It has recently been revealed to me that the community policy discourages comments that explain down votes, at least on answers. This defeats the actual purpose of the down vote, and decreases the effectiveness of the whole "question and answer" structure of stack exchange sites.

Without some explanation of the down vote, the vote itself is meaningless. Users may down vote for a number of reasons, but those remain a secret to the user posting the answer and the OP asking the question. If the whole point of this site is to give the OP the best answer possible, they should be allowed to consider all facets of answers they are provided. Without "downvoters" explaining themselves, they are essentially left in the dark. Maybe the downvoter just didn't like the tone. Maybe they have a different opinion. Maybe they see some critical flaw in the logic (or lack thereof) of the answer. All the OP gets to see is a -1.

We're really doing the community a disservice with this policy. I would strongly recommend reversing it, unless anyone has some good reasons to the contrary? I would also recommend going as far as to require comments for down votes, but that's another topic for another post.

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    This has been discussed at great length, see: interpersonal.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/comments – apaul Oct 5 '18 at 19:44
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    Note that if a downvoter thinks the question is salvageable (they downvoted for something like tone), comments with clear constructive criticism are encouraged! Something like "The tone is a little too XYZ in paragraphs 2-5. Can you clean that up?" is a perfectly good comment. – scohe001 Oct 5 '18 at 19:49
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    Long story short... We discourage those comments because they were sparking too much argument and debate. We'd rather people write a competing answer instead of a "you're wrong because..." type comment. – apaul Oct 5 '18 at 19:50
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    Have you read this meta post? It contains quite a bit of discussion on this topic. – Em C Oct 5 '18 at 19:52
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    @apaul “Long story short... We discourage those comments because they were sparking too much argument and debate.” Between my previous question and now this I can tell you straight out… The community’s overzealousness in cleaning up these “Please explain downvote.” comments is actually causing more frustration than anything else. I posted a similar exasperation towards this “policy” here. It’s honestly creepy to see questions and answers with utterly no comments on this Stack Exchange. I feel it’s honestly stupid. – Giacomo1968 Oct 5 '18 at 20:03
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    @JakeGould Before the crack down things were... Much more stupid... Nearly every post had a long back and forth argument beneath it. A lot of time was wasted, and a lot of people stopped contributing because they got sick of it. – apaul Oct 5 '18 at 20:07
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    @apaul I don’t believe this “scorched Earth” policy is a great solution. Sorry to use language, but it really makes the moderators of this community that is ironically focused on interpersonal skills seem to be bone-headed putzes. Anyway, now that I know this expect my participation in this “community” to be little to non-existent… Unless of course I get a killer question or answers so I can score rep! Why else participate here then? – Giacomo1968 Oct 5 '18 at 20:15
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    @SuperStew FWIW, I upvoted your question. I am in agreement with all your frustrations here. – Giacomo1968 Oct 5 '18 at 20:15
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    @apaul I think you miss the point: If this community is so strict about comment policing to the point that simply asking for a downvote explanation is considered verboten, then why should I waste my time here other than the times I can post things and basically blow up rep. Honestly don’t care otherwise. Your solution to a problem causes new problems. Enjoy your squeaky clean community! – Giacomo1968 Oct 5 '18 at 20:24
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    @JakeGould I don't feel you've made it clear why those kinds of comments are necessary/beneficial. We have an average of 8 new questions and 28,170 page views a day. That means on average each new question is getting 3500 views in a day (in actuality, 2-4 of those 8 will be closed and another 1-3 will take a majority of those views and hit HNQ). This results in a lot of comments. The community decided to take a "scorched Earth policy" as you put it and here we are. Can you put into words why you feel so strongly that it's "creepy" to see no comments on SE? – scohe001 Oct 5 '18 at 20:26
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    @SuperStew, comments have to be moved manually in the majority of cases, because the auto suggestion only works for conversations between two people and they don't always use it anyways. Requiring comments for down votes has also been proposed many times on main meta (first search result for example which is linked to others), if you want to read about the rationale behind that. – Em C Oct 5 '18 at 20:30
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    @scohe001“I don't feel you've made it clear…” I really don’t care to say more than I have already. – Giacomo1968 Oct 5 '18 at 20:39
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    @JakeGould fair enough. I'm always curious to hear the logic behind letting more comments in, so if you ever do feel like sharing or have a better idea for how we should be handling/culling comments, I'd be happy to have a conversation either in IPS chat or on Meta. – scohe001 Oct 5 '18 at 20:45
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    @scohe001“I'm always curious to hear the logic…” I’ve already said all that I can say. I have very little care or desire to be in a chatroom and discuss this with you or anyone. – Giacomo1968 Oct 6 '18 at 14:06
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    That's something you'd have to put in a feature-request post, I don't think there's currently any way for mods to change that. – Em C Oct 6 '18 at 22:49

It has recently been revealed to me that the community policy discourages comments that explain down votes, at least on answers

Ehhh. NO. Not at all. I think you misunderstood. Because we agree that downvotes are a bit frustrating on a gamified site, we do encourage constructive feedback in comments. Things like 'Could you address the actual question asked', 'OP's goal is X, how and why does your answer help them reach this' or requests to clarify parts of answers are made daily and a lot here. To make sure these constructive comments get visibility and aren't snowed in underneath a bunch of discussion and chatter, we tend to delete every comment that isn't suggesting an improvement, requesting an author to clarify their post, or containing clarification that's not yet edited into the post.

We discourage comments calling out downvoters for the reasons EmC mentions in their answer there, and because the SE system itself is in favour of allowing anonymous feedback in the form of voting. Calling people out doesn't really meet the criteria for 'allowing anonymous feedback'.

The discussion about forcing voters to leave a comment was had a few times on meta.stackexchange (the main meta for problems concerning all sites, not just IPS), the questions often being referred as a duplicate to Encouraging people to explain downvotes. The answer to that post also shows that there are systems in place to actually encourage commenting when downvoting, but that SE doesn't want to make this commenting mandatory.

Without some explanation of the down vote, the vote itself is meaningless.

Not really: The downvote button, when you hover your cursor over it, simply states 'this answer is not useful'. In this case, a blatantly off-topic question got an off-topic answer, in a sense you could say those 'aren't useful' on a site focusing on questions and answers about Interpersonal Skills.

Also, comments are used to suggest improvements. What kind of improvements could've been suggested here? 'Edit your answer to make it about Interpersonal Skills'? That's not really useful feedback on an answer to a question that itself isn't about Interpersonal Skills. It wouldn't have improved your answer in any way would you have made such an edit.

We're really doing the community a disservice with this policy. I would strongly recommend reversing it, unless anyone has some good reasons to the contrary?

As you seem to be a bit misinformed about 'this policy', I would say there's no need to reverse anything. I understand getting downvotes may feel frustrating, but comments calling out downvoters are not what comments are supposed to be used for. Instead, if you like feedback on your answers, you can visit the chatroom or ask on meta.

People here are generally doing a great job at pointing out improvements to answers in a constructive way, if there is a way to improve them. If they don't, as a moderator I regularly go through the recent answers and leave comments on the ones I encounter that were downvoted without explanation AND are salvageable, trying to help people improve their posts and setting a good example.

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    Honestly, I think this is an exaggeration. Comments for some downvote reasons are encouraged, and comments for other reasons are discouraged. (I'm not saying this is the wrong choice, there's solid cause for it to be this way, but some types of explanations really are discouraged.) Sometimes it's really just that the core of an answer is totally wrong, and the only way to suggest improvement is to suggest rewriting it as a fundamentally different answer (which is generally not going to go over well) or to ask them why they think it's true, which doesn't really convey the real issues. – Cascabel Oct 5 '18 at 22:07
  • @Cascabel even if the suggesting the core of the answer doesn't go over well, I think it should still be done. The unpleasant truth is that if someone isn't able to have their views (respectfully) challenged without losing their cool, they aren't mature enough for such discussion in the first place. – SuperStew Oct 6 '18 at 19:58
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    @SuperStew This site isn't intended as a discussion platform, especially not in main-site comments. I certainly agree that in general in the world, there's value in challenging misconceptions, but comment debates here don't seem a good method, and the community has already decided on that. And... I don't really think we need to make that leap to generalizations about others' maturity. It's really easy for things to go off the rails, even with people who could have such a discussion in a better setting. – Cascabel Oct 6 '18 at 20:09
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    @SuperStew If there's no way to improve an answer, if there's no suggestion to be made to an answer, there's no point in leaving a chatty comment. We don't like chatty comments here on IPS. It isn't about maturity and having a discussion, because we specifically don't want comment discussions and debates on answers. Comments are only for suggestions to improve an answer, not just to say "it's bad" or "won't work". – Jess K. Oct 8 '18 at 14:10
  • @JessK. Why aren't discussions/debates wanted? Other than the comments aren't a great mechanism for it? – SuperStew Oct 8 '18 at 14:20
  • @SuperStew Interpersonal skills aren't as black and wihte as something like coding advice on StackOverflow (where answers either work or they don't). Culture, background, etc., influence what each of us consider "normal". We could argue all day about it because interpersonal skills are not black/white like answers on other SE sites. Allowing debates used to make the site cluttered, hard to follow, hard to read actual suggestions for our answers, and created a lot of unnecessary user arguments. – Jess K. Oct 8 '18 at 14:24
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    @SuperStew That's why now we encourage users to downvote the answer they think can't be salvaged and post an answer of their own (you can even say in your answer "I disagree with X advice in a previous answer because ______ (reasons). Here's what you should do instead."). – Jess K. Oct 8 '18 at 14:25
  • The site as a whole (including comments) is a bad mechanism for debates. That seems like perfectly sufficient reason to not start them in comments. (It can sometimes settle disagreements via voting on competing answers, which is what IPS aims for, but that's not debate.) – Cascabel Oct 8 '18 at 22:05

Votes are, and always have been, about ranking content. When viewing several related questions you can sort that list by votes in order to see which of those questions the community found more useful. Likewise answers are sorted by vote by default, so that the better answers ideally rise to the top. This is the reason we have voting, all that other stuff is tangential and intended to promote this functionality.

Downvoting without commenting is preferable, in many cases, because it prevents an awful lot of needless argument and hurt feelings.

  • Do you really to intend to accommodate every user who didn't like your post with an edit?

  • Could you invision cases where users will try to convince you to fundamentally change your post because they simply disagree?

  • Do you want to see comments like "SoAndSo's answer was better -1" Or worse "asdggjjgfctj -1"

Downvotes happen. It's a part of the design of the system. If it's only one or two downvotes, ignore them. If you find that your post is attracting an awful lot of negative attention, it may be worth asking about it here on meta, or in chat, but comments aren't really intended for that purpose.

I may be the highest scoring user on this stack at the moment, but most everything I post attracts at least one downvote. It really helps to remember that people just see things differently sometimes and these points really don't matter. It's not like I can put them on a resume, or use them to pay my rent; they're pretty useless apart from unlocking moderation privileges and a pretty shallow ego boost.

So... Try to participate because you enjoy the subject matter, and because it occasionally feels nice to help someone. Ignore the gamification. Remember that the points don't matter.

  • I don't think the complaints raised by two users here are about gamification, and in my experience IPS is far far more restrictive of comments than other stacks. On other stacks, comments that explain downvotes are often used to improve the question/answer. See the main meta here: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/135/… and in fact there is a suggestion to comment when using the downvote button. – Bryan Krause Oct 5 '18 at 21:19
  • @BryanKrause note that that question and the answers on it are from 2009--almost a decade ago. Things have changed considerably since then. I'm not saying you're wrong, only that that may not be good evidence. – scohe001 Oct 5 '18 at 21:28
  • @scohe001 I am aware, and I know the discussion has been had here about comments before, but it remains the case that IPS has a different comment policy than other stacks. – Bryan Krause Oct 5 '18 at 21:31
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    @BryanKrause, note that that suggestion exists to encourage commenting when downvoting, while all IPS does is discouraging calling out the people that don't want to do so, the people that either vote and move on because they don't have anything constructive to say or who would rather remain anonymous. – Tinkeringbell Oct 5 '18 at 21:33
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    @Tinkeringbell Understood. I initially read this answer as validating the question's premise that "community policy discourages comments that explain down votes" and arguing this was a good policy; I see now that I could instead read it more narrowly as a response to the complaint about comments that solicit downvote explanations. – Bryan Krause Oct 5 '18 at 21:38
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    @BryanKrause Part of the thing with a more subjective topic is finding answers that are technically answers, but they're answers you believe to be flat wrong. Commenting in those cases raises debate, the person who wrote the answer won't be inclinded to believe they're wrong, so there isn't much point in having the argument, so there isn't much point in commenting. – apaul Oct 5 '18 at 22:33

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