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I see that someone voted down my answer on a post. Now I'm curious, how can I find out why they chose to do that? It certainly will discourage people from answering questions, or posting suggestions for people to try. (The person in this case has his email hidden so I can't send him a pm to ask him).
By default, the option is checked to send a notification to someone when you use the notation @Jo-Anne MacLeod (for example). That should be working, but just as I'm writing this I'm realizing I didn't QA that feature for names with spaces, so we might have a bug there (thus the 'Beta' tag right now!). So maybe you can send a comment that way. I'll go test the feature...
I like the feature of down-voting. Most people will balance comments, answers and votes in a way that works.
Have a look at When JIRA 5 will be released. It's not really the greatest question (and it was asked by an Atlassian!), and the discussion is already headed that way. I just down-voted it now (to your point, I'll add a comment too). @Jamie Echlin thought about down-voting and decided to comment on why he didn't like it instead. I almost deleted it (the power of being a moderator!) but then decided that the discussion about why it's not an ideal question is better than deleting. It's nice that the community can kind of shape the direction that this tool goes, and I see down-voting as one way to help do that.
If it's, as you're suspecting, going to discourage people from commenting, we've got a problem! I hope it doesn't. There are even some fun badges around downvoting, like "Peer Pressure", where you delete your own post after the community gives you the hint...
I see this a being a way for the community to moderate the boards. If you posted a great answer and someone voted it down (in error or disagreement), I don't think it should be a confrontational thing. If it is a great answer, five people should get on there and vote it up. I’ve been going around voting up issues and responses. The bonus to this is if it is not a set in stone answer it opens up dialog and debate.