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As member of SU for more than 5 years, I have quite a number of old answers lying around. Some of them are so old and outdated that today they are just ridiculous, such as recommending the installation of SP2 for XP.

Because of these old answers, I am experiencing a slow trickle of down-votes. Although the total reputation lose is insignificant, this is still extremely irritating. It also seems that voting causes the post to go up in the list of answers, because one such down-vote may bring one or two more in succession.

In self-protection I have taken to deleting any old answer that gets a down-vote, but this is only an after-the-fact reaction, and it may penalize persons looking for a solution for an old computer.

The question of what to do with old posts and answers has been debated here several times.
For example:

Most of the answers assume a thoughtful voting attitude, which is apparently not the general rule.

Therefore I raise the question of how to protect old posts and answers from thoughtless down-vote. "Old-timers" on this site since several years should not, in my opinion, be penalized for their past answers. This problem will certainly only become more and more acute with time.

Some protection mechanisms I can imagine are :

  1. A warning for when a down-vote is attempted on an old answer, along the line of:
    "This is an old answer and so may not relate to current technology. Please do not down-vote answers that still pertain to computers running an older version of Operating System. Are you sure you want to down-vote this answer?"

  2. Simply disallow down-votes for posts/answers older than x years.

  3. Automatically post an informative message on posts/answers older than x years, warning that it may pertain to older technology and should not be accessed except for older computers.
    Microsoft, for example, already posts such warnings on older Knowledge Base articles.

Any such mechanism will also launch a debate of what is the age of a post/answer that is to be called "old". I would vote for 3 years, since technology moves quite fast.

Summary

This post has produced much spirited discussion, so I have achieved my main goal.

From the above three proposed options, it seems that the first one is relatively the most acceptable, the second is mostly unacceptable, and the third seems like too much noise added to posts and answers.

An idea proposed by @Duncan was to add an "Obsolete" tag to posts/answers, maybe voted upon by the community. Another one by @Abraxas, proposed requiring a mandatory commented reason for downvoting an old post/answer.

A constructive idea for a partial solution for my personal problem came from @Chenmunka, which is that rather than deleting such posts or answers, to convert them instead to Community Wiki to protect them from further downvotes.

It may yet take some years for people to feel that the problem needs addressing, and I agree that at the moment there is no urgency.

EDIT : We have all forgotten one solution : Education.
Before posting this I was getting 1-2 such downvotes per week. But since, there are none. This post seems to have unexpectedly solved my problem (for now).

Conclusion: The Help Center should explain better when down-voting is not appropriate.

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    first option seems good. But the second is a bit too drastic don't you think? – ᔕᖺᘎᕊ May 25 '15 at 13:08
  • @ᔕᖺᘎᕊ: It's drastic, certainly, but what will we do with down-votes in the close future when we will have answers dating from 10 years ago? Both methods can be adopted. For example: Method 1 for answers older than 3 years, method 2 for 5 years. Up-votes should always be allowed, for appreciation of old answers that are still useful. – harrymc May 25 '15 at 13:14
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    if we do enable the 2nd option, then we'd need to make sure you can downvote posts that are already negatviely scored - you might stumble upon an already bad answer a few years later - you should still be able to downvote them! – ᔕᖺᘎᕊ May 25 '15 at 13:16
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    in fact, 3 is sounding better now :P – ᔕᖺᘎᕊ May 25 '15 at 13:25
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    The 3rd alternative together with the 1st one should probably be enough to solve this problem. – harrymc May 25 '15 at 13:26
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    I would agree. Questions that are older then 2 years with answers older than 2 years should have a notice indicating the question was talking about older technology. I doubt this will stop the "new users" who submit an answer indicating they should install Windows 7 SP1 when the question was about Windows XP. – Ramhound May 25 '15 at 17:51
  • @Ramhound: Many times a downvote of an old answer is accompanied by the posting of a new answer. It also happens that someone posts a bounty on an old post asking for better and more up-to-date solutions. So a post may have new answers, but IMO old answers should still be protected. – harrymc May 25 '15 at 19:22
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    Just because a bad answer somehow escaped scrutiny (irrespective of whether it already has downvotes or not) there's no reason to automatically protect it after a few years. I don't think option 2 is a good idea. – Karan May 25 '15 at 20:21
  • @Karan to the contrary I'm most appealed to option 2. If the question isn't informative enough, this should be addressed within a reasonable time period. That's a pretty underlying motive of Stack Exchange, no? In defense of Ramhound, I can absolutely see older questions being downvoted because of "up-to-date solutions" or offering something outside the specific question at hand. Disallowing votes conforms to both issues. Most importantly, older issues should be protected. StackExchange addresses MANY people, over substantial periods of time and information should be available respectively. – BiTinerary May 26 '15 at 3:28
  • @BiTinerary: I wasn't talking about freezing Qs but As (which the OP was also focused on), but why shouldn't the same rule apply to Qs as well? Just because something (Q or A) flew under the radar and escaped scrutiny "within a reasonable time period" (for whatever definition of "reasonable"), does that mean it automatically deserves protection against downvotes forever? Note: I'm not advocating that older answers that're no longer relevant should be downvoted. That's indeed silly. As for defending Ramhound, are you addressing that towards me? No part of my comment was attacking him. – Karan May 26 '15 at 4:32
  • If something has to be done (and I'm not sure it's such a huge problem right now), I'm not opposed to option 1. Option 3 would results in such notices being pasted across the site, including posts where all answers might end up with these warnings. Unless it's somehow done discreetly I think it'll just look way too ugly, plus I don't believe it'll accomplish anything useful. It's common sense (or should be) that older answers relevant to older tech should not be followed blindly on modern systems. So all in all only option 1 would get my vote. BTW, wouldn't this make more sense on meta.SE? – Karan May 26 '15 at 4:44
  • No, I wasn't suggesting that your were attacking him, maybe "support" would've been a better word. I see more clearly what you were saying and where you're coming from. I just think regardless of answers/questions, if a post is several years old should it be continually subjected to voting? Especially when there're more relevant issues at hand? If this community does it's job then the best/correct answer should be prevalent long before. I think 1 and 2 will end up looking "too ugly" since it demands user prompts on various levels. Whereas 2 can simply be incorporated into how SE works. – BiTinerary May 26 '15 at 5:56
  • @BiTinerary: Don't forget to use @! "if a post is several years old should it be continually subjected to voting" - If you pose this question to people, I bet they'll all agree that downvotes on old answers suck but will be only too happy to continue being upvoted for old answers. So it's not about freezing voting completely. Clearly the demand is only to stop downvoting and not upvoting, and I don't agree with this. – Karan May 26 '15 at 8:02
  • @Karan: The demand is not to stop downvotes, but ensure that the voter understands the situation. I also don't prefer my point 2. – harrymc May 26 '15 at 9:16
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    @harrymc: We'll have to agree to disagree on this. Painting all downvotes on old answers as suspect and thus needing to be prevented, while happily allowing upvotes will turn the whole voting system on its head. – Karan May 26 '15 at 17:40
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If you want to retain the reputation previously earned and, after all, you did earn it, then making the answer Community Wiki would protect it and the answer would remain for posterity.

Wouldn't that be the simplest way? Especially if a caveat were added to the answer stating that it may no longer be applicable to new systems.

  • Thanks for your answer, but I wasn't thinking about my reputation, but on the generic problem. – harrymc May 27 '15 at 20:56
  • I accept that, which is the point of the second paragraph. – Chenmunka May 29 '15 at 10:20
  • I will adopt your suggestion - it is much better than deletion. The only problem is that the downvote was already done. I accept your answer since it's the most constructive. – harrymc May 29 '15 at 11:30
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I've occasionally noticed, and commented on and downvoted lower quality, link-only answers, and you've definitely got a lot of rep - and well, if I thought one of your answers wasn't good, I'd consider downvoting and commenting. Not everyone might do the latter. In your case these would be link-only answers, with some older, bountied questions if I recall correctly.

To put it mildly, there isn't really a problem IMO.

The proper way to deal with this, in my opinion is rather than protecting older questions from downvotes, is for answers to be updated as you notice they are downvoted. This has a few advantages - it gets better visibility for the question, and if your answer is fantastic, people would upvote it anyway.

  • The reputation lose here is not really significant, but beside the personal side of seeing good answers downvoted, it also creates a real problem. For example, an answer on an XP post may lose reputation because of no applicability to newer Windows versions, so may be ignored as incorrect by someone still using XP. – harrymc May 26 '15 at 5:58
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    or downvoted cause someone with an XP system tried it, and it didn't work, or it was a single line, or a link only answer. Preventing people from voting on old question feels like a significant restriction on the ability to vote. It also means that if someone posted a crappy answer in the past, they're essentially immune to the consequences of a downvote. This feels like a pretty heavy handed way of dealing with it. – Journeyman Geek May 26 '15 at 6:21
  • @BiTinerary has answered this argument above: "If the question isn't informative enough, this should be addressed within a reasonable time period". It's somewhat preposterous to suppose that an answer was recognized as crap several years after being posted. It's far more likely that the voter isn't familiar with past technology. – harrymc May 26 '15 at 7:29
  • @harrymc: See my comment on Oliver's answer. There's no reason answers cannot be recognised as being invalid even after a significant gap of time. – Karan May 26 '15 at 8:11
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    However acceptability changes. Sometimes a user might choose not to change his answer for reasons, even if someone's made it clear its not quite right. Considering we bump up old questions with no answers, when a question or answer was posted seems less important to me than its utility – Journeyman Geek May 26 '15 at 8:26
  • @Karan: Answers can certainly be recognized as invalid even years after posting. It's the same difference as between "feasible" and "probable". My option 1 takes care of ensuring the downvoter's intention, as that's the main problem. I'm not saying my solutions are the best, just trying here to get the problem recognized. It might still take years for this problem to become really painful,but I felt we should start discussing it now. – harrymc May 26 '15 at 14:18
  • @harrymc: I've already stated I'm not against option 1. It's not as heavy-handed as option 2, even though it might not satisfy you because it doesn't stop downvotes. BTW I'll say it again - since this needs to be done SE-wide it should be discussed on meta.SE. Edit: Regarding discussing it now, surely this isn't something only you have faced so far. There are people with 5x more rep than you on SE and I'm sure their old answers have been downvoted too for all sorts of invalid reasons. However as far as I can see no high-rep users have ever raised this issue (if they have please link to it). – Karan May 26 '15 at 17:55
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Making any change without knowing the intention of the downvoter seems pointless. Maybe they just downvoted you because they don't like you simply for being the user with the most reputation on the site.

I also get downvotes all the time on different sites, it doesn't bother me at all and I never even had the thought that this needs to be prevented.

Who cares if it's an old question? People might have to mess with some legacy system in a company at some point and might think the answer is helpful. Or they're setting up a VM for research reasons. The fact that you would delete a possibly helpful answer just because it earned you a single downvote is just sad.

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    "Who cares if it's an old question?" - Agree completely. Also, people often upvote and even sometimes accept answers in a hurry without always trying them out themselves (and when they do, might never return to change their vote). People think it sounds good and will probably work, they upvote. Someone comes along years later who's still dealing with old systems and actually implements the 'solution' and it fails. What then? Why should they not be allowed to leave appropriate feedback on the answer? – Karan May 26 '15 at 8:06
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    Oliver Salzburg is 5 years on SU, same as me, with 741 answers. I have amassed 4,091 answers in 5 years, 9 months, and I feel exposed. @Karan, 2 years, 11 months and 1,175 answers, if you continue answering at that rate, in a few years you will find yourself in my situation, so better don't argue too strongly against it. You could both do multiply statistically your number of downvotes by my years and number of answers to better understand my situation. In a few years time, you and others will have the same problem as me now, so maybe it's better to look now for a solution than later. – harrymc May 26 '15 at 9:14
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    @harrymc: Look, all I'm saying is it seems unfair to freeze only downvoting on old posts while allowing upvoting, as your option 2 recommends. Why go on enjoying the positives forever while conveniently preventing people from voting down after X years? If we must freeze voting on old posts (and I'm not at all convinced we do), it must be a complete freeze and not partial. Even that seems to me though to be inherently against the basic nature of SE. Option 1 is ok by me though, as stated previously. – Karan May 26 '15 at 9:20
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    @harrymc: If I extrapolate whatever stats I have now, it wouldn't really make any difference. If I had 10 times the posts and 10 times the downvotes, then I'd probably also have 10 times the rep. So I don't see the relevance. You have, by far, the most rep in this community. Hearing such a concern coming from you makes it really hard to take seriously. That being said, if it was coming from someone with only 50 rep and 2 posts on the site, my response would be exactly the same. – Der Hochstapler May 26 '15 at 9:30
  • "without knowing the intention of the downvoter" - I think my option 1 takes care of it. – harrymc May 26 '15 at 14:08
  • @OliverSalzburg: As moderator, please see my edit to my post. – harrymc Jun 23 '15 at 6:56
  • @harrymc: Wow, this post has grown huge. Yeah, it sounds reasonable to put some guidelines about when downvoting is appropriate into the help center. I'm not too familiar with the current content though. Maybe some page covers it already. – Der Hochstapler Jun 23 '15 at 7:12
  • Evidently not enough. Idea: The Help Center should become a wiki, so the community could improve itself, with editing being an earned privilege. Should I post it? – harrymc Jun 23 '15 at 8:21
  • @harrymc: Worth a shot – Der Hochstapler Jun 23 '15 at 10:48
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I agree that old technology should not be a basis for downvoting. The Meta discussions you linked to focus on obsolete information, and that is one source of the problem. But I have a different take on a more prevalent cause of the phenomenon.

You mention one downvote leading to more. Voting doesn't affect movement to the active questions list, so random successive downvotes on an old post are unlikely. Most of the cases I've seen were because someone had contributed a new answer, or a spammer searched for a suitable question to use as an excuse to post an answer. That pushes the question into the active list, where it gets rediscovered. There are also many cases of someone discovering an old question or answer and editing it to improve or update it. That similarly bumps the question.

I have not seen any questions or answers downvoted solely on the basis of being about old technology, or correctness that may have changed over time (this just reflects relative prevalence). But I have seen many old questios, and answers, downvoted on the basis of site standards having changed over time. The issue you raise about protecting old posts applies to these, as well, and may be a more commonplace problem.

Maybe the biggest source of such delayed downvoting is software/hardware recommendations. These were commonplace many years ago, and still accepted even a few years ago. They've become more taboo in maybe the last year. I've seen many of these downvoted on that basis.

The community expectations for question and answer quality have also risen. Many of the very old questions and answers are lacking in quality by today's standards. I've seen many of these get recent downvotes on that basis after being reactivated by new activity.

Questions that are no longer on topic, like software recs, should be closed, and retained if they received useful answers, but downvoting long after they were considered acceptable is probably inappropriate. I could see a warning, like your suggestion #1, being expanded to include changing site standards as well as technology age.

Questions, and answers, that are simply low quality can be improved, and an argument can be made that there should not be a time limit on that. However, old posts that were originally considered acceptable might be candidates for protection like "conditional" downvotes (downvotes that trigger a notice to the voter if the post is edited so the downvote can potentially be retracted and not permanently prejudice the post).

  • Agreed, I was too oriented on operating systems. There are more reasons than listed in my links for answers not corresponding to current-day technology or site-standards, so a general mechanism is required, since both will continue on evolving in the coming years. – harrymc May 25 '15 at 19:15
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Surely some sort of optional label like "obsolete" would be applicable to show that the answer was good and relevant at the time of posting but may not be now. Down-voting makes no sense as

  1. the answer is still likely to have high(ish) marks and may be accepted
  2. the answer may be the most correct answer to a question which may itself be out-of-date (in this case indicating that the entire question is obsolete, but not necessarily a bad question, would be useful, surely?)
  3. in isolation provides no useful data to visitors
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Would considering a system which required a commented reason 'why' (even if limited in visibility) on downvotes to answers over whatever age (3 years, 5 years, etc) be a potential fix? Or maybe only the 'first' downvote after that time?

  • A constructive idea. I've added it to my summary of this post. – harrymc Jun 1 '15 at 12:21
  • Fantastic. I definitely thought your initial post had merit and should be addressed somehow. – Abraxas Jun 1 '15 at 15:34
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    Sometimes I wish this would be implemented to down vote in general. If you're going to down vote you should be able to give a reason. – Griffin Jun 3 '15 at 4:01

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