Rethinking The Position of Upvote Bots in the Steem Ecosystem (without SMTs)

in #steem5 years ago (edited)

In recent times many words have been written about upvote bots on the Steem blockchain and how they may, or may not, be harmful to the Steem ecosystem.

The arguments, obviously, go both ways and to be honest, while I have a rather staunch opinion about bots there's two sides to the argument and an all-out black or white war rarely ever sees any winners at all.

Thus in recent weeks, actually pretty much since joining Steem, have I been thinking about bots, their (mid- to long-term) impact on the Steem blockchain and how can we find a solution and possibly fix the issue.

While I won't claim to be an economic genius, I have a more than solid understanding of the modern online startup culture, venture capitalism and its dynamics, and (online) communities in general. This article also hopes to get a constructive dialogue going, rather than continuing the endless good-bad debate without any offered possible solutions.

It's a discussion needed to be had.

Where Do I Stand?

I love bots. Bots are great and can perform wonders will improve society, as long as we stay vigilant and don't allow the singularity to take over and dominate our lives.

I loathe upvoting bots though, by which I mean most definitely the paid services which have come to prominence in recent times and have Facebookified the hot and trending sections.

I think they're evil, I think they're the biggest threat the Steem ecosystem faces and if not dealt with soon, they can be absolutely detrimental to the platform and our community.

As @acidyo said in his post pre-announcing the OCD bot, there's several reasons why paid upvote services on Steem are bad:

  1. Users receiving bought votes indirectly take rewards from those that don't since we all share the same reward pool.
  2. Now there are middleman services that provides these offers and profit from every purchase and possible curation rewards.
  3. The bigger users enabling these services through delegations get paid for their votes directly instead of through the limited reward pool that offers curation rewards based on their stake.
  4. It makes the platform look "pay2win" which is frowned upon on most other places and according to me not what Steem is about.

I want to add one more, the fifth reason: as upvote bots will continue to take ever larger shares of the reward pool, and be among the strongest economic forces of Steem, the platform will end up with a one-sided economy which isn't that different from Facebook.

A one-sided pay-to-win market.

The only possible investors interested will be vultures.

The problem with that is that the fledgling society, or startup, the Steem blockchain is won't attract any investors who come to play the long game.

The only possible investors interested will be vultures. Vultures who come for a quick buck and will contribute to further make life for the ordinary Steemian ever more expensive with always more and stronger bots. All without being interested in the health of the Steem platform and ecosystem. In fish parlance these vultures are called sharks.

Eventually, this will be the downfall of the Steem blockchain as we currently know it. Always more Steemians will emigrate and entrepreneurs will look at other, fairer, blockchain economies to build upon because the value of STEEM, and thus also the SBD, will always be negatively impacted by the one-way grab of the upvote bot economy, and its (current) structure in which short term profit is rewarded even more than the Steem blockchain already allows.

Your typical pay-to-win society.

But I'm not a hypocrite. Nor am I an oppressor, somebody who wishes to block financial opportunities and possibly even kill livelihoods doing so. More so even, I am currently involved with two upcoming projects and both have a (different) partner who is involved in the upvote business(*).

If I had it, the evil business voice in me would tell me to also jump on the bandwagon. Yet, quick money isn't my focus and I prefer to play the long game.

A game which also allows the small ones, or minnows as we are known here, to find opportunities and thrive. Call me a capitalist leftie, if you like.

In a democracy, unless communism is what we all aspire to achive, we need to cater to all sides of the coin. Free markets drive both innovation and economies and Steem has a very bright future.

Unless, of course, we forget to act.

It is primordial we find a solution to the paid upvote bot problem, if we want to continue as Steemians and thrive mid- to long-term on the Steem blockchain, a blockchain with possibly one of the brightest and definitely most disruptive futures if managed well.

Which requires us to deal with issues at hand. It's that simple, really.

But how?

Bots in the Steem Ecosystem Need to Be Regulated

As a startupper I love disruption, more so even disruption with also a viable economic model. Don't we all?

Yet, as a startupper I have also seen and learned that often the most disruptive, and lucrative, models need to be regulated.

Regulated by law.

Not because we don't want founders, and their investors, to become rich. Most definitely not because we want to continue feeding some dinosaurial industry and abide to its 1% lobbying.

At some point of mainstream adoption, regulation becomes needed though because protection for users is required.

Should we let Uber & Co. continue to populate the streets with ever more non-verified, vetted drivers possibly putting passengers at risk? No.

Safety was never one of your issues, it was assumed.

No, because I bet you haven't checked the peer-to-peer reviews of most of your recent Uber drivers. Instead, each Uber you got, you were happy to find a car that quickly. This is the instant gratification era after all. Safety was never one of your issues when accepting a driver, it was assumed.

Should we allow every Jane and Joe to run a pharmacy without ever having studied? You don't go to a not-certified dentist either, do you?

Every society needs a base level of regulation to grow. This because most of its citizens aren't critical thinkers and require as such protection.

But outlawing these services should never be a consideration.

Thus we need to look at how we can regulate evils in ways which allow both sides to continue to operate, grow and even thrive in ways they are a lesser evil.

Continuing the factor that paid upvote services give Steemians a chance to be highlighted is both a valid point but also a straw man argument.

Bots will become ever more needed for Steemians to be noticed and continue to rape the reward pool if not dealt with properly, siphoning everything but only few players only.

Reclassifying (Upvote) Bots on the Steem Blockchain

Bots, and ecomic opportunities, should not be oppressed and nuked as I mentioned before. Thus I suggest that in a near future, as part of a fork of the Steem blockchain the option, obligation, for bots to identify as such is implemented.

The option to classify bots as a Special Class of Steemians and diversify them from regular members categorising them as... bots.
Both premium and free, not-for profit, bots.

A basic internal payment system for paid bots services shall also be included, in order to make transactions easier for users.

Steem bot accounts shall have a weighted, a lower, impact on the trending and hot rankings, and also be excluded from benefitting from any curation rewards because they already benefit from payment just by operating as a paid service.

The fork shall also include an option to nuke accounts which operate as an upvote bot, without having registered as such. Nuking an account shall automatically nullify the account's upvotes and return all payments made to the account for creations/articles still pending payment (7 days after publication of an article currently).

A system shall be developed in which nuking an account is transparently recorded and requires a minimum number of witnesses manually approving.

How to Weigh the Impact of Automated and Premium Upvote Services?

First and foremost the maximum impact of, and total influence the bots market has, shall be capped. Algorithmic specialists needed and called upon here, but an instanteanous calculation will be made, dynamically based on the average over the last x days and available capacity of the current window, allowing the bot's customer's to receive an instant gratification.

In the current Steem blockchain setup, and society, it seems rather impossible to calculate this retroactively, at the end of each period/day, how much the final vote of a bot is. Even though several bots operate with windows and don't vote outside of these.

As such, an instantly rewarding, matrix shall be developed which looks at the average most recent payouts and how much value that upvote has in that capped special citizen market, also weighing the SP held by the bots, at that moment. Pretty much like several already operate but then within a special, capped citizen market combining all bots.

If a bot upvotes on demand it isn't curation.

In my opinion no (cumulated) upvoting mechanism should have an impact of more than 25% on the calculation of virality.

I will leave these calculations to the economic and algorithmic specialists but also want to bring the following elements to the table:

  1. Changes shall be made to the calculation of virality and thus bots will impact hot and trending sections less. That also in each tag, or in future communities
  2. Because bots already get paid, bots shall not receive any curation rewards. This in turn will reward manual Steem curators more, in a more organic way.

Upvote bots should be excluded from any curation benefits and the reward pool because there is no curation if it's automated, or pay-to-win upvoting. If a bot upvotes on (paid) demand it isn't curation, it's playing the system. It's that simple, really.

What Would this Mean for Bot Operators?

Bots will become a truly premium, a luxury service which is totally fine. Let's be honest, if somebody has worked hard enough to be able to afford a Zonda, or a Spyker, we shouldn't envy nor want to prevent them from doing so. I know I don't envy them and nor should you. More so even, if I could I would too.

Same applies to the content creator who wants to spend that much on a premium service to benefit higher rewards. It is OK to make money based on being able to invest more.


Spyker Preliator, © Spyker Cars

Because human greed will continue to be a factor in any economic system, and thus also on the Steem blockchain, we will continue to see Steemians who pay $100 for an upvote, and possibly even more. If one day there will be an opportunity to make a $250-$400 return from a $500 paid upvote, we will see a market for that too, even if statistically the reward is much lower.

But those premium services shouldn't benefit twice.

As such, they will not be able to also dip their fingers in the rewards pool and get additional perks. Because the total value of the market will be limited due to the capped special citizen market mentioned above, bots will not be able to operate on a free market basis, an anything goes as long as there's STEEM and STEEM in the rewards pool. Because only a limited amount of STEEM is be available to them and their combined weight is artificially capped.

Thus a bot's influence/impact will require continued further investment by the operators these upvote bots. Investment in a markt limited by the amount of available STEEM, and thus also Steem Power. But this also means that the statistical return these bots can offer will be always lower due to an increased cost to maintain their weight and position in the bots society.

Bots being excluded from any curation rewards will result in a more organic distribution of the rewards pool among regular, real Steemians. This means more people will hold Steem and their upvote will become more important, thus creating a vicious circle in which bot operators need to continue to invest, also in order to hit their cap and maximize profit. Or risk becoming obliterated as a service and suffering the swift death of a newly found irrelevance.

The total amount of Steem Power available is defined by how much Steem is mined. A more organic distribution of Steem Power, which is also controlled by the 13 weeks power down mechanism, will in turn drive up the cost, and thus value, of Steem.

To A Better Future

A market in which the opportunity for the biggest automated capitalist operators is capped, but yet allows them to exist and thrive nonetheless, will eventually consolidate and guarantee the continued health of the Steem ecosystem.

At which point Steem, and SBD, become a more viable cryptocurrency for investors, especially investors with have a long term focus.

This will lead to an ever-growing Steem blockchain and ecosystem which will see always more opportunities for Steemians to both make and spend their Steem (Backed Dollars). Because we create a more interesting platform for investors who want to kickstart new initiatives and see them become vital player in a diversified economy.

If upvote bots want to continue to operate, and grow in Steem Power, which will be required in order to continue to justify future premiums required for their services, they will need to continue to invest in STEEM and as such positively contribute to the value of STEEM.


TL;DR: A better Steem society which favors a more organic distribution of the rewards pool, and artificially caps the influence of bots on the pool. Without outlawing them or regulating them into inevitable oblivion. A new, slightly regulated, Steem blockchain and ecosystem more interesting for eveyone to play and win in.

(*) One of both projects will not offer bots a playfield, the other has a bot operator as monitor but without any actual involvement in the project otherwise.
As such these partners' other ventures will not be influence those projects or additionally benefit from them because of their bot activities.


Great post, well thought-out, highly considered, fair and balanced. I want to emphasise this this excerpt:

I loathe upvoting bots though, by which I mean most definitely the paid services which have come to prominence in recent times and have Facebookified the hot and trending sections.

I think they're evil, I think they're the biggest threat the Steem ecosystem faces and if not dealt with soon, they can be absolutely detrimental to the platform and our community.

On that I fully agree with @fknmayhem. I myself made the decision to suspend the use of upvoting bot on my posts... My initial experiment produced disappointing results:

Don't use the upvoting bots and every other authors does, It's suicide.... I don't want to go back, so I think that only a few will read my posts from now on..

Thanks for your comment, @miti.

I hear you and totally understand the experiment to live bots free can be bitter an experience, a dire barren society to live in even. Yet, IMHO, the key is not in the financial rewards we receive but in our networking value.

There are plenty of communities which can be totally validating and reward awesome content with a high number of upvotes and even comments. Friendships are built there and it's a long term game to play.

I also have put lots of work in posts which went totally flat, yet others did much better than expected. Even if they were merely creative writing [to self] plays and didn't tap into any niche as such.

Not every community has SP weight and we may have to look at different rewards, rewards not enumerated in the form of $. But as long as we can maintain a healthy ecosystem, eventually some of those community members will power up.

In one of my earliest posts I wrote here on Steem, Imentioned these 3 errors most minnows make:

  1. Upvoting only popular content
  2. Bought into the hype of the minnowbots
  3. Too focused on earning

While also focusing on:

You've forgotten to connect with other steemians. You've forgotten to build community. You've forgotten to get your name out there.

Oh... that post earned something like $0.5 pre-Steem Magic Sauce. :D


Thanks for answer..

"the key is not in the financial rewards we receive but in our networking value."

I agree with you, but steemit community need some time to get it to focus..

I was going to write a thoughtful reply, but I'll just let a bot do it for me.

That's what other steemians, do, right?

They'll reap what they sow.

Totally agree on this. Bots shouldn't be denied but accepted with the power they give to benefit not just the powerful but everyone using steemit. While I was reading this it also came to mind that the platform steemit could also be changed to help the newbies and get more exposure whiteout the need of bots by making Tiers for the users. Imagine 5 reputation tiers, where you would have different trending, hot or new posts in each trend. Every user can see different tiers so for example curators could browse the lowest tiers to help newcomers grow, and newcomers can see themselves in a trending section way faster. But they could also see higher tiers for trending posts with great quality. Well it's a thought I had.

@cobmaximus ewwww I I like this idea and I've never heard it proposed before now.

@rebeccabe then I should do a post to explain a little bit more the idea :D maybe it will be considered. Thanks for the support

Thanks for your comment, @cobmaximus, and apologies for the late reply.

I have heard that suggestion before and I think I like it. As long as it can be done in a clutter-free way tho. I'm not sure I've ever seen it anywhere and I'm wondering if there's a reason for that. I actually do believe in manual curation, as I've started regularly in my comments on this post.

It is also important to keep in mind that the Steem Inc team has extensively studied most social networks and does try to bring us the best combined practices to Steemit. In some weeks Communities should also launch, thy shall give content creators new ways to be highlighted. Hopefully.

One conundrum your suggestion solves is the oh so tempting focus on rep. Which like any other metric can become a vanity statistic and thus irrelevant. I'm actually wondering whether rep should be done away with, as in not shown unless negative. I once had an operator of a rather large scale classified site tell me they did away with the rating system because it created an artificial entry barreer to new users. Generally, any form of classifying can be seen as a negative. I would prefer to level the field and highlight only the negative in that aspect. Again, as a form of protection to those less critically inclined.

That is true, it can be a double edged sword that could be praised by some but critiqued by others. I didn't see the point you raise about focusing on rep which is completely true. When I play online sometimes I focus too much on my score, trying to increase it and hopefully not reduce it. But still it is a good drive for me to keep pushing myself to do better. I guess it depends on the person.
Actually I was on my way to write a post about this. Although it might not be a solution, it could be good to raise again the point to make people think outside of the box :)

Go, go, go!

Anything that stimulates discussion is a discussion to be had. The only wrong discussion, much like with questions, is the one not had.

Well you are very much right. But you have to wonder that why minnows resort to bots' upvotes in the first place?

Because they are a neglected community here. If we all want to end the role of upvote bots then whales and other senior members need to curate minnow's posts so that they know that someone is actually reading their content.

I, for one, resorted to an upvote bot, after i saw that my posts were being seen by only 4-5 people. I mean it took me like 2 hours to compile that post and only 5 people saw that.

Seeing a bad content and then deciding not to upvote is a seperate thing. But at least someone should be seeing it.

Hence i turned to an upvoting bot in hopes that when people will see few dollars on my post, they will read it, and they actually did.. views went from 5 to 64 in no time..

I agree with you that bots are destroying steemit ecosystem but unless steemit ensures that some people are curating and duly rewarding minnows, i am afraid this practice will continue..

@jbn well said ... at times I have had the same experience

Glad to see i am not alone in this..

Thanks for your comment, @jbn.

Because they are a neglected community here.

This is an inherent problem of the floodgates of the Internet. The Internet has always relied on curators. Yahoo! initially was a directory of sites. There was DMOZ also as an influential player around century turn. Then there are the manual curators, people like Jason Kottke, John Gruber (Daring Fireball), Andy Baio (, and many more.

When search engines became the more prevalent Curators, we also saw initiatives like Digg and Reddit come to the fore, at heart popular content discovery platforms. Upvoting platforms.

All of these have constantly been gamified. It took Google years to improve its search results and get rid of low quality, or even spam, in it. Even to this day Google is constantly being gamified. SEO is a very lucrative business, and an expensive one at that for its customers.

I want people, who share my love of fine hand crafted home furnishings and green tea and hardbop jazz to read and enjoy my posts, and I want to read and enjoy posts by other people who do real things by hand in the real world, who have experiences that mean something. F the bots.

Thanks, I will check it out.

@skycranehandwork your comment allowed me to find you is also a woodworker... he makes beautiful art from it I saw your blog and am now going to follow you... I don't think he's posted any pictures of his woodwork but now I will encourage him to do so you have to admit a bot brought us together lots of laughs by the way we both enjoy green tea and Jazz and art

Hey, thanks, looking forward to that:)

Nobody offers a service out of the goodness of their heart.(in 99.9999% of cases)
People would do well to think about services such as randowhale. Now I'm not saying they're crooked or anything like that, what I am saying is all these services are asking for you to pay [something] for the resteem, lucky dip vote etc, you may well earn a couple of dollars out of it but they will be earning far more. Also, as has been pointed out, it encourages people to produce low quality bilge that takes little to no effort to produce with usually a 4 - 1 return ratio by using an upvote service.

This is by far the best post I've seen about constructive ways of dealing with what is fast becoming a huge problem for us. I've been talking about this with one of my closest friends on the platform, ( @meesterboom ) since it all began. We are principled people and more importantly we LOVE steemit and abhor anything that could be so damaging to it, and we've been doing our best to discourage people from jumping aboard the vote buying train.

Definitely resteeming and hoping your ideas will get pushed through for damage control for our beloved site.

Thanks for your comment, @dreemit.

The challenge we face is how to design a future for both. A future within the blockchain structure of Steem. It would be all too easy to call them advertising providers and take them out of the blockchain as such. But that would limit them to only those sites which want to integrate them. That is not an option IMHO.

resteemed for a good read..thanks for posting 🌹

Thank you @rebeccabe, both for the comment and resteem. Glad you enjoyed the thinking/discussion.

Hi @fknmayhem,

Congrats! Your post has been featured in The Daily Qurator # 66. I hope you like it

Your Quality Curator,

Do you think I may take that hope too seriously? :P

"You either do or you don't, there is no half-arsed hope"

An ancient proverb :P

May the luck be with you ;D

I agree with the bot issue. I've been on steemit for a few days... and its a lonely place for a newbie! The bots may have already wiped out life at this level! Resteemed !

Great article. Good points and all...

Welcome to the grand game called steemit!

A very well reasoned argument and plan of attack to deal with the bot menace.

100% in favour. Thank you.

Your Quality Content Curator
This post has been upvoted and given the stamp of authenticity by @qurator. To join the quality content creators and receive daily upvotes click here for more info.

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Sounds like your are suggesting a steem fork?
Also something to think about is steemit ecosystem is it almost acting like the real world. For instance if someone who never used steem before but had a ton of money and started an account today, he/she can basically buy themselves massive amount of awards through bots. Now just like in the real world if that same person wanted to invest their money into something they know nothing about they go to a bank and sign up for some financial product. The rich get richer and the poor stay where they are.

Steemit is a product at the end of the day. People buy into it is what makes it work. It will be unfair to not mention the few early adopters to steem that they are hodling a ton of SP, (over 100k) and have people send them SBD for upvotes. This is bound to happen whether we have bots or no bots. To try to stop this is to protect the steemit ecosystem but I think inherently it will always exist. The whales have too much SP to not sway their power over the smaller majority of steemians.

That would require to be implemented in a fork, yes. But before we get to that, it's a discussion we need to have IMHO.

The Internet, inevitably, is a mirror of real life (society). With all its good and also bad. The beauty of the Internet though, is that it is much faster, and we are given a stab at an alt-secondchance.

Thanks for your comment, @mawit07. ☕️

A great post. Yes bots are really an issue, because they change the way it is supposed to be here. I personally dont think about using this way to grow here, because the natural way is more fun. And we need to hunt the good content.

Thanks for your comment, @hanen.

The way it is supposed to be here is entirely up to us, the Steemizens, to define. The Steem blockchain governance structure is democratic at heart but, obviously, there we venture in the topic of politics. That again is a whole other bucket.

I love curation, discovering. In several decades of being online I have always enjoyed finding and highlighting awesome stuff, content, online.

You are absolutely right!

Congratulations @fknmayhem, this post is the third most rewarded post (based on pending payouts) in the last 12 hours written by a User account holder (accounts that hold between 0.1 and 1.0 Mega Vests). The total number of posts by User account holders during this period was 2546 and the total pending payments to posts in this category was $2246.80. To see the full list of highest paid posts across all accounts categories, click here.

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This is a very well-done and thoughtful post on the future of upvote bot accounts. One interesting thought I heard about this subject recently is that even if people are only using the bots for visibility, they are still taking liquid rewards and only gaining back a very small amount of liquid reward (if they have split the post's rewards 50/50). If someone powers up a post 100%, they will be moving liquid STEEM or SBD to a bot account and ultimately only gaining VESTS. For some people this may not be an issue, but all of the sudden the huge bot accounts are drowning in liquid rewards that they can use for other purposes including transferring them off of the platform, while the average minnow is left with only marginally better voting power.

There are many things to consider, but I appreciate you taking the first step by sharing your thoughts here today.

In the spirit of looking forward to more great content from you, it's my pleasure to invite you to join The Unmentionables. If you're already on Discord, message ethandsmith (if you have to friend me, that's fine.) or message ethandsmith on I'll get you the link to our server, and you can join our community! We look forward to having you!

Thanks for your comment, and the invite, @ethandsmith.

My concern is mostly with Steem's longterm ability to attract (Angel) investors and thus the opportunities to build upon the blockchain (without needing SMTs, since they will operate in their own silo and may not necessarily improve the value of Steem).

The beauty of Steem is that we are given another stab at recreating a _new Internet"/social network of sorts. Both with on- and off-Steem opportunitis. This blockchain is one of the possibly most disruptive ones currently available and I hope we will be able to take the opportunities available.

Nyc Post!! I like your post!!

I like a lot your points, we can live in peace with bots as long as there's a regulation!

Super post... Thanks... I have mixed feeling... and I'm using those bots.
I tried to stop, but at the I "went back" to them :-(
Let's see what happens
Big hug
Steemitri The Mannequin

It is an understandable reflex, @steemitri. I also am part of Qurator, a community where members can receive an automated upvote each 24hrs.

End of the day, we all want our content to be seen. That is also why I don't promote that bots be nuked, they shall be allowed to operate and where possible even be a viable financial opportunity for their operators. Free market aso.

But, as you yourself also know, there are ways to become seen without being left to the mercy of bots. It's community participation and building. If not always financially rewarding, it can still be very rewarding in different ways.

Thanks for your cmment. :)

finally I found you. I envy the terms and thoughts you put in this great work of yours. Thank you a lot. You give me faith that there are even more people with a mind which serves the heart. I just came here after commenting earthnations post and already are exhausted from todays reading. Though I almost quit yesterday I hope you don't mind me placing my comment in here because it relates to one of your raised thoughts:

Pleased to meet you.

The @OriginalWorks bot has determined this post by @fknmayhem to be original material and upvoted(1.5%) it!

To call @OriginalWorks, simply reply to any post with @originalworks or !originalworks in your message!

The case:

drop your mask and show you are not a robot you lousy puppet! <<

wow nice work on steemit so cool post

I think I'm ambivalent about the bots. I tried one a couple of times. I may even have inhaled...

So bots exist. And the platform encourages it. These bots generally fill up their maximum profitable votes before they execute their upvotes ever 2.4 hours.

If it's immoral on the grounds that it uses money from the reward pool that could go to quality content... then is it immoral to then make use of the bots to upvote quality content?

And to play devil's advocate:
If enough people did this, it would, presumably, prevent people from using the bots to just upvote garbage. Wouldn't it then become a moral obligation to attempt to do this as much as possible?

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