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Readers Decide

Longtime reader Todd Gamblin ’02 writes:

Dear EphBlog:

There’s been a lot of talk lately about what people want to read, what kinds of posts should be on EphBlog, and what kind shouldn’t. I think the best way to figure this out would be to let the readers (all of them, not just the loudest ones) decide.

Now, I’m a big fan of reddit, and reddit lets you vote posts up or down. The popular things percolate up to the top while the not so popular things fall to the bottom. I don’t think we need quite that system for EphBlog, but it would be nice to get a similar sense of what people think of posts here.

I suggest that we install Vote It Up so we can get a little favorability gauge next to each post. It could look like, say, the one on the right here:
screenshot-1
Or that’s my favorite, at least, mainly because it has both up and down.

I mentioned reddit, but I think we should keep the blog format where things on the front page always appear in reverse chronological order. i.e., you can’t vote something off the front page, as much as I know a lot of us would like to.

However, it might also be nice to have a “most popular” sidebar link, where you could go to see just the popular EphBlog posts. I guess we could also have a “least popular” link, too. I think I know what would go there, though.

Opinions? I think this would add something to the front page and might lower the noise factor in the comments by relegating some of the more strident ones to simple down votes. It might also let us know what kinds of things people should post more of. I have a feeling EphBlog’s readers will not hesitate to vote.

-Todd

1) I think that this is a great idea! Indeed, I have argued for (and tried to implement) similar technology for years. Harder to do than it looks!

2) I am not on the Board, but I am confident that EphBlog would welcome Todd (or anyone else) to join us as an Administrator, i.e., with as many of the required permissions as necessary to implement these (and other) ideas. Eric, Ronit and Ken do great stuff, but there are only so many hours in the day . . .

3) I wonder about just how many readers would bother to vote and/or how informative those votes will be. Ephs are busy. Also, my experience has been that different people like different aspects of EphBlog. Even if you don’t like posts of type X (and I have my preferences like everyone else), you may be surprised to discover that other people do like these posts. But, the nice thing is that this is an empirical question.

Todd: Care to join us?

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#1 Comment By frank uible On April 28, 2009 @ 7:53 am

Horse manure! Down with democracy! Down with consensus! Down with equity! Down with virtue! Down with reason! Down with order! Up with muscular entropy!

#2 Comment By mme On April 28, 2009 @ 9:35 am

I would vote. Pressing a thumbs up or thumbs down button = much easier than writing a thought out comment. I think this would be an awesome way to get more interaction with ephblog’s audience, given that the number of commenters is much lower than the number of visitors (i’m assuming).

#3 Comment By Eric On April 28, 2009 @ 10:27 am

As a feature, I am ambivalent about it. I believe the main way it would be of value is if people used it in the ideal way it is intended.
But I also feel that, even on EphBlog, people are generally morons.
If people diverge from its intended purpose, its value drops to nil and actually can become actively bad.
My experience at other sites leads me to suspect that it is far more likely it will be abused than it will be used properly – sounds pessimistic, but I also feel that it is grounded in the reality of an anonymous system (even if it required registration, that does little on other sites to prevent people from trying to game it for reasons that seem silly and petty).

It certainly would be something that one would have to take with a grain of salt, as it has absolutely no meaning or relevance (things with higher rankings/values/numbers aren’t necessarily better in any way, they simply got more clicks via some method) – other than it is simply a way of saying “more people clicked on this button vs that button” and doesn’t even track those who are ambivalent or show how many saw it and didn’t click (or at least that I can tell).

People are more inclined to vote their disagreement than they are their agreement. Additionally, something that gets more votes is arbitrary – there could be a great post that gets no votes, and one of little value that happened to get more recognition.
So having a number next to them is meaningless in that context.

If the numbers are there to give posters/comments more of a sense of purpose or value, then perhaps they are here for the wrong reasons.

Since it is so easy to game and means so little, perhaps sounding like a Luddite, I see little reason to bother with it.

I think a larger issue here is that if people are having a hard time figuring out what they want from this site, perhaps they should question what value this site brings them.
If they are looking for value XYZ and not getting it – then instead of adding buttons to try and get that value – instead add to the community in a way you feel is currently missing in content.

Did you do a cappella at Williams and feel there is too little talk on here about that – join up and post about it, non-stop.
Do you think the political views here are overly skewed in one direction?
Post frequent objections to it in comments and deftly argue your point so well that everybody takes your side.

If something is missing from this site, I suspect it is not a voting button.

#4 Comment By sophmom On April 28, 2009 @ 11:22 am

Well said, Eric @3.

I agree. And I’m grateful that you have the technical expertise to verbalize all the misgivings I have about the value and accuracy of a system like this.

As well, I worry that a voting mechanism would greatly discourage new authors. Posting can be fairly daunting for some of us at the beginning. There is the tech aspect to overcome, and the fact that your thoughts and ideas will be published on the front page of an active and controversial blog site. Add to that, a system which rates your post, and I fear it will be even harder to recruit new writers.

I also believe that EB should be a platform for a variety of topics, authors, and posting styles, and that a voting system might cause authors to write for the arrow. We’d lose a lot if that started happening.

All that said, I appreciate Todd’s enthusiasm and willingness to voice his ideas, and sincerely hope to see more of him on EphBlog.

#5 Comment By Allie On April 29, 2009 @ 8:15 am

I agree with mme. I’m a junior and I’ve visited this blog with decent frequency for several years, but I rarely (if ever) comment because I prefer to discuss Williams topics on WSO where there’s more student representation. I also don’t have time to read all the posts on multiple sites, and again, I currently give WSO higher priority since I see and interact with the other participants on a day to day basis, so I find the surrounding community more interesting (with all due respect to you folks!).

Like Eric, I have seen similar rating systems play out on other sites, and like Eric, I also feel that even EphBlog visitors can act like morons online. Will the rankings accurately reflect the overall reader consensus? No. Will people be more inclined to rate articles they dislike than those they agree with? Yes. But.

The reason a voting option would be useful to me is that the number of ratings a post receives inevitably will have at least some correlation to how popular or controversial the subject matter or author is. I come here when I’m looking for a broader range of opinions on a hot topic that’s getting people excited. The rating system would help direct me (and presumably other casual readers who are not looking to become EphBlog regulars) straight to the subjects that are generating the strongest reaction.

While some excellent posts undoubtedly would be lost in the shuffle for me under this system and that’s a shame, visitors come to this site for a variety of reasons and I think voting could help streamline blog-surfing for readers in my camp. As a result, you might even get some new (albeit infrequent) discussion participants. And if you don’t like the ratings, ignore them.

#6 Comment By Todd ’02 On May 3, 2009 @ 6:56 pm

Seems like there are mixed opinions on this. I’d be happy to set this up if given admin rights, but someone needs to decide if we really want it.