A Quick Note: Why Voting On Comments Is Stupid

Voting is the end product of carefully considered opinion. Voicing an opinion on a vote can happen after an election, including an intermediate election to filter out choices.

But voting on opinions while a debate is going on in real time? Are you kidding me? The only thing voting is doing in that case is saying “shut up.” It’s mob rule, pure and simple, because a vote counts more than an opinion at any given time.

What we see in social bookmarking regarding this notion of voting cannot be allowed to extend to other mechanisms. I know it sounds like I’m ranting against something specific to social bookmarking, but that’s really not where this is aimed – I know some official election may try to use a mechanism like the social bookmarking sites do in the future, and I want to stop that possibility from even being considered.

Just keep that principle in mind: you vote because you have formed an opinion. Debate is prior to a vote. If voting and opinions voiced are simultaneous, then opinion is irrelevant because the power of the vote trumps all.


  1. you bring up an important point. with all the quick-click votes we can do here on the internet, in all its inane variations (voting for entertainment, voting for high school type of popularity, etc.), the whole idea of voting gets diluted. it’ll be interesting to see how internet-based elections will (or will not) handle that.

  2. I agree entirely Ashok- I can see the point of voting to vote down trollish comments but real contributions to the debate shouldn’t be voting down. Isabella is right as well about internet elections- I think there is something corrosive here.

  3. I really think it’s too early to say whether comment voting is good or bad. The Digg database must be a sociologist’s dream, not only for the (probably) millions of comments made by thousands of users, but also the complete record it contains of who dugg or buried which comment and hopefully also the voting chronology. It’s a shame the Digg API doesn’t expose more of that information, though I guess it’s not useful for the kind of application they want to encourage.

    With just a bit of statistical analysis and some semantic understanding you could draw out some very interesting correlations. You may find that, I don’t know, windows users are less forgiving of spelling mistakes than mac fanboys. Religious people might respond better to emotionally charged posts than atheists, or vice versa.

    But more relevant to your blog post, there’s a lot we could learn about the dynamics of the voting system itself. Posts that begin “I don’t know why you’re getting dugg down” can often reverse the flow for the original comment, but not so much if it’s already too far gone. Relationships like that would be much easier to pin down with a scientific approach. Factors like vote timing and relative scores between adjacent comments will affect the flow of conversation — and hence the flow of information — in ways that are hard to understand.

    The exact details of the voting system are also extremely important. If you could only see a comment’s score after you’d voted (or chosen not to vote), it would change everything. On Digg, there’s no real explanation of the purpose of the voting system. The common vernacular is “dugg up/down” or “buried,” which does carry certain connotations but mostly leaves users to apply their own philosophy to voting. The fact that buried comments are collapsed also affects the way people vote (I like to read replies to comments regardless of score, so I find collapsing them irritating. That’s just me). On the lesser known site Shuzak, diggs are referred to as “karma” and there is no bury option. You can see how that might change usage patterns.

    Hah, I think my comment ended up longer than your post. It’s something I’ve given a lot of thought to.

  4. @ hambend – Your argument is excellent if one thinks voting is something to be studied.

    If one thinks voting is an expression of value that itself is normative – that strictly speaking, one must bring a certain framework to voting, that it isn’t strictly “bring your own philosophy” (i.e. can you decide to walk away from the result of an election you participated in?) – then your thought is, strictly speaking, the end of voting as the key to democracy. It’s just something to be studied like breathing or electricity, and has no real place in our civic life (why not just have people clap, or roll dice for leaders) or formation of opinion.

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