Voting is a popularity contest

in steem •  2 years ago

...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.

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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?


That jiggly-meme is lovely, thank you! It's been spread to several other social media sites this morning and already garnered over 500 views within 30 minutes. The best part is ... not a single one of these other social media sites were offended by the jiggly-meme ... and it promotes a competing social media site! Imagine that. They weren't offended, but the Steemit Founders were. You can't make this stuff up. It's like straight out of a _______________ (insert appropriate author of your choice) book!

As I've said before, I don't want to mix business with pleasure and Steemit is one of my playgrounds I use to escape work. If I market something for Steemit, it's not being done for work, it's being done for pleasure. However, it does upset me to see the Founders of Steem continue to downvote things for no good reason IMHO. I get that it's their site and they want to keep some brand image they perceive as being the optimum way to market Steem, but frankly ... you guys are wrong. Very, very, very wrong. You are damaging your brand far more by downvoting people from your whale accounts than you are by allowing the content to be filtered by the Community.

This is just my opinion here, but if you want to express your displeasure with a post by downvoting, do it from an account that doesn't have much weight as the @dan or @ned accounts so you don't completely annihilate someone's ability to earn or be seen when it's apparent that your decision to downvote has been far outweighed in votes by the rest of the Steem Community. As mentioned earlier in another thread, to which you did not offer a rebuttal to Dan, so I assume you agree, I could be wrong ... your downvote from the @dan account causes a post to never recover. 1,000 other people could upvote a post and your single downvote could cause that person to never earn a dime, never have their post's images or voting icons visible on the main pages. Your downvotes are the deathnail, you both are an executioner when you downvote with those accounts.

You could easily express your disagreement with a post by downvoting with an account equal to most other Steem members, yet still allow the post to recover later if you're overruled in the "popularity contest", which you both were in both cases. But you're giving no recourse at all when you choose to use your whale accounts to downvote. Sure, it's your site and you are free to do what you want. But if you want this site to grow so that it's not just you and Ned here posting back and forth to each other[1], then lighten up on your censorship[2] methods and let the Community decide.

The last thing you want[3], especially when your Ethereum competitor is touting "no censorship" with their brand, is to portray your site in the exact opposite light!

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

I have been expressing my opinions, they're just being ignored. So this will be my last post on this matter[4] and we shall see where the chips fall later this year when the competitors start rolling out their Steem killing apps[5]. I've also been marketing Steem on my own free time, which is why I get upset with Dan and Ned when they stop organic marketing with their hardline stance which serves no purpose outside of satisfying their egos for control[6]. You bill this as a "Community', let the Community decide what's valid and what isn't. If you're going to try to dictate what Community shows up here, you may not end up with much of a Community at all.

Throw everything against the wall, let it be organic (hell, orgasmic!) and see what sticks; see who turns up here and be happy with the end result, which is a large Community that helps Steem thrive! Whether it ends up being the Redditors, the Twittererrers (what the hell are they called?), the Facebookers posting pictures of their lunch and telling us all how great their life is when we all know they're in debt up to their eyeballs and are likely facing divorce or a bunch of 15-year-old manga fanatics from 4chan.

[1] Exaggeration for effect.
[2] I call it like I see it.
[3] My assumption.
[4] Hah! Unlikely.
[5] Well, you know that's what they're going to try to do, so don't help them!
[6] Sorry, byproduct of too much "Authentic Kabbalah" study in Israel in the early 2000's.

Disclaimer : I'm not bothering to proofread this. You get the point.


I shall look back through your posts and mine that info, if a pro is offering free advice, it would be silly of me to ignore :)


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)


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.

Upvote me

i will active on this site :)

visit my new post here >> #beautifulindonesia-teluk love #travel #photography

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

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


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.

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

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)

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 :-)

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

nice to knew you @ smoth

nice article!

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

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).


Thanks for the advice sir @smooth

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

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.

...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 !!

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!

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.

Generally the vote contest become a rat race

Can you teach me how you do this please

I think it can be done differently