The New Influence of Points and Voting on reddit

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On June 18, reddit announced a change to their traditional voting system and how it’s displayed. Before getting into these changes, what this means for redditors, and what this means for marketers and advertisers, we first need to understand how voting systems influence that very nature of social websites.

What do Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest all have in common?

The “Like” feature (in one form or another).

But what are these three platforms missing?


Social websites are very much like the Roman Empire. Our content (videos, images, stories, blog posts, articles, other media) gets placed inside in a gladiator arena where the crowd decides our fate. They key social element is in that last part: the crowd decides our fate. What seems like nothing more than “UP” or “DOWN” arrows giving positive or negative feedback, subconsciously grants us the power of influencing popularity and rewarding traits like generosity and expertise, or initiatives like charity and grassroots movements. We also have the power to reduce influence – even ‘eliminate’ content that does not align with a set of rules, social norms, expectations, and in some cases; the hivemind.

With Facebook and Twitter lacking dislike buttons, this forces negative feedback to have two possible routes:

1) The user does not feel like putting in the effort to post their concerns.

2) The user does put in the effort.

Aside from your run of the mill ad hominem attacks, when legitimate debates spring up many have noted an albeit meta analysis of disposition.

Let’s say you and I are in an online debate on Facebook post I kicked off, netting me 15 likes. You make a strong counter argument but only receive 2 likes.  Someone else notices our debate sprouting up and chimes in with a new perspective, garnering them 24 likes.

I have: 15 likes

You have: 2 likes

New person has: 24 likes

Majority appeal favors this new person’s opinions and, in comparison, makes your opinion seem sub-par, and mine good but not the best. While the content of our arguments may all be equally substantial, the public can only award positive feedback. Since we cannot detract from likes with dislikes, we’re faced with that same negative feedback divergence: don’t bother leaving a comment or leave a comment.

Some believe this system produces better discourse, since we’re forced to form coherent thoughts to challenge opinions instead of simply downvoting something we don’t like.

One of the primary benefits of this voting power is convenience. It’s convenient for us to express satisfaction or dissatisfaction with content with a single click, and then move on.

But what are the costs of this convenience – this social power to instantly influence appeal?

Quality of discussion.

On reddit, the positions (popularity) of all content is, by default, sorted by upvotes and downvotes (likes and dislikes).  As time moves on and voting frequency decreases, popular – or ‘hot’ – content will naturally fall out of limelight.

It’s very easy to block out and shun content and opinions with dislikes. The costs and benefits of upvotes and downvotes on reddit is a bit complicated. For starters, it’s important to understand the difference between a comment and a submission score.

Example of a submission score:

traditional submission display

The 42,000 upvotes and 38,000 downvotes, along with the 51% like it, are all fuzzed. This is done intentionally to fight against spam bots. reddit fights spam bots that try to fudge numbers by adding incremental values opposite of what the bots add. So if a bot adds 10 upvotes, the system will gradually add 10 downvotes to balance the submissions. Additionally these bots often get flagged and this process helps ‘fool’ the bots into thinking they haven’t been caught.

Anyway, many redditors are not aware of the voting fuzzing and it has been an ongoing concern that users initially thought their submissions were getting downvoted a lot – when in reality, they may have only had 1 or 2 downvotes. This obviously influences the overall experience of redditting, specifically submitting posts and handling controversial reception. Regardless of the fuzzing, comments would accurately represent the true public disposition. So even if a submission has 51% like it, 97% of the comments could be positive.

Being able to visualize how many upvotes and downvotes a comment has with popular reddit extensions such as Reddit Enhancement Suite allowed users to see the difference between mild agreement (7 upvotes) and controversial agreement (40 upvotes, 38 downvotes). This comment feature is not part of reddit and is only available to those who install an extension like RES. Nevertheless, many subreddits used this feature to host contests where public reception/feedback dictated popularity. In smaller subreddits the vote fuzzing feature is less common. So if there was a contest to post the best short story and votes were based off the submission scores, we could easily tell the difference between 200 upvotes/50 downvotes and 10 upvotes/1 downvote.

However, on 6/18/2014 these ratios have been made invisible to the public.

New example of a submission score:

new submission score

At the time of writing this, there have been over 12,000 comments – with the public reception best described as lots of backlash. In addition to the submission scores displaying a more accurate but less informative representation, the ‘controversial’ sorting algorithm has been changed as well. This should help provide a more useful representation of content that actually demonstrates ‘controversial’ reception as this sorting feature was hardly used by the majority of users in the past.

But let’s address the backlash which is not majorly grounded in fact – that is to say, many of those raising counter arguments are not aware of a fundamental aspect:

new res broken

The comment above is from a reddit admin, Deimorz, who points out the RES feature which now only displays (?|?) instead of (upvote count | downvote count) was never a reddit feature, only third-party. Still, many redditors who use RES religiously found it very beneficial to know how many people liked and disliked their comment.

impact on response

Conversations stimulants, such as seeing a lot of controversy on your own/other comments, are now weakened. The user above makes a fair point, but we can also argue that context should be the only driving factor; i.e; you should still form opinions when the content and context strikes a chord with you, not simply voting ratios. Again, these ratios are only available to those with RES installed (~1 million users) while reddit sees over 100 million unique visitors per month. It’s

The main crux of the problem now is this:

100 upvotes and 95 downvotes will have a display score as: 5 points (49% like it)

5 upvotes and 0 downvotes will have a display score as: 5 points (100% like it)

This causes a lot of disruption in subreddits where the point differences were a vital part of a voting contest for a unique social game.

Another fair point raised in the backlash is that the community, especially moderators that used the submission score ratios, were given zero notice about this change – which would have given them ample time to adjust, instead of being rushed.

On the flip side, this change provides all redditors with an accurate representation of % like, just not an accurate scale of it in relation to the ratio.

This change should provide satisfaction to both redditors and marketers whose submission and self-serve ads were originally skewed by the vote fuzzing feature. Let’s say a businesses wanted to try reddit as an avenue for promotion and after setting up a well-planned campaign, notices 20 upvotes and 19 downvotes, when in reality, there were 9 upvotes and 0 downvotes. This might deter that business from any future campaigns.

For example, San Francisco’s popular sightseeing adventure Red and White Fleets has a clear benefit from targeting the San Francisco subreddit which has over 33,000 subscribers. This is a perfect match, especially for any redditor that moves/visits SF and joins the sub to learn more. But let’s say this redditor sees Red and White’s ad on the sub and it has 16 upvotes and 14 downvotes. Won’t this deter that user and ultimately lower the ROI of this ad? This problem is now solved.

final exampleThis is another statement from Deimorz that really drives home the a conscious and subconscious benefit to the submitting process many have neglected to internalize.

The hopeful thing about all this is that reddit has demonstrated in the past how much they value their community’s input. The admin team has absolutely taken note of some of the more constructive criticisms and over the next few months I wouldn’t be surprised to see a few tweaks made that helps alleviate the some of the ratio display concerns.


Jesse Aaron
This monthly Reddit column is contributed by Jesse Aaron. Jesse is a professional blogger with a passion for homebrewing. In his spare time Jesse enjoys redditting, brewing beer (as you may have guessed), slowly learning Python, and reading (currently reading Infinite Jest). His biggest inspiration is the satisfaction of building something from scratch. While challenging and time consuming, the rewards are unmatched. +Jesse Aaron
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  1. says

    Just an update to this post:

    reddit admins released three changes in response to all the feedback yesterday. These main changes are:

    1) A simple controversial indicator on comments that hit a threshold of up/downvote balance. This does not show the exact upvote/downvote count on comments, but it does let users now when there is a split opinion.

    2) Subreddit mods now see contest threads sorted by top rather than random. This helps alleviate concerns of voting-based events in subreddits.

    3) An upvote-only contest mode.This helps alleviate concerns of voting-based events in subreddits.

    The original post can be found here:

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