $\endgroup$ – Vidit Nanda Jul 7 '13 at 19:24
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    $\begingroup$ Note that the $-1$ here is the result of $+2-3$, so there are three unexplained downvotes on this answer (as of this writing). $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Jul 7 '13 at 23:35
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    $\begingroup$ I just upvoted this answer! If we are expected to comment on our downvotes, shouldn't we also be expected to comment on our upvotes? $\endgroup$ – Joel Reyes Noche Jul 8 '13 at 4:33
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    $\begingroup$ @Joel, a downvote says there's something wrong with the answer, and that leaves the downvotee wondering what he can do to make the answer better. An upvote says there's something right with the answer, and this doesn't leave the downvotee wondering what he can do to make the answer worse. In short, no. $\endgroup$ – Gerry Myerson Jul 8 '13 at 5:56
  • $\begingroup$ @GerryMyerson I agree with you. I was just thinking of the case when a terrible question or answer gets an upvote, and people comment "Why the upvote?" $\endgroup$ – Joel Reyes Noche Jul 8 '13 at 7:29
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    $\begingroup$ Downvotes here are self-explanatory anyway as the answer is off-topic, being only commentary on the specific event that motivated the dicussion of a general aspect. ;-) $\endgroup$ – user9072 Jul 8 '13 at 20:08

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