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.
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.
- A full list of privileges earned with reputation is available, and a few of the most significant ones are called out in What can I do with all this reputation?
- This site has relatively few active users who vote to close and reopen questions, and very few who can vote to delete questions or answers, or protect questions. Ideally, moderators wouldn't need to be involved in such activities very often, but we often are.
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
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.
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.