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Ask HN: Please be more thoughtful when downvoting
143 points by guynamedloren on Apr 1, 2012 | hide | past | web | favorite | 76 comments
Lately I've noticed far too many constructive comments that have been downvoted (usually without any explanation). Please stop this. It's okay to have comments that are not in support with the original post or your own thoughts. We don't have to shoot them down.

Downvoting is meant as a management tool to filter out comments that negatively impact the community, or ones that provide no substance or insight. Please do not downvote legitimate comments.

Thank you.

I fully agree. I've seen far too many comments that are meaningful or insightful - even ones I don't agree with - get unnecessarily downvoted without proper cause. On a discussion forum where one of its main objectives is to be a safe haven for intelligent discourse this is unacceptable. With that said, this is my officially unofficial guide to downvoting:

NEVER downvote:

1) Just because you disagree with a post.

2) Because you dislike the poster.

3) Because others have downvoted a comment into oblivion and you want to jump on the bandwagon. i.e. No need to kick a comment when it's already down.

4) When you have not explicitly reasoned out why you are downvoting beforehand.

DO downvote:

1) Because the comment is derogatory or offensive.

2) Because the comment is factually incorrect.

3) Because the comment is off topic and/or does not add to the conversation.

4) Because the comment lacked any meaningful content. Ex: "Yes!", "Nice post!", "LOL!", etc.

Ultimately the golden rule applies here. Do not downvote any comment for a reason that you yourself would be upset over if someone used that same reason to downvote a comment of yours. In short, just put some thought into it.

I would add to the "factually incorrect".

It is better to reply and correct wrong facts, also people just sometimes get things wrong and can write a good post in the context of something that might be a bit inaccurate.

Also it may be beneficial if something is wrong but believed by many people to have the content and the correction displayed prominently on the page.

Being on-topic, polite and factually correct are all virtues that I would expect in a typical HN poster. We should prefer comments which reflect these virtues!

However, regardless of what we intend, I think upvoting and downvoting equate to 'I like' and 'I no like'. We should embrace this de facto reality.

People, including good people with sound judgments, cannot always explain their choices at the time they make them, nor is this desirable.

When people downvote foolishly, in many cases they will have lost their tempers. In such cases sober rules like 'only downvote comments which do not add to the discussion' may go out of the window.

This can't be fixed by exhorting users not to get angry or not to comment when angry, for people can be goaded into anger in subtle, malicious ways (which cannot themselves be easily captured and prevented by other rules). And people can deny that they are angry, even to themselves.

Anyway, effective rules must remain stable under such conditions, which is no mean task.

One way is to engineer new rules into the system itself.

For instance, improvement might be brought about if downvoting, in addition to costing the downvotee one point, cost the downvoter one karma point. People would then refrain from frivolous downvoting, but I believe would still downvote inappropriate, thread-damaging comments. This is partly because good people tend to have more karma and well as better judgment. It also reflects human psychology. Getting angry always costs the angry person.

The "factually incorrect" is a tricky one because often the downvoters may be misinformed about the topic themselves. I agree with some others that in such a situation it is much better to reply with a correction instead of downvoting. Simply downvoting in this instance is bordering on "I disagree with this".

In fact, I would argue even if the original poster was misinformed, starting a thread of conversation which will inform him and potentially others, will still have an overall positive outcome for the community.

Aside from this, the other criteria are a good list in my opinion.

If you downvote, you should be obligated to leave a comment. Downvoting otherwise feels like a victimless crime. I exaggerate obviously, but the lack of feedback stunts learning especially if you take the time to read the article and offer commentary.

I'll add another. If the person the article is about comments don't downvote it just because they're being a bit rude. People reading an article generally want to hear what the person the article is about has to say, and downvoting them makes it harder to read those comments.

Remember, downvoting is supposed to be useful. That's why it exists.

I downvoted your comment (and probably was the first to do given that it was still black when I downvoted it) here: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3782072 which lead you to immediately post this. Considering you clearly think your comment was constructive (or else you wouldn't have posted this) I'll explain why you were downvoted into oblivion.

Your comment was ridiculous self promotion with a splash of topic relevancy. It was laced with narcissistic bullshit. If you don't want to get downvoted, stick to the topic, not how you (at 23, with 13 years of design experience) are better than 99% of the designers and then link to a bunch of sites that, while certainly are not unattractive, are not what I would include in my list of greatest websites ever designed.

Yes, those downvotes were deserved, as was your comment. I don't deny that. I was offended by the article (which stated that a type of person with x skills does not exist), took it personally and commented accordingly. But while this post was submitted around the same time as that comment, the two are unrelated. My comment only had a single downvote at the time, anyway, and I will be the first to admit that it was not constructive by any means.

What bothers me, however, is when I see constructive and helpful comments by others (typically respected, productive HN members) that have been downvoted for no apparent reason. I almost always try to upvote these, as they do not deserve negative karma for merely speaking their minds and contributing to a healthy discussion.

No the article said they do exist but rarely are available.

Just like unicorns.

People downvote to express one of two things:

- The post doesn't have a tone that fits the HN ideal.

- The post says something that they disagree with.

This is a problem, because those two cases should not be treated the same. A post containing an unpopular opinion should not be considered equivalent to a post that is insulting or derogatory, for instance.

From a user interface perspective, the sensible approach would be to provide an outlet for the user to do express two things independently, rather than attempting to modify behaviour through appealing to their better nature.

A separate 'flag' option would make a lot of sense.

There is a separate flag option. It's hidden. For example, clicky the [link] URL in the menu bar for my post.

AIUI flagging comments (posts in a thread) is for spam or blatant nastiness, and down-votes are to encourage better behaviour. ("not a nice tone" / "factually incorrect" / "big claims with no evidence" / "missed point of thread by wide mark" etc.)

If a post gets down-voted and you really don't understand why either leave it, and wait to see if other people up-vote. (People can accidentally down-vote, although they'd normally mention that.) Asking politely for more information usually works.

Oops - I somehow wasn't aware of that! If flag isn't helping, perhaps this is true:

In HN's UI, the downvote is presented as directly equivalent to the upvote. Since the upvote button is to be used if one agrees with the tone, sentiment or facts within a comment, its visual link to the downvote button causes people to infer that the downvote button should be used when one disagrees.

If this isn't the intended purpose of downvotes, the UI should change so that it isn't the exact mirror of an upvote.

There is a flag option, it shows only when you are replying. I don't know its moral purpose, but I guess you are supposed to post whenever you flag a comment.

Edit: TIL I should use the link link instead of the reply link, so I can see new answers before posting mine.

This is the one aspect of HN that cast a bad light on the nature of the community. There seem to be what I've come to call groups of "fan-boys" who downvote based on ideology rather than on the merits of the comments.

The problem is that this very quickly starts to feel like any other forum where things generally degenerate to the point where only seven people are posting because anyone else becomes afraid of the wolves attacking.

My opinon: Down-voting ought to cost you (the down-voter) a significant chunk of points, say, 10%. And, you should be obligated to post a reason. And, if the reason is bullshit and it gets downvoted, you loose another 10% of your points.

In other words, it better be valid.

The rules could be a little more elaborate than that, but this might be a good start.

I was actually about to suggest something similar, and in fact the number I was thinking is 20%. You are right -- it ought to cost something to downvote, but not so much that it discourages downvote completely.

It may be a bit complicated to implement the follow-up adjustment of karma, so I'm not too strong on that.

Stack overflow does this, but I think only under certain conditions. Like if the question has been upvoted, or if you are the first person. I am not too familiar with how they do it.

I disagree a bit on the fan-boy downvotes. From what I have observed, anecdotally ofcourse, there are many fan boy comments with no downvotes than those that get downvoted by fanboys..

Your comment doesn't make a lot of sense...

Sorry, I was talking about two completely independent things in the same comment.

1) About the negative points for the downvoter 2) The concept of "fan-boy downvotes".

It feels to me as though downvoting simply to express disagreement started to increase after the point display got removed from individual posts.

I think in the past, if people saw a comment they really disagreed with, but it had only 2 or 3 points, there was a tendency to say "Of course it's got no points, nobody agrees with it." But once points went away, there's now a tendency to say, "I'd better downvote this stupid comment, just in case there are idiots out there voting it up."

I concur with that. Visible points lead to a natural equilibrium.

How about showing the points below a cutoff, maybe 3 points?

> It's okay to have comments that are not in support with the original post

That's not really the problem, top comments very often contain counterpoints to the submission. It's deeper in the comments where you can easily slip into the light grey even with pretty uncontroversial posts citing scientific sources but I think that's just caused by a low number of votes in general for those comments, not particularly "unthoughtful" downvoting.

Oh, and it's apparently OK to use up/downvoting to express dis/agreement: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=117171

I really don't understand the view that it's OK to use downvoting to express disagreement.

I think that what a downvote says, regardless of what's intended, is "I do not want to see this type of post anymore." This makes sense if someone is misbehaving. I think it also makes sense for very extreme opinions.

But for simple disagreement? Just because I disagree with you does not mean I want you to stop expressing your viewpoint.

I typically downvote where someone appears to be failing to think deeply enough about the topic, or if they haven't read the article or the parent comment properly. In a sense, it's because I'm disagreeing with them, but it's a bit different to "You suck! <downvote>"

Does downvoting a comment cause the voter to lose karma, or is it in essence free? StackOverflow does this (you lose a point each time you vote something down), and it is actually a meaningful deterrent: maybe it would help here.

> Does downvoting a comment cause the voter to lose karma, or is it in essence free?

It's free.

EDIT: Heh, I'm assuming the downvote came from testing?

Yes, that would help; in psychology it's called a "costly signal", and whole books have been written about its benefits.

Also, on stackoverflow there is a limit to the total number of votes any one person can make per day.

The voter loses karma. One downvote is one karma. One upvote is one karma. (StackOverflow is 1 upvote for 10 karma for answers, 2 karma for questions; and 1 downvote for 1 karma everywhere, I think.)

You only lose reputation when downvoting answers. Question downvotes are free. Also, question upvotes give 5 points to the poster

The voter or the person who asked the question? I am confused.

To clear up the confusion, the grandparent is simply wrong.

The only person to lose karma is the one that gets downvoted.

Sorry, I meant to say the "downvoted loses karma"

It's a number in a database, who cares...

I used to get pissed about it and want an explanation, but the consequence of posting on controversial threads is getting downvoted. If you don't want to be downvoted just preface your comment with something like "I'm not dissing X, but <something that points out some major flaw in X>" it seems to mostly do the trick.

What's the bar for downvoting anyway these days still 200 points?

I care about a number in the database because that database is the mechanism behind a community I care about.

It has been observed that as online communities like HN grow, the signal-to-noise ratio falls on a progression that can be summarized as HN -> Reddit -> Digg. No one knows how to permanently stave off the Diggization of HN. But, in the mean time, it is worth trying to delay as much as possible.

As we become more complacent regarding downvotes on well-written comments because we disagree or not downvoting empty, witty fluff, HN slides farther and farther into the noise pit.

> "I'm not dissing X, but <something that points out some major flaw in X>"

The only way I've ever seen this used is "I'm not dissing X, but fuck X, I hate it because of A, B, and C"

On more popular threads, being down voted will push a comment down to the point where it may not be seen. If the comment is constructive and adds value to the discussion, downvoting it is a disservice to the community and hurts the discussion as a whole.

It's almost just a number in a database. Negative scores cause the comment to be grayed out.

Perhaps comments with negative scores should not be grayed out. This would remove the incentive to downvote a comment to silence an unpopular opinion. I don't think this happens a lot, but some people disagree.

Then, there is the problem of "good" comments in response to the "bad" comments. When I see a grayed out comment with responses, I end up reading the grayed comment anyway. I doesn't make sense to make it more difficult to read the original comment than the responses.

[edit typo]

This is sadly so true. It's hard to play devil's advocate sometimes because unless you are going for the "conventional wisdom" some people are bound to disagree with you, and disagreement is often expressed in the form of downvotes. Since offering a different point of view is discouraged, the discussion inevitably trends towards being bland or rah-rah in nature.

What to do? The wise solution is to just ignore Karma -- who cares about that except for the egomaniacs? But the truth is that we are all human, and when I offer something that adds to the discussion but got downvoted to oblivion in return, it hurts, at least sometimes. And in those cases when I couldn't care less, I feel a little bit wiser.

The other thing to bear in mind is that when you downvote new members to the point that their karma goes negative, they will automatically be hellbanned -- their comments won't show up except to themselves.

EDIT: So, be nicer to new users, otherwise they'll end up like dailyllama: http://news.ycombinator.com/threads?id=dailyllama

I would like to propose a small change to the commenting system: Don't shade downvoted comments grey.

I've noticed it's like a snowball effect. I've commented on a post and for hours it wasn't downvoted or even upvoted. But as soon as one person noticed that it had been downvoted, it would get 2 or 3 more.

And I've noticed this impulse in myself. I feel much more compelled to downvote a comment that is already grey than one that isn't, even though the grey one may be a perfectly valid point.

Maybe a good idea would be to only show it greyed out after 3+ downvotes. That way people wouldn't have that knee-jerk reaction to downvote just because someone else has.

I'm sort of the opposite, sometimes I see a gray comment that I wouldn't normally have bothered to vote on either way and think "it's not that bad" and upvote to get it out of gray.

Yeah, I've done that a few times as well. I guess it could go either way. I think that's why only displaying as grey after 3+ downvotes would keep people only voting based on their own thoughts and not on how other people have acted on that comment.

Yes, I do this too. It annoys me that it is 'necessary' to do this. I can only hope others agree with me.

I think downvoting should be thoughtful, but I'm not so sure about the burden of having to provide an explanation for doing so. IMO users should be able to judiciously downvote without doing anything else.

People are discussing this because they care about HN. They don't want to see it go to shit, like many other communities tend to do.

This is a good thing so long as these opinions trigger actions to return the community to a reasonably balanced state.

It'd be nice to hear from HN management on thoughts and potential remedies for this issue. And, of course, it'd be nice to see some of these changes implemented ASAP.

I don't think this is a recent trend... I've noticed it since I've been active on HN. But it's very true. I've noticed that very controversial comments will receive a lot of downvotes, but relatively few comments that disagree with them.

I'll confess I've been guilty of this in the past: downvoting comments I disagree with, or those which I think are false. On reflection, that is obviously wrong. Downvotes are for comments which are off-topic, unnnecessary for anyone to read. Not those with with there is legitimate disagreement. For those, commenting is the appropriate response.

I can only reinforce the OP: Downvotes are for off-topic, irrelevant, spam comments. If you disagree with a comment, comment to say why, or upvote a comment that expresses your disagreement. Downvoting a comment signifies nothing.

Factually incorrect or relevant but info-light statements are often just as much noise as off-topic comments. For example, the top-voted comment on a post about Clojure says "Clojure is such utter shit. It doesn't even have integers. Don't use this crap." Are you really saying we shouldn't downvote that? The one bit of signal (it doesn't have integers) is false, and the rest of it is just flaming. By your metric, it's a good comment — it's on topic and it's not spam. But by any reasonable metric, it's a terrible comment, and I would like to discourage such mindlessness.

Also related to downvoting: how/when do you receive the permission to downvote ?

It's 501 exactly. I just hit this limit last week.

Some place above 472..as I can't down-vote yet (despite being here 3 years).

Yeah, it seems we're expert lurkers. I've been here more than 4.5 years and have less than 350 karma. I feel pretty confident about my downvoting skills, but I've never been allowed to use them.

at least 500 karma, though the threshold may have increased

Legitimate comments are incredibly subjective. That down arrow helps me clarify what I consider legitimate.

I guess that is why Facebook doesn't have a Dislike button. In the end, it never works. We are emotional creatures and sometimes we feel like we need to vent off somewhere. And during that time, we are highly likely to vent off on things unrelated to the source of the feeling we feel we need to vent off.

I think to fix that, either remove downvoting entirely, or add a secondary system where downvotes are reviewed, and the downvoting right is taken from people who abuse it.

I wonder what the best solution is. This definitely does seem to be a trend that's increased recently, possibly as a result of points no longer being displayed for each post, and possibly as a result of an increasingly larger community whose new members resemble the reddit crowd more than the Silicon Valley crowd.

I don't like the idea of having a cost to downvoting. People shouldn't have to make the choice between receiving a small punishment for legitimately trying to improve the forum or letting others do it. Perhaps get rid of a downvote option altogether and make flag more visible? Or get rid of downvote and don't make flag more visible? Maybe require a comment to go along with flag? I definitely think the visual symmetry in the up and down voting gives people the impression that the downvote's function is disagreement. Then again, I seem to recall pg saying that he was okay with the downvote being used that way and wasn't afraid of HN becoming http://www.collegehumor.com/video/3980096/we-didnt-start-the...

If you're going to complain how others are supposedly misusing a feature of the site, why would you do so by apparently misusing the "Ask HN" lead-in?

People downvote for various reasons, and there really isn't a lot of agreement on a good criterion. Some downvote only "harmful" comments, some downvote for disagreement. I'm guessing you're in the first camp, but given that pg has ok'd the second option as well, I doubt downvoting for disagreement is going away any time soon.

Speaking only for myself, I don't often see substantive comments which are downvoted into oblivion: at worst, they hang out at -1 or -2 until someone notices them and upvotes. Most good comments eventually recover; mediocre ones might stay at barely-downvoted. ( I see substantive comments go [dead] because the user's been hellbanned, but that's different.)

Maybe the solution is just to not start graying text until -2 or -3? Then one or two early downvotes would have less effect.

HN's community is a pit of sexist villainy, unnecessary pedantry, empty sycophancy, and vapid self-aggrandizement.

But yeah, let's make sure we get on this downvoting "problem" post-haste.

PS: I downvoted every single comment in this thread that rubbed me even a little bit the wrong way, regardless of its constructiveness. I left no comment in explanation. I took special delight in doing so for comments with an especially righteous tone. The world is no worse for my having done so. The community would have been no better had I restrained myself.

Downvotes are not the problem.

All right, I'll bite.

>HN's community is a pit of sexist villainy, unnecessary pedantry, empty sycophancy, and vapid self-aggrandizement.

Then why are you here? I'm not asking you to leave, but that is such a thorough indictment that I do wonder why you stay. There must be more to the site than that.

>PS: I downvoted every single comment in this thread that rubbed me even a little bit the wrong way, regardless of its constructiveness. I left no comment in explanation. I took special delight in doing so for comments with an especially righteous tone. The world is no worse for my having done so. The community would have been no better had I restrained myself.

One person downvoting like this is not much of a problem. If very few people behaved like that the OP would not have needed to post this. If everyone behaved like that the site would be unusable.

>Downvotes are not the problem.

Thoughtless downvoting is _a_ problem. I don't know if it's the biggest problem the site has but why would you let that stop you from addressing it?

> Then why are you here?

The obvious reason – occasional boredom. Oh, and the inherent joys of venting my spleen.

The better question: Why do you engage in the community?

You could just browse articles without creating an account.

> Why do you engage in the community?

Same deal. Occasional boredom.

Your profile reads ~"inescapable idealism" yet you sound like the most jaded person I've come across lately. Downvoting isn't the problem, it's probably cynicism. Nailed it.

...I'm so – honestly – puzzled by this that I'm wondering if you're trolling me or I'm misreading it or something. But I'll answer at face value:

Without idealism, where do you think my disappointment in the community would come from?

An idealist can be positive about a state of affairs and the future. He need not be disappointed that utopia has not yet been reached. I find HN encouraging, because the tone and contents are mostly pretty good. So where does your disappointment come from?

Let it be known that I thought this post was hilarious, and so I upvoted it.

I would like to see minority upvotes weighted in some way to avoid mob rule. However I'm not sure of the math of this, or how it could be gamed. But I do know, if a story or comment gets 10 upvotes and 90 downvotes, I want to be given the chance to see what those 10 users saw upvote worthy.

Also, I'd like to see the number of upvotes and downvotes, not just the total. I would find it much more informative if there were five hundred upvotes and five hundred downvotes, rather than just a zero.

Title indicates question, no question present. Downvoted :p

By chance I noticed your earlier comment:


and I'm trying to get over the dissonance between what you said there and what you're saying here.

What is the dissonance between "Don't downvote to disagree" and "I have many skills"? They seem completely unrelated. Did you link the wrong comment?

Am I totally wrong in that I thought we had no downvotes on Hacker News?

Yes, downvoting is a feature available to users with 500+ karma (according to http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=3782217)

I don't care if this comment gets me downvoted to the point of extinction on HN, but seriously this shit is the number 1 story right now? Quit being such a friggin' baby. Your comment sucked(just like this one) and then you received and a downvote. I bet you are creaming in your pants now that you are the number 1 story.

BEG HN: Quit UpVoting Total Bull Shit Like This!

Voting is dumb in a text-based world of writing.

You see why I said it is dumb? You downvoted without adding dialog (counter-points as your disagreement). If this was an offline world, what would you have done to me and my voice? Punch me as downvote? Leave me alone as downvote? Ignore me? It is totally dumb to have downvotes on text/writing because it gives you an easy way out.

The same is the case with Like buttons and upvotes, there's no difference.

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