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Upvotes on reddit cost 40 cents.

The existence of publicly visible vote counts offers more opportunity for manipulating public perception.

I would like to invite and encourage the Lobsters team to consider experimenting with systems that do not publicly show the vote count on comments. This will remove the argumentum ad populum effect that publicly visible vote counts create.

This is something I think HN gets right, as:

  • It forces people to decide for themselves the merits of comments based on their content
  • It minimizes the incentive-for and impact-of of black markets for purchasing votes
  • It minimizes the effect that cult-of-personality has in discussions
  • And refocuses the discussion on content instead of popularity contests (that could be completely fabricated anyway)
  • (Edited in): Helps mitigate some of the effects of sock puppet vote manipulation
  • (Edited in): Prevents threads from looking like battles with “winners” and “losers” determined by upvotes/downvotes, instead of normal conversations to read through and enjoy.
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    My own feeling is that I’d lose something from not being able to see the extent of the community’s support for people who say controversial things that I agree with. I think anyone trying to get a sense of what the people here care about, and what they’ll stand up for, would lose something.

    Of course, that really does make it a bit of a competition but I think that having to deal with aggressive downvotes may be the price of having upvotes, you know?

    But anyway, I searched around a bit for previous discussions on this topic.

    This thread from two years ago talks about the removal of downvoting on stories, after it had been tried for a week. I see only one comment from somebody who disliked that change. I’m not sure that tells us much about comment votes, though, since comments are where the real engagement happens and where the community really does benefit from having some prioritization, and authors benefit from having feedback.

    I noticed, also, an interesting thread from three years ago about the possibility of tagging posts by their sentiment, “positive or negative”. It’s possible that this thread is where the idea of tagged downvotes came from, I’m not sure.

    The discussion isn’t too interesting from this distance, so I’ll re-paste the key arguments on that topic to discuss their relevance to this one:

    • Ability to see, at a glance, whether a particular comment is rated as negative by a lot of people.
      • Ability to filter out comments that are highly negative, or possibly bump them down when logged in
    • Ability to see whether a story’s comments are overwhelmingly negative.
    • Ability for the software to know whether a user tends to post negative comments a lot of the time.
      • This could be used to place an “niceness” or “angriness” avatar next to a username if their comment ratio exceeds a certain threshold.

    The first few of these are definitely relevant use-cases for any comment voting system, including the simpler one we actually have. I don’t think much of the idea of giving users nice/angry badges; I think that would encourage divisiveness, because some people like being considered angry. But that suggestion is not relevant now anyway. :)

    I guess “ability to see at a glance” is necessary for the use-case I described, but it’s not a very insightful discussion of whether that is good or bad.

    There has been a lot of conversation about how lobste.rs should work, and I’m surprised to find so little directly about the display of numbers, but perhaps I didn’t search in the right way?

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      My own feeling is that I’d lose something from not being able to see the extent of the community’s support for people who say controversial things that I agree with.

      I feel a need to piggyback on this comment a little, too:

      One of the things about lobste.rs that keeps me here is the degree to which we have a decently sized community with occasionally quite divergent opinions, but that feeling of “community” persists. I see the same names, I have feelings about particular people; it feels like a coherent space, even if I don’t necessarily agree with (or like) everyone in it.

      Specifically, when I’m participating in a comment thread where I don’t agree with others in the thread, seeing the discussion being slightly upvoted across the board — generally just a couple from the participating and those following the thread — reminds me that everyone is indeed engaging in good faith, and that we’ll be looking at the same threads tomorrow and maybe agreeing there instead.

      idk. This sounds a bit wanky, I know, but it’s a feeling I’ve had more the more I’ve hung around.

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        That does make sense, and I really do agree with it. I’m glad you added it.

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        I agree with you. I think that having public comment votes is useful because it helps clarify what’s mainstream. Every online community is in a race between old users who have norms that they try to socialize new users with, and the new users who come in with different expectations. What is mainstream can change if the old users fail to socialize norms fast enough–this is why eternal september happens. To the extent that public comment votes help clarify what’s mainstream for new users, like what kind of behavior is acceptable, and what kinds of behavior are unacceptable, I think it’s useful.

        I also think that having public comment votes is nice for voters. Part of what I like about voting on comments is that when I vote, I feel like I’m having an influence on the site, and I can see the change happen before our eyes. I don’t think I would vote as much if votes weren’t public, and so I wouldn’t feel as engaged. Folks who are mostly lurkers because they don’t want to comment would stop being able to make their opinions heard.

        Part of the purpose of upvotes is so that we can avoid “+1” / “me-too” style comments, but if we remove that way of communicating that idea, then there isn’t a good argument for why not to allow those kinds of comments.

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          Maybe like the thread you found this is something we could try out for a week and see how it goes? Can always revert. :)

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            That did occur to me. :)

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          I disagree.

          It forces people to decide for themselves the merits of comments based on their content

          ~~Ha. Ha ha. Ha ha ha.~~ In my experience, people will often upvote based on a simple skimming of a comment, or will pile-on downvotes to something already slightly grey. People will also pile-on upvotes for feelgood bullshit.

          On internet forums, there is no forcing people to evaluate posts based on their content.

          It minimizes the incentive-for and impact-of of black markets for purchasing votes

          You show me a super-secret black market for the precious commodity of Lobsters votes, and I’ll show you a developer who’s got waaay too much time on his hands.

          It minimizes the effect that cult-of-personality has in discussions

          A lot of posters on HN and here get voted up or down because of their username. You’d probably have better discussion by hiding user name instead of karma (as we see on 4chan, upon occasion).

          And refocuses the discussion on content instead of popularity contests (that could be completely fabricated anyway)

          Once you’ve got karma tracking, popularity contests inevitable. In a better (hah) era, it was simply post count.

          ~

          Hiding karma ala HN doesn’t actually fix anything, and in the meantime is at least of vague academic interest to the rest of us.

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            and in the meantime is at least of vague academic interest to the rest of us.

            Ah, I did not realize you spoke for everyone on Lobsters, my mistake! ;)

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              I will cheerfully point out that, under your proposed system, there would be no indication that at least one other person agreed with your statement here.

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                I’m more than fine with that. For one, I would know. And two, I’d be blissfully unaware of how many people or sock puppets agreed with you. ;P

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            Strong Nay.

            Hacker News did this not for the reasons listed, but so it could “rankban” posters judged inconvenient to YC’s economic interests. No matter how many upvotes a rankbanned poster got, the post would stay at the bottom. Even if the opacity of vote counts were good for Hacker News, it was instituted for bad reasons.

            I like keeping public the criteria used to determine post placement, and I don’t think that Lobsters yet has problems with black markets, bad-faith downvoting, and sock puppets.

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              I mean, there’s nothing to prevent lobste.rs from lying about the vote number it reports. It’s more explicit misdirection than silently manipulating rankings, but merely displaying a number doesn’t do anything to prevent that.

              Obviously, I don’t think any of that is happening, and I agree that there’s no (obvious) problems with bad-faith or bought-and-sold votes. Even if they came up, they would be easy to deal with, since we’ve got a fairly small community with well-regulated induction.

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                I mean, there’s nothing to prevent lobste.rs from lying about the vote number it reports.

                The burden of maintaining two separate codebases does present a non-zero hurdle.

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                Thanks! That’s the best objection I’ve heard so far.

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                At least for myself, I don’t perceive a real problem with scores on lobste.rs currently. You can indeed buy Reddit upvotes, but is that likely to happen here anytime soon? Also, hiding the scores wouldn’t solve the problem on Reddit, because what people are mainly buying there isn’t the number, but the functional effect of the upvote, which is the ranking. They pay money for story upvotes so stories they want to promote get onto the front page, and for comment upvotes so those comments (often with links) rank near the top of high-traffic discussions. Hiding the votes wouldn’t do anything there, if they were still used for ranking.

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                  Voting rings are a thing that get actively noticed and eliminated, here, as you can see if you look far enough back in the moderation log.

                  Your point about hiding the scores not addressing that problem is also well-taken.

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                    because what people are mainly buying there isn’t the number, but the functional effect of the upvote, which is the ranking

                    That’s part of the story. The other half is the perception of “correctness”, the notion that “the more upvotes something has => the more agreement there is that it must be true => the more people are persuaded to agree with whatever’s being said.”

                    Threads start to look more like battles with “winners” and “losers” determined by upvotes/downvotes instead of normal conversations one reads through and enjoys.

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                      Yeah, I’ve mentioned in passing, before, how humans have a strong tendency to treat things as games when numbers are attached to them. I actually started noticing that after playing Sometimes You Die, which does a lot of very thoughtful deconstruction as to whether it is a game or not and why, and once you see it, it’s a thing that happens everywhere… especially in forums. :) :(

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                    I haven’t noticed this being an issue in lobste.rs. What I have seen, related to voting, that bothers me is when people flag/downvote someone and don’t describe why. The flag reason says something like ‘incorrect’ or whatever, but the downvoter hasn’t explained why it is incorrect. Maybe they understood something wrong?

                    One idea I’ve brought up a few times is downvotes/flags should be accompanied by a comment explaining it. Then people could support that specific downvote, but someone has to at least explain the downvote.

                    I don’t know if this would solve anything other than me posting to my own comments “Why was I downvoted as incorrect??”, but this is the only voting pain I’ve felt.

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                      Sometimes people are incorrect and the prospect of explaining how and why makes me think of the Cyrus Ching quote: “I learned long ago never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”

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                        You don’t have to downvote!

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                          But then they’d just go on being wrong.

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                          I frequently don’t explain my downvotes, because if someone is off-base enough that I think they merit downvoting, I think it should be obvious why, I’ll have difficulty explaining it without being condescending, and any argument that ensues is going to be infuriating, exhausting and unproductive.

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                        I would say not. Reddit has a large audience and is actively monetized; IIRC, hiding comment scores at HN was at least sold as a reaction to perceived groupthink or dogpiling. I don’t think any of those conditions currently apply on Lobsters. And the scores do provide some value, and fit with the general philosophy of transparency.

                        In other words: nothing seems to be broke, so why fix it?