Why there are no up or down arrows on GreaterDebater

Other social news sites(Reddit, Hacker News, Digg to name a few) use a voting mechanism to rank stories and comments. On the whole, these work pretty well. The top rated stories and comments are often the most interesting, or at least the most amusing. It seems that there is always a certain level of disagreement about the proper voting etiquette though. Inevitably something gets voted to the top that some people feel should not have been. Said people make their feelings known, trying to educate everyone else on why this story shouldn't be at the top. Better stories belong there. Presumably, the ones that they themselves like.

Sure, these sites have guidelines to explain how and when you should vote. In a perfect world, everyone would read and abide by them. Unfortunately people have their own conceptions of when they should vote things up or down. Here's a partial list of my own reasons:


  • It made me laugh
  • It answered the question the post was asking
  • It already said what I opened the comments to say
  • It makes a good point and I agree with it
  • I don't agree with it, but it makes a good point
  • It sounds like it will generate some interesting discussion, so I want more people to see it.
  • I enjoyed it and I wish its makers success, so I want to contribute to giving it publicity.
  • Mostly, it made me laugh


  • It's incorrect
  • It's abusive
  • It's harmful e.g. telling a new Linux user to run rm -rf /
  • I don't agree with it, and its point is made poorly
  • I'm bored of seeing this sort of thing
  • It failed to make me laugh

I imagine most people have similar lists of reasons for voting the way they do. Some of the reasons are good according to the site standards, some are not. (Of course there's also always the people who decide "I just submitted a story so I'll vote everyone else's story down, so mine is relatively more popular)

I don't think any of these reasons are bad. No doubt everybody else feels the same way about their own list of reasons for voting the way they do. However, this leaves some confusion for what it means to be voted to the top on one of these sites. Was your link or comment the funniest? The most insightful? The one everyone agrees with? It could be any of these, or all, or none.

On GreaterDebater topics are sorted by the rate at which they are accruing new comments. Writing a comment is a little more involved than simply voting, so the topics at the top are those that most inspire conversation. This way the main metric used for sorting topics is their level of engagement.

Does this contradict the decision to use voting to determine the outcomes of debates? I don't think so. The decision to cast a vote for one or the other participant in a debate is a lot less ambiguous than the one to vote a topic up or down. The voting system for debates may yet prove to have it's own set of perils but they likely won't involve the promotion of uninteresting debates.

Longer comments have a greater impact on the ranking of a topic than shorter ones. Comment length is not necessarily an indicator of quality, but it is often correlated. For instance, it does tend to indicate the amount of thought put into a comment. Topics that inspire fewer thoughtful comments will rise faster than those that only accrue short "me too" style comments.

Of course, not all comments will be in support of a topic. Sometimes people will leave a comment to express their dissatisifaction or disagreement with a particular issue. I don't think this is a problem though when it comes to the possibility of having a topic with which many people disagree at the top of the list. As long as it inspires disagreement that creates interesting discussion, there should be no complaints about a topic's position. It's quite often that I end up learning more from the comments on social news sites than I do from the articles themselves. I hope to encourage that same atmosphere here at GreaterDebater.

In general, I think the best way to find out how someone feels about something is to look at what they do, whenever possible, rather than ask them directly about it. In retrospect it's pretty simple. Rather than ask people which topics they find most engaging, simply look at the ones that they're most engaged with.

Originally published 2010-02-22 06:54:34