Lately, I've seen some users (who shall remain nameless) upvote answers by new users simply as a 'traditional welcoming gift'. An upvote is not the traditional welcoming gift (it's usually a nice comment). If a post by a new user is good and worthy, by all means, upvote it. If it's a so-so post or even just wrong, don't go sympathy upvoting to 'welcome' the user. Help him/her out by leaving a constructive comment. Vote for the post, not the user.

Sympathy voting has two major problems: it encourages so-so to just wrong posts and it can remove all new user restrictions for that user.

  • When a new user writes a not-so-great post and it's upvoted out of sympathy (rather than because it was a great post), the new user now has a distorted view of what is a quality post and what needs work. Leave a constructive comment to help them a along, but don't upvote the post because it's a first post.

  • New user restrictions are removed at 10 rep. Sympathy upvoting an answer removes all of these restrictions, but the user has not really earned them. New user restrictions are precautionary measures. Sympathy upvoting destroys the whole point of them.

So just keep in mind that the next time you see the first post of a new user, you're shaping their SE experience. Don't hesitate to leave a constructive comment. It goes a long way in helping the user get used to SE and how it works. However, don't go sympathy voting if the vote is undeserved. A constructive comment goes a long way farther than a careless upvote.

Read When should I vote? for more information on when to vote.

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Excellent point! (+1 for you!) I'd like to add that if you do vote on a newbie's post, whether it is up OR down, it would help to include a comment explaining why. If they did something right, we need to make sure they understand what it was. If they did something wrong, we need to help educate them so that they get better. –  Steven Drennon Dec 13 '12 at 17:10
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I find myself guilty of this all the time. It's a very good point though, I'll try to change my ways. –  Russell Dec 14 '12 at 11:43
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7 Answers 7

Kudos for posting this, I've been seeing these comments a lot lately and I completely agree with you.

The only think I'd like to add is that every time I read one of these "+1 to get you started" comments, I get the feeling that what we're actually telling people is:

Here's a cookie for showing up, typing some words in a textarea and clicking a button, good job!

I have no reason to doubt that people generally mean well when they sympathy upvote, but at the same time it's a practice that, at least to me, feels a bit dishonest and condescending.

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I looked all over MSO to find a post I thought I'd seen about this, but I couldn't find it. Have you chanced to see a post there about this? –  American Luke Dec 13 '12 at 20:14
    
@Luke The "be honest" guideline in regards to voting is in the FAQ, but it's not exactly visible. The one MSO post about sympathy voting that came to mind is: Is there an actual “pity” or “sympathy” upvote problem? - but it's SO specific. –  Yannis Rizos Dec 13 '12 at 20:22
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Very true. In fact, only ten of our <100 rep users have read the whole FAQ. –  American Luke Dec 13 '12 at 20:25
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@Luke, about that, I've read through the entire FAQ several times on History, Stackoverflow...but it never shows up as read. Perhaps thats whats going on? –  Russell Dec 14 '12 at 11:45
    
To get it to show up as read, click on the link on the right to every section. However, stay on that section before clicking to the next one for a few seconds so the system thinks you're reading them (hopefully, you are). –  American Luke Dec 14 '12 at 14:20
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I'm the guilty party. I shall stop immediately; I believe it is the custom in other SE sites I participate in. I've received the "welcome gift" in those, and I thought it was the practice here. (It ain't what you know that gets you, it's what you think you know...).

I will conform to the local standards and practice.

Having said that, I believe there is some value in ensuring that the first experience is a positive one. I suppose I can do that by crafting the comment on the question (if required).

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So much for "shall remain nameless"... :P No hard feelings here. Just wanted to help get things straight. –  American Luke Dec 14 '12 at 14:32
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No hard feelings at all; I'll own my mistake and do better. –  Mark C. Wallace Dec 14 '12 at 14:51
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I'm pretty sure I saw at least three people posting similar comments, it wasn't just you (these things spread, a bit like memes). The first time I saw a "welcome gift" I thought it was nice, because it was on a question that deserved an upvote (I think the question at the time I saw it was at +5, so a lot of people thought it was a good question)... But then I started to see "welcome gift" comments on questions that, for example, would benefit more from editing (obvious spelling mistakes etc). –  Yannis Rizos Dec 14 '12 at 16:37
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Which sites are those, out of curiosity? 100% of what Luke said is totally vanilla mainstream StackExchange rules, not even remotely special to History.SE (I'm an active-ish user (>500 rep) on 11 SE sites, and participated in 5 more; and haven't observed such a custom on even a single one; for the reasons that Luke stated). –  DVK Dec 15 '12 at 18:22
    
@DVK I've seen (more or less) similar comments on the Workplace (but the trend was fairly limited), and I'm willing to bet it's mostly a beta thing. Beta people are a lot nicer than those of us who participate mainly in graduate sites. –  Yannis Rizos Dec 16 '12 at 6:18
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@YannisRizos - BETA people are nice? Tell that to some people on Politics :) [ admittedly, a vast minority ]. Remember the chap who cast you as Satan? –  DVK Mar 8 '13 at 18:02
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This makes questions like this one having three votes and there are lots of good (but not best) questions having less or slightly more.

I think "Hi, welcome to the site!" is enough to make a good feeling. The reputation is not what most of us are here for. Everyone gets 1 reputation point when he logs in.

UPDATE

I remember the first reaction to my very first post here. User kubanczyk noticed I was new, took his time to view my profile to check this, and made nice welcoming message. I appreciate this much more than if it were an upvote.

I would also like to get points not because I'm new, but because many people think I've done something good.

I propose that one of us puts a welcome message and others upvote this message. So if a new user sees "Hi, welcome" and notice that this comment was backed eg. by ten persons, he will see he's really welcome here.

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You seem pretty worked up about this, it must be tough trying to teach other users best practice, here's a sympathy vote for your troubles. +1!

Seriously though, we should be like wikipedia and welcome people with a bit of optimism, a bit of guidance and a big fat link to the FAQ.

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+1 Welcome to history.SE! [Sorry, had to do that] –  astabada Dec 18 '12 at 14:51
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I've done this myself.

I wouldn't do this for EVERY question or answer by a new person. But I'll do this if the post is "halfway decent." Put another way, I hold people with less than 100 rep to a (slightly) lower standard than someone with greater than 100 rep.

I WANT people to come back to the site, and to have a positive "early" experience. And yes, I want to give them a few privileges for a "halfway decent" post. So I do say, "an upvote to get you started." The implication is that once you are "launched," you'll have to meet my "normal" standards.

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The two problems with this is, firstly, your teaching the user that first posts are always upvoted, and he'll upvote any first posts he sees. Secondly, you're still voting for the person. Sometimes, slightly lowering the bar is acceptable, but if you are lowering the bar for them, be sure to explain what they should be doing and perhaps even make an edit to improve the post. –  American Luke Mar 8 '13 at 0:06
    
Actually, I think I agree with you here (so +1), right up until you make it so explicit that you run into the problems Luke is worrying about. Why not just find something positive to say about their answer (along with perhaps something constructive to help improve it or their next one)? Perhaps that's a little patronizing, but it does get across the point that votes are supposed to be about merit. –  T.E.D. Mar 8 '13 at 17:31
    
@T.E.D.: If I were to do it today, I might say, "Welcome to the site. An upvote, since it's a pretty good first post. But I expect... in the future." –  Tom Au Mar 10 '13 at 16:50
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At least some of the new user restrictions are restrictions against spamming. If someone can prove that they're not a spammer, then they've earned at least some of those privileges.

Other restrictions are against totally clueless posts. I'd go so far as to say that if someone isn't totally clueless, then I think they earn those privileges as well.

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All the same, if a question or answer is a user's first post, it is not spam, and it relates to the question (or is a question that is comprehensible), it is not necessarily deserving of a up-vote to give the user privileges because they "earned those privileges". The privileges are not made to be lifted just because the user typed some text (even if it is non-spam and somewhat understandable English) in a box and clicked "post". Vote for the post, not the user. –  American Luke Dec 21 '12 at 14:54
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Stackexchange has built its system around "game-ification", a fancy term for training people to respond like lab rats to incentives and disincentives. As long as there is no penalty for dispensing largesse to newcomers with "+1 to get you going" and collecting their goodwill now to be repaid in spades later, this is what some people will keep doing.

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