I think it's ok to use the up and down arrows to express agreement. Obviously the uparrows aren't only for applauding politeness, so it seems reasonable that the downarrows aren't only for booing rudeness.
It only becomes abuse when people resort to karma bombing: downvoting a lot of comments by one user without reading them in order to subtract maximum karma. Fortunately we now have several levels of software to protect against that.
I have seen quite a few comments that were extremely insightful, and/or interesting that got downmodded due to an unpopular opinion. The reason this is unfortunate is not only that you tend to miss these (assuming that there is a higher probability that you read or think about comments that are rated higher, which I am surely not the only one that is guilty of) but also that it tends to promote groupthink . This is especially important on a forum like this where we are here to learn and share our thoughts, ideas and experiences for a very particular niche: Starting startups.
I have noted that comments that don't promote the "build it and they will come" view tend to be voted down. Since this site is primarily populated with hackers this is entirely understandable - it is human nature to think that your part of the project is the most important. But the reason we all come here is (I presume) to learn. And the things about which we know the least are the things where we have most to learn.
It is not only a question of abuse, but also a question of opening peoples eyes to issues, problems and points of views that lie outside their expertise, but which they will probably encounter in a startup. And this includes such diverse fields as marketing, financing and sales.
I am here to learn about stuff I didn't know already, and that is often outside my field. In return for this I will offfer my opinions in the fields where I may have something to contribute.
At the end of the day this makes us all better entrepreneurs. Because as anyone who has ever done a startup will tell you - you have to get everything right. Hacking, finance, sales, PR, marketing, hiring, etc.
So I think that the up and down arrows should not express agreement, but insightfullness or truth. Not opinion. That way I will be able to judge the validity of a comment in a field that I do not know well by its points. And hopefully learn something.
Better to encourage people to read comments even though they've been downmodded. Ultimately voting is about the reaction people have to the comment, and trying to institute some sort of high brow rules is unlikely to work. I must admit I'll read comments that have been downmodded just to see what the controversy is - and those I agree with I try to back up.
I hope that my opinion about trolls is worthwhile, and hopefully will be corrected if it's not. What I observed, but didn't hear directly stated: trolls feel threatened.
For whatever reason, unfamiliarity sends some folks into a state of neurosis, an upsetting of their equilibrium.
I think of a troll partly in the case of the Three Billy Goats sense: the troll is an owner of a critical pathway. He collects tolls (tribute) a/or has a reputation to uphold in performing his daily routine. He is defining and defending the status quo. If he sees that you wish to build a new alternative (bridge), this threatens his current monopoly. Instead of scaling his current operations and building new bridges, outsourcing the admin of them, and franchising the operation, he wants NO NEW BRIDGES. Perhaps he inherited his power, or wrested it away in a primitive sense. Any evolution of methods that doesn't go the way he likes, he will thwart, dismiss, or destroy. Perhaps it's bullying, not to defend the troll, but to see things from his perspective: he was bullied, and overcame bullies to get where he is now. All he sees are threats and he doesn't want to play any new games. If you owned the phone lines, perhaps you're seeing wireless that way.
To return to your point: trolls aren't interested in learning new things about stuff outside their field. They aren't nomadic like the goats, so they see goats as merely trespassers, competitors, or as victims. Not as neighbors, partners, or customers. That would take a more open mind.
Part of rudeness is not knowing how really rude one is; the other part is not caring. Back to the old joke of when the punk is asked "are you ignorant or apathetic ?" he replies "I don't know and I don't care !" Perhaps it's natural that trolls see life as a zero-sum competition.
The only problem is such a system will tend to award popular ideas (or humor) as opposed to unique, albeit possibly controversial ideas. When I go digging into the comments I generally look for two things... a large thread of comments and particular users whose opinions I regard. These are not necessarily, although they often are, the posts with the highest points. Occasionally I find gems near the bottom.
it's not necessarily ironic. maybe they didn't like how you used "grown up" to imply that children have the various bad traits you listed. which isn't a very reasonable or informative description of children.
It might be interesting to experiment with two axes of rating: one signifying agreement/disagreement, the other quality/abuse.
Whether it's worth the added complexity, I'm not sure, but it would resolve an ambiguity in the signals sent to commenters.
(To squeeze into the existing UI and mental model of this sort of site, I might make the current up/down mean quality -- should more people see this or should it recede from view? -- and add a right/left for agreement, giving posts tiny little inline spot polls, of a sort. Maybe it could even be a sparkline or two-tone percentage-bar.)
The problem is that the two axes may get confused in one's head. If I disagree with something (especially ideologies), it's often enough because I feel the opposing viewpoints are not thought out, and the post may set off the same internal growling as rudeness. Someone on your side may seem like a virtuous knight as you watch them engage the opposition in debate; the other side may view them as an harsh aggressor.
Count me in the people that don't agree as well. I used one of my very few down-mods on you, pg! Seemed appropriate given your comment. I very rarely downmod.
The karma system should predict how good I am going to feel after consuming the media -- nothing more. The problem is that for a simple question, the solution ain't so simple. I believe there is one, and I believe we've danced around this subject long enough for those paying attention to have figured it out.
Also -- thanks for the term "karma bombing". I've been a victim in the past, now I have a cool geeky name to describe it.