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I've often wondered why Stack Exchange has opted to keep the upvote/downvote buttons available for clicking on question/answers posted by the user. For instance:

enter image description here

Even though these buttons have no use for the user, why are they still placed on the post's left hand column? Moreover, the comments have no controls for flagging/+1'ing the user's own comment. What is the reason for this discrepancy? What benefit do the +1/-1 buttons provide to the user, even though they can't be used for anything?

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The buttons also remain when you have voted, and the vote is locked until the post is edited. But the buttons do not remain when a question is archived/locked but kept for historical reasons. –  gerrit Mar 14 at 13:57
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I just clicked back to this tab and reflexively tried to close the warning in the screenshot. =( –  Izkata Mar 14 at 14:55
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@gerrit But, once you've voted on a question, the buttons tell you which way you voted so they do at least serve a purpose. The voting buttons on your own questions/answers serve no purpose at all. –  David Richerby Mar 15 at 11:31
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and wow, I didn't expect a +50 for my first UX question. Thanks to everyone who +1'ed :) –  shortstheory Mar 16 at 16:47
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@Zlatko: I have a short memory, and regularly think "Oh that's an interesting question... and I like this answer! +1" "You can't vote for your own post" "...Oh, did I write this? I did!" –  Mooing Duck Mar 17 at 17:42

5 Answers 5

up vote 45 down vote accepted

I had answered this question before but unfortunately the person who asked the question got banned for some reason :)

The reason is two fold

  • For design consistency: The placement of the two voting options is there for every question and answer and the design is maintained even for the questions\answers which you have written to ensure there is design consistency so that users are not confused by its sudden disappearance. You also need to note that you can favorite your own question and if the voting buttons were hidden suddenly, the user who would have used the voting buttons as the relational positioning to to find the favorite option might be confused. Here is an example of me favoriting my own question

enter image description here

  • To inform users about the number of up-votes a question\answer has got : While the system doesn't allow you to vote up your own question or answer, the presence of the voting buttons keeps you informed about how your question is faring and the number of up-votes you have got (and in some cases how many down-votes you have got too)

enter image description here

Now the question that arises is that that wont it irk the user to find out he cannot up-vote or down-vote his question\answer. I think what stackexchange here is relying on is the concept of accidental discovery so that users discover the functionality by accident.

I believe another reason accidental discovery also works is because it saves the design effort of making a specific set of buttons or indicators for the self questions and answers of the user .Even if stackexchange did find a suitable alternative, you will need find a way to communicating why the voting indicators look different for the question\answer the person has posted- which would lead to more confusion)

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+1 You may also want to comment on what happens if a user who is not logged in presses the button, like just happened to me. =) –  jpmc26 Mar 14 at 23:05
    
+1, and accepted, this is the most complete answer for this question. Thanks! –  shortstheory Mar 16 at 16:39
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@jpmc26 you got urged to log in, or if you're not here, to create an account? :) –  Zlatko Mar 16 at 23:45
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I think this is also missing another important point. It will show the non-logged in users what they are missing out. As well as to the users with not enough reputation of what they'd be able to do with more reputation. So surely it'll help boosting the conversion ratio. –  Francisco Presencia Mar 17 at 3:42
    
Yes, but questions can also be locked so that to prevent voting, period. In that case, the voting buttons go away and only the votes remain. Its not consistent in that regard. –  staticx Mar 17 at 16:10

Have you ever spend 30 minutes searching for a user interface element or menu item that you knew must certainly be there, only to eventually learn that it had disappeared completely because you were in some state where it couldn't be used?

Imagine that you don't know that you can't vote for your own post, and you have decided to upvote your own post. Or imagine that you recently learned about upvoting, and you have decided to upvote all the good posts about pie that you see to help promote their visibility, and now you are looking at a post about pie which you wrote but which you forgot you wrote. In any case, you're looking for the UP button.

You might spend an inordinate amount of time looking for the upvote/downvote button; you might even go so far as to waste someone else's time by asking a technical support person (or posting in meta) saying "Where is the upvote button?"

It is in my opinion a good heuristic not to make things disappear completely simply because the current state of the world is such that that thing cannot be used right now. It is usually better to leave the button there, possibly in a visually different state, and allow the user to try to click it and then have an opportunity to teach them why it can't be used.

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I feel yah, bro. (cough windows cough) –  Mew Mar 15 at 5:08
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Ok then, but why dont you disable the button, ie grey it out? This way you dont have to click it to see that you cant click it. –  Steven Penny Mar 15 at 21:01
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@MichaelBorgwardt do you even HTML bro? You can just the title attribute. –  Steven Penny Mar 15 at 21:11
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@StevenPenny: do you even UX bro? Why hide information where many users will not find it? –  Michael Borgwardt Mar 15 at 22:17
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@StevenPenny: Then again, reddit has one of the worst UX's and UI's and honestly, there are two shades of arrows there and as a (semi) new user I have no clue why... nor as UI designers. –  David Mulder Mar 16 at 1:55

I don't have a study for this, but in my script of HCI (Einführung in die Mensch Computer Interaktion, Universität Hagen/Introduction to Human-Computer-Interaction University of Hagen) I read, that the brain can memorize the place of static interface elements better than dynamic ones.

If the buttons are always there and don't change much (like the content does) it will result in less cognitive demand, over time, to look at the interface.

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+1 Anyone here keep the Windows functionality where it only showed Program menu items that were recently used? What a horrible idea THAT was. –  Almo Mar 18 at 14:35
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Most of the time I had the feeling, this algorithm was hiding stuff I needed on purpose, lol –  K.. Mar 18 at 16:11

For first time users to the community, simply showing the vote count without the up/down voting buttons could lead to confusion as first time posters may not know what this number represents.

I feel it is beneficial to leave this voting buttons in place for the user on their own questions for this reason at least.

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Yea, also new users may think that it is impossible to upvote their answer not only for them but for everyone. –  bizzz Mar 14 at 13:42

Personally, I think it's because they haven't considered the user interface issues. It's the same on StackOverflow. What the StackExchange/Overflow team probably should do is dim them if they can't be used - so it's obvious they can't be pressed.

I don't know their data model, so I have no idea if this would simple or difficult for them.

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You should avoid giving an opinion as an answer. –  snot waffle Mar 14 at 21:18
    
I don't have anything against your giving an opinion as an answer, especially since you labeled it as such. However, I think you'll find that the UX issues on SO have been pretty thoroughly considered and debated. That's not to say their conclusions are all optimal... maybe they suffer from too much input. –  LarsH Mar 17 at 13:47
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@Nigel Nquande, Because StackExchange won't allow anyone to comment on a post until they've reached some magical number of mystery points, I had to provide my opinion as an answer. –  Ian Mar 19 at 18:14
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@LarsH What I was trying to say, but was rudely required to insert in another comment was this: au contraire - I think they either got stuck on a design or went with something that looked "good enough". As useful and interesting as StackExchange, et al, are, they're not aesthetically well designed or especially usable. Some things on this site are difficult and some are made harder by apparently random rules. Many of the editing rules, for example, are apparently designed to discourage interaction (the question that started this discussion being a good example). 5 mins to edit a comment? Wow –  Ian Mar 19 at 18:26
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Gee, you're nice (end sarcasm), @NigelNquande. –  Ian Mar 19 at 19:40

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