19

It's very common to see a question that has a fair to decent answer with a very large numer of upvotes, followed by a better answer with half the upvotes.

Usually, it's because the higher ranked answer was posted first, and gets more upvotes due to its higher visibility as the first answer, or (in the short term) because early readers don't often come back to vote on the later answers.

Is it appropriate to help the best answer rise to the top by down-voting the overly-popular answer currently listed as the best, to counter the stream of +1s that it gets from being in that first position?

  • 14
    Your votes are yours, do what you believe is appropriate with them. – LessPop_MoreFizz May 2 '12 at 17:16
  • 7
    In general I'd say "this post's score is way too high" is an okay downvote reason, just as "this post's score is way too low" is an okay upvote reason. – badp May 2 '12 at 17:23
  • @badp That's sort of besides the point unless you have something to show that it's OK to upvote posts solely because you think the score is too low. Was there a previous discussion on that? – Matthew Read May 2 '12 at 17:59
  • @MatthewRead This one? – Dave McClelland May 2 '12 at 18:09
  • @MatthewRead I think he is implying you are evaluating the questions worth vs its voted worth and then voting up or down appropriately, Not just looking at a number and if its over 20 giving it a downvote. – James May 2 '12 at 20:46
  • -1 for your answer, because I don't think it is 'right', is not how I would like to see the site functioning but +1 for a useful question. :P – Asdafgh May 9 '12 at 17:09
26

There's no real way to police or enforce voting, so if people decided to vote in this fashion we wouldn't know and couldn't force them not to. (This is not to say that there's no way to abuse the voting system, or that we lack tools to tell if you are - but this is not voting abuse, and voting abuse is a different topic.)

However, I think it's contrary to the way the voting system is supposed to work. To summarize the hints on the buttons:

  • Upvote useful answers
  • Downvote useless answers

Is the original answer useful? If so, it deserves its upvotes and probably should not be downvoted. Upvoting things is also a way of saying "thanks" - and certainly if an older answer was helpful at the time it was posted, it probably deserves those thanks.

Over time, if a new answer is more useful, it will tend to gain upvotes and rise at least close to the top of the list of other answers. While it's true that the oldest answer tends to see more upvotes (this is an established behavior pattern called the FGITW problem), all the answers are present, and often times getting the full answer to a given question means reading more than just the one on top.

  • I especially agree with the "useful at that time" sentiment. The original poster of the question should take the time to revisit their question and decide if someone else deserves the check-mark. The person who was helpful shouldn't lose rep! – David M Dec 27 '13 at 15:55
21

I would personally advise against downvoting an answer just to try to make another answer bubble to the top, unless you would've downvoted the answer even in the absence of any others. Stack Exchange isn't meant to be "One answer to rule them all". Its OK to have multiple answers with lots of upvotes. Anyone that is only reading the answer with the most votes hasn't learned how to use the site effectively, and you're not going to help that at all by punishing users who wrote perfectly reasonable answers. By all means, upvote the new answer, but let it bubble up naturally rather than trying to force it at the expense of other answers.

13

Your only argument for downvoting the previously top answer is to get a newer, better answer to appear first. In my opinion, this is improperly hacking around a system that already exists to do this.

If an obviously better answer gets posted, the original asker should change their accepted answer. In this case, the system will automatically place the accepted answer ahead of another answer, even if it has more votes (when sorting by votes).

Your idea is correct - the best answer should get the most exposure. But there's already a system in place to do this, so I think downvoting the old answer is the wrong way to get there.

  • 1
    That's giving a lot of responsibility to the person that asked the question. Not everyone who asks a question can be trusted to maintain it. I expect it would be more reliable to crowd-source the re-ordering. – Theodore Murdock May 2 '12 at 18:34
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    True, which is why the other answers are correct in mentioning that people looking for help shouldn't look exclusively at the top answer, but at all the answers on the question. Downvoting should be considered punishment for posting something that is not helpful. If the question is helpful, a downvote is unjustified punishment. It's possible to have multiple helpful answers - that's why users can upvote more than one answer! – Dave McClelland May 2 '12 at 18:44
6

Remember that your judgment, as an average viewer of someone else's question, isn't supposed to determine which answer should be on top or get the most rep. The community does that collectively through the sum of votes, and that's the best way to do it — an individual's judgment may be off in a particular circumstance, but the collective action of the community smooths out those bumps.1

This works best if everyone votes the same way — according to the tooltips. As LessPop_MoreFizz says in the comments, your votes are yours to spend as you wish, but I take this to mean that you should apply your individual judgment to the question of whether the post is useful and vote accordingly. It doesn't mean you should try to throw good answers under the bus in order to promote your favorite.

1The majority opinion of the masses is not always correct or ideal, but that's still the principle SE operates on. And it seems to work in the vast majority of cases; good answers get rewarded.

-11

Personally, I do this all the time, the reason is that I believe

The purpose of voting is to order the answers from most useful to least useful.

A downvote on an overly popular answer improves the site for later visitors, and is a part of our civic duty in maintaining the site.

Downvoting overly popular answers does not harm the reputation system

The purpose of reputation is to reward users who post helpful answers.

Clearly, the poster of the best answer deserves the most reputation gain, and that's being violated in this case: instead, the poster of the first correct answer is getting more reputation.

In addition, the poster of the first correct answer receives the reputation that they deserve from the early up-votes: they get more positive rep from the upvotes than they lose from the later down-votes, so the fact that they gave the first correct answer is still rewarded with a reputation boost, over and above the final score of their post.

  • 2
    Users are free to order their questions however they want ("Votes", "Oldest" or "Active"). That is also against what the tooltip on the vote arrows indicate "This answer is not useful". By downvoting to establish an order, you are saying that their answer is not useful. The user is notified about this downvote via reputation auditing and is basically told "Someone found your answer useless or wrong". – Resorath May 2 '12 at 17:31
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    -1. I disagree with the way you choose to downvote and don't use it myself, nor do I think it is in the best interest of the community. But that said, I believe everyone's downvotes are their own, to do with as they wish. So the -1 vote here is to represent that I would prefer that other people do not employ the same strategy, and not to represent a statement of "you're doing it wrong". – Sterno May 2 '12 at 18:25
  • @Resorath I think if the default were a well-designed "popular now" metric (an ordering that does not exist), that might correct this problem, but I've never found it useful, as a visitor, to change from the default. – Theodore Murdock May 2 '12 at 18:30

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