Voting is a popularity contest

in #steem4 years ago (edited)

...or how I learned to stop worrying and love the swarm.

There are various discussions going on about the nature of voting, vote rewards, etc. In this post I will present the ideas that the main purpose of voting is to be a popularity contest, that focus on votes as a measure of quality is misguided, that the current mechanism is largely effective, and that concerns about swarm voting are misplaced.

Voting measures popularity, not quality

Downvotes are widely discouraged except for reporting abuse, which means every non-abuse post with at least one upvote should have an upvote percentage of 100%. Clearly nothing other than upvote count can be used to compare posts to each other on the basis of votes. (The effect of weighting by voting power is deliberately ignored here for simplicity.)

Since voting produces only a count as an output, it is obvious that the primary effect of voting is the evaluate popularity. Popularity may, in some cases, be correlated with quality, but in difficult to characterize ways. For example, in some contexts, it is possible that less popularity correlates with higher quality. (Example: consider reviews of expensive but excellent quality products compared with less expensive lower, but still good, quality products. The less expensive lower-quality products will likely get more reviews.) Furthermore, as I will cover later, while popularity is objective, quality is subjective.

Trying to replace voting on popularity with rating on quality is misguided

A rating system that effectively measures quality, if one could be created, would also need a second method of measuring popularity. Popularity must be used as the criteria for hot lists, trending lists, etc.; if content that is “high quality” but not popular is placed on hot lists, most people seeing it will dislike it or, perhaps worse, not be interested in it at all.

Any effort to add a measure of quality must therefore take care not to discourage participation in the essential function of measuring popularity, either by distraction or by requiring more thought to participate at all. Rating functions should be separate from voting functions, and should probably be featured less prominently in any UI.

Another reason the focus must remain on measuring popularity is that people care—a lot—about popularity, even when measures of quality are also available. The most widely followed statistic on Youtube is view count. On Twitter it is number of followers. Both platforms also have quality measures (up- and down-votes on Youtube and favorited tweets on Twitter) but these get far less attention. In traditional media, books are widely promoted based on their past or present appearance on bestseller lists. Movies that have big opening weekends or break box office records are a big deal.

Popularity, but not quality, is objective

A measure of popularity can always be computed and compared. Some people are more popular than others (more people like them), some music is more popular than other music (more people listen to it, or perhaps, listen to it more), etc. Quality, by contrast, is highly subjective. People can agree on who is more popular while disagreeing in every possible way on who should be more popular.

Of course, in the abstract one would ideally like to measure quality in order to reward quality. But attempts to create aggregate measures of quality will suffer from various perverse outcomes and paradoxes that are well known in the study of rating and voting systems. For example, a majority may prefer A to B but a particular aggregate measure may rank B higher than A. In an aggregated reward system this would mean more money going to the content that the majority would identify as the inferior of the two. This is not a fatal flaw, of course, as no one expects any system to be perfect, but it raises questions.

In all likelihood, the best approach to rewarding subjective quality is tipping. While this suffers from the cognitive load micropayments problem, it is very difficult to envision simple aggregated measures serving this function effectively. One approach that could be explored is to use a collaborative filtering (recommendation) engine to identify likely-high-quality new content for a particular user and then automatically “tip" with a share of funds associated with that user from a pre-allocated fund. This raises several additional questions and complications that are beyond the scope of this post.

Popularity is popular

Popularity is highly concentrated in any system. The most popular personalities have far, far more Twitter followers than still-famous-but-less-so personalities. The most popular videos on Youtube get far, far more views than the top 10%, etc. Once content becomes popular it will often then become even more popular (often called “going viral”). One might infer, in fact, that popularity itself is popular and that, just as people can be famous for being famous, content can be popular because it is popular. When this also serves as a focus point for comments and discussion, this can also make the content become more valuable.


We should stop attempting to attach some meaning to votes as a direct measure of quality—they are not, they are measures of popularity. Measures of quality could be used as well, but they are secondary to the main focus of voting, which is identifying popular content in a social media system.

The current system of voting and rewards—designed, it seems, to both encourage and reward participation, and reach a consensus on popular content—is largely effective in accomplishing this essential function. It identifies a subset of content as popular and rewards people who produce this content (even when serendipitously). Swarm voting is not only inevitable but necessary, because it ensures that some content will be highly popular, in turn satisfying the human need for people to connect and communicate on the basis of commonalities, even fleeting ones.

While nothing forces people, collectively, to choose the best content to make popular (and perhaps no mechanism could), small influences will probably serve as a tipping point so that generally better content will often be chosen over generally worse content. This will tend to reward content that is of higher quality. More direct mechanisms for rewarding the quality of content include tipping, or possibly, with further development of the idea, automated tipping.

In summary, major changes to the existing voting and rewards mechanisms are neither necessary nor would they effectively serve any useful purpose that is clearly identifiable at this time. Refinements and tweaks may indeed be necessary but the very limited data from a tiny initial user base that currently exists is entirely insufficient to identify which changes if any would be useful. A rating system to evaluate and reward quality directly might be a useful addition, but designing one that works effectively is a significant challenge.


Very important distinction you've just made. Popularity VS Quality. I don't have a crystal ball to know which one would be the best moving forward. One thing that is for sure is that making money with curation as it is right now will be an arms race that only a privilege few will be able to engage in using bots and lots of Steem Power.

I have been observing my voting behavior and I have to say that they are emotional. If I like what someone created, I'll vote regardless of how many time I've voted during the day. I feel compelled to do it. So asking me to restrict myself from doing it is almost impossible.

If I were ask to rate "how much" I like it then it would always be relative to what else i've seen during the day.

Like I said, I don't know what the answer is but I don't like the fact that I have to "rush" to upvote an article before 20 bots jump on it. Also, it prevents newcomers who may have great content get buried by "the establishment" or the "inner circle".

You brought up some very interesting concerns. I think quality is more important than popularity, but I also realize that trying to implement quality control is pretty much futile. I've never seen any social media that isn't based entirely off popularity. In fact, even if you make the best platform that measures objective quality, ironically, it will just make your platform unpopular. Humans are inherently irrational creatures and there's nothing we can do about it.

Agree except that "objective quality" does not exist.

I'm also skeptical if it truly exists, which is why I used it hypothetically.

I agree, in many instances a quality author can produce quality content but fail to get it promoted to a level commensurate with the value it brings based upon the number of followers they have. Wherein some at the top become "vote whores" and post garbage to rake in some $$$$ as the dung beetles below them devour it. It's an interesting paradox really and takes dedication to the grind to build a following that will actually promote quality content.



Well said. Figuratively speaking, we need to sell newspapers. A story about a famine in Africa does not sell as many copies as a story about a beautiful woman (and the editor screams, "get her tits above the fold"). If it isn't popular, it won't make money. But hopefully, the more people are on here, the more interesting content and niche tags emerge to really tell life's story in different ways.


Your example is bad (no it isn't) for the simple reason that I was downvoted by Dan for doing exactly what you mention above, using a good looking woman to advertise Steem. So either Dan is horrible at marketing (cough) or I am (I own an ad agency) for using a hot woman in a bikini jumping up and down to advertise Steem using a tried and true meme known around the internet that promotes 4chan.

It was getting popular then Dan took all of the earnings away, any potential for future earnings and stopped it in it's tracks so it could not get any more popular (or views) because the image was hidden from the front listing and the voting icons were removed. So if this is such a great way to advertise a product (it is) ... why was it downvoted?

I refer back to my question/statement above regarding marketing. I don't think marketing is a specialty for Dan or Ned judging by two (of the three) downvotes I've (the person who specializes in advertising) received for ... marketing Steem; which lost me several thousands dollars in earnings and SP for promoting their business to others and discourages me from doing it any longer.

So trying to "sell newspapers" will get you downvoted here on Steem, where everywhere else in the world it has the exact opposite effect and brings in new users. This is a problem (Founders downvoting marketing) that needs to be fixed when it comes to Steem and it's marketing. Let people market Steem and see what works. It's not Dan or Ned doing the work, it's other people, while Dan and Ned are hindering the work for who knows what reason.

Ned didn't like the fact that he left his video unhidden on Google (not my fault) and I beat him to marketing it (not my fault, it's what I do) so he further exacerbates the problem he created by having me remove the advertisement from every social media site it was uploaded to while it was gaining traction. I'm sorry but that's very odd behavior for someone that wants their business to succeed and it seemed to be born out of an urge for Ned to profit off of his video instead of the Steem community profiting off of it being spread far and wide in an organic manner as quickly as possible.

These types of actions by the Founders of Steem not only hinder organic marketing efforts by the Community, which are largely successful for other social media outlets, but they cost nothing in the way of money or time for the Founders or the Steem Community to implement. You have people marketing Steem because they love it and then you have the Founders shutting it down because of their ego's or misguided opinions on what sells on the internet in this day and age.

I'll leave it at that because I could spend another hour or two here going over the mistakes that are being made marketing wise with Steem and how it's holding back the exponential growth this Community could and should be experiencing in it's early days simply because the Founders are trying to do someone else's job that they are not qualified to perform.

Disclaimer : Sorry I don't have time to proofread this, there will be errors.

Mm, does seem shortsighted, I voted for your lovely jiggling meme.

I would love to hear your ideas on marketing a platform like this, maybe you should do a post about it?


Steam measures popularity not by headcount, but by SP, and Dan, Ned, etc. have the most SP. They also have the most to lose should Steem not succeed. None of which means you shouldn't try to convince them you are right, but the way to convince them (if possible at all) is by some other vehicle, not expecting a voting system to ignore their preferences.

please give me tutorial post
I want my articles like you because i new here
tq u @smooth

Even if they are right, downvoting active community members is like shooting their own foot!

PS founders of steemit should not vote at all ! At least NOT DOWNVOTE at all (except of extreme ABUSE situations)

the problem with using women as your commodification and marketing purposes is that you become part of the repressive patriarchal regime that subjugates women. You ultimately make half of the world population upset. Women will not join a community which is actively commodifying them. From the mission statements, it appears that this site is intended for universal appeal. By advertising with "tits", you immediately make it hostile to free-thinking women. Perhaps that is why you were downvoted by Dan.

nice article...n keep wcthing

This was similar to what I was going to write about next: Popularity vs Value. I think there is some correlation between the two, but I think value-based voting adds a different dimension and it's probably important to make the distinction. In fact the ability to add an extra value dimension may be a big advancement over what we have with the current Internet. Much of the Internet is about superficial popularity and is a reflection of emotional impulses. There's a trend towards clickbait and annoying ads. It's easy to get 'cheap' thrills, so I would hope this platform enables some differentiation. There's already a distinct difference with the content we have on Steemit than what you would find elsewhere. It would seem people are generally more value-conscious when voting and producing content. I'll put more thought into this topic and write another post. Thanks for getting the discussion going.

A lot of the internet is advertising driven, which probably accounts for a large part of the difference with Steem (aside from early adopter effects). Even though popularity has its own value, the value of popularity because it is a vehicle to sell you something is quite a bit different.


Interesting experience the other day: I told a friend I wanted him to join Steemit and give me some comments on what he thought about the entire experience. Registration, login, posting, setting up a profile, commenting, search, etc.

But at first, he did what I did. Took a look at the initial view pre-login, and said "It needs to be more graphical and explain the platform better."

And then immediately, he said: "I started looking around for articles, and it was all sh*t!"

All I could say in defense:
a) Remember how new it is. People are still trying to figure out how it works, what it's good for, and why they need it. It's a bit of an amoeba pond right now, growing various early cultures. ;-)

b) Think of it as an opportunity. A fertile undiscovered valley and as much as you can fence off, call your own and patrol, you will own. Perfect for homesteaders!

c) I talked to him about ICOs a little, and was mentioning it should be possible to do ICOs on steem blockchain at some point.

So wade through the kimchee; it's going to get really interesting, really fast, at this rate.

Thank you for the feedback. Welcome to your friend as well

A year late but, I second that sentiment🤔😏

I believe that if you are a native blogger, and not a vote hunter you have the very best chance to evolve and also thrive in steem community. I know how I started:

It all started with the Steemit 101- the Amazon book review and gained 200 STEEM.

Then, the strato initiative:
So, I have started to learn from the best ( in this case from you) and it seems that is amazing what a community like steem can do for you.

great post...I don't get much love for my posts yet...but the challenge is making me a better writer. I also do not think the average person should expect to have great success on here. It's the compelling person and the compelling story that I think should and will win out in the end.

The current system of voting and rewards—designed, it seems, to both encourage and reward participation, and reach a consensus on popular content—is largely effective in accomplishing this essential function. It identifies a subset of content as popular and rewards people who produce this content (even when serendipitously).

With the hindsight of 2 years, seems you’ve come to the point of publicly acknowledging that the reward aspect of the voting is mostly[potentially] benefiting “abuse” (rather than being paid out to the best and most important bloggers) as I had predicted in 2016 was the only possible outcome.

Did the voting model seed the site with anything sustainable that could really disrupt the centralization of the Internet? Or was it just a gimmick to obscure the sneaky premine obfuscation of a self-issued ICO? Have you seen SEC Chairman Clayton’s latest warnings? He is warning in writing those who even promote “pump-and-dumps”.

P.S. If you didn’t see my latest blog about the timing of the next crypto winter, you may want to take a read. I have received positive feedback about the content.

mostly benefiting abuse

Mostly implies a majority. I'm not sure that is accurate (nor that it is not). I still see popular (with stakeholders) content being rewarded, which probably (though I can't be sure) isn't primarily on the basis of kickbacks. For example the #2 Trending post right now is something about helping children and the #3 post (with $900 reward; pretty high for these days) is an online art exhibit. These are probably based on some sort of popularity. I don't think these are necessarily all that unusual.

So I do think there is serious leakage to abuse and serious systemic problems, but not necessarily 'mostly'.

Thank you for the heads up about your post about crypto winter. I will look for it.

I agree that I (we) don’t know how to measure what ratio of “abuse” there is. And then we have to define ‘abuse’ as I guess collusion? Because there’s not really any abuse in the sense that users are just gaming the system protocol as they are (should be) able to in a free market.

I think the consistent point we might be able to agree on is that voting for rewards sourced from a pool shared by everyone, can’t in any possible reformulation of the protocol (other than truly randomized rewards?), prevent the rewards from being inexorably disproportionately more concentrated over time?

Actually perhaps you might quibble about that not being proven, for example arguing that competing cartels would form to create a stalemate? Yet I would argue that such cartel wars are precarious and unstable, because when Godzilla and King Kong fight, they tend to be clumsy (preoccupied focus) and trampled the working order of things around them. IOW, top-down driven things fail overall. Which is essentially my argument against consortium blockchains. In my conceptualization, Steem and EOS are milking machines for the whales to extract from while the pie is expanding, but when the crypto winter comes they’ll be potentially fighting over a shrinking pie. When everyone is making money, there’s less incentive for an out-all brawl, in order to prevent the disruption of flow of gains. But under a collapse scenario, it’s worth risking a fight to winner-take-all as there’s really nothing to lose by trying. America’s melting pot and assimilation of immigrants was held up by the same expanding economic pie mutual incentive, but even that is being eroded now.

Although that concentration happens anyway due to the power-law of distribution of wealth (the wealthy have low expenditures as percentage of net worth so they can accumulate), my goal has been for a long-time to find a way that the whales could not have any adverse impact on the decentralized ledger. They wouldn’t be able to effectively buy influence. Proof-of-work arguably doesn’t entirely accomplish this; and besides it was shown that the transaction fee revenue model can in theory ameliorate the incentive for the longest chain to be unique.

My theme of what I am working on is I posit that the coming crypto winter is going to be the ideal time to build something like Steem that is more focused on real usage (which Steem has somewhat achieved but I think we can do better) and without the whale extraction. Because during the crash/winter many hitech people who were unemployed were experimenting in their home offices that became the Web 2.0 innovation and startups. So in the coming global economic downturn which is accelerating probably next year (seriously accelerating in California and Europe), and the posited concomitant crypto winter, we have a huge opportunity to employ people in creative contribution on decentralized ledgers.

My open question is has Steem attained some qualities or could it change to do so, such that it could fulfill that posited role?

P.S. Thanks for the upvote on my crypto winter blog. I’m not lacking funds any more, but I do appreciate that blog post attaining more exposure as maybe it can help others. Also it helps for me to get more followers for any project announcement I might make on Steem. I've decided not to post to BCT anymore after the latest ban several weeks ago. Seems all the (highly capable programmers) old timers such as yourself rarely post there any more. Besides head down work to do.

Thanks for the upvote on my crypto winter blog

You are welcome. I might be the only one left doing it :) but I vote/d based on appreciation of the contribution.

I do agree that weighted voting systems tend toward increased concentration. That is readily apparent in stake-voted rewarded block production (DPoS) as well as Steem's stake-voted 'content' rewarding system.

However, it remains unclear to me whether that failure mode is total or if the magnitude of the effect is small enough to be tolerable given sufficient concurrent value creation.

Social trust may remain sufficient given sufficient concurrent value creation. Even in a cryptocurrency system that isn’t debased, the whales can extract value by manipulating the market price and even crashing the price causing panic selling, then repurchasing at the lows.

I presume you also intend that ‘value creation’ can in theory comprise non-monetary forms.

What I’d really like to see is a system succeed based primarily on people using it because they like the capabilities enabled by decentralization, not primarily based on any monetary motivation. IMO, that would be the Holy Grail achievement. We may or may not be able to get that achievement purely without any monetary incentive at all. I would probably not want to risk it, and would try to find some way to enforce that the monetary reward was a long-term “we’re building this together as a global community” theme (because realize most users aren’t getting more than a couple $ per day of earnings any way, so if they were going to get a larger multiplier by HODLing that might be an incentive if there’s sufficient social trust), which was sort of the idea originally behind the 2 year weighted average lockup of STEEM POWER before it was reduced to afair 13 weeks.

But one problem with Steem’s former long-term lockup model was it was unduly penalizing short-term speculation, arguably killing liquidity, and complicated planning/diversifying a crypto portfolio.

I always thought asymmetric debasement was counterproductive. If you’re going to award tokens to grow the value of the blockchain, then debase the money supply for everyone. So then you’d only need to lockup for longer-term those who you’re rewarding with free tokens, not those who are buying free trading tokens.

There’s other issues also such as the fact that if you have any common enterprise issuing tokens even for “free” (i.e. at no monetary charge) then they’re probably securities. So that is another reason Steem had to reward based on decentralized voting, but again I think we may agree that might be a relative weakness in terms of reducing social trust as compared to a system the whales couldn’t so easily extract value from. So finding the solution that solves both of those issues I think one of my major insights, which btw if and when I launch many/most will likely think “wtf?” and probably think I have made a silly insight because I won’t have a premeditated document (unless this is it) like one Larimer wrote laying out the entire scheme in advance (but that will be if because they didn’t entertain the possibilities of the long-term plan that will surprise later). Which is as designed, because for one reason there shouldn’t be any profit expectation if we want to be sure we’re not issuing securities. I have some other insights also, such as a design for ledger that decentralizes the objectivity of consensus. One thing to keep in mind is that there’s distinction between law and reality. Clever is the one who can leverage that distinction. So much work to do. I hope I can get there…

Don’t currently have the means to send you a private message, so I’m sharing this with you. No reply need. FYI only.

Note I added a new section to my latest blog which seems to project that the altcoins are going to near zero again in the next crypto winter! Must see!

Thank you for posting. Hope you get this to snowball to the top!
I up-voted you too... BTW, should steemit let us steemers advertise using steem? Be sure to tell everyone you know to come vote here at:

This is a democratic community decision.

Hello, @smooth, It would be great if you supported my charity event:
I believe that we can help people with STEEM.

I agree on most parts of this post. We all wantvthe best for this platform and that include s good user experience...

Nicely constructed thought provoking post. Keep it up sir

Can you teach me how you do this please

nice to knew you @ smoth

Article Fine. Welcome in me the blog @alex2016

"Voting measures popularity, not quality"
This is simply the truth

You have my upvote and follow, great blog!

Thx for being an amazing whale :-)

nice article!

Well, popularity is the best measure of an 'populus' ;)

Value is subjective, but we agree in the popularity issue.

This is probably one of the most cerebral posts I've seen. Period. Being a newbie (about 2 weeks old) I've seen similar platforms use voting as an indication of quality. And as you've stated, this is simply not true. While quality is subjective, I also believe that "popularity" comes from mob mentality - lemmings, if you will - who will mindlessly follow because they think they're missing out on something.
Sure, I could post kittens allllll day long, but I'm here to write. Too bad no one notices. Ah well! Thanks for the article. It's by far one of the best ones I've come across.

I'm glad you found the post valuable and thank you for the positive feedback. It is appreciated!

I want to thank you also for this Blog/Post, and the ability to time travel via steemit. Without @infovore, I would not have found your nor more importantly, a new, (well to me), writer to read. Popularity, and quality can sometimes go hand-in-hand. I just wish that in order to vote on a thing someone had to actually take the time for the page to load. I still do not understand how a post can have 16 votes, and only 13 views, unless there is an eyeball (views) glitch in the system.

but I'm here to write. Too bad no one notices.

Opps to late someone found you. I got here in the past because @infovore upvoted a blog/post of mine, I went to his site, saw that he had a steem-mag, (he upvoted my little mag I started) I went all the way back in time, (see time travel is possible), found the link to his first steem-mag post, then the link to this blog/post by @smooth, (and this was one hell-of-a post), saw your comment, and walla, a writer,(you), connects with me, a reader. This is one of the things I really like about steemit. I will be looking your blog/post over more closely for stories, already found your "The Dying - flash fiction horror", which I am headed over to read now.

I truly appreciate eh fact that you have tried to help quality posts gain popularity. Who says you can't be both? That is very cool of you!

I agree.. Voting is a popularity contest.. I have been putting out quality content for weeks now and get very little votes for my efforts :( I love steemit and am trying very hard to promote it and help my fellow steemers, but it can get discouraging to not get much attention because my steem power is so low. I am a sucessful trader and have been sharing all my secrets in a video series entitled The Happy Steem Trader. Also I just started a Comic Strip dedicated to steemit humor, because I love to draw. But I'm not too popular yet, so I get very few views or votes. Anyways, this little guy agrees with your post.

I heard that you are employing some steemers to help you upvote good content. I would love to volunteer. Please feel free to contact me, and ill watch for your reply.

Please get on and PM me there. I will add you to the waiting list but you will need to remain accessible so I can contact you once a slot opens up.

Hello @smooth how are you? Any word of advice on how to make my post get noticed?

One way so to engage with people on That doesn't mean vote begging, but it just means you become better known and will gain followers. Obviously for everyone the answer will be different. For someone like @dollarvigilante who has a huge following and is a successful marketer that would probably not be the most efficient way to go (though he might still find it interesting to participate there, and I know many others would be happy to chat with him).

I have a proposal for steem power rental market. Please give me your comments on it when you have a chance. Thanks,

Nice article! I'm going to link to you from my latest post on the game theory of Steem: Is Steem Paying for Groupthink?. In my article I look at questions similar to yours; I would love it if you took a look and gave me some comments!

...or how I learned to stop worrying and love the swarm.
haha really digging this.

i see that this post is almost a year old, i would say a lot hasn't changed. we still see a lot of content on top which is "popular" and not "quality".
however i do thing that we have a lot of authentic content and transparency here !!

Generally the vote contest become a rat race

I like to think the two are components. Neither should be neglected. That being said, as someone new to Steemit I'm quickly seeing there are many ways to improve my style.

Thank you, very interesting analysis. We have just started out on Steemit:

I think it can be done differently

You're totally right, it was designed to measure popularity. But, don't you think it worths to promote quality content in order to get a better community? I know it's a completely different topic, but I want to know your opinion. Thank you! @smooth

Similar to SP, SMD tokens cannot be purchased directly on an external exchange. SMD are primarily earned through contributing but can be purchased by converting STEEM tokens to SMD tokens.

Actually Steem Dollars can now purchased on external exchanges !

PS Abbreviation of SBD = Steem Backed Dollars
or just SD = Steem Dollars (not SMD please edit)

I will agree a little that voting is a popular contest..........but what determines a vote is popularity in some area......thanks for the information