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In Rhys's post on deleting low-value answers, there were many people who stated that downvoted answers have value themselves (for instance this answer by Jim):

Not all downvoted answers should be deleted.

Downvoted answers (especially with comments) can add value. They basically say "here is one approach to solving your problem. It's not a good idea; don't do it."

One example is this answer about working for free. The community generally agrees that it's a bad idea (shown through the downvotes), and there is a comment explaining why. Clearly, the idea occurred to at least one person as a solution to the problem, so it's useful to keep around something refuting that idea.


Rather than go for deletion of such answers, I'd recommend the first action be to try to add comments to explain why it's a bad idea. If that's not a viable option, then deletion may be appropriate.

In the FAQ on Comments on meta.SO comments are clearly intended to be temporary (emphasis mine):

Comments are disposable: unlike posts, there's no revision history, and they can be deleted without warning by their authors, by moderators, and in response to flags.

...

When should comments be deleted?

Comments are temporary "Post-It" notes left on a question or answer. You should not expect them to be around forever: Once a clarification has been made, an edit added to the post to include new information, or the issue in the comment is otherwise resolved, it is subject to deletion. In reality, many obsolete or chatty comments remain untouched due to the high volume of comments posted, but this does not mean that they can't or shouldn't be deleted in the future.

Personally I share gnat's take on things:

I believe that it would be better to have an (upvoted) answer that lays out the idea in the impartial tone and follows up with a compelling explanation for why it would be bad. If there was such an answer, I wouldn't mind deletion of the one that gives a pretty shaky "proof by comment and downvotes"

So the question I want to place to the community is:

Are 'Whatever you do, don't...' Answers Appropriate?

Taking the answer used as an example by David, would it be appropriate to make an answer saying something like:

While it may seem tempting, do not offer to work for free. Working for free may get your foot in the door, but it will cause the employer to value your work at nothing because you're providing it for free. This will hurt your chances to negotiate with the company for a full-time position

This does not answer the question, but it does provide valuable information that is currently hidden in a -7 downvoted answer, and a comment clarifying that the answer is a bad idea. Personally I think that having such an answer would be better than having the downvoted answer as-is, but I wanted to run it by the community first.

  • As I pointed out in a comment to "David" the problem with his answer is that it does not explain how to parlay the volenteer work into a job. If it did then I think that the answer would be worth keeping around. With out that it does not answer the question. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Oct 14 '13 at 2:43
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There are 27 answers posted on that particular question, and for every new answer added, that's information that gets drowned out by the noise created by the other answers. Even if that noise is valuable, it's still hard to hear over the noise of all of the other valuable information.

Thus, it seems that it may be best to stick to answering the question. While this 27 answer question is an extreme example, if we allow just any information to be posted, we risk taking the focus off the actual answers to the question or even ending up with questions with 10 posts where none of those posts actually answer the question.

To some degree, we see this occasionally on some answers, and I feel like we're already pretty lenient when this occurs, letting some slip under the radar as long as they also address the core question. Officially saying, "post whatever you want", could make it very difficult to moderate a site where the lines may already be a bit subjective and blurry.

What helps mark this particular example answer as a bad answer is the number of down votes. If folks want to learn more, there's a comment posted that adds value. But posting an answer that doesn't answer the question, in a network where Real Questions Have Answers, somehow seems like it could create more problems than it solves. Here's a small portion of the conveyed message from that blog post:

What kind of questions should I not ask here?

...

we are being asked an open-ended, hypothetical question: “What if __ happened?”

...

A big part of making a great question is in focusing on great answers. If we let answerers do whatever they want and don't moderate them, then the questions may very well take the brunt of the blame for creating poor quality content. By making sure answerers also follow good subjective practices, we help create great questions we may not have otherwise been able to support. Hope this helps!

  • Thanks for the feedback. From my perspective, there are three ways to solve this: 1) add an answer, delete the one at the bottom less likely to be read. 2) add the information from the comments about what not to do to another answer if it's useful. 3) Just delete the answer if too many answers is a bad thing, since its usefulness doesn't merit a separate answer, it must not be that useful in the first place. Which are you advocating we do? – jmac Oct 8 '13 at 1:36
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    I would say one of any of the three, but if you do #2, you should also be sure to answer the question. If your goal is to only respond to something someone else said in another answer that sort of starts to cross over into extended discussion territory. I'm not saying that every answer that does this should be immediately down voted and deleted, but we should be sure to focus on answering the question if we can. Hope this helps. – jmort253 Oct 8 '13 at 1:41
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    cont'd - I also think that only the community can really decide what crosses the line. Maybe highlighting "don't work for free" is so critically important to success that we give it a free pass. Whereas some other post that doesn't really answer the question might be less valuable. But here lies the dilemma with this logic: How do we enforce that as a community without people feeling like the guidelines aren't very clear? – jmort253 Oct 8 '13 at 1:44
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    I don't think that responding to another answer is appropriate, but rather that if information is important enough to occupy an answer, then it should be welcomed as an answer itself. If it isn't, then low-voted answers with a comment that provide value don't pass the 'provide value' test, and should be deleted. Just looking for consistency so that we can make decisions on these things in the future. – jmac Oct 8 '13 at 1:47
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    Another suggestion is to just make 100% sure that the post follows the back it up rule and cites some references. If we post something where lines may blur, we can make sure there are facts, references, citations, etc to explain why it's so important that that information be referenced. I don't see any of this as being a hard-line in the sand, so anything one can do to make the answer appear like a helpful Stack Exchange answer will help add value to the site, and if it adds value then it's harder to make any case for down voting or removal. – jmort253 Oct 8 '13 at 1:49
  • Basically, we just want to make sure we're focusing on quality and not quantity. If our posts do that, then we're doing the right things. Hope this helps! – jmort253 Oct 8 '13 at 1:51

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