It's probably best explained by example:

Imagine there is a question with 2 answers, where answer 1) is thorough and exhaustive, while answer 2) includes a good point, maybe even an example image or a joke, but in general does not cover the whole question. Answer 2) is currently the popular one and has the most up votes.

In absolute terms I find that 1) is the best answer and 2) is an interesting addition to it and I guess I should upvote them both, because both are relevant and useful. In relative terms I find that 1) is better answer and should be accepted, so should I leave 2) without vote or even downvote it (doesn't really matter in terms of reputation)?

Real world example of good vs popular answer: https://stackoverflow.com/questions/284797/hello-world-in-less-than-20-bytes/284898#284898 (somebody with enough rep on SO could maybe add the total up and down votes for that answer here).

  • Total upvotes: 506, Total downvotes: 73 – jrista Aug 22 '10 at 15:43
  • Now 140 Up, 12 Down – Basic Feb 20 '13 at 0:24

I feel that generally votes should be absoule, i.e. you vote on what's good and trust the community to sort out what's relevant.

Sometimes you might want to upvote some specific answers because you feel that they are underappreciated, and I guess that might be ok.

However, I would advice against downvoting answers just because you feel that they are too popular. I feel that you should use the downvote for things that are wrong or misleading, not beacuse it's not as good as some other answer.

  • 1
    @Guffa why would advise against downvoting in that situation? If it's actually inferior to the other answers, isn't downvoting one of the ways to address that? – ex-ms Aug 19 '10 at 3:20
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    @matt smille: Because you are not voting on the question, you are voting on it's vote. – Guffa Aug 19 '10 at 5:53
  • +1 - agree completely. Regarding downvoting, I feel that it should be used on answers that are incorrect, misleading or completely irrelevant, not because some other answer happens to be better or more informative. – Fredrik Mörk Aug 19 '10 at 6:52
  • No, I wouldn't vote on it's vote, I'm voting on the answers relative goodness. The problem with relative goodness is that later answer 3) might pop up which surpasses both 1) and 2) from my example. – Karel Aug 19 '10 at 7:34
  • @Guffa - I think that conflates the issue of quality and popularity; it's not a question of an answer being "too popular," but of actually being a worse answer than another. If the goal is to get the best answers up, why discourage downvoting of answers that aren't as good? You can see already on here there's a significant first-mover advantage; without downvotes, a slow-but-great answer has a very difficult time making it up the rankings. – ex-ms Aug 19 '10 at 18:15
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    @matt smille: The problem with trying to use the downvote as another upvote, is that you should downvote all other answers, not just the more popular ones, and also any future answers that are worse. In reality you will never do that, so the downvote will never work as another upvote. The upvote and downvote have different applications, and they should remain separate. – Guffa Aug 20 '10 at 11:28
  • @Guffa: That same inconsistency occurs with up-voting as well; good answers "should" be up-voted regardless of when they appear, but that never happens either. If we can agree that this inconsistency doesn't make up-votes somehow inappropriate, I think it has to follow that judicious down-voting can work as well. – ex-ms Aug 20 '10 at 20:44
  • @matt smille: You are mixing apples and oranges. The same inconsistency would occur if you try to use upvotes as another downvote, i.e. by upvoting every answer except the one you think is incorrect. How votes differ over time is a different matter, and that applies to both upvotes and downvotes. – Guffa Aug 20 '10 at 22:10
  • @Guffa I don't think I am, at least not any more than taking my position to mean "should have to vote up/down every other answer" is a strawman. If variance from some idealised pattern of voting were a problem of real concern, the site wouldn't even work. A downvote on an inferior answer doesn't do any harm that I can see, and none's been explained, just assertions made that "it's different" or that I'd be violating some rule of consistency to which I make no particular claim. – ex-ms Aug 20 '10 at 23:26
  • @Guffa & Matt: I think both points have merit. I agree that there really isn't any well-defined "rule of consistency" in this regard. As far as I am concerned, voting is a fairly subjective activity, one which intrinsically and necessarily involves each voters personal opinions about each question or answer being voted on. I don't think we can categorically rule out the idea of voting down an answer that has an undue amount of upvotes. On the flip side, I don't think that should be a regular practice, as downvotes are really intended for "incorrect" answers, rather than "incorrectly accepted". – jrista Aug 22 '10 at 15:52
  • @jrista: Why not simply make the vote editable, so that when I know that I am right and everyone else is wrong, I can just edit the vote to an appropriate value? ;) – Guffa Aug 24 '10 at 7:53
  • @Guffa: You mean, all the time every time? ;P – jrista Aug 28 '10 at 2:45

I vote up all answers which have a meaningful and substantive contribution.

  • 1
    This is pretty much what I do as well. If there are multiple answers that offer useful, valuable information, I vote each one up. I generally leave other answers alone, and only vote down answers that are specifically incorrect. However, I am not sure what I might do if I see a popular answer that is of considerably lower "quality" than a lower voted answer...I would have to deal with that subjectively. – jrista Aug 22 '10 at 15:56

I would vote up an answer that agrees with what I would have answered; And downvoted something I believe to be wrong. I believe it is important to leave a comment as to why it was downvoted, so the answer could be improved or issues addressed.

To summarise:

  • Correct and best answer is upovted
  • Correct but not the best (potentially incomplete, or lacking explanation present in another answer) answers would be abstained
  • Incorrect or misleading answers are downvoted

Let's not forget about voting on questions -- I will upvote questions that fall into a number of categories (and this applies across all sites using the same format):

  • The question was one I was trying to find the answer to myself (I would also upvote any answer that answers me)
  • It is clear what the question is asking, and is something I should know the answer to (i.e. I have sufficient knowledge of the field to know if there is enough detail in the question for it to be answered). Of course, if I can, and it wouldn't duplicate an existing answer, I would add that as well...
  • Maybe add that it's asker's responsibility to accept the best (and not the popular) answer as this is what will finally set the order of answers. – Karel Aug 23 '10 at 14:57

Just my opinion, but I tend to vote the most complete answer up and then, if one of the additional answers fills in important blanks or provides additional info, I would vote that as well. Mind you, sometimes the second answer can get encorporated into the first after the fact, so the second may no longer "add" and I still try to recognize that it did add value to the result.


I only vote after I've read all the answers, then I usually just vote for my favourite.

I just did it then with mike's answer here: Why do you need a remote trigger for your camera?

Sometimes I'll vote for more than one though...

Basically, I want the most popular answer to be the best answer. These stack exchange sites are great for googlers looking for a quick answer. When you're looking for a quick answer, you'll only read the first.

  • Good advice, however, I think the question ultimately boils down to the scenario where the "best" answer is not the "most popular", and that an answer of lesser quality and/or accuracy is "more popular". In such a case, would you downvote the more popular answer while concurrently upvoting the better answer, to help the community achieve what you highlighted in your answer? – jrista Aug 22 '10 at 15:54

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