Downvoting and Perception

It is an ugly subject and a much misunderstood element of E2. Some people will never downvote a writeup because they feel there is some sort of stigma attached to doing so. Others downvote frequently, but for strange and often personal reasons. So much is said about "systematic downvoting" and "random downvoting" that people who consider themselves good and kind try to stay away from it completely. They will instead upvote anything they consider at least passable and abstain on writeups they feel are substandard.

It is true that any voting on a writeup honors it in some way. It tells the author that someone has read it, but in many cases someone has just hit upon the node. There is far more random upvoting than random downvoting here. Why? Someone hits on a node, looks at it briefly and says:

"I don't have time to read this
and the subject doesn't much interest me,
but I have a lot of votes to burn."

And so they upvote based on perceived merit.
(Hmmm. It is long. Seems to have a lot of details. Yeah. Upvote the sucker.)

The random downvoter may be motivated by similar perceptions, but many of these seemingly random downvoters are simply opposed to certain types of writeups... lyrics, humor, prose, goofy titles, daylogs, short writeups, long writeups, whatever... automatically bringing them to hit the downvote based on their dislike for the type of writeup they see. They might just downvote any writeup with the word "cabbage" or "miracle" in it.

Downvoting with Purpose

When is a good time to hit that downvote? Picture yourself assisting the editors with your voting. After all, in a database supposedly rooted in community, all opinions should be relevant as to whether a submitted piece stays, goes or is elevated to a highly regarded status. If an editor comes across a submitted piece they feel is a horrible piece of writing, either for its grammar, factual inaccuracies, pointlessness, or any other of the dozens of things that drag a writeup down, their first instinct may be to kill it and make it go away. Now, imagine that the editor looks at the piece's reputation. Holy holstein, Batman, it has a +8 reputation! Editor may think again. "Hmmm, people seem to like it. Maybe it isn't that bad after all." Knowing that editorial judgment is subjective, I will rarely delete something with a strongly positive reputation... but what if the voting is skewed? What if these eight positive votes were just random people burning votes who felt ashamed of downvoting?

Scenarios: You realize the author is presenting incorrect information and misleading the reader. The writeup is woefully incomplete and poorly written to the point where you cannot even read it without getting a headache. It is a creative piece that makes no sense, goes nowhere and rambles on and on, leaving you unable to follow it or even finish reading it. Your downvote is saying that the quality of these pieces is beneath what you expect at E2. The author of the piece is not easily convinced that he or she needs to go back to the drawing board and improve their writing if it is sitting with eight upvotes.

Downvotes and Self-Improvement Videos

The other important element of this is self-improvement. Say there are some very talented writers on the site, but they submit their bottom of the barrel material just to see how it does. If it is fairly well received and maintains a positive reputation, they may very well continue to submit sub-standard writing. They become convinced that their lesser material is "good enough" for E2 and thus never submit better material. Why get better when your half-assed efforts are good enough? This is also true of established users who stumble. They have a following for their work, and often get upvotes based on their reputation. However, if they submit something awful, downvotes should tell them "this is just not up to your usual high standards." Because many people here are afraid to send critical /msgs about writeups to established users because they fear some kind of evil retribution, the downvote is a silent way of relaying that message. However, it doesn't always work out that way. Downvotes are seen as random retribution of some kind, or simply curmudgeons sitting in a dark room drinking vinegar and spewing forth hatred. Unfortunately, this is often true.

The Mystery of the Downvote

The application of the downvote should be one you think about. Would you have them do unto your writeup what you are doing unto theirs? Does one expect to know via their posts here what work is excellent in the eyes of the E2 audience, what is good, what is fair and what is just poor... or beneath your usual efforts? Or do you simply want love heaped upon you no matter what kind of writeup you kick forth? Herein lies the answer. Some E2 users want unconditional writeup love. Some want constructive criticism. Others aren't really sure as long as they get a slice of apple pie at the end of the day.

Is there an answer to the question of what downvotes mean? You have to adjust your view and come up with your own interpretation. Examine your last page of writeups in your user search. Is there a pattern? Compare similar types of writeups... which soar in reputation and which lag? Is this a sign that some are better than others? Not always, but it can be a good indicator. Other factors come into play, such as when you posted, who was around at the time, and what mood they were in. There is no answer. People will never downvote or upvote with any sort of accuracy or predictability. At least in this lifetime, unless we build some kind of cruel conditioning camp to train users, but the government has rejected those plans.

A less scientific formula tells us this. A factual writeup with no downvotes is a superb piece. A prose writeup with two to three times as many upvotes as downvotes is superior. This does not take into account the magical C! but that is part of the feedback as well, and tells you someone was strongly behind what you presented.

Vote as a Reader not as a Writer

Without sin? Throw the first stone. I know people here who never downvote because their mindset is "My writeups aren't all that good so I feel wrong about downvoting anything." You need to vote as a reader, not as a comparison to your own efforts. Whatever your primary goals here on E2 are, the voting line should not be "Better or equal to my work, upvote... not as good as my work, downvote."

There is no Substitute for Feedback

People get nervous about giving feedback to the author of a writeup via /msg. Those of us who do know there are very sensitive users out there who take any constructive criticism or suggestion as an affront. Those who give frequent commentary, suggestions and criticism sometimes get a reputation as bad guys.

Why is he/she always on my back?
Why is it always me that has something wrong with my writeups?

Step back for a moment. If your writeups sucked, then no one would bother trying to help you make them better or by suggesting small changes that you may have overlooked or not thought about. Whenever you get feedback on a writeup, that should be worth more than a dozen upvotes. It means someone has taken notice and seen enough in your work that they feel it is worth their time and effort to help you improve it.

Anything can be improved.
Nothing is perfect.

On the other side of the coin, don't be afraid to make suggestions or comments to users higher up on the other user list than you as well as editors and gods. If they have left something out, suggest inclusion... you may have knowledge on a subject that they weren't aware of. If a paragraph or sentence is confusing to you, let them know. As writers we should strive to improve. As researchers we should thirst for additional knowledge.

In General:
Don't kick 'em in the shins.
A kind word travels thousands of miles.
Embrace each other with your ears
as well as your words.
But when they fuck up
Hit 'em hard! Yeah!
Downvote 'em!
But know your reasons first.

Remember, your mileage may vary. What works and is accepted in the E2 environment is not always what works elsewhere. This is a microcosm. Create life here before you try to create life in the outside world. See how it develops and changes. Now, go forth and multiply. And find some way to get Gary Coleman back on television.

Oh, and I deleted some things this month and softlocked some things and firmlinked some things and talked to some new users and tried not to scare them too much. Thank you. Goodnight.