Three eHailMarys and Five iOurFathers 2.0
August 16, 2008 10:00 PM   Subscribe

Help me devise an online voting system that doesn't hurt people's feelings.

I'm working on a personal web project right now that lets people make anonymous confessions online. The concept is not new: Group Hug, PostSecret and the now-defunct Not Proud have already implemented this to some degree. I started my version because I feel its predecessors don't give proper balance to good vs. bad and new vs. old, amongst other reasons. Typical posts have a quick lifespan before composting anonymously at the bottom of a database table.

I intend to implement voting to solve this problem. (Group Hug claims to have voting in place, but I seriously doubt it works as promised. The posts in 'New Confessions' and the front page are sometimes ridiculously old.) Since people's feelings are directly tied to these posts, I have to tread very carefully. If a person writes, 'my parents disowned me cuz im gay, now im suicidal :(', it would be unwise to tell that person that all his readers downvoted him. Whatever system I use to distinguish the quality of confessions, it is vital that I keep the sense of 'everyone's a winner' alive.

Any suggestions on making this work would be greatly appreciated. Other points to consider:
  • Posting confessions is done anonymously and without need to register. I keep the lower three portions of a poster's IP address and that's it.
  • Voting will require registration, unless the hive mind suggests otherwise.
  • No public demo right now, sorry. I'm doing my best to keep this question from sounding like an advert. Though you're welcome to MeFi-Mail me if you have interest in the project.
posted by spamguy to Computers & Internet (13 answers total)
I intend to implement voting to solve this problem.

That sounds like a recipe for disaster, as voting means there's winners and loser. Perhaps tags and/or categories would be better, so people could see related posts without having to think some are better than others.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:08 PM on August 16, 2008

I think, given your concerns regarding treading carefully, that voting is a really spectacularly bad idea.

Perhaps if you had a counter with 'x people viewed this' or something?
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 10:10 PM on August 16, 2008

Response by poster: Clarification: this is not about the technology needed. Whatever you suggest that sounds wise, I'll make work...somehow. This question is how just to crunch the numbers and safely balance stats output/sorting with litigation risk.
posted by spamguy at 10:11 PM on August 16, 2008

Maybe instead of 'voting' in the "Hot-or-Not" sense, you establish a few axes, and allow people to rate somewhere along the continuum.

So, instead of:
1 . . . . . . . 5 . . . . . . . 10
Loved it                  Hated it
You have:
1 . . . . . . . 5 . . . . . . . 10
Sad                  Inspirational
The challenge, which I am clearly not up to, is devising the axes in such a way that a post is unlikely to be BOTH... but it's worth thinking about voting on things that aren't straight-up quality.
posted by toomuchpete at 10:28 PM on August 16, 2008

Best answer: Maybe you could do a strictly positive voting system?

For example, when I'm viewing a confession, I could click "this is good" or "this is brave" or "this is touching" or "I have the same thing to confess."

That way the worst possible insult would be that nobody clicked on anything, and the more different (positive) attributes you have, the more likely each one will be a "winner" in some category.
posted by mmoncur at 10:28 PM on August 16, 2008

Best answer: don't give proper balance to good vs. bad and new vs. old
Immediately when I read this part, I came out thinking that what you need is almost a way to vote on tags, or do some kind of ranking on different aspects of the confessions. This way, results on a topic could look like "See the 10 kinkiest confessions, and the newest contenders!" Or, "Read about the 10 most cuckolded husbands!" (whatever). Tags could be check-boxes on submission of the confession (user-added = disaster, here)

The benefits I see in this would be a) being able to custom-sort (well, I wanted to see the kinky+cuckold confessions) and b) with all kinds of categories, and a rolling "new" section, it's harder to be completely lost in the crowd at a sensitive moment like the example you pulled out.

(toomuchpete is thinking along the same lines, I see; I ended up thinking "opposing" lines may be too limiting, but I've only put 5 minutes thought into it!)
posted by whatzit at 10:34 PM on August 16, 2008

I ended up thinking "opposing" lines may be too limiting, but I've only put 5 minutes thought into it!

I agree, and like whatzit's idea better than my own. Combine the last two comments and you get a positive-only, attribute based voting system that really ends up being better (I think) because it asks more objective and specific questions -- if I'm looking to read confessions of devious behavior, getting a list of the "best" confessions is only going to help if a lot of people also share my preference for that type of confession.

If, on the other hand, things are voted into categories/folksonomies, I can get a list of the confessions that fit into my favorite categories best., yeah. Pay no attention to my idea. whatzit and mmoncur are on the right track, I think.
posted by toomuchpete at 11:32 PM on August 16, 2008

1. Let people vote, but don't show any kind of tally or results - use the vote information purely for presenting users with the cream, and leave the specifics of the algorithm that does this a mystery to users. Or perhaps something like the "interesting" appraisal on flickr, which mysteriously aggregates various ways that people show interest, and shows you... interesting photos. It's hard to game, and you don't know how it works, just that it shows you great stuff.
2. Let people only vote up. No "bury" option. (Perhaps a "spam" option, which enough of those accumulated just flags the entry for a moderator to check, but the spam vote otherwise has no effect.
3. Consider letting the powerfulness of a user's vote up be diluted slightly by how often that user votes per month of active membership.
4. I like the ideas above for voting up under different categories. This will also give you more data to play with for your mystery sorting algorithm. (Dilute the powerfulness of votes where the same user has voted the same entry under mulitple categories, so those votes only count with the power of one vote, but they do still give the sorting alg more data about why it's good).
posted by -harlequin- at 2:11 AM on August 17, 2008

toomuchpete is on to something. What you're after is not so much whether it's a good or bad post, but whether it's interesting. You can devise a rating system where both ends (1/10 and 10/10) are interesting and the middle (5/10) is uninteresting.

Also, if you're worried about hurting people's feelings, don't show them the ratings.
posted by winston at 5:50 AM on August 17, 2008

Maybe you could do a strictly positive voting system?

mefi is an excellent example of this. the only negative "voting" aspect is flagging, which is hidden from view (you cannot see if something is flagged). everything else is positive - favourites, best answers, the social relationship stuff.
posted by not sure this is a good idea at 8:24 AM on August 17, 2008

It doesn't sound like you want or need a popular choice, which is what standard voting is good for. You might want to opt for a tagging system, and go for an identifying process to enable informed recommendation (and to smartly employ the sincere reader for targeted feedback). If registered users were allowed to propose tags for each post, then anonymous others could click to affirm those tags within an approval voting system (by voting for as many tags as they please). The final tally speaks for itself as popularity, and is less offensive because it isn't framed as popular. One post could lead in many categories, while another might lead in only one category--a win-win approach that begs for uniqueness). There are ways to package all that information, not to mention the search functions it offers. Also, if you want a least moderated site, a spam tag could delete posts if at any time it has more hits than all others.
posted by Brian B. at 10:22 AM on August 17, 2008

Response by poster: I really like the tagging as voting concept. It only speaks how public a post has become, not how it was received. I already have tagging set up, but only from the author's control. With a little work post tagging should easily be transferable to the public eye.

Thanks, all!
posted by spamguy at 9:58 PM on August 17, 2008

Seconding the tagging aggregation. That's a system that has worked well on several small communities I've built, and it has the benefit of scaling well. (not necessarily performance-wise, as that depends on how you implement it, but in terms of the kind of quantity it can realistically be used to sift through). In our system, users with certain levels of accumulated 'points' on the site could cash in their points to create new tags. That helped limit the bogus one-off tags that didn't really tell anyone anything useful.

Voting/rating/crowd intelligence systems are tricky. The technical side is never as difficult as ironing out your true goals and figuring out a conceptual system that advances those goals.
posted by verb at 11:25 AM on August 18, 2008

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