What do downvotes in the bikeportland comment section mean?

If I think about what kinds of comments I might give a downvote to, the ones that come to mind are comments that seem mean, trolling, stick-in-the-eye; comments that don’t advance the conversation but disrupt it. Bikeportland conversations include such comments, but not that often. I’m curious what folks reading the forums (which may well be a distinct subset of the folks currently downvoting comments on bikeportland) see as reasons for downvoting?
The number of downvotes on comments I read as useful, on point, harmless surprises me. Or is this perhaps just a manifestation of folks playing with a new dial on the dashboard of the car they just bought, without much larger significance?

Could just be a quick way to say “I disagree,” when the voter doesn’t have time (or rhetorical skill) to compose a good argument. I downvote rarely, and for the reasons you list. Mostly I upvote, if I appreciate a comment and have nothing useful to add.


Based on the patterns I’m seeing, I believe a large percentage of the downvotes reflect disagreement.

I think it would be unfortunate if voting simply reflected agreement or disagreement with the opinion expressed – that only contributes to an echo chamber effect rather than guiding people towards posts that contribute to or away from those that detract from a conversation.

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It’s mostly a disagree button for me.

Why would you up-vote a comment? You’d down-vote it for the opposite reason.

Seems like it’s a good outlet for people that disagree, without them having to reply and start a flame war.


Except agreement - disagreement are not any more symmetrically opposite in the context of an argument than drama and comedy are symmetrical opposites. Agreeing is fine but basically boring. It could be a +, a yes, or whatever. Rhetorical skill, an exchange, mental exertion are not really required
Disagreeing, by contrast, is where the rubber meets the road. Substantive disagreeing, that is.

Silent downvoting, if it is in fact registering a disagreement, doesn’t lead to much of any insight for anyone the way a substantive argument would or could.

umm have you ever stopped to think that your views/values/perspective might simply not be in line with most other readers?

one of the reasons we built bikeportland to have as broad an audience as possible is to have different values and ideas clash… which hopefully results in debates and dialog more than anger and flame wars. But I still notice that lots of “cycling people” thing that everyone else who rides bikes must be the same as them, they they’re surprised/disappointed when they find out there’s a diverse spectrum of opinion out there — even among people who ride bikes!

Ummm I have, yes. And the discrepancy doesn’t surprise or discourage me. What I’m asking is whether what you see so clearly seems usefully reflected in a fusillade of downvotes?

And all these years I’ve tried to hold up my end of the stick w/r/t the clashing :wink: As I said above, I think disagreement is inevitable, fruitful, interesting, productive, and when the stars are aligned leads to learning and insight all around. Which is the chief reason I miss wsbob.
But what this conversation here is revealing to me is that the downvote button doesn’t really accomplish that. It seems more like a software enabled version of a dog-pile.
I don’t mind that in my first foray into/with the new comment system most of my posts were quickly buried in downvotes (though I will admit to being taken aback); it was that they got large helpings of downvotes regardless of whether they were mildly provocative or banal.
The message seemed to me more akin to ‘go away’ than anything constructive or insightful.

But I am here to learn so if I’m reading any of that wrong, please help me understand.


Just want to be clear that I share your concerns. There’s a reason we only had “Thumbs up” before. It was precisely because I didn’t want people to get discouraged or feel dog-piled on. With this big upgrade I thought we’d try a up and down to see how it goes.

I think there can be a lot of value in getting the pulse of our community around certain statements and ideas. But it’s a balance. If I feel they only serve to say “go away” than we’ll get rid of the downvotes.

Sometimes things happen for reasons we can’t every fully understand and or analyze. People can have myriad reasons for downvoting. Let’s see how it goes. I appreciate you caring enough to share this feedback and will keep it in mind as we go forward.


I’ll just say that this forum (and bikeportland) are superb places to have conversations, learn new things, mix it up. I’ve for years thought about writing an article for bikeportland asking what a conversation is for. Maybe I’ll finally get around to it. We’re closing in on the subject here already.
I have long felt that some of us come at the comment section conversations not so much from different (political, economic, advocacy) perspective, though that is also true, but with evidently very different ideas of what a conversation is about, is for.
Some people seem put off or thrown by disagreement, or appear not to differentiate between disagreement that is productive, leads somewhere, and pointless bickering.
Anyway lots that would be fun to explore.
Thanks for providing these places where we can, Jonathan!

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This is the message I feel I’ve consistently received. When others see what happens to me and those with more moderate views, it turns people away from cycling (especially fence sitters) ensuring continued marginalization.

I agree there’s value in getting the pulse of the community, but I think dog piling is more the norm rather than the exception when views outside a narrow range are expressed. I might add that a number of BP readers have tracked me down personally to encourage me to continue to speak up. In other words, they’re afraid to express their own thoughts because they know what will happen.

Is it possible to “ration” votes (i.e. limit how many people can use in a certain timeframe or some other mechanism)? This would still allow taking the pulse but would also prevent piling by ensuring people only could amplify those posts they felt particularly deserved it.

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Skipping both up and down voting would encourage readers who wish to participate to become commenters. :wink:

The system allows only one vote per reader.

I meant in the sense that you only have X votes – so you’d only be able to up or down vote a limited amount of posts.

However, things already seem to be calming down so maybe nothing needs to be done at all.

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i’m afraid not - check out this discussion: https://bikeportland.org/2020/05/12/north-portland-neighborhoods-request-clear-public-paths-in-joint-statement-on-homelessness-314763#comments

In a way it is kind of fascinating: the separate up/downvote tallies allow us to see how split down the middle not just our society but bikeportland readers are. Toby Keith’s posts being quintessential examples.

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This particular article clearly hit a nerve, and I see strong feelings mostly expressed well.

I would interpret the upvote/downvote dynamic in that particular discussion to be mostly working as intended.

Having said that, I don’t think that’s a good thing because it contributes to a charged atmosphere and helps sharpen battle lines – solutions come from finding common ground.

I believe it would be more productive if people used negative voting to indicate the comment was unproductive and didn’t belong in the conversation, not that they simply disagreed with it.

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I approach comment voting in much the same way 9watts does, but my history and approach to comment-voting comes from places (e.g. reddit) where the up/down-vote serves as a moderation tool. So down-voting in those contexts is an unmistakable expression that “this comment should be hidden/removed from the conversation” and not merely “I don’t like this”.

As others have noted, one of the things I like about BP is that – more than other places – productive disagreement can be had here. And BP denizens have an interest and concern for issues of public policy. It feels harder and harder to have conversations with other people over topics with which we disagree, especially when those disagreed viewpoints are strongly-held, political/public-policy related, or both. “People” outside BP just seem to have less patience to engage. But as 9watts alluded, those conversations are precisely the ones I most value, the ones from which I might learn, perhaps teach, and in which one side might *gasp* change their mind.

It’s an interesting contrast that the forums here have a “upvote” button but no downvote button, and that the button explicitly says “like this post” instead of something … more significant.

I’d like some kind of hint about how we collectively want up-/down-votes to be used. (Hover text on mouse-over, for example.) Because without any clarification, different people will approach it differently, and that dilutes the meaning and effectiveness of whatever up-/down-votes are supposed to do.



I think this is an excellent suggestion!
thank you both for your thoughtful comments and reflections.

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Thinking more about this, I think that (comment is unproductive) sentiment would be better channeled into a message to the forum administrator rather than as a shaming-in-the-public-square tally.

What interests/troubles me more are the downvotes which fall neither in the ‘i disagree’ or in the ‘unproductive’ category, but which seem to suggest an a priori antipathy to the commenter.

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While there are all kinds of reasons people vote either way, I believe the dynamic you describe is real.

This is neither healthy nor good for cycling. Cycling is full of subcultures that don’t play so well together – the insularity of the BP subculture is comparable to the roadie subculture that takes itself seriously (i.e. no Freds allowed) and the dynamic exacerbates this insularity.

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I have never understood what that means. people use phrases like this, but given that we are talking about intra-bikeportland disagreements, what does the phrase you used mean? Are you and I part of that subculture? What about the folks we regularly disagree with?

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