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I'm not sure if this is a trend on SciFi, but I know from experience on other Stack Exchange sites that users have a tendency of downvoting off-topic questions. While free downvotes on questions is good and all, I'm not quite sure this is what was intended.

Downvoting is a punitive measure that is simply unwarranted in a case such as an off-topic question. Slapping a downvote on a question (or answer, for that matter) does little to bring the question to the attention of moderators, as opposed to flagging a question. In the case of new users, the "off-topic" close will already be confusing and mass downvoting may seem like a personal attack, a sort of insult after injury.

While experienced Stack Exchange users understand that a downvote is, by no means, a personal attack, unexperienced users (and particularly first posters) do not know this. As far as I understand, downvoting is reserved for a question that "shows no research effort", is "unclear", or is "not useful". While I can understand how an off-topic question may show no research effort (i.e. someone didn't research the FAQ) or is not useful (off-topic questions rarely are), I was under the assumption that those qualifiers were reserved for questions that were on-topic.

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    Something to note: when you vote to close and select offtopic, the site automatically downvotes that post for you. – user1027 Jan 16 '13 at 15:51
  • @Keen Ah, I didn't know that was a feature. I don't make close votes, so that was missing from my user experience. – Steam Jan 16 '13 at 16:26
  • @Keen is that for each person voting to close, or only when the post actually gets closed? I thought it was only the latter. – Beofett Jan 16 '13 at 18:38
  • @Beofett My understanding is that when each person submits their vote, it gets a downvote. – user1027 Jan 16 '13 at 18:40
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    @Keen nah, it's a single downvote when the post is closed, regardless of how many vote. There's no auto-vote until it's closed – Ben Brocka Jan 16 '13 at 21:26
  • @BenBrocka Ah okay, I must have been the closing vote when I observed that. Kind of hard for me to do testing, since my votes are binding. – user1027 Jan 16 '13 at 23:08
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" I was under the assumption that those qualifiers were reserved for questions that were on-topic."

Personally, I think you are wrong.

I am a lot more inclined to punish a user who didn't bother even elementarily to review the site to see what's ontopic, than a user who posts an ontopic but not-enough-researched question. Because the former shows deem lack of respect to the whole site and every user here, and spams the site; while the latter merely didn't go the extra mile (and not always out of laziness/disrespect - heck, I have posted "not researched enough" things, sometimes because Google Fu failed me, sometimes, because I assumed wrongly it wasn't trivial)

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We get few actual off-topic questions. By that, I mean those questions which are good questions but belong on another (possibly as yet unbuilt) SE site. These ones I flag so a moderator can take a look and maybe help get it moved.

The others... well, "off-topic" is simply the best way to categorize when closing, but it's difficult to imagine them being a good question anywhere. Additionally, when they're a "first post" and I'm reviewing, it was only recently that I've had access to the "no action necessary" button. Until then, you either had to edit (and they were not editable into good questions), leave a comment (and that would only be snarky), or downvote.

Someone that comes here asking what's the best way to tie shoes, or if it's possible to build a solar-powered coffee pot... well, discouraging those people doesn't really harm the site. They weren't going to come back next week and ask if the third scene in the fourth Harry Potter movie implied that Voldemort had 6 toes on each foot, or anything else even remotely "science fiction or fantasy".

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Downvoting is a punitive measure

No. It's a way of saying the post deserves little attention. There is no punishment aspect to it. Sure, some people interpret it as a personal attack, but people can interpret anything as a personal attack. Hell, many people interpret the closure itself as a personal attack.

As others have already mentioned, posts closed as off-topic or not a real question incur an automatic downvote from the system. I'm personally unconvinced that this is a good idea, but I don't see it as fundamentally misguided either: after all, if the question is OT/NaRQ, there is a presumption that the asker didn't make enough effort to write a question that's suitable for the site.

There's no reason to systematically downvote off-topic questions. Generally speaking, I don't think off-topicness is in itself a reason to downvote, but if a question is wildly off the mark or demonstrates a severe lack of effort, I don't see why I shouldn't downvote it in addition to voting to close it.

  • "There's no reason to systematically downvote off-topic questions ... but if a question is wildly off the mark or demonstrates a severe lack of effort, I don't see why I shouldn't downvote it in addition to voting to close it." Excellent point! – Beofett Jan 17 '13 at 13:38
  • Taking rep away from someone is punitive. Gamification of these sites isn't purely about positive rewards. – Matthew Read Jan 18 '13 at 19:56
  • @MatthewRead - I personally don't think the point of SE/SO and their offshoot sites is the user. The point of the SE sites is amassing high quality questions and answers as an aggregate. The upvoting and downvoting process is what ultimately quantifies the quality of the site; the actual process of users being up or downvoted is completely incidental to this. Accordingly, all we users can do is just roll with the punches. My $0.02 anyway. – Slytherincess Jan 20 '13 at 3:51
  • @ASlytherin Not really sure how that impacts what I said. Punitive actions against a user can be viewed as an attempt to improve their contributions and thus the aggregate end result, if you wish; that doesn't mean said actions aren't punitive. – Matthew Read Jan 20 '13 at 18:51
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Any user has the right to cast a vote, either up or down, as they see fit (barring revenge or serial downvoting, sockpuppets, or other methods of gaming the system).

Downvoting is not a punitive measure.

A user with 1 rep, which is most likely the case for the inexperienced and first-posters you refer to, will not lose any reputation from a downvote, until they gain reputation.

A new user who has 101 reputation from associated stackexchange accounts should know better.

Most importantly, though, downvotes serve to identify users who may have trouble understanding our system, or who are intentionally abusing our system. There are some automated tools that look at patterns of downvotes received by users, such as the question/answer ban, that prevents users who chronically ask or answer with low-quality posts from persisting in this behavior.

In short, downvotes on bad questions, regardless of whether they are on or off-topic, are helpful in detecting potential problems.

In fact, that is why closing a question as NARQ or off-topic automatically adds a downvote.

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