StackOverflow and Lack of Transparency


Job Well Done

I have to admire StackOverflow in many ways.  The creators have done an awesome job of building a community where people can come and help each other in a safe place.  Of the many things StackOverflow has done well is to make it’s site index very well with search engines which means people like me often find answers to questions there when searching the web.


Why Participate?

Over the years, I’ve participated quite a bit in many different forums and almost always, that participation has started based on a feeling of “wanting to give back” after finding so many useful answers.  I’d like to say it’s because I just feel the need to help others, but like most of us, I’m swamped busy it seems all the time and find myself doing just what I have to do to survive.  I end up looking at participating in forums almost with a feeling of debt that I somehow feel the need to repay.  I understand others participate for lots of other reasons including recognition, learning and many others.  I have plenty of respect for all reasons to participate.


What Bothers Me

So, you’re probably wondering why I titled this post lack of transparency?  First, let me first say I may be wrong and if I am, please post comments and let me know.

What bothers me is that it seems almost everyone on StackOverflow can come to a question or answer you posted and vote your question up or down anonymously.  I have no issues with people voting a post up.  Kind of like when someone says do you mind if I tell you how much I enjoy your writing?  The answer is of course not.  It’s the voting down anonymously that bothers me.  I recently posted a question on StackOverflow regarding some code I wrote that just did not feel right.  It did the job, but it just felt awkward and clumsy.  I struggled with it for about 15 minutes and then it occurred to me that others may immediately see the flaw so I posted the code here:

Two people anonymously voted down my question.  I know “stick and stones…” but still, it bothered me.  How did I either offend or irk someone with my question?  Was it too simple or obvious? Am I that stupid?  Was I abusing my posting privileges?  At any rate, it did bother me and that is my point.  I feel cheated not knowing or being able to ask those who voted down my question why they did that.  For all I know it could just be an internet troll going around wanting to make people feel bad.


What Should Be Done And Conclusion

My first choice would be get rid of “Vote Down”.  There is nothing wrong with “damnation by faint praise”.  However, if there needs to be a vote down, there should be some checks and balance as well as accountability.  If you are going to get up on a platform and yell bad things about someone else, don’t do it with a mask on.  Take credit for your criticism and stand behind with constructive reasoning.

StackOverflow is an awesome community. IMHO, this would even make it better!


My 2 cents.  I guess it should not bother me to be voted down, but it does.

About Peter Kellner

Peter is a software professional specializing in mobile and web technologies. He has also been a Microsoft MVP since 2007. In addition, he’s a multi-course video author at Pluralsight. To read more about Peter Kellner and his experience click here. For information about how Peter Kellner might be able to help you with your project click here.

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  1. Peter Kellner says:


    I wonder if when people are removed for spamming if there down votes are also removed (or for improper behavior of some kind). I wish I had done a screen shot when I did this post. I could have got mixed up somehow, but I’m 99% sure I saw down votes on my question that slowly go chewed through with up votes.

    Who knows. Thanks for the nice words though. I do try and stick to constructive questions and not just post random things that run through my head (though some days there seem to be many of those random things)

  2. No, what I am saying is I have enough reputation to see aggregate up votes and down votes. Your question was never in its lifetime ever dowvoted. Nada. Zero. It’s not a bad question and I see you ask a lot of well up voted questions. I would expect that from a great MVP such as yourself.

  3. Peter Kellner says:

    Hi 0A0D ,
    There were down votes before but since my post, others have come and up voted, I think to give me some moral support for posting it.

  4. There isn’t a single downvote or negative comment on that question. What exactly were you bothered by? It got five up votes!

  5. Nestor Quintero (@quinestor) says:

    The conclussions of the discussions about anonymous downvoting were that their consequence are unwanted discussions between the poster and voters. I actually agree, but the fact that the downvoting is being used abusively is tre.

    What concerns me the most is about questions: there are a few moderators or reviewers who are constantly checking new questions. And they do that in a manner of seconds , no matter how much time the content requires to analyze.

    The result is that a new question can get downvoted to -1 to -4 in less than 5 minutes, preventing it from being read. The question is then harder fo find,its readers are biased because they are aware of the score before reading it.

    What if those downvotes are in fact ‘dislikes’ ? This is what I suspect happened to your question, a couple of dislikes. I have attepmted to discuss this effect (grace period) in meta but, ironically, i get downvoted very fast, thus the responses and comments are off-point .. 🙂 what a dilemma

  6. Lakshminarayanan says:

    Peter, this issue of anonymous downvoting has been discussed a lot in meta site as you quoted.
    I too have been @ the receiving end of such instances of downvoting without a proper reason being cited.

  7. @Oded I just looked at the meta site and actually, I’m glad I didn’t post there. Seems like the matter has been beaten to death ( ) and nothing has changed. seems like the general consensus it is the way it is and it’s not ever going to change. Obviously the owners of StackOverflow have heard the opinion and moved on. I’m guessing those reading the meta forum are StackOverflow loyalists and will be there whether or not it changes. I’m probably more speaking to those who don’t even realize SO is non-transparent on down votes, or don’t use SO currently.

  8. Clay – I have enough reputation to see the upvote/downvote split. There are only upvotes on that question.

    When interacting with a large community, you sometimes get people who will downvote for no good reason. It happens and one either accepts it or not.

  9. B. Clay Shannon says:

    I agree with Peter; as to why you see no downvotes, he probably has received enough upvotes to get it back to 0 or a positive number – that has happened to me, too – in fact yesterday or the day before. A question I posted got an immediate downvote or two, but soon thereafter the vote count was 0, as one or two had apparently nullified the naysayers.

  10. Shame you didn’t think of airing this on the meta site for Stack Overflow.

    That’s the place to ask questions about Stack Overflow and question policies.

    Had you done so, you would find out why downvotes exist, why it is possible to downvote without a comment and other such information.

    By the way – I don’t see a single downvote on the question you linked to.

  11. Paul Knopf says:

    I hate that same exact thing. Read one of my comments on stack overflow.

    The comment is:

    Good question with a good accepted answer. This question doesn’t have an exact answer (not QA) so how is it this question not marked as “not constructive”. I ask similar questions and trolls troll. Maybe people only mark “not constructive” when it isn’t “constructive” to them? DDD is a popular topic so I guess we will let this question go?

  12. StackOverflow started out as an awesome community but I’ve pretty much stopped using it now. I find that too many users (the vocal minority probably) don’t use it properly. Instead of answering questions they ask, in a derogatory fashion, why you would want to do what you want to do. I suspect many of these are desperate to seek validation for their technology choices at the expense of other, competing options. Or maybe they are just trolls.


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