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We're just over half-way through 2018, and I've noticed a disturbing trend: the Christianity SE community is voting much less than it has in the past. Here are the results from SEDE for the first six months of 2015–2018:

                Upvotes        Downvotes      Total    Posts (inc. deleted)
1/15 – 6/15     10429           4936          15365
1/16 – 6/16     10097           4280          14377
1/17 – 6/17      9961           2478          12439         3180
1/18 – 6/18      6493           1769           8262         2814

The downward trend in votes has been present for several years, but the drop-off from one year to the next has been particularly severe in 2017–2018. Compared to last year, overall voting on questions and answers has dropped by 34% (or 24% per post).

Though there are surely several factors at work here, to me this indicates that it's time for a reminder of the value and importance of voting.

Why Vote?

Personally, I'm often discouraged at the apparent lack of impact that my vote has in political elections. I only get a single vote in each one, and the number of elections (even local elections!) decided by one vote is vanishingly small.

But that's not the way it works here! Unlike "real life," everyone with at least 15 reputation gets lots of votes – at least 30 per day. Distributing them freely makes a big difference in the life of this site and its community. Here's how:

Voting determines visibility

Ultimately, our mission is to help people find answers to their questions. Writing great questions and answers is an important first step, but without voting, such content remains effectively invisible – buried in a mass of poor and mediocre content. Voting changes this:

  • Within questions, voting causes great answers to rise to the top, and poor answers to drop to the bottom
  • Voting on questions makes the best ones rise to the top of the "votes" and "unanswered" tabs of the Questions page
  • Downvoting poor questions makes them disappear from the front page
  • Highly voted questions and answers get additional visibility through our newsletter and twitter account
  • Voting on new content increases the likelihood of it hitting the "Hot Network Questions" list, bringing in traffic and, sometimes, new contributors

Voting encourages great content

Voting is a powerful feedback mechanism for content creators, which increases the overall quality of content on the site.

  • By upvoting good content, you express your appreciation of its author and, in a small way, communicate your hope that s/he continues to post questions and answers of similar quality.
  • On the other hand, downvotes encourage users to reevaluate their approach to asking and answering questions, often resulting in improvements, or, at least, fewer poor contributions.
  • Not voting on content leaves contributors in limbo – is the content useful or not? Is anyone actually reading this stuff? Is it even worth continuing to contribute?

Voting enables community moderation

Elected moderators, like myself, are meant to be "exception handlers" – taking action in a relatively limited number of situations. In a smoothly running community, the vast majority of moderation is done by users who have earned reputation – most commonly, by having their good questions and answers voted up.

Voting makes you famous

Maybe not famous famous, but consider:

  • There are lots of great badges available to those who vote, including one that has been handed out to just ten people in the history of this site – there's an exclusive club. And if you're looking for a gold badge, this one isn't too tough to get.
  • Prolific voters appear at the top of the voters page, where the entire community can see who is helping the site most by taking advantage of this valuable tool
  • Top voters in coming months will be recognized in an answer to this post

Practical steps

Hopefully you're convinced that voting is important, but if you need more convincing, read the relevant page in our help center. Now, let's talk about putting this into practice.

It isn't complicated: just vote more. But for those looking for a little more guidance, here are some suggestions:

  • If you read it, vote on it. Even if you aren't an expert, it's almost always possible for you to judge if a question or answer is helpful or not. Ask: Is it clear? Is it relevant? Is it well-researched?
    • Sometimes we might hesitate to vote if we aren't familiar with the subject, particularly answers. Reliably judging the quality of such content can be difficult, but remember, the best answers will make this easy by citing appropriate sources. And there's nothing wrong with judging an answer "unhelpful," and downvoting, because it lacks sources for its claims.
    • Still, there are times when not voting makes sense: For example, if you'd like to clarify something or ask for sources, it may be worth leaving a comment without voting (at least until the author responds). Also, it's often considered unwelcoming to "pile on" downvotes on a new user's post – particularly if you aren't going to make a point to come back and reverse your vote if improvements are made.
  • Vote wisely. Many new users find that Vox Populi badge tempting, not to mention Electorate, but that's no excuse for voting randomly. Remember the impact your votes have on the community and site at large, and use them wisely. Take time to read and evaluate the content, then vote on its merits.
    • Downvoting answers costs 1 reputation point, but this is almost always trivial in the long run, in part because it's refunded when the post gets deleted (which happens quite often).
  • Encourage healthy voting patterns. Don't discourage those who are doing a good job of voting. Here are a few ways to help:
    • If you get a downvote, don't harass the downvoter or complain about how unjust the world is. Reevaluate your content, consider how it might be improved, and, if you think you can withstand further scrutiny, ask for improvement ideas on meta.
    • Don't revenge vote. This should be obvious, but always vote based on content, not the user.
    • If you see comments that harass other users or the community at large for their votes (whether up or down), flag them. Moderators will clean them up and address the behavior.
  • Consider the possibility that voting is just as valuable as writing a post – because it often is. You may do much more good for the site, its community, and its readers if you take 30 minutes to read posts and vote instead of using that time to write something.

Conclusion

This post is already ridiculously long, so I'll close with some cliches that are actually accurate.

  • Your votes matter.
  • If you don't vote, don't complain
  • Vote early and vote often.
  • Get out the vote.
  • And of course: the future of this site depends on your votes.
  • Maybe mention that unlike in politics where you get to vote once and then go home, you get 40 votes a day here and using them keeps the "economy" alive. As such active voters who keep the currency flowing have much more influence over the site than passive observers. – Caleb Jul 7 '18 at 10:10
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    I'm all for this, but I wonder if our nature is part of the problem. I'm active at Worldbuilding and people shovel votes over there (almost too much). However, here... I rarely can comment on, answer, appreciate, or approve questions outside my denomination. That might be true for many of our participants. Which, by itself, could seriously slow down the voting, especially if there's been a similar trend upward in the choice to impose denominational constraints on more questions. In the effort to avoid the 1900-year-old-shouting-match, we might be reducing the community's voting to a whisper. – JBH Jul 7 '18 at 10:12
  • @JBH Why do you feel you can rarely vote outside your denomination? – curiousdannii Jul 7 '18 at 12:28
  • Any chance you'd be able to edit the SEDE query to give an average votes per post figure for each year? – curiousdannii Jul 7 '18 at 13:02
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    @curiousdannii, while there are some aspects about other faiths I understand (or pretend to understand), for the most part just to appreciate the question I need to perform primary research (time). Then I need to understand the answers to judge if they are of good quality (time). Now, to be completely honest (and having had some sleep), I could up/downvote questions based solely on the quality of the construction of the question. I may not understand the subject at all, but it meets all our criteria and deserves recognition. But the answers? – JBH Jul 7 '18 at 16:28
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    Good thoughts @JBH – I'll edit a bit to see if I can address them. I do think it's possible to vote outside your tradition, even answers, with a small amount of effort – for example, once you know that the Catholic Catechism is authoritative, you can normally judge if a quote from it is relevant and answers the question about Catholicism. But I'll try to expand on this a bit more in the question. – Nathaniel is protesting Jul 7 '18 at 19:01
  • @curiousdannii I thought about that, a search on our site didn't reveal a huge difference in the number of posts from 2017 to 2018 (using created:2017..2017-06-30 for example). To be really accurate, we'd need to include deleted content and deleted votes. I'll see what I can find. – Nathaniel is protesting Jul 7 '18 at 19:03
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It might be worth mentioning that this is a common pattern on many SE sites - voting drops off over the years.

One reason that voting dropped here is that the (former) most active voter mostly drifted away from voting on this and most other SE sites. Having a lot of people who are somewhat active voters is better than having a few very active people is better all around: it's the foundation of a crowd-based system like SE, and it avoids a few people having such a big impact.

It's worth having some posts like this one to try to encourage more people to vote more often, hopefully it will have some impact.

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As a fairly new contributor to Christianity Stack Exchange I have discovered that very few new questions are getting through. Lots of interesting questions are being put on hold and closed. So I've stopped bothering to look at them. The minute the moderators come in with reasons why the question should be put on hold is the minute I move on elsewhere. Except there are very few new questions getting through. Have a wee think about that.

I vote up (hardly ever down) on answers to questions where I have some knowledge about the subject. That means my scope to vote is quite limited. I wouldn't dream of voting on answers to questions about Catholicism, for example, since I am of the Protestant persuasion and I do not pretend to know enough about Catholic beliefs to vote either way.

What is the point in spending time on research so you are in a position to vote up or down, when the very question you've been spending time on might be closed down?

I'm even beginning to question my participation on this site. At the risk of inviting the wrath of the moderators, might I suggest some of you lighten up a bit and cut the rest of us (who are not professors or doctors of divinity but just ordinary Christians) some slack?

Seems to me that a few people here are control freaks and perhaps that's why participation is dropping off. For my part, I will continue to vote whenever I find a question about Christianity that interest me - but I think the more serious issue is the actual number of new interesting questions that are being allowed to stay up.

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    It seems like your focus here is on this site's relatively strict guidelines, which, incidentally, is what the community and the elected moderators enforce. These guidelines didn't develop overnight, and in many ways are the reason that this site has so much valuable content compared to other sites of this nature. If you have examples of how you think the community should "lighten up," you can raise them on meta, but I'd encourage you to review this site's history – you will find that most of the time, proposals to loosen standards have been rejected by the community. – Nathaniel is protesting Jul 9 '18 at 18:23
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    Also, a couple voting related things: I'd encourage you to consider that few of us are "experts" in any sense, particularly outside our own traditions, but many of us still vote on the basis of clear writing and high-quality sources – no additional research required. You also seem to equate "participation" and voting – while the two are related, other indicators suggest that participation is stable. It's possible that as some long-time contributors have "retired," the new users replacing them haven't picked up the same voting habits – which hopefully this post can help remedy. – Nathaniel is protesting Jul 9 '18 at 18:39
  • @Nathaniel - Fair comments which I take on board. However, my time here may be short-lived because a change of email provider is about to happen so I won't be able to log into this account. Don't know how to get round that one. – Lesley Jul 10 '18 at 8:08
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    @Lesley You can easily add an additional login email: christianity.stackexchange.com/help/edit-credentials – curiousdannii Jul 10 '18 at 9:57
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    Before you choose to leave the site, please consider my own experience. I once thought as you did and felt as you feel. I couldn't understand "why can't we just help them with answers?" After getting poked, prodded, and occasionally slapped (I deserved it), what I began to realize is (a) in the beginning, it's difficult for many users (like me) to separate proselyting/preaching from answering questions. (b) A major goal of the site is to avoid agrument/debate. (c) SE's model is Q&A, not discussion. (d) A lot of "new users" are just trying to start arguments. (*continued*) – JBH Jul 11 '18 at 16:08
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    And (d) some questions actually don't belong here, even if you can tell the OP is feeling anguish. I still don't always agree when a question gets closed, but I understand and see the value of it. Rather than moving on, may I suggest that a goal is to help teach OPs how to write more suitable questions and if you feel strongly about a particular closure, to bring that up in Meta. Rules aren't quite as rock-solid as they may seem and no one here claims perfection. The site is a bit slow, but there's value here. – JBH Jul 11 '18 at 16:12
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    @JBH Perhaps I need a bit more poking, prodding and slapping for the penny to drop (I'm a bit thick-skinned). However, I'm also persistent so I will persevere. As Churchill said: "The secret of success is to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm." Appreciate your counsel. – Lesley Jul 11 '18 at 16:25
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    Have a wee think on this Lesley: it's OK to up vote if an answer is helpful. I know very little about Greek Orthodox belief, similarly Calvinist belief, but when I read an answer that helps me to understand I up vote. Mouse over the text: "this answer is useful." That's all the criteria you need for an up vote. "Is absolutely right" is NOT the criteria. – KorvinStarmast Aug 17 '18 at 13:00
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    I have thought about it and I have mended my ways! I am now giving up- votes to helpful answers, even if I might not agree with everything that has been said. It's about learning and understanding other perspectives. I'm also giving up-votes to interesting questions. – Lesley Aug 18 '18 at 10:44
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Thanks to all those who have taken the time to vote! Here are those who have voted the most,* by time period.

July 2018: curiousdannii, user477343, and Thunderforge
August 2018: Ward, curiousdannii, and Lesley


*moderators excluded

  • Also excluding votes on deleted posts I assume? – curiousdannii Aug 1 '18 at 12:59
  • @curiousdannii I don't think so – this is based on counts from the Voters page, which I believe includes votes on deleted posts. – Nathaniel is protesting Aug 1 '18 at 13:08
  • Oh, I always assumed votes on deleted posts weren't counted. – curiousdannii Aug 1 '18 at 13:20
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    @curiousdannii I think the profile and voters pages are consistent, and the profile at least includes deleted posts: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/117846/… Edit: Yes, Nick confirms that deleted ones are included on the voters page in a comment on that answer. – Nathaniel is protesting Aug 1 '18 at 13:25

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