Since there is a significant amount of discussion in the comments on this answer that relate to our community, I thought it might be interesting to have a meta discussion about similar answers.

If an active member of the community comes across such a placeholder answer, how should he or she respond? Should there be good faith time limit before down voting? No down voting at all ever? Does the reputation of the individual leaving the placeholder matter?

Basically, what I'm asking is if this type of behavior is to be encouraged, treated as neutral, or discouraged in the form of voting.

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4 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

One thing to consider is that downvotes are reversible within a certain time limit, or after a question is edited. A typical timeline for a bad answer could be something like:

  1. User posts bad answer
  2. Bad answer gets downvoted (preferably with explanation)
  3. Bad answer is edited (and fixed)
  4. Downvotes are reversed, assuming the original complaint was addressed and the downvoter bothers to check back.

The ultimate result is that you have an answer that is correct, with no downvotes.

Now let's assume we accept that a placeholder answer should be ignored until edited. That would look like:

  1. User posts placeholder answer
  2. (time passes)
  3. Placeholder is edited to become a real answer

In the end, there is a correct answer with no downvotes, which is the same result as an answer that was originally bad, and downvoted. In the end, the system works, and everything balances out. If you don't want to get downvoted, post a correct answer.

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I sympathize with those who are new to the SE "system" and aren't yet accustomed to all of the subtle differences between a Q&A site and a discussion forum, so I don't blame him for being annoyed over the downvotes.

However, such placeholder answers basically fall into the comments-as-answers category, and it's already well-established across all of the SE sites that this is to be discouraged.

Yes, a placeholder is going to be an answer. But it's still not an answer right now, and everybody should understand that the answer section is for answers - period. And the typical response to anything posted as an answer that is not actually an answer is either (a) a downvote or (b) a moderator flag resulting in the post being deleted.

It's not personal. But a casual onlooker has no idea whether or not that placeholder is really going to become an answer or when (what if the author forgot?), and in the meantime it's just sitting there, cluttering up the answer space and not really helping the person who asked the question. It may even be discouraging other members from answering, which is a Bad Thing if it's accidental, and a Very Bad Thing if it's intentional.

I can only think of two reasons why somebody would want to leave a placeholder answer, and those are:

  1. To inform the question author that an answer will be forthcoming (leave a comment instead).

  2. To remind the answerer to contribute the "real" answer later (star the question instead).

So please, don't leave placeholder answers - use the comments and stars instead, and if you see an answer posted as a comment (including placeholder answers), the best thing you can do is leave a comment on that answer similar to what I've said above ("This should be a comment; please use the answer space for answers only.") and flag it for moderator attention. If the author does not either fix it or delete it within a reasonable time, then one of us will.

From experience on Stack Overflow (not as a moderator), it's much more efficient to do this. Your instinct will be to downvote it, but that usually ends up being less effective than a comment and a flag.

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I would have fixed it within a reasonable time. Namely, when--oh gee I said this!--I woke up. But whatever.. some lovely person came along and downvoted my response here too without any explanation whatsoever. Great job everyone. Remind me again why I'm wasting my time here? –  daniel Sep 17 '10 at 19:00
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@roux: I think I addressed that point. Had somebody flagged it, then if you had edited it within a reasonable time we would have simply deleted the flag and left it alone. No harm no foul. Still, I don't think you need to get wound up about this; you've received something like 300 upvotes and 2 downvotes. That does not indicate to me that you're being punished for acting in good faith. Just leave a comment or star the question next time you run into that situation. If that makes you feel like you're wasting you're time here, then I doubt there's much any of us can do to change your mind. –  Aaronut Sep 17 '10 at 19:12
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Hover your mouse cursor over the little "vote up / vote down" arrows next to any post. You should get little pop-ups reading, "this answer is useful" and "this answer is not useful".

So if you post an answer that isn't useful - even if you intend to make it useful later on - you should expect only one sort of vote.

That's just how the system is designed. Don't fight it...

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They should respond how they think is best. With the exception of voting abuse (revenge downvoting, serial up/down-voting, gaming) we don't have "rules" for how people use their votes. If you're uncomfortable down voting someone, then don't, but you shouldn't feel that you need to consult a rule book to cast a vote.

If you are down voting it's considered good etiquette to leave a comment indicating why or how it can be improved, at least if noone else has left a comment. A down voted answer with no feedback is just as useful as the answer that was down voted, which is to say, it's not. However, this is still not a rule, keep in mind that it would be very simple for the system to show who has cast each down vote, but it doesn't. It's intentionally anonymous, so if you don't feel or want to leave a helpful comment, then we're not here to set rules to force you (we can't).

When I see a down voted answer with no comment I will leave one of my own. However, I intentionally don't indicate whether I've been one of those down votes or not. In my experience when you start comments with "-1: Blah blah blah blah" (I've done this) it tends to get a very defensive and overall negative reaction from people. Of course, it's still quite possible that the OP will assume that the vote is yours and chastise you, but I suggest just ignoring these. Comments should be related to the content of the question or answer, and not how one voted on it.

As Knives says, if the answer is not useful, expect down votes, but don't take it personally.

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+1 for not revealing your votes in comments. Oh crap... –  Shog9 Sep 19 '10 at 4:34
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