What do downvotes on challenge questions mean?

There's been some heated discussion about downvotes on challenge questions in chat and on downvoted questions. I wonder if this in part because people have different ideas about what downvotes mean, and so downvoted posters are receiving a message that's different than the downvoters intend. In some cases, people seemed to be viewing downvotes as a censure against the poster or the challenge type.

Of course, each user votes anonymously however they want. We're not going to make a community policy on how to vote. But, I think some discussion on what votes are for can help give us some direction and heal some misunderstandings. Moreover, we've been asked to figure out how challenge questions fit it to the SE model, of which voting is part.

• Would it be possible for you to find a couple stray questions that you feel have downvotes you're not sure about? This might help identify the problem more closely, as people downvote for dozens of reasons. – Aza Dec 19 '14 at 2:36
• @Emrakul I worry that linking to the questions that spurred this post will just make ill feelings spill over to this discussion. I'd rather discuss it in general. – xnor Dec 19 '14 at 2:47
• Fair enough, then! It might make answers more meaningful, which is why I include it, but if it's going to draw that in, then it makes sense. – Aza Dec 19 '14 at 3:03

If you hover the mouse over the downvote question button, a tooltip will show up:

This question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful

This is what the downvote button means, otherwise the tooltip would not be there, right?

People may downvote at will using the criteria that they think is better. However this is a tool that should be used with responsibility, care and ethic.

What a downvote on a question should mean:

• This question is stupid.
• This question is poorly-conceived and unlikely to be salvageable.
• This question is clearly written in bad-faith to lure or amuse users.

Remember that downvotes are frustrating to people who post the questions. They tend to be interpreted as if his/her challenge is unwelcome and this could end driving them away from the site. And the fact that they lose reputation from that strongly reforces bad feelings. Further, this invites the questioner to be in the defensive, to defend his question and may result in uneeded agressivity.

Ok, you decided to downvote it. It surely is for some strong reason that a box will pop up suggesting you to post a comment. So,

• Why not drop a comment?
• Again, why not?
• If you had time to evaluate a question and downvote, why you do not have time to write a comment?
• Did you evaluated it before downvoting, right? Did you?
• So again, if you had time to evaluate and downvote, why not write a comment?
• If you think that the question is bad or have some serious problem, tell the asker that, so he/she would learn it and not make the same mistake again.
• Remember to be nice to people in this site. Wouldn't you think that you would be nice if you write a comment explaining why you did downvoted?

And finally, what a downvote on a question should not mean:

• This question is boring for me.
• This question is too hard for me.
• This question is too easy for me.
• This question has a tag that I dislike.
• I don't understand this question and don't want to try.
• I don't like the question author.
• I don't like the question type and don't care about.
• There is a little typo and I am too lazy to click the edit button, so I will downvote.
• I saw someone downvoting, so I would mindlessly do the same.
• Even if the question is cool, it is not as great as the question that I saw yesterday from some other user, so I will downvote it.
• I think that this question already has enough upvotes, so I think that I should take one away.
• I don't care why I downvote, I click the downvote button just because I love doing so and it is funny.
• The downvote button is so beautiful, so cute!
• I just want to change the way that the questions are sorted by votes.
• I am seeking revenge!
• I got my wife in the bed with my neighbour, so I decided to show all my rage by downvoting questions from users that have nothing to do with that.
• I looked the question for two seconds without reading it and then had to choose one of the buttons, either the up or the down, so I chose the down.
• I vote using a question quality criteria defined by a math function called random().
• I downvote just to make people angry and pissed off.
• I like to be evil.
• I hate everything and everybody. I think that the world should be exploded.
• I am a member of a secret fundamentalist cult that says that we should always downvote things.
• When I am drunk and on drugs I just ended downvoting things, sorry. Now, did you saw my vodka and my coccaine? Oh, nevermind, already found them, it is just right there...
• "If you had time to evaluate a question and downvote..." I probably read hundreds of questions from across the SE network daily. Voting is something quick and simple I can do help sort good posts from bad (subjectively). This is important for site health IMO, and it's not a personal attack on the poster (as some seem to interpret it). Commenting takes more time, and unless done very carefully, provokes unwanted disagreements and back-and-forth in the comments. So no, I'm not going to explain all my downvotes. I don't explain all my upvotes, either. – Set Big O Dec 19 '14 at 14:07
• @Geobits. Ok, voting on answers might do some sort of sorting, but for questions sorting them is rarely useful. And frequently, you can cause even more disagreement by not commenting, it just happens that the OP will get be frustrated and may start to rant against anonymous entities, thinking that he is being attacked by some enemy, being trolled or that people hates his question so much that he don't even deserves an explanation. Frequently, when I don't understand a question or think that it is boring, I just don't vote anything and move along to the next one. – Victor Stafusa Dec 19 '14 at 14:24
• Voting (and especially downvoting) questions is very important to sort the site's content. That's why they made downvoting them free, unlike answers. To be perfectly blunt, if someone gets upset or offended by a downvote, that's their issue, not mine. There are enough posts out there that explain the concept of voting; I shouldn't have to do it on every post. – Set Big O Dec 19 '14 at 14:35
• FWIW, I do try to leave feedback if I see something specific that can be easily remedied in the post. For the more subjective votes, there's not often a single particular thing that caused me to vote that way. – Set Big O Dec 19 '14 at 14:38
• Good joke, by the way. It made me laugh so much I didn't bother to see what the post is actually trying to say! – ghosts_in_the_code Feb 23 '15 at 9:47

I agree with xnor's answer, except for one thing (that is probably implicit in what he said anyway). I don't like most riddles, but I don't go and downvote riddles, because other people enjoy them. Similarly, I hope riddle fans don't systematically downvote every math puzzle.

I downvote a puzzle when I believe that most people (in the target audience) would not enjoy solving it. This includes, for example, most codes with no clues and too little plaintext to do analysis.

Complicating factor: Oftentimes my opinion about a puzzle totally changes after I see the correct answer.

I think that feedback in the comments is a great idea. I welcome all feedback to any of my puzzles, whether you liked it or not. I will start giving feedback to puzzles that deserve it (either in a good way or a bad way). Everyone, keep your comments constructive. Include compliments with criticism, et cetera.

For me, votes are personal ratings of content

I think of upvotes and downvotes on challenge questions as akin to Youtube's "I like this / I don't like" buttons on videos. Or, the ratings Netflix asks you to put after you watch a movie (but without the five-star scale). I understand this is a bit unusual for SE, but it comes from the fact that challenge questions are providing content, not asking for help.

My vote says whether I liked the content and thought it was good. This is totally subjective. Continuing the analogy, I might dislike a movie because I think it had a poorly written and contrived plot, but someone else might think the plot was great. Or, they might say that I'm missing the point, the movie wasn't about plot but about well-choreographed fight scenes. Or that I don't really "get" what the movie is about. Other times, I might just not like a movie but not really be able to put why into words -- the movie just didn't work for me.

But, if most people like a movie/puzzle, that's a sign it's good, and if most people dislike it, that's a sign it's poor. Again, this varies for any individual person, but people's opinions do correlate with each other. So, someone looking for a puzzle to solve can decide whether to take the leap and based in part on votes, just like user movie ratings can help someone pick out what to watch.

A downvote does not mean that you think the puzzle doesn't belong on the site -- that's what close votes are for. Nor is it expressing disapproval of the user. Even Steven Spielberg put out some stinkers, but the users who criticized those movies aren't saying "You're not a director!" or "Your movies are not actually movies!" or "You should stop making movies!".

Whether you're making movies or puzzles, you shouldn't be afraid to experiment and try new things even if that means it might produce something people don't like. Not everything will turn out great, and not everything that turns out good will be liked by everyone. Making puzzles is hard. It's a learning experience for everyone. Dislike or criticism can be harsh, but try to treat it as feedback to learn from. Ideally, people would explain what they like or don't like, but even if they don't, don't take it personally and assume good faith.

• I would make the argument that this isn't really any different from the normal SE standard actually. You down vote if the question isn't useful. If the point of the question is to present a challenge and the challenge isn't interesting (and you don't expect it to be interesting to others), then it isn't useful. I guess the only difference would be that I would encourage only downvoting if you don't think it has merit, not simply as a personal "I don't like this" but rather a slightly stronger "I don't think anyone will like this." – AJ Henderson Dec 19 '14 at 15:46
• This post doesn't seem to align with what you wrote here when you said "it's important for us to be appreciative of the work of puzzle-posters and to keep them happy and motivated." The issue is that many people are not happy and become less motivated when they receive downvotes. I would agree with a couple comments on this page saying if you don't think a puzzle is interesting, then that's probably not enough to warrant a downvote. But if you think most people wouldn't find it interesting, then a downvote would be fine. – pacoverflow Apr 4 '15 at 0:48
• @pacoverflow There's definitely a tension between between giving downvotes as honest feedback and keeping up motivation. That's why I try to emphasize here that downvotes are not meant as discouragement. And I have made a conscious effort to point out specific problem with puzzles that have them, as well as good things in puzzles I liked. Unfortunately, I can't control how people respond to downvotes. I do think it's useful to have a numerical gauge of how well a puzzle was received, both for future solvers and for the poster to improve. Otherwise, upvotes really mostly just show popularity. – xnor Apr 4 '15 at 1:02
• Downvoting a puzzle with a problem is certainly fine. But what if someone has no interest in, say, cryptograms and reads a puzzle and finds out that it involves cryptograms. Is it appropriate for him to downvote it since he doesn't find it interesting? I think it'd be best for him to move on without voting at all. – pacoverflow Apr 4 '15 at 1:18
• @pacoverflow Oh, I certainly agree with that. And I don't downvote any particular category of puzzles. Are people actually doing that? – xnor Apr 4 '15 at 1:21
• I don't know if anyone is doing that. But Lopsy seemed to think you were intimating that that is an acceptable use of downvotes. – pacoverflow Apr 4 '15 at 6:36