In light of the recent blog post on voting patterns and unexceptional content over at Sphinn which has drawn several desphinns and some heated debate in the story’s Sphinn page comments, I thought it would be a good time to touch on some issues when it comes to the social voting system on sites like Sphinn, Digg, Reddit, and many others.

What Gets Hot

The point of all of these social voting sites is to have a network where only the best of the best stories that are bound to impress almost anyone make it to the homepage. But of course, many people are privy to the algorithm of what gets a story hot on the front page. It can be somewhat easy to manipulate these networks by simply building up a strong network of online friends to be right where you need them and to vote on something to drive it home.

The Crackdown

So essentially, the goal to all of these networks is to tighten up moderation on stories that are hitting the homepage based on popularity rather than content. Hence the emphasis on “voting patterns” to see if one site is always getting voted up by the same group of people from the same IP addresses. So where does this plan go wrong?

Quality Control

If the editors feel a story is not up to par and has only made it to the homepage based on a certain “pattern” of voters, they have the right to remove it not just from the homepage, but from the site completely.

The question is who gets to be the final judge of what content is exceptional? My definition of exceptional and someone else’s may differ dramatically. I have gone to several articles that hit the homepage of Sphinn that have not been very informative to me whatsoever, but at the same time have helped out many others.

Voting Patterns

So what’s wrong with banning users who are all on the same IP for voting for a story? It makes sense – if I have 50 people at my company all active on a particular network, I could probably easily make it to the homepage by asking them to all come on and support me. And if I write for a site that has another 50 authors, the same thing could be said.

But if those people within a certain “pattern” all vote for a story, does this mean the story should be yanked?

There’s almost a reverse affect of this that happens. In a business envrionment, authors of stories have to warn their collegues to wait until they get home to vote on something. Because let’s face it, if I’m working with someone, and I know their articles are always top notch and I happen to see them on the “getting hot” or “what’s new” pages of a site, I’m going to be itching to hit that vote button which will effectively do them more harm than good in the long run.

So now, in fear of having a story yanked or my user getting banned, I have to restrict myself from voting on something that I do believe is quality just because of my IP range and my relationship to the author or submitter.

Contest Entries

One thing I am particularly bad about is agreeing to rules and not really reading them, because if I fully read every site’s guidelines before signing up, I probably wouldn’t belong to very many at all. I never realized that on Sphinn, contest submissions were not allowed to be submitted and voted on. While I can see the reasoning (abuse of the system, yada yada), I also think that just because a post was written for a contest does not mean it is unexceptional content and deserves to be pulled simply because it was part of a contest. The post should be judged on quality period.

Ways to Judge Quality

So if I think one editor or moderator’s point of view should not be the end all of quality judgement, what do I think should be? How about a look at some other quality checkpoints of an article including:

  • Number of social shares on other social networks.
  • Number of influential social shares, such as tweets which you can find out by using the Topsy bookmarklet, going to the story’s page on Topsy, and filter the influential users who have retweeted.
  • Number of quality comments on the post itself.
  • Number of supportive comments on the story’s voting page.
  • Number of down votes or negative comments on the story’s voting page.
  • Number of respected community members who have voted on the story.

Of course, some sites are not comment or social sharing friendly, so those may not be good indicating factors for quality content. But in conjunction with other above mention factors, it should be easier to judge than one person simply saying “eh, not a fan.”

Am I Guilty?

Am I guilty of asking friends, family, and others to vote for one of my articles? Yes, and I don’t deny it. I tweet it, Facebook it, IM it, email it, and so on. In retrospect, instead of asking someone to vote on something for me, I should ask people to vote on something if they like it. Because honestly, I have had people send me things and I have not voted on them or refused to submit them because they either weren’t my cup of tea or I knew they were not of the quality.

I also don’t ask for votes on everything I write. While I’m pretty happy with most things, I don’t think everything I do is homepage worthy. But when I do spend 3 – 4 hours researching and writing a post and am confident that it is the type of article that will be useful and valuable to others, I don’t feel shy about asking.

What I should make clear is that I am not a “you scratch my back, I automatically have to scratch yours” person. The more appropriate idea is I will be happy to vote on your content if it is good, and I hope that you will be happy to vote for mine if you believe it is good as well.

Your Thoughts on Social Voting Ethics and Etiquette

Where do you stand on the whole issue of social voting, promoting your friends, and other ways to best use a social voting network to ensure that only the best content makes it on the frontpage?