I propose that:
- This site's core users MUST much more frequently downvote answers even if they are "only" mediocre or we are going to face a consistent decrease in quality
because (each of these is expanded on at length below):
- All (or at least most) our questions are subjective
- Anyone can post answers on nearly all our questions
- Permissibility of mediocre answers invites more mediocre answers
- There is no real incentive to stop posting mediocre answers except DVing
This has been discussed before but I believe is worth a serious revisit at this point.
Also, this is a separate problem from question quality.
What is unique about The Workplace compared to many other SE sites
Questions asked on this site, will, in general, not have an objective answer. There is almost never a "here's THE answer" question asked here. Every single question asked on this site is effectively a subjective question.
From the linked blog post, there are specific qualities desired in subjective answers:
The Back It Up! Principle:
- Something that happened to you personally
- Something you can back up with a reference
They talk about how “opinion, by itself, is noise.” They’re not saying that subjective opinions are to be avoided; they’re attempting to mold and shape their inherently subjective Q&A into something constructive, informative and helpful. As it turns out, there is an entire field of subjective “expertise” that has the hallmarks of making great Q&A sites:
Our FAQ even specifically has this text:
Please note that answers should be backed up either with a reference, or experiences that happened to you personally. You should always include in your answer information about why you think your answer is correct.
So as a site, included in the "How Should I Answer?" component of our FAQ is text which requires people to have some sort of "back it up" rule already.
- Subjective answers require special care in how they are answered (ie not "here's the answer")
Everyone is an expert here (or can pretend...)
Most people cannot go to StackOverflow and contribute answers to problems outside their expertise or familiarity.
We don't have this luxury. Almost anyone who has worked in any capacity can provide some amount of "answers" to the overwhelming majority of constructive questions asked on this site. Anyone who comes here can contribute their thoughts on questions.
This means we have effectively no barrier to entry on our site (which is great, honestly) for answering questions, so anyone can contribute. This is a huge plus for the long term viability of The Workplace. But the problem is anyone can contribute their thoughts, regardless of whether they constitute a "good" answer or not by our site standards.
This results in
- The barrier to entry at The Workplace is incredibly low (ie non-existent)
Low quality or mediocre answers invite similar answers
Prevalence of mediocre answers simply invites more of the similar. Wikipedia has a great article on this topic (officially called Broken window theory). The idea (with respect to crime) is when there is a prevalence of small crimes - graffiti, broken windows, etc - this enables more of the same as well as more serious problems. By targeting the "weaker" crimes police can effectively combat crime as a whole.
This principle is also very true on our Q/A site. Answers which are low quality (say 1 line answers) invite more of the same. We get this problem nearly every time one of our questions appears on the popular questions list.
Not only is this true with really bad answers, it is also true with mediocre answers which do not really fit our site standard for answers described on our FAQ as well as in the link about subjective questions. If we consistently tolerate mediocre answers we are going to slowly have a decrease in overall quality. It is my opinion that we are already on this route - overall answer quality seems to have been slowly decreasing since I first got active on here (hopefully not because of me...) and the overwhelming majority of answers no longer seem to even try to meet the "good subjective answer" characteristics.
- Consistent mediocre/low quality answers invite more similar answers
Upvoting good answers does NOT do anything to encourage only good answers
It might, but plenty of mediocre answers receive upvotes here too. Is it true that, most often, answers meeting our FAQ have higher vote counts than mediocre answers? Yes. But that doesn't change the fact that many mediocre answers never receive downvotes and in fact often receive upvotes (especially those on popular questions...).
Not downvoting mediocre answers does not discourage them. Sure, the best answers float to the top (normally). But without downvotes there is no incentive to stop posting mediocre bad answers.
Not to mention the whole host of repeated answers we get saying basically the same thing.
A thought experiment: what would happen to average answer quality on this site do if every answer which was mediocre or "meh" received downvotes?
- Without downvotes on mediocre answers, there is no incentive to stop posting them