Referencing kce's Is ServerFault doomed? Not if we all vote more! where it was upvoted 77 times, with plenty of positive discussion, it is apparent that at least in concept the ServerFault community thinks voting is a valid activity worth our attention and time.

OK, great...but reality vs. concept is quite different.

Looking at the main page is enough to prove the point, but in honor of dragging this out with research and "facts"...Based on SF's unofficial super-voter Ward's steps of:

In the search box, enter: votes:0 answers:0
Click the "Newest" tab and scroll down until you're looking at questions that are at least a day old
Click on one that looks bad (based on the excerpt), read it.
If it really is bad, vote it down.

I went ahead and did a search and found more than 150 questions in the past 24 hours with 0 votes.

Looking at the first 2 pages on the main site I see VERY FEW votes on questions and just as few votes on answers. Some of the answers don't deserve votes, some do. But it would be presumed that ALL QUESTIONS would deserve at least 1 vote up or down by now.

Facts/figures aside, I'm just as guilty of neglecting to Rock the Vote. I even admitted in that other thread in meta:

Even though I know we are supposed to upvote for questions that are formatted well and thoughtfully laid out, I tend to only upvote questions based on "This question appeals to my interests". I also don't normally open a lot of questions just to vote...the questions I open to even look at (or possibly) answer again fall into "interesting" to me. Hopefully there's enough varying interests here on SF that people don't have to read over questions that have no appeal to them simply to make an informed vote. - TheCleaner

Now, we are actually pretty good about downvoting someone into a bloody pulp when they post horrible off-topic questions, pouring salt on the wound multiple times over.

So, is voting:

  • simply a nice concept these days with no real active participation?
  • something that's done only when one has time or actually feels a sense of duty to the site?
  • worthless except for downvoting questions to get them deleted?
  • an outdated concept of SE that was useful years ago with the idea that people will do anything for fake internet points.

(NOTE: If you've read this whole thing, congrats! I feel like saying "Sign your name on the test sheet and turn it into your teacher without answers.")

  • 5
    Frankly, there's so much utter crap and I have so little time to deal with it that I've given up.
    – Magellan
    Commented Sep 30, 2013 at 20:14

6 Answers 6


I'll start out by saying that in the last month I cast 138 upvotes and 51 downvotes. (In that time I also closed 279 questions, deleted 111 posts and 89 comments, and made 70 edits.)

My biggest problem with voting is that if I don't understand the subject matter, I'm not likely to vote. And despite my reputation as a know-it-all, I really don't understand much of the content on SF sufficiently well to feel comfortable voting on it, up or down. I suspect most users feel the same way, perhaps even more so than I do.

I try to always vote on a question if I'm answering it. Most of the time it's an upvote, though there are plenty of cases where I've downvoted a question and then answered it.

I usually don't bother voting on a question if I'm going to break out the mod hammer and close or delete it, since most of those questions will end up in /dev/null and forgotten about anyway. Though on sites where I am not a moderator, I do try to downvote such questions when appropriate as well as voting to close.

Is voting useless? No, it serves its purpose. Should we vote more? Yes, but we'd also have to read more, and perhaps learn more. I won't vote on a great question about Active Directory if I don't understand it. Though, for some reason, really bad questions seem to be easy to spot, regardless of subject matter...

Now perhaps I'll pop over to meta.SO and propose a new badge, for using your maximum of 40 votes per day, and all of them were downvotes...

  • How do we find the stats in your first sentence? Is it a custom query on the data site?
    – TheCleaner
    Commented Sep 30, 2013 at 20:30
  • @TheCleaner - you can't; it's data presented to ourselves as mods (and only about mods) Commented Sep 30, 2013 at 21:40
  • 3
    +1 for the "naysayer" badge. More seriously, though, it's true that I also won't vote on questions I don't really get. I don't feel qualified to do it. I also don't want to spend my days reading crap questions from ignoramuses or incoherent babbling, so if a question gets an upvote from me, it tends to also get an answer. Commented Sep 30, 2013 at 21:40
  • I'm with this - it's relatively rare that I downvote, because I've often seen nonsensical (To me) questions get answers.
    – Dan
    Commented Oct 1, 2013 at 9:01

It's strange: the other answers are written in English, and I'm a native English speaker, but I don't understand! what you're all saying about not voting on topics you don't understand.

(Jump to the bottom if you want the secret to finding good Questions and Answers to vote for.)

In my experience, most bad questions that come along aren't "oh, that's a silly thing to do, why would you ask about that?" What we mostly get is crap that's badly asked, unclear, off-topic, incomplete, home use, whatever.

It's easy to find stuff to downvote:

  • When I'm reviewing close votes, almost everything that I VTC also gets a downvote if it doesn't already have one.

  • I've written before about finding crap to downvote so that the auto-delete will get it. The vast majority of questions that are a few days old but have no votes and no answers deserve a downvote.

  • As Iain has pointed out more than once, the majority of questions from people with 1 or 101 rep are crap.

And when it comes to judging good questions, I really don't understand comments like @MichaelHampton's:

I won't vote on a great question about Active Directory if I don't understand it.

Really? My knowledge of AD is limited - the last version I actively used was Win2003 - but I can still recognize a good AD question. I just had a look at the newest [Active-Directory] questions and even though I couldn't answer most of them, I can tell which ones are good and which ones aren't.

Again, the bad ones usually aren't just bad, they're steaming piles of crap - easy to identify. OTOH, almost every question tagged AD (on the first two pages) that's clear and understandable is good enough to upvote. There are very few that are bad because the person is asking about doing something insane or dangerous.

And hey, look, most of the good questions are asked by people with more than 1 or 101 reputation.

Which leads me to something that I thought was obvious, but maybe not:

If you want to find good Questions and Answers, look for Answers that high-rep users have written.

Click on the user page for anyone with high rep and look at their answers. You'll usually find that their answers are good and so are the questions they're answering. These users don't really need any more rep, but voting for their answers and for the questions they're answering is to help make the good content stand out.


Reading my answer over again, it seems like I approach voting differently than most people - I go looking specifically for either good stuff to vote up or bad stuff to vote down. I don't just let the questions wash over me (I used to - I used to read every excerpt on the /Questions page and most of the actual questions).

  • 1
    And apparently I only voted about ~900 times last month. Gasp! Commented Oct 1, 2013 at 2:50
  • 1
    But I did manage just over 4000 votes across the 5 sites I'm most active on. Commented Oct 1, 2013 at 2:52
  • 1
    Ward, I like the idea of downvoting close reviews, but it'd be nice to be able to vote on them directly on the review page. Sucks having to open the question itself to downvote it when it is clearly close worthy.
    – TheCleaner
    Commented Oct 1, 2013 at 14:16
  • 2
    @TheCleaner One of the reasons you can't vote on close reviews is to prevent the downvote dogpile that used to come with the old method of closing questions ("Shame the bad question in chat") -- the simple closure is perceived as "friendlier" than "Closed and downvoted to -30". Of course that said there are some real stinkers that need downvoting too...
    – voretaq7
    Commented Oct 1, 2013 at 15:02

This month I voted 199 times, this year only 72 people have voted as much or more so yes you're right we like the idea but not the action.

The main problem is that the pool of people who are engaged with Server Fault is quite small and diminishing. The vast majority of people have no engagement beyond getting their question answered, there are ~1500 people whose total reputation is >200 out of 139000 people who have used the site.

There is no point in bailing any more - too few people and too much crap to vote on.

Even though I try not to play too hard and actively avoid /review I still manage to be 3rd highest voter this year and 6th this month.

  • there are ~450 people whose total reputation is >200 out of 139000 people who have used the site - to me that's a pretty shocking stat. If you had said total rep > 1k, I might see that, but 200 is so easy to reach even if you just stick around a week. Course, that said, I would bet for every new question here it is a >80% chance of it being someone that's been a member since "Today".
    – TheCleaner
    Commented Oct 2, 2013 at 13:02
  • @TheCleaner: Oops must have been sleepy when I wrote that it's nearer 1500 but sill tiny.
    – user9517
    Commented Oct 2, 2013 at 13:09
  • For me, the all-time rep league stats page is saying "200+ | 6,415". It's not much, but the others seem to be anonymous users. I would think the active base of regular SF users is << 200, so it is not surprising that we do not see many votes.
    – the-wabbit
    Commented Oct 2, 2013 at 15:44
  • @syneticon-dj: Even better; I must have been drunk and sleepy - looks like I was using the weekly page but you're right the number of truly active people is tiny.
    – user9517
    Commented Oct 2, 2013 at 16:01

Not that I disagree with any of the points made thus far, nor do I necessarily think that the whole voting thing is working well, but I'm seeing a surprising number of questions attracting a downvote or two where the questioner gets all defensive and asks why they got a downvote.

I now have a standard cut-and-paste response to these, to wit, mouseover the down arrow and read the popup text.

But I have a gut feeling (unsupported by hard data) that the people that get grumpy about a downvote have a bigger rep. on SO than on SF, have come over the fence for the first time, and are unused to a sysadmin-type reception to their question.

If this were to be true (and I'm by no means sure that it is) it makes me wonder: why are they coming over the fence from SO? I don't know the SO community, but I'm wondering if they're giving out the wrong signals about when people should climb over the fence and ask something on SF. I believe that SO is a lot bigger than us, so a fairly small error in ducting people could lead to us being comparitively flooded in inappropriate junk.

Is there any way to tell what fraction of those people that drop in, post a question, and bugger off again, are more regular SO users?

  • On several occasions I've straw polled the first 50 questions and when I have done so not less than 55% and as much as 80% of questions are from people who have more reputation on SO than on SF and therefore would not naturally consider themselves System Admins et al (our target audience). Of the remainder some proportion would also not consider themselves sysadmins etc but that can't be determined. This feels about right as in reality there are relatively few sysadmins compared to the number of developers.
    – user9517
    Commented Oct 1, 2013 at 12:13
  • 1
    As to what drives them here - the general inability to read and think for themselves is my best guess.
    – user9517
    Commented Oct 1, 2013 at 12:14
  • 8
    Re: people getting defensive about being downvoted, My standard action for anyone discussing voting on the main site is to tell them to take it to Meta, and delete the comment an hour or so later. This is per a mSO discussion a long time ago (I think it was before I became a mod) where the network-wide consensus was "We don't talk about voting in the comments" (No "-1 because you're an idiot", no "Why was I downvoted?" - it's a Meta discussion about the site mechanics, not the question). I used to give friendly explanations, but that just seemed to encourage MORE whining.
    – voretaq7
    Commented Oct 1, 2013 at 14:59
  • 1
    @Iain I consider myself a sysadmin and yet have three times as much rep on SO as SF. I think this comes from a few things: I do program frequently, I've been on SO longer (as it's older), and an awful lot of questions end up on SO from programmers trying to do system administration. There's also the subreddit effect - more upvotes happen on the more popular site. Commented Oct 5, 2013 at 1:49
  • Now that I've thought about it a little more, I came up with another reason: I rarely actively find questions to answer on SE (I usually answer questions I come across while trying to solve a problem), and while programming research almost always ends up with me on SO, sysadmin problems find me on NixCraft, linuxquestions.org, and (mostly) a wide variety of mailing list archives. Developers and sysadmins seem to look for help in different places, in general, and thus the body of knowledge differs in location as well. Commented Oct 5, 2013 at 3:55
  • @XiongChiamiov: There will always be exceptions. The vast majority of people on SO would not consider themselves sysadmins et al.
    – user9517
    Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 13:44

I have to admit that I rarely vote on questions.

This is because I am lazy, of course, but also partly because I have difficulties aligning my mind with the concept of question votes.

For me, a question is interesting if it has notable answers or if I feel like I could contribute to it. I found that both cases are not related to the question's score so I mainly make do with serendipity - just clicking questions which have a chance to be interesting regardless of the score. I assume most other SF regulars just do the same.

This might simply be the result of a chicken-and-egg problem since not enough people do cast votes for interesting questions to exceed the critical mass. But I suspect that the concept itself is not going to work out since "interesting" is a rather subjective attribute and likely cannot be determined by a majority vote.


You might remember me from other inflammatory meta threads such as Is ServerFault doomed? Not if we all vote more!. Let's talk about voting.

I created the "Doomed!" thread mainly out of frustration. All I saw on meta was grousing. The community seems plenty ready to step up and complain about something in an exhaustively up-voted and discussed meta thread about how SO is "ruining" this site but lifting a finger and up-voting the one out every ten questions that is awesome is apparently a herculean effort.

Let me reiterate my position in the clearest of possible terms:

Our failing is not that we don't vote, it's that we don't up-vote the good content!

I know many people think that the voting mechanism is stupid and that caring about imaginary internet points is equally stupid and they are not entirely wrong. But they are missing the bigger picture:

An up-vote tells the poster that the Community values their work and content.

At the risk of making this about myself, I'm pretty much done with ServerFault. I rarely find good questions that I have the expertise to answer, wading through the Review queue is a chore, wading through the un-voted questions is a chore, and not only have my recent SCCM question not received answers (which really isn't the fault of anyone) but they've barely warranted an upvote. Everyone complains about the lack of good content but my attempts and many others at creating rarely receive any votes.

In summation: 1) Participating in ServerFault is no longer fun but a chore, 2) my questions often don't get answered, 3) no one acknowledges my, and many other high-rep users' excellent questions.

I apologize if this comes off as whiny and self-indulgent but I'm frustrated and I'm going to take a break.

  • I think you're right, finding good questions that can be answered well is too difficult. There are too few people who care beyond getting their (mostly crappy) questions answered and too much crap to deal with.
    – user9517
    Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 6:02
  • 1
    I feel you on your "SCCM question" issue. I've posted a few questions lately that were well laid out and researched. No up votes, no answers, no comments. I don't expect as quick an answer as a question about mod rewrite rules or AD, but I get where you are coming from on that one.
    – TheCleaner
    Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 12:57
  • 1
    Maybe all us regulars are going about this the wrong way and should just pull up each others accounts and just review/upvote/downvote ourselves. SF 1%'ers! ;)
    – TheCleaner
    Commented Oct 3, 2013 at 13:03
  • 2
    @Iain - Agreed. The good content to crap content ratio here is really poor. But it's really hard to pysche myself up and spend an hour writing a decent question when it receives a single upvote and no comments. I feel like everyone on meta is screaming, "Where is the good content?" but the good content I see out there has one or two upvotes and a comment. This site is drying up.
    – user62491
    Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 5:03
  • 1
    Your 3 points hit home with me.
    – DanBig
    Commented Oct 4, 2013 at 18:36

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