I've heard a rumour, that people on TeX.SE are nicer and more inclinded not to down vote, where as people on Programmers.SE are the opposite.

The first is true, where as the second is not. Here are some statistics:

║   name    ║  neg   ║  zero   ║   pos    ║  Total   ║ neg%  ║ zero%  ║  pos%  ║
║ tex       ║    181 ║    9003 ║   124304 ║   133488 ║ 0.14% ║ 6.74%  ║ 93.12% ║
║ SO        ║ 426447 ║ 7303731 ║ 10219701 ║ 17949879 ║ 2.38% ║ 40.69% ║ 56.93% ║
║ prog      ║   4084 ║   25231 ║   117845 ║   147160 ║ 2.78% ║ 17.15% ║ 80.08% ║
║ eng       ║   5244 ║   19036 ║    91030 ║   115310 ║ 4.55% ║ 16.51% ║ 78.94% ║
║ unix      ║   1497 ║   18631 ║    74794 ║    94922 ║ 1.58% ║ 19.63% ║ 78.80% ║
║ ubuntu    ║   6057 ║  122584 ║   185132 ║   313773 ║ 1.93% ║ 39.07% ║ 59.00% ║
║ superuser ║  10028 ║  192953 ║   342148 ║   545129 ║ 1.84% ║ 35.40% ║ 62.76% ║

I pulled these using the DataExplorer Query, which totals questions with overall negative/zero/positive.

Is this because only high quality questions are asked? because the community is more forgiving? Because the moderators brutally delete poor questions before they get downvoted?

  • 1
    Sorry, but being "more cruel" than SO means something. The fact that many questions have 0-score on SO is given by the high traffic, but still, you have more neg-score ones on Programmers than on SO.
    – yo'
    Commented Jan 13, 2014 at 12:15
  • 32
    Because we rock! :) Commented Jan 13, 2014 at 13:11
  • 12
    We try to encourage asking questions which is essential for the growth of any subject (especially science). Somebody may ask a question in a wrong way initially but that doesn't mean they need to be punished. Every one needs a second (or third some times) chance. But there are always run away cases (very few times) where we down vote ;-) But we try not to scare people from asking.
    – user11232
    Commented Jan 14, 2014 at 2:05
  • 15
    An additional factor is that there are a lot of experienced users on "reviewing duty" (relative to the amount of questions). So most problems are not left to the user base to "vote out", but are handled immediately by comments or edits. If you see a question which has problems, but there is already a comment pointing them out, you postpone the downvote to see whether the question gets improved. Commented Jan 14, 2014 at 6:34
  • 1
    @paulo doesn't vote, he tests the voting limit daily.
    – percusse
    Commented Jan 14, 2014 at 18:58
  • 3
    @percusse: we test the voting limit. :) Commented Jan 14, 2014 at 19:34
  • 13
    Well, the English.SE guys seemed rather dickish to me to be honest so I'm not at all surprised to see them lead the list of negative votes. Of course, it's easier to ask a dumb question about English than it is to ask a dumb question about TeX but I still think the community plays a huge role. And who ever looked around a bit on SE probably learned pretty quickly that the level of civility and competence found on TeX.SE is a rare thing indeed.
    – Christian
    Commented Jan 14, 2014 at 22:22
  • 1
    People get emotional about their language likes and dislikes; TeX always comes out looking good ;) Commented Jan 15, 2014 at 3:43
  • 1
    @TrevorAlexander Hehe, true but it goes deeper than that I'm afraid. I've seen people being treated in an unnecessarily rude way in many discussions on English.SE but I have no way of finding them again so let me just pull out an example where I'm not impartial at all: english.stackexchange.com/questions/105069/… Maybe it's not exactly a stellar question and I surely could have handled the comments better, but -1, seriously? I just can't imagine seeing something like that on this site.
    – Christian
    Commented Jan 15, 2014 at 12:11
  • 1
    HEY! Who from this site upvoted my question on English.SE? You're countermining my point! ;)
    – Christian
    Commented Jan 15, 2014 at 14:19
  • 12
    Maybe some TeX.SE users should regularly go a-upvoting on other SE sites to spread the good spirits ;-) Commented Jan 15, 2014 at 17:07
  • 1
    @Christian Japanese.SE has a downvote w/o comment problem. I won't go into it ;) Commented Jan 15, 2014 at 21:04
  • 6
    @Stephan: I'm the top voter of the whole network, now I'm aiming at being the top voter of each site. :) Commented Jan 16, 2014 at 21:08
  • 1
    @PauloCereda I know a megalomanic lab mouse that would be proud of you :)
    – Christian
    Commented Jan 17, 2014 at 15:21
  • 1
    @Christian: awww ♥ NARF! :) Commented Jan 17, 2014 at 15:54

4 Answers 4


From very early on in the life of the site, there has been a presumption that voting should be a broadly 'positive' action. In particular, the community here have generally felt that for most questions voting below -1 isn't really desirable:

Please don't downvote below a score of -1, even if the question in its current form needs some improvement. A score of -1 is enough to show that the question needs work, anything below that is of no use. Also, if you downvote or vote to close, please leave a comment explaining why you did so, but wait at least 24 hours after asking the OP for improvements to the question before voting to close.

(Taken from the Text building blocks thread.) Thus many of the 'regulars' vote down only for very specific circumstances, primarily for spam where it's entirely sensible to vote quickly and remove the content.

As you may also pick up from the building blocks page, there's also a feeling that questions shouldn't get closed too quickly: rather than 'close, improve, reopen' there's a preference for 'comment, improve'. That partly reflects the nature of the questions asked here (it's reasonable expect quite a few from new/inexperienced users) and partly the scale of the site (it's quite possible to keep 'on top' of all of the questions).

In terms of moderator response, I think none of us delete many questions. The main use for the 'mod hammer' is for clearing up questions that are unlikely to get answered. That doesn't involve deleting them, although the 'back end' may of course remove closed questions over time.

  • do notes: that the numbers I pulled don't differentiate between -1 and -100. Commented Jan 13, 2014 at 14:10
  • @Oxinabox Noted, but to be honest even -1 is unusual, as it tends to be mainly when there are serious problems.
    – Joseph Wright Mod
    Commented Jan 13, 2014 at 14:12
  • Indeed -1, is very unusual, only 14, in every 10,000questsions has a negative score at all. (vs 238 for every 10,000 on SO) Commented Jan 13, 2014 at 14:17
  • BTW, you should not cast DV on spam... just flag it.
    – Braiam
    Commented Jan 19, 2014 at 18:10
  • @Braiam I think doing both is the best position: enough downvotes quickly will remove posts even if flags don't do it.
    – Joseph Wright Mod
    Commented Jan 19, 2014 at 18:15
  • I believe then that things should change here then. Downvoting don't help to delete the post. The flags should be enough to remove a SPAM/offensive post and this help the system to learn.
    – Braiam
    Commented Jan 19, 2014 at 18:19
  • @Braiam Very rapid downvotes are used by the backend in some unspecified way to auto-delete material (details not public as that would help spammers!). Multiple spam flags I believe have the same effect, but I don't see a cost to both flagging and downvoting. I don't actually see what this has to do with the main page: material is ordered by date/time of posting so votes make no difference.
    – Joseph Wright Mod
    Commented Jan 19, 2014 at 19:57

I think when you can define and help a newbie it's easier to be patient than at say english.SE, where there are a lot of "take it to ELL" type answers along with plenty ofinteresting discussions. I know everyone has been very patient with me, to the extent that I've stuck around and learnt a lot, and can contribute a bit now.

I guess it's related that for something with a significant learning curve, some people are filtered out before even thinking about posting their first question.

Now to speculate really wildly: Is there a factor at play that most (La)TeX users are in a broad sense part of the academic world, or at least were? I'm not saying that makes people nice, but it does mean they know how to have a discussion. I'd even maybe stretch that definition to a broad sense of the scientific world, from what I've seen of people's work in they questions.

Personally I probably don't vote as much as I should, but my votes are almost all positive, across the network.

  • 4
    i've been turned off english.se because of the often vicious interaction, although one can learn a lot from the information on the site; even ell has more "bad behavior" than one would wish -- and observe that it's still beta. (my lapsed participation in ell has more to do with overwork than with lapse of interest.) i don't think academic or not is relevant -- academic politics can be amazingly vicious! i think most of us realize this is a niche community, and want it to grow, so politeness is a plus. Commented Jan 16, 2014 at 18:18
  • @barbarabeeton I agree about academic viciousness, but IM(limited)E that only really applies when there's a capacity for rivalry - or maybe I'm not as cynical as I sometimes think!
    – Chris H
    Commented Jan 16, 2014 at 18:36
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    @ChrisH There's a lot of capacity for rivalty here. I would say it's easier here than e.g. on SO or ELU: You can treat the same problem in LaTeX by many different ways and with many small nuances. Still, it doesn't cause many close-to-identical questions here like it does on SO. People often point out the nuances in comments and the answerer then incorporates them. I would be really interested in rep/comment_upvotes ratio here :)
    – yo'
    Commented Jan 17, 2014 at 15:57
  • 1
    academics know how to discuss? oh what an entertaining idea!! :p you should come to our conferences. that is a lost art you are talkimg about I'm afraid. counterexamples are numerous on academia.SE
    – percusse
    Commented Jan 21, 2014 at 6:50
  • @percusse, I've been feeling increasingly lucky with the atmosphere among the academics I work with compared to other encounters - and tex.SE generally reflects that, while, as you suggest, academia.SE doesn't always.
    – Chris H
    Commented Jan 21, 2014 at 10:11

Finally I can nag about SO moderators!

TeX.SE is unique in the way that users treat questions and I think that is the way it has to be. Unfriendly environment in stackoverflow tempted me to post something on their meta and ask them why so serious and what is the purpose of this hostility!? This behavior is completely against the soul of Q/A forum where users actually are coming for answers not for having their questions deleted.

To answer your question, in my opinion it is not the quality of the questions at all, but the tolerance of moderators makes TeX.SE a nice forum to be active in. I don't think admins brutally delete the low quality question. In fact, if you compare the way that low quality questions go down in SO and TeX.SE you will realize that here, questions go to -1 and the there is window of opportunity for OP to modify or change the question while in SO, once you have the first -1 you will have the next ones in course of minutes (involving a little bit of personal feelings, I think next down-voters are a slightly victims of cognitive bias*).

To talk a bit about moderators, I will make you an example of one of my answers. If you check the edits you will see how egreg has improved my answer. And here is when TeX.SE senior users shine. Consider our very own Mr. Egreg egain. A university professor or david or most of other highest ranked users here all very decent, patient and polite persons.

I do admit that crazy traffic on SO needs a bit of brutality in moderation but I don't think they do what they do rationally and patiently. Check results of this query which is the list of top 10 closed questions. These questions are mostly marked as un-constructive!! To put it into perspective, our highest closed question has the vote of 62 while in SO it has 1479 votes and has been favorited 3691 times.


enter image description here


enter image description here

To summarize, I think it's all about moderators and their patience and respect to the OP. If they down-vote they explain why and they wait for modification (instead of writing a sarcastic comment). And by the way, this is the way that moderation on a web2 website should be. I think SO is simply doing it wrong.

*There is technical term for this phenomenon where the first voters affect the idea of the next ones no matter the quality of the idea (or in this case the question). Anybody knows the technical term? Something in the lines of halo effect but in social scale.

  • I think the term you may be looking for is "herding effect". Interestingly, a study that looked at how the initial vote on a comment influences subsequent votes came to the conclusion that an initial negative vote is likely to trigger more positive votes as an effort to "correct" the negative vote. Granted, though, that this study looked at forum comments, not a Q&A site where the voting criteria are more objective.
    – Jake
    Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 7:57
  • 3
    The scale of SO is enormous, and they get a lot of 'poor' questions: that does inform behaviour, and really has to. Also, note that egreg's not a moderator here!
    – Joseph Wright Mod
    Commented Jan 24, 2014 at 12:27
  • It's also important to note that what is considered on-topic at Stack Overflow has changed over time. That highest voted closed question, Hidden Features of C#? was asked on asked Aug 12 '08. It wasn't closed/locked until 2012. It's not that people think it's terrible (it's only got 22 downvotes); it's just that the standards changed over time as SO matured, which is fine, and it's important close some of those questions so that new users don't think that those are still appropriate for SO. Commented Jan 26, 2014 at 1:43
  • 2
    A question like Hidden Features of C#? might have been fun early on, but what's a “right” answer to it? (It's easier to define what a “wrong” answer to it would be, though.) What specific programming problem is it attempting to solve? There's not one. It's essentially a survey, and SO has decided that surveys, even greatly popular ones, aren't what SO is about, so it's off-topic. The TeX community seems to have decided that "how can I do this questions" which are a sort of survey are OK. They're different communities with different standards. Commented Jan 26, 2014 at 1:47
  • @JoshuaTaylor, I agree and I stated that SO is very massive in the number of users. I also agree that Hidden features of C# is not a good question. However, if you scroll down that list you'll find some actually very interesting questions. The point is, if more than 1K find that question worthy of a +1 then, closing that question is just moderator's personal opinion and against the wisdom of the crowd. Moreover, the real purpose of a these Q/A websites is to answer the questions. If there is someone to answer a supposedly nonconstructive question, then what is the point with closing of that?
    – Pouya
    Commented Jan 26, 2014 at 19:22
  • I don't know where those images came from or how they were produced, but I'd be interested in seeing the dates that those questions were asked. I disagree with the idea that "if more than 1K find that question worthy of a +1 then, closing that question is just moderator's personal opinion and against the wisdom of the crowd," because while a closure indicates "this is off-topic for SO (or has some other specific problem)" (and the standard for that change over time), an up- or downvote means "a user saw this question and decided to click the up- or down vote button." Commented Jan 26, 2014 at 22:32
  • On SO, people can vote for whatever reasons they like, but the tooltips on the buttons are "This question shows research effort; it is useful and clear" and "This question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful." I'll downvote questions that are on-topic (e.g,. about specific programming problems) if they're not clear, and I'll (less frequently) upvote off-topic questions if they're well researched or very clear. That's orthogonal to casting a close vote. I'm happy to say "this is great question" with an upvote but still "but not for SO" with a close vote. Commented Jan 26, 2014 at 22:35
  • I think this is somewhat similar to Up- and Down- voting on non-answers, where I asked about people's voting behaviors on non-answer answers. Something can be useful without actually being an answer, and so deserve a "not an answer" flag at the same time as possibly deserving an upvote. Commented Jan 26, 2014 at 22:37

I would speculate that it might also have to do with age. TeX has been around for a long time and there are quite a few users who have 20+ years of experience. Other sites seem more populated by a much younger group of users who may not have the maturity to keep their inner jerk in check.

  • 7
    Your answer sucks, get a life ok? Learn grammar ... ehm ... (I'll come back with better insults after reading some Youtube comments)
    – percusse
    Commented Jan 23, 2014 at 23:12
  • 3
    I have to wholeheartedly exclaim that such a discourteous comment is shameful and cannot be tolerated! Commented Jan 25, 2014 at 6:38
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    I was also about to take umbrage and exclaim to the assembled throng that not all of us are so elderly as you imply. Then I worked out that actually I've been using (La)TeX for almost 20 years. Now I feel old ... Commented Jan 25, 2014 at 19:13

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