I work at Stack Exchange in the ol' community development department, and I would like to say both "hello" to the GIS community and inform you that we think GIS has shown a lot of potential for awesome, exponential growth. We want to focus some of our energy on the site.

One suggestion I have for making GIS even more awesome: voting. Many questions have a score of 2 or lower, which gives the impression that every question is as good as every other question. If you have spare time on the site, here is a list of 73 questions from the GIS site that meet one of these 2 criteria:

  • questions with the most views and a score under 2
  • questions with over 3 answers and a score under 2

These are the questions that have had a lot of activity and eyeballs on them. The awesome questions should numerically appear superior to the less-awesome questions. So, your mission (if you choose to accept it) is to check out those questions and vote on them based on their quality, vote on the answers based on their quality, edit the titles or body if they need it, vote to close questions if need be or share questions you think are interesting.

Now, honestly, GIS is doing a fairly decent job with voting when compared to other sites. I just think this could be a fun (or at least interesting) way to get our involvement going. Maybe those questions will be like a trip down GIS-memory lane? Maybe these questions will uncover some cool promotional ideas you have long forgotten?

This is the first of a lot of exciting things we'll be doing with GIS, so if you have any ideas about what we could do to help the community, please start discussing it on Meta and chat! I read GIS' Meta regularly and will be hanging out in the chat room, so please ping me if you have any big ideas. Let's see if we can make them happen!

Regarding voting, how do you think that GIS' voting compares to the other Stack sites you use? Do you have any other suggestions for how to increase voting awareness? Is voting awareness something you even think needs to be addressed? If there are bigger issues with the site, please make a Meta post about your concerns!

As whuber mentioned, views do not equate to votes. I think that since these questions are representing GIS in the wilds of the internet, we should do a quality check on them. If a bad question has a million views, it should have a low score. But newbies who find our site through that question should then see that that question has a low score and a lot of good questions have higher scores, thus illustrating that the question they found through a search engine is not that in-line with the site.

3 Answers 3


I agree that GIS has a problem with low voting, but first we need to address the implicit assumption that questions with high views deserve upvotes.

Having had some advance warning of this initiative on the stats site, I reviewed its list of highly-viewed, low-score questions carefully. In my considered opinion, the vast majority of those questions deserve their low reputations: they tend to be poorly formulated and often reflect idiosyncratic misunderstandings of standard material. However, precisely because they include standard terminology, they probably have collected more search hits than other questions.

Another user pointed out that the highly viewed questions also tend to be the older ones. Of course! They have been exposed to the search engines longer. Does that make them more worthy of upvotes than more recent questions? Of course not.

It's likely the GIS site has similar characteristics. Thus, I would hesitate to recommend that anyone vote up a question only because it has collected a lot of views. But, as always, I encourage anyone reading a question to vote it up if it is on topic, clearly expressed, and exhibits evidence of research. You don't have to be an expert in the subject to recognize such questions, nor do you even need to know of a solution. And please be especially kind to first-timers: a few upvotes on their questions, along with a helpful, friendly comment if possible, makes a great first impression. Those people will keep coming back and they will bring their friends. Then, as the community grows, so will the vote totals.

  • 9
    agree with this answer - +1 "the vast majority of those questions deserve their low reputations: they tend to be poorly formulated and often reflect idiosyncratic misunderstandings"
    – Mapperz Mod
    Commented Aug 20, 2012 at 16:27
  • 100% agree. My reasoning is, these questions with the most views are the ones that people are probably finding through search engines. These are, somehow, high profile questions. So it makes sense to make sure that these high profile questions are actually quality. By no means does "views"="votes," and I'm sorry that my wording didn't clarify that. Commented Aug 20, 2012 at 16:35
  • IMO I was a bit disappointed in the list I was sent in an email for the stats site. The first five questions I viewed not only fit this exact description (highly viewed but poor questions in general), I had already either commented or voted on all of them! Small sample I know, but I was dissuaded from perusing the list after that.
    – Andy W
    Commented Aug 20, 2012 at 16:57
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    @AndyW I'm sorry you were dissuaded. I wonder if it's worth discussing, probably on Stats but possibly here, why such low quality questions are getting so much traffic. Is it dangerous or misleading for low quality to be how so many people are finding our sites? I'd be interested to hear what people think about that. Commented Aug 20, 2012 at 18:28
  • Agree. Re:"because they include standard terminology." I've often thought that the tagging / searching system is a little lacking for the GIS site. User/Viewer added or corrected tags could possibly assist this. "300 viewers confirmed this tag as accurate" or allow viewers to add "ViewerTags." Further, a more structured/explained tagging system could also help, especially regarding software specific or software version specific questions. The combination of these two ideas could result in a very powerful yet accurate filtering / search system.
    – brnt
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 16:05
  • I went through 11.-73. and it was a similar melange of mixed quality questions. Many deserving an upvote, many in the gray zone and about ten that went the other way. Clearly no connection, but it is also true that only the first bunch had a significantly higher view count. Also, a lot of them are candidates for title cleanup, which should also help with search ranking. Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 17:53
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    @lynx Kudos for all that work! If you made a note of those that "went the other way," then community members could review and edit them or, where appropriate, vote to close. If you like, just flag them for moderator attention.
    – whuber
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 17:57
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    I downvoted them, as none seemed that bad to warrant flagging (no notes). Some already had insightful comments pointing out problems, but not showing any improvement, as for the others, I can't remember any pattern. Two things are clear though: 1. More people should vote to lower the effect of subjectivness; 2. Do not do it in long batches, as you get grumpy. I did the work in chunks across a whole day, but I think had I done it throught the week, I'd have been more lenient (there was a nice study of court hearing timings with similar results). Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 18:21
  • 2
    @lynx "you get grumpy," LOL! As a mod, I go through a thorough review once a day. Good days start with good Q's and A's, but yes indeed, when the first few of them are bad, I get grumpy, too, and the downvotes come. It's good to be aware of this so we can keep such behavior in check and remain as objective as possible.
    – whuber
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 18:26

I'll be up front and point out that I am a newbie to both GIS in general and QGIS in particular. I have no other GIS programs installed, getting to grips with one is more than enough. I do not use GIS as part of my full time employment but in support of some voluntary community work that I am involved in.

I use forums a lot but this is the first "Stack" type forum I have encountered so the idea of voting on questions and answers is alien to me. I try to become involved in the Forum communities I join and I join them because I have a specific interest and experience tells me they are usually an excellent place to get help. I try and research my questions elsewhere before I ask them in a forum as I know how annoying it can be to continually see questions that you know a little bit of self help would have avoided.

BUT, when it comes to voting on questions I have to say that as a newbie I don't understand a large percentage of the questions here so don't feel qualified to vote on them. I could probably spot a well constructed question even if I did not fully understand the question but if the topic of the question is meaningless to me why would I read it let alone vote on it? A good question is one that looks for information that I recognise as something I know I need to know,there are lots of things I need to know but I don't know what they are yet. So those sort of questions I would read and, thinking that if it was useful to me it would be useful to others, I would up vote it. If I can understand the question then I reckon most others can and it wouldn't get down voted because I didn't like the syntax or it was non canonical.

A good answer is one I can use, even if it requires a little thought on my part or points me in the direction of more useful research. Again if it is an answer I can use then it gets an up vote.

For you guys who are way more technically savvy than me, I understand that the technical phraseology of a question and answer will be far more important because you think in a greater depth of detail born from a greater knowledge base.

I kind of see the point of voting on questions and answers but feel that up voting a wonderfully put together question which is however of value to maybe only a very few deeply techie people seems a bit pointless as it only raises its profile and exposure to a greater number of people for whom the content is probably irrelevant.

I think care needs to be taken that the site doesn't become a place where deeply techie people vie with each other on who can construct the most wonderful question on the most esoteric of levels in an attempt to gain large numbers of votes while contributing little to the community.

For me the site does a great job and as I learn more I will be able to contribute more. For me voting is great if it puts the questions I want to see where I can most easily find them.

I hope I haven't upset anybody, that is not my intention and I would guess you don't normally see this amount of input from "know little" newbies :) Keep up the good work, I do appreciate the site and the people in it :)


  • 8
    Welcome to the site. You should feel welcome to vote on anything you feel has provided useful information. Even if you don't feel qualified to vote on some answers, that shouldn't prevent you from seeing a quality question and up-voting that (I frequently up-vote questions solely based on they are well written, concise and the asker has demonstrated their own attempts to solve the problem).
    – Andy W
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 11:59
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    Thank you for your thoughtful comments! I doubt this site will ever become one where "deeply techie people vie with each other," if only because GIS technology is so diverse and complicated that nobody follows and fully understands everything that appears here. (I can barely appreciate all the issues raised in one out of every ten questions; I would be awed by someone who had expertise in half the material that appears.) In that sense there's a bit of "newbie" in every one of us, even the most active on the site: you're not alone.
    – whuber
    Commented Aug 23, 2012 at 14:18
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    You express a conceptual problem I've struggled with, Nigel. If I understand the domain of the question then I upvote it and usually provide an answer, if I don't understand the domain of the question, it is much harder to decide whether it is a good question or not! I'm ashamed to say I tend to ignore questions that don't affect me directly - so perhaps I ought to give the benefit of the doubt and upvote more often - we should all strive for the "Electorate" badge :) Commented Aug 27, 2012 at 9:36
  • +1. At the risk of sounding grumpy, I have occasionally noticed an overvoting problem on other StackExchange sites. Voting by people who apparently know next to nothing about the subject area. +1 to you for the opposite tendency. (For example, in niche areas of StackOverflow, questions where the most highly voted answer is a brief code snippet that doesn't even compile.) Personally I am reluctant to upvote unless I am confident in the subject area. I think the "question view" statistic adequately captures whether the question is interesting to the public at large (non-experts).
    – MarkJ
    Commented Nov 15, 2012 at 17:25

OK, let's look at the top ten. I will paraphrase them and won't hold any punches.

  1. Opening and extracting data from Shapefiles?: "We have these GIS data and have no clue how to use them. Help!"

  2. Does Y mean latitude and X mean longitude in every GIS software? "Do x and y always mean longitude and latitude in GIS software?"

  3. How to select fields returned by GeoServer WMS GetFeatureInfo request? . This is a well-researched, specific question. It mentions PostGIS/GeoServer/OpenLayers and WMS.

  4. How can I calculate the center point inside a polygon in ArcGIS 9.3?: "How do I do [something incredibly simple but vaguely described] in ArcGIS"?

  5. How to calculate Raster Area per Polygon?: "How do I calculate areas of raster classes within each census area?" In various guises this is a FAQ.

  6. Is "Hawth's Tools" available for ArcGIS 10?: "Where can I find [very popular addon] for ArcGIS 10"?

  7. How do I upload a Featureclass to a Geodatabase in C#?: This is a somewhat technical question about a frequent need (importing a shapefile). It mentions some popular keywords, like shapefile and geodatabase. Originally it was a mediocre "give me the code" question, but the OP later edited it to include code he developed based on the answers he got.

  8. Georeferencing scanned map using ArcMap?: "I have no clue how to do [popular but difficult operation] in ArcGIS. Help!"

  9. Draw lines from points: "I have no clue how to do [popular but not obvious operation] in ArcGIS. Help!"

  10. Getting unique value records from a field: Somewhat technical (but easy to understand) question involving ArcObjects and C++. Well researched and clearly asked.

Some patterns:

  • All these questions are one to two years old, nothing younger.

  • Questions 1, 4, 8, and 9 are "I have no clue about ArcGIS, help!" stuff. This is always going to get hits and it always deserves to be downvoted, because the askers exhibit no research whatsoever. In such cases, due to the tendency for such questions to be too general or too vague, it's hit or miss concerning whether a good answer appears. If an adequate reply is posted, we usually keep the thread open.

  • Some questions are either of little import or fairly specialized, but use popular keywords: 2, 3, 6, 7.

I suspect a good way to address this matter is to identify two kinds of threads and make clear links between them: (A), threads that get lots of hits and (B), threads that provide canonical great questions and answers about FAQs. It would be great to have some tools to help with this. We have (A) and can update it through the SE API if we like. For (B), it would be nice to have some facility for users to mark threads as likely candidates for an FAQ. I suppose a [FAQ] tag could do it, but few users would remember to apply it. Something analogous to and as prominent as the "This is a favorite question" button would do the trick.

  • Regarding canonical questions, I wonder if simply utilizing the existing favorites mechanism could work.
    – blah238
    Commented Aug 20, 2012 at 20:59
  • @blah238 I haven't observed a clear correlation between favorite questions and FAQs or great answers. That's not criticism, but only reflects the lack of any criteria for selecting something as a "favorite." A FAQ button would come with clear criteria, such as "By pressing this button you are indicating that this question keeps recurring and that one or more of the replies in this thread is a truly great answer."
    – whuber
    Commented Aug 20, 2012 at 21:04
  • Another idea might be allowing high rep users to be able to +10 up vote a question.
    – Cody Brown
    Commented Aug 21, 2012 at 15:32
  • @Cody we already can, although in a slightly contrived fashion, through the bounty system. There has been extended discussion of versions of this proposal on other sites; although it is intuitively appealing, there are fatal complications. One of the most critical is that reputation and ability to judge the quality of a question or answer are not necessarily aligned; in fact, the correlation is likely very weak.
    – whuber
    Commented Aug 21, 2012 at 15:54
  • Factoring in the questions that are marked as community wiki should narrow the search for B. There are likely some that got marked that way due to excessive comment discussion, but I doubt they have high scores. Commented Aug 22, 2012 at 10:32
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    If there was a FAQ section, it probably wouldn't be obvious in search engine results that it's a FAQ, and so it might be more effort than it's worth. I suspect we just need to be more vigilant with repeat questions and ensure they're flagged as such so you as our glorious moderator can merge them. I suppose the problem comes where two questions are almost but not quite identical - my feeling is to merge them and expand on one of the answers, but that is certainly more effort and is fraught with scope-creep issues. Commented Aug 27, 2012 at 9:42

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