In a way, I'm happy that our community has taken to heart the "vote early, vote often" maxim. But it's starting to be a real problem that answers which do not answer a question seem to be getting upvoted because people like what's being said. This is not how stack exchange is supposed to work. Two examples:

Questions to which people don't know the answers should go unanswered. This alerts skilled users to the fact that an answer is needed. Can we get some tough love on the off-topic answers around here? (feel free to post others in comments and answers).

3 Answers 3


I think we should encourage users to use the comments feature and edit features instead of giving weak or off-topic answers. I've expressed my concern about this, in the comment thread of this question.

However, the only way to encourage this is to have moderators migrate weak or off-topic answers to the comments, and for the users to downvote off-topic answers while leaving a comment on them like "this answer belongs as a comment".

If the question is off-base, then it should be closed, or the comments should be used to improve the question. If you think a question is off-base, then downvote it and comment on how it could be improved. Don't give an off-topic answer to an off-base question if you want to generate quality content.


Is no answer really preferable to the best possible answer to a question? I certainly agree with you about incorrect answers -- we would certainly like to see those not be upvoted. But if someone has expertise in the area of the question and knows that there won't be a perfect answer, but gives the best possible answer, what's wrong with upvoting that to indicate your agreement that no better answer is possible?

Here's an example:

Q: "How can I get the demons out of my grandmother's head with a jackhammer? If you don't know the method, please don't answer."

A: "There are no demons in your grandmother's head, and a jackhammer is not a tool you should even be thinking about."

That is perhaps the best possible answer, it is valid to give it, and valid to upvote it. If you think the question is bad because it asks for something that doesn't exist or no on-topic answer is possible, downvote the question. Oh, wait, you asked both of these questions.

I do agree with you about some of the answers you cited. We should definitely avoid upvoting incorrect answers or answers that completely miss the point of a question. I would amend "vote early, vote often" to add if you know the answer is correct and are confident it answers the question. Otherwise, you may discourage people from posting better answers, and that would suck.

Questions to which people don't know the answers should go unanswered. This alerts skilled users to the fact that an answer is needed.

True, but that's not the same as the case where a person knows there is no answer. Having no answers just makes the site look unhelpful.

  • I strongly disagree that either question is misguided in what it seeks. In the first example offered the scope is very clear--inclusion of a futures market in the protocol. The answer referred to does not even mention the protocol. In the second there is a request for specific, unique examples--but only general categories are suggested at in the upvoted answers. If I asked on a zoology stack exchange for examples of "specific bird species unique to the country of Ethiopia" and someone said "sparrows live in Ethiopia" I would want that answer to be downvoted. Sep 18, 2011 at 14:25

Its not clear to me that your examples of answers are either incorrect or off-topic.

In general, I don't see the problem with upvoting answers which don't quite answer the question as stated, but which nevertheless contribute to the general topic of a question and thus might help the reader, or might help other folks who can't quite answer the whole question by themselves.

I'd of course hope that complete and valid answers would get yet more votes, but as David notes, sometimes the question itself is off-base. E.g. you seem to be splitting hairs about how to define a "unique business model", especially one that is "unique to bitcoin". What would that even mean (how specific is your definition of bitcoin), and why would it be important to make black-and-white distinctions between categories of business models?

  • I'm definitely not splitting hairs. The word 'unique' is very well-defined, but it seems people don't know what it means. There are certainly degrees of unique--it's not a black and white thing at all--but none of the answers offered were even arguably unique to Bitcoin. I realise some people use the word "unique" to mean "interesting and attention-getting" but I think I clarified pretty carefully that I mean "solitary in type or characteristics, limited in occurrence to a given class, situation, or area." Sep 18, 2011 at 14:18
  • @eMansipater: well, currently Bitcoin is unique in its ability to drive micropayments, so answers that leverage that ability seem on-topic to me. On the other hand, would you want folks to not give advantages that would accrue to bitcoin but not to solidcoin? Overall you're welcome to use your votes as you see fit, but I don't see a reason to complain about others giving kudos to other people, just because it doesn't fit your definitions and viewpoint.
    – nealmcb
    Sep 18, 2011 at 16:39
  • I don't think that's a fair characterisation, Neal. What I'm trying to do here is raise the standard of precision for which the site will function, and thereby attract a higher degree of expertise. In actually fact I agree with many of the viewpoints these answers can be said to hold and I'll thank you not to make unwarranted conclusions about my perspectives. As the one who asked the questions I know what I asked, so there are exactly two possibilities--either I didn't explain well enough what I meant, or we as a community are upvoting answers that don't apply. I approached the first..... Sep 18, 2011 at 22:02
  • .....possibility with edits, and the second with this meta-post. Give me a little credit here--you're sounding pretty confrontational. Sep 18, 2011 at 22:04
  • @eMansipater I mean no offence. To put it in more neutral language, I'm simply suggesting that the viewpoint of the person asking a question is not the only viewpoint to consider. The community owns the interpretation and content (via Creative Commons), not any particular person. I also note that the StackExchange guidelines suggest that comments not be used for discussion, so at this point I'd suggest that we discuss this further in the chat room. It has been remarkably quite for 8 days - come on over :)
    – nealmcb
    Sep 21, 2011 at 23:32

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