When looking at a list of questions, for example on page https://cs.stackexchange.com/, we tend to assess the interest of the whole compound question+answers+comments from the vote rating given to the question itself. But that rating is usually supposed to be more a rating of the question alone and the way it was asked.

Furthermore, a question may be uninteresting as asked, but have interesting answers, possibly only one, that may be worth looking at.

This answer may be ignored because the question has a poor vote rating. Low viewing will result, and there may be no reason for another answer.

This happens quite often, and seems unfair to people who try to give interesting answer even when the question is questionable. It is also a loss for users who might have been interested by the answer.

The following question was asked today: Finding context free grammar for this language?

Right now, it is downvoted to -1, actually +1-2. This may be a fair rating, for a rather trivial question.

However, I found that the answer given by Rick Decker had an interesting remark (it was for me), and I upvoted it, which I do not usually do for answer to very trivial questions.

I may of course be wrong in my assessment (I am far from knowing or remembering all the available information). But if I am right, then Rick Decker's interesting remark is wasted.

On the question page, the question shows as: votes: -1, answers: 2, views 29 after 11 hours.

A possibly undesirable side-effect may also be that people may upvote a question they answer so as to attract attention on their answer, even though the question may not deserve it.

So, the above is the problem, as I see it.

Regarding the solution:

One possibiliy would be to rate by a separate vote the question, and the whole set of question+answers+comments. But that is too complicated and heavy on users.

Another solution, much simpler, whould be to rate questions in lists with the highest vote received by the question or any of its answers.

Then the question would appear on page https://cs.stackexchange.com/ with the vote rating +1 due to to the upvote on the first answer, instead of the -1 vote on the question itself (which would of course remain at -1 on the page of the question).

This is not the first time I encounter such a situation, and that is why I am bringing it to your attention.

Maybe that is easy to do. Are there reasons not to do it?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Yes, SE is unfair. It's biased towards easy to digest content. Hard stuff gets less votes. That's not exactly the issue you observe but it's related: visibility and votes are not proportional to quality but to the size of the readership. $\endgroup$
    – Raphael
    Oct 7, 2014 at 14:00
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    $\begingroup$ I don't consider my answer wasted if it helped the OP. Admittedly, many of my answers don't get the attention I think they might deserve, but years of writing excellent books with miniscule sales has inured me to disappointment in that area. I agree that the larger issue is of interest, but this is an issue where I agree with @Raphael: SE is an unfair game, but it still seems to be the best game in town. $\endgroup$ Oct 7, 2014 at 19:10
  • $\begingroup$ Interesting idea, babou! 1. You might want to search Meta.stackexchange.com to see if it has been suggested before. I couldn't find any similar suggestion, but this sounds like an issue and solution that would apply network-wide, and is not specific to CS.SE -- so maybe it has been proposed or discussed before. If not, it might be worth proposing on Meta.SE. 2. I'm not sure if it will make a big difference. It won't affect whether or where it is displayed on the front page, only the vote total that is displayed. Will it affect whether people find the answer via search? What do you think? $\endgroup$
    – D.W. Mod
    Oct 8, 2014 at 1:27
  • $\begingroup$ @D.W. I think it could affect the way people select interesting answers from the result of a search. To some extent, search factor away topicity. So vote levels are more meaningful. A minor variation might be to indicate whether the score is a question or an answer score. $\endgroup$
    – babou
    Oct 8, 2014 at 12:53
  • $\begingroup$ @RickDecker My point is not fairness for the sake of fairness, as that is hard to define or achieve. The main reason for fairness in science is for the sake of science itself, to make it more effective. We do wish to promote what is good, true, useful, ..., because it benefits everyone in the end. I am upset when I see a bad answer promoted, upvoted, accepted. I am upset not because it is unfair, but because it is destructive, because it hurts science itself. We should always strive to improve whatever can still be improved in a credible way, as we do for democracy. $\endgroup$
    – babou
    Oct 8, 2014 at 13:04
  • $\begingroup$ se is fundamentally not designed to work with "good answers to bad questions". there are a few badges related to encouraging it but otherwise it is more designed to screen "bad" questions and your ideas are in opposition to that core design principle. an available option is to re-ask the question in a way that might get more votes or as G suggests, edit the question. (caveat, that rarely leads to much improvement in votes, it would take a concerted social shift for it to come out otherwise). another point is that Computer Science Chat is always around to highlight particular Q/A etc among regulars $\endgroup$
    – vzn
    Oct 21, 2014 at 23:11

2 Answers 2



Most visitors find threads on Stack Exchange after searching on Google. Google gets us about 85% to 90% of our traffic. Other search engines, and searches inside Stack Exchange, only account for a small minority of the traffic.

So if you want a question to be found, make sure that Google finds it. I don't know how much attention Google pays to votes, but I'm pretty sure it's not much, if it uses them at all. Do make sure that keywords that people might use to search the question are present.

Pay attention to the title: not only does Google give it a high weight, but it's also the primary way in which people decide whether to follow a search result. Make the title as specific as warranted (“Finding context free grammar for this language?” is awfully generic).

Editing posts to improve them, make them more readable, make them easier to find, etc. is strongly encouraged. Editing is the most open action on Stack Exchange: not only does it have no reputation requirement, but it can even be done without bothering to create an account (unlike asking and answering). There are new badges to encourage editing questions that you answer.

Searches on Stack Exchange show the score of the post, and higher-scoring posts are likely to get more views. But it's enough to have a high-scoring answer, no matter what the question's score is. The score of the question only matters for a few hours while it's near the top of the front page.


This is not a new issue. However, let's check your premises.

  1. we tend to assess the interest of [a page] from the vote rating given to the question itself

    Is that so? There's also the number of views. Given that good SE content is mostly accessed via search engines (not via the question list) -- and that's by definition -- this number may be a better indicator. Note furthermore that the hot questions list does list several questions with negative score in prominent positions.

  2. This answer may be ignored because the question has a poor vote rating. Low viewing will result, and there may be no reason for another answer.

    Citation needed. The data explorer may be able to help you.

And now we come to the core issue:

Furthermore, a question may be uninteresting as asked, but have interesting answers

If you have a good answer to an otherwise useless question (and there is no better question for your answer, e.g. a reference question) then edit the question to be useful (or post a new one).

I did this myself at least once; this one started out as a bad dump and I made it a reference question.

I don't think that's often possible for homework dumps, but then answers to such would likely be very localized, too (if they don't fit to a more general question).

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    $\begingroup$ Pragmatic advice: pick your battles. Don't answer crappy questions. $\endgroup$
    – Raphael
    Oct 7, 2014 at 14:05
  • $\begingroup$ Your initial ref is a somewhat different issue. Very good though. - Views from web are based on topicity, not quality. - What is the definition of hot question, as opposed to active. - Regarding interesting answer, you suggest I edit the question. First, I am very uncomfortable doing that as I have high respect for authorship, and I may have to change significantly the question. Then it relies much on more work for users, while my suggestion requires no work at all, and might do the job more effectively. And your editing solution may still complement it. $\endgroup$
    – babou
    Oct 7, 2014 at 15:28
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    $\begingroup$ @babou The authorship issue is nonexistent, as far as SE is concerned. By posting you put your content under a CC license, and making crap worthy to stay is definitely a good thing. There's no need for hesitation. $\endgroup$
    – Raphael
    Oct 7, 2014 at 15:35
  • $\begingroup$ Regarding "what makes a question hot", I don't know exactly. There's some stuff on Meta Stack Exchange but it changes over time. Votes, views and answers per time interval seem to be relevant -- i.e. hard questions will never be hot. $\endgroup$
    – Raphael
    Oct 7, 2014 at 15:35
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    $\begingroup$ In this particular situation, I don't see how one could edit the original question to be "useful" without putting a bale of words in the OPs mouth, most of which weren't intended or ever considered. With babou, I regard authorship as important: while under CC it may be legal (and even accepted here) to edit a post beyond recognition, that doesn't make it ethically acceptable to me. $\endgroup$ Oct 7, 2014 at 19:24
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    $\begingroup$ @RickDecker Fair enough. In that case, follow my fallback solution and repost a better version; you can even give attribution if you so desire. (In principle, I agree. I think ownership is pretty much released once you throw something in the trash, though, and that's what we'd do with the crap question.) $\endgroup$
    – Raphael
    Oct 7, 2014 at 19:27
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    $\begingroup$ @Raphael It seems a bit weird to claim that person X has released ownership of something of theirs that person Y threw in the trash. To be honest, if you have a good answer to a bad question, I think it would be better to write a new, good question and post your answer to that. Not because of authorship issues but because the asker of a bad question doesn't deserve to earn reputation because somebody turned their crap into a different but good question. $\endgroup$ Oct 9, 2014 at 20:08

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