Social Network Post Scoring Systems and Their Consequences

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

just had a Epiphany. On social networks, there's voting system. For example, the thumb up 👍 on {Facebook, Google Plus, hacker news, reddit, slashdot, …}. Programers are often keenly interested in the scoring algorithm. The goal of voting system is to bubble up quality posts.

with a voting system, the key is that you need to get enough people to use it, else it won't work.

now, here's the epiphany:

Q: what happens when you are so successful that most or all the people use it?

A: You get plebeianism. That is, the top valued articles/posts will become those liked by the masses, the things you see everyday in ads, on TV, absolutely devoid of quality. (the likes of cat pictures, or crowd-pleasing commercials)

this is so because, when you get a lot people, their likes and disliked are summed up by market research, which is what you see everyday on TV or ads on the web.

this seems to be a inescapable consequence, regardless what algorithm is used, as long as the algorithm has any sense of democracy.

unless, out with democracy, and you have small dedicated groups with vested, similar, interests.

but then, same thing happens within that group. For example, if you narrow a group to one particular programing language, say python (or only let python coders rate posts), but as the group gets large, huge amount of python programers, then, the top messages will be either best beginner tutorials or dramatic “why python is dead” ones. (this happens with Hacker News)

ultimately, it seems, you need a dictator or oligarchy to keep your group's quality.