The Quandary of Social Voting

What’s the added value of social voting online? Reddit, which I talk about way too often, thrives on it. On Reddit, the entire idea of voting has created a powerful community. Votes matter, directly impact the view of the website, and elevate the extraordinary above the mundane. There’s even an entire etiquette to the process. People have started to believe that their vote can change things, that their preferences can contribute to the community. The aggregation off all these opinions can manifest itself in a simple, easy to understand voting scale. Numerous sites have adopted their own scales. Be it like/dislike, upvote/downvote, or rotten/fresh, these voting structures make the web seem more manageable.

I first thought that a big problem would be that the mainstream would be elevated. In theory, I thought that social voting would lead to a collection of things everyone knew and could agree with. In other words, it would be boring. That wasn’t the case. For example, in Reddit or Digg, you rarely see the same sources elevated to top standings (unless you count imgur or Quickmeme). There is no loyalty to a source of information, only to the content that it presents.

And in theory, this should work well for news. Except, if we only focus on the story we may lose sight of where its coming from. Fact scenario: fringe news outlet makes incendiary claim, voted up for sheer insanity, claim is shaky. Some people would immediately recognize that the claim isn’t supported, others wouldn’t.

There’s another problem as well: What happens when people vote for taste or loyalty rather than quality? This was posed in a recent question to Quora. In a post questioning the bias of popularity in terms of answers, user David Armano had this to say:

The voices which are often loudest are the ones which have built up followings. But, Quora like most social systems, while technically “unfair” is also democratic—meaning those who have value to offer can be heard, but they will have to work at it.

Anyone can claim they are anything on the internet. So we have to rely on building our reputations through blogging, tweeting, Facebook-ing, and following others. Its tough. It’s a popularity contest. But the people that have built themselves up are often worth listening to.

So why should mynewspilot worry about this? Well, we’re deciding to just open mynewspilot up to voting when we launch. The votes that are made on your page will contribute to the overall score on everyone else’s site. So the news with the most votes that day should show up first in your category. For example, the most up-voted stock market news stories will be the first thing you see on the stocks page. It’s a risk. It’s not perfect. But it allows for democracy and community to develop. Let’s see what happens.

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