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I realize that there have been similar discussions going on for years (I've found complaints as far back as 2012), and it seems like it is a good time to bring it up again and ask about the rationale for the skew towards negativity in Area 51.

People are only allowed 5 positive votes on questions, but they could technically saddle a proposal with 30 negative votes per day. I'm sure it doesn't affect every proposal, but it can have a huge impact on proposals where a few people decide for whatever reason that they don't want something to see the light of day. James Jenkins complained about this in 2014 when he asked, Can one person derail a site proposal on Area51?

I have not seen anyone adequately address why negative votes are virtually unlimited when positive votes are so tightly rationed. Can you imagine a war in which one army gets 5 bullets per soldier and the other gets an unlimited supply? It wouldn't even be close to a fair fight. We also do not have access to the vote totals, so we can't tell if many positive votes are getting cancelled out by a few people's negative ones. One person could wipe out 6 people's votes in one day.

The purpose of the example questions is to help determine the scope of the proposed site. That function is completely distorted by people voting questions down without explanation perhaps just because they want to keep the site from advancing out of the definition phase. Ideally, every down vote should be accompanied by a justification, which would help serve the intended purpose.

Animuson, a staff/moderator on Meta.SE, recently informed us that plans are underway for a very different process for creating new sites. I am asking if there is anything that can be done in the meantime to make the process more fair, such as limiting the amount of down votes to 5 per person as well and allowing the vote totals to be seen so we can get a better picture of the true interest in the proposal?

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  • +1 Very valid question, one that I wished to ask as well. But is it that downvotes are unlimited or is it that persons who have not "Followed" the proposal have unlimited votes? My perception/misperception? has been that it is the opposers who seem to have enjoyed unlimited voting privilege. For the questions I posed, the downvotes affect my reputation, which doesn't change if the question is deleted.
    – Polyhat
    Dec 2, 2021 at 9:11
  • I did the math earlier today on my own, and came to the same conclusion that I see James Jenkins posted seven years ago: "on Stack Exchange up voters and down voter have exactly the same voice, but at area 51, down voters have 8 times the voice of up voters. It requires 80 people’s votes to move a proposal forward. But it only takes 10 people to completely reverse the up votes of those 80 people."
    – Polyhat
    Dec 2, 2021 at 9:25

1 Answer 1

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Because historically, downvotes have been so underused that they might as well not even exist. In fact, very few complaints have ever been spawned over downvotes in proposals, and more often we have problems with the gamification of upvotes to get a proposal passed through the process as easily and quickly as possible, but we've never addressed that either.

In reality, downvotes are no more a problem than upvotes are. The entire voting system as a part of the definition phase doesn't really achieve anything. We are considering alternatives to Area 51 because much of Area 51 is kind of pointless and doesn't really "prove" a proposal would make a good site. Why try to convince developers to re-invest in something that we don't even believe is effective anymore?

In the current process, as long as you an attract enough people that would ultimately pass the commitment phase, you are pretty much guaranteed to also acquire the necessary number of questions with a score of 10 to pass the definition phase also. At this point, the definition phase only really aids us in identifying what the proposal is meant to be. It's kind of like a game of Whose Line Is It Anyway where the questions are made up and the votes don't matter.

I have no idea what the new process will be exactly or if it will even be viable enough to warrant shutting down Area 51 in favor of that. But until such a time that someone makes a final decision that we should invest in Area 51 instead and make it actually functional, it's unlikely any changes will be made to it at all. I don't say that as a dismissal that the suggestion is bad or we just don't want to prioritize work here. Another part of why the discussion shifted to "let's ditch Area 51" is because no developers want to touch Area 51 anymore. Nobody wants to be that developer that gets stuck learning the Area 51 codebase because they're the unfortunate soul that has to maintain it now.

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  • Thanks, animuson. Happy to give you a positive vote! True to it’s name, Area 51 is a mysterious site. It is a little frustrating to see the vote totals going up and down so much. I’m sure you realize this is happening more on this site than on an average CS proposal. Religion does tend to generate more differing opinions and I guess it is a good sign that people are showing interest in the questions proposed, by one way or the other. Reading between the lines, I’m not going to worry about it too much and focus more on getting the required followers. Dec 3, 2021 at 5:38
  • If I can sneak in another quick question here, is there a certain amount of reputation required to be able to see the vote balances? This could be useful information in terms of understanding what kinds of questions are working for the site. A question with a score of 0 could have 10 positive votes and 10 negative ones which means something different from a question with a 0 that got no votes. This could be useful information in terms of understanding what kinds of questions are working for the site. Dec 3, 2021 at 5:45
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    Viewing vote counts is awarded at 1,000 reputation like any other site, and is probably unprotected and fetchable with a user script like on other sites too... Never tried.
    – animuson StaffMod
    Dec 3, 2021 at 5:49
  • It is disproportionately and otherworldly difficult to get 1000 points in Area 51. In fact, you'd almost have to be a survivor against all odds, like the site itself. But enough said.... Dec 3, 2021 at 16:28
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    Well, yes, it is now. It was fairly easy to do so back when Area 51 was created and active. That is a side effect of a site essentially dying. // I reached over 700 from fairly minimal participation back in the day.
    – animuson StaffMod
    Dec 3, 2021 at 16:31
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    @MartinHemsley There's a bypass route to seeing the vote totals. We can know them. The place to look is on the reputation tab for whomever asked the question. That is how I know we have a consistent down draft of five votes for each question. I've seen the vote totals for your questions as well as for Seed Minister and myself. It takes longer--a little more clicking/vote counting, looking down through the dates--but it is possible to know the vote total for any question. I didn't realize this at first, and wish I had looked at the totals before deleting my "unpopular" questions.
    – Polyhat
    Dec 6, 2021 at 0:34
  • Thanks for sharing that, @Polyhat! I think the key will be for people to reach out to their networks of family, friends, et al, and encourage them to follow the site. Eventually the positive momentum will take over and we'll be on our way. Dec 6, 2021 at 4:15
  • @MartinHemsley In theory, one could "game" the system by having everyone, concertedly, post their questions and vote on others' questions all at the same time--before the adversaries had had a chance to clock in and game the system in their own favor against the proposal--because that is what is happening now; we're being gamed. But I don't think fighting fire with fire has much chance of success in this case--just need to get a bigger vehicle rolling with so much support that the opponents are powerless to stop it.
    – Polyhat
    Dec 6, 2021 at 5:12
  • @Polyhat, yeah, better to focus on the positive than worry about downvotes. The proposal is valuable, we just have to find ways to get the word out there. Dec 6, 2021 at 5:19

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