My site focuses on the controversial topic of hard-boiled-egg-breaking. Most of my users are from the hit-round-ends school, but a few are from the hit-pointy-ends school. These two groups struggle to get along in the world at large, but they have both, somehow, managed to participate constructively on my site.

The problem is that we have posts with a voting system, and round-ender posts are vastly dominating the voting. Surely some of this is innocent — good posts should get upvoted, after all — and people are more likely to vote on posts they feel especially qualified to evaluate, but it appears that there may be more going on. As a moderator I can't see specific votes (that's secret), but it looks like the round-enders tend to vote up other round-enders (and may even downvote pointy-enders), and the pointy-enders do the same with their own peers. Since there are way more round-enders, it's pretty hard for a pointy-ender's posts to get positive attention. Even if my suspicions about voting patterns are wrong, there's an appearance — and the pointy-enders are starting to complain.

I've already pointed out to the community at large that we should be voting on posts not people, and that a post we disagree with can still be worthy of an upvote if it answers the question well, but it doesn't seem to be helping. Should I do more to help out the pointy-enders? If so, how do I do so without compromising the integrity of my site? Or, do I just admit that it's a round-ender world and pointy-enders will need to get used to being the underdogs? I'd like them to stick around and help my site but I'm afraid they're going to start leaving if we can't do something.

  • Is the problem with voting patterns alone or are there other actions that the round-enders are doing to make the site less friendly to pointy-enders? – Matt Giltaji Jul 29 '14 at 20:47
  • There's been some grumbling in comments and chat -- nothing directly actionable (like outright offensiveness) and it hasn't boiled over yet, but I'm keeping an eye on it. – Monica Cellio Jul 29 '14 at 20:48
  • Do you have any influence on the sorting algorithms? It might not be the answer, but it might give you an idea. – Captain America Jul 29 '14 at 21:34
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    @MattS. no the scoring system comes with the platform and I cannot alter or disable it. – Monica Cellio Jul 30 '14 at 2:24
up vote 13 down vote accepted

Well, you're describing a situation where the majority casts the majority of votes, and tends to vote in favor of topics and opinions that appeal to majority viewpoints. That's ok though, because the system will automatically normalize these votes according to the scale of voting on the relevant topics.

...unless... Oh, you didn't implement an unweighted one-user-one-vote system, did you? You did... Rookie mistake; democracy is the worst system, you should never use it. Change it now, give less weight to votes on topics that tend to attract lots of votes always, and give more weight to votes on less persistently-popular topics.

If, for some reason, you can't do this... Then make sure votes aren't critically important. For instance, a common mistake is to sort posts according to the number of votes. Clearly, this will only serve to highlight posts that the majority likes, and worse yet it'll create a feedback loop that ensures majority-approved posts get even more attention and even more votes. So... Don't sort posts that way. Reddit tackled this problem by switching to Wilson scores - you could do something similar, though obviously how well that specific solution works will depend on what folks are voting on.

Oh, and whatever you do, don't do straw-polls that end up binding your hands when it comes to site policy. Because the majority will just use that opportunity to disenfranchise the minority, and that's probably not what you're looking to do. Unless you want to drive away all those pointy-enders, as part of a diabolical scheme to create a new, pointy-ender-only site, making yourself the pointy-ender messiah and leading the creation of a pointy-ender-army with which you can lead an attack upon your old round-enders site thus finally achieving revenge upon them for that time they snubbed your suggestion for a "soft-boiled day"... but that'd be crazy, so What you want to do instead is make it clear that you're soliciting opinions but will at most take them under consideration when making policy decisions - voting being either disabled or irrelevant in these threads.

In conclusion, a crushing weight of majority votes isn't a problem any more than a preponderance of majority posts is a problem (if a majority of your users suddenly stop posting or voting, then that's a problem). Just don't let that majority of votes (or posts) bury everything else on your site.

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    Thank you for this interesting (and enjoyable) answer. I had not heard of Wilson scores before. Can't say I understand the math, but that page does a good job of explaining the problem it's trying to solve. – Monica Cellio Sep 16 '14 at 3:55

If voting seems to be the point of contention, perhaps you can steer the discussion away from voting and into other areas of the site. You also mentioned that both sides have been contributing constructively so far, and that the trouble hasn't expanded beyond voting and some grumbling, so I would appeal to their respectful nature.

Ask both the pointy-enders and round-enders what kind of community they want to be a part of on your site. Ask them how they would want to handle a flood of new users contributing content related to the new hit-padded-surfaces school of thought emerging from cutting-edge egg research firms. Ask them for suggestions about how to grow the community inclusively, so that everyone can take advantage of both new and time tested techniques of hard-boiled-egg-breaking.

Some alternative features that you could also explore:

  • Adjust the voting system so that some votes must be cast on content in each separate category. The round-enders might prefer round-ender solutions, but if they had to pick the best of the pointy-ender answers, they probably could.

  • If there are "horse-racing" type charts or ranked lists, showing which users or posts are accumulating the most votes, try splitting those into pointy-ender charts and round-ender charts. This should help the pointy-enders and round-enders compete within their own groups which should allow the pointy-enders to succeed without needing to overcome the past advantages of the round-enders.

  • Add a section for "Underdog Post of the Week" that is determined by some other mechanism than user votes. This could be manually curated by you, or curated by a select group of community members that have the long term diversity and inclusiveness of your site as a goal.

The important thing is to not just make your community aware of the challenges that you foresee, but allow them to actively participate in the solution. Dictating diversity by moderator fiat is more likely to upset both sides.

I think you need a type of equality system that modifies the voting score.

For example, as a person A consistently up votes person B, their up votes for person B should diminish in value. So if person A consistently up votes any people in Set A, after some up votes his up votes on Set A should become meaningless. Essentially, it makes a vote a valuable commodity with a type of limitation that forces the voter to consider how to spend his vote.

If a topic is genuinely valuable it will get tons of up votes from non-partisan folk over time and will survive even if all the partisan folk can`t vote for it.

Ideally, you could have something where an up vote starts with 5 points and is reduced to 1 point as person A consistently up votes person B. This would mean that person A``s opinion is continued to be considered, but not as valuable as that of person C who only now discovered person B`s as up vote worthy.

  • That's an interesting idea. How big do you think the demographic imbalance could grow (between A's camp and B's camp) before demographics would undo the effects of weighted votes? – Monica Cellio Jan 8 '15 at 18:56
  • That's definitely an interesting graph problem to consider. I think it is a balance between the weighting algorithm and the growth rate of the network of mutual up-voters. I don't think it's an easy problem to solve well. – Gratus D. Jan 8 '15 at 20:04

To protect the minority, you may try:

  • Show and sort negatively scored posts as having 0 points (if you are using the up-down scoring). This mitigates the feeling of shame and rejection. Because despite the fact the majority disagrees, the post can still be valuable. Of course the rules of the site should still be enforced, and there should be a heuristic that automatically flags a post if it has too many downs.

  • Mix unrated, ignored posts into the front page until they get enough attention (enough views from registered users, enough votes, enough responses).

Get rid of voting.

Voting is great for fact-based Q&A communities like stackexchange, but completely inappropriate for any discussion-oriented community where opinions about controversial topics are discussed.

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    It's not a discussion forum. Even questions on controversial topics can be answered based on sources, reasoning, etc, and voting supports that -- if we can get people to stop misusing it. I'd rather fix the behavior than change platforms. Thanks. – Monica Cellio Jan 8 '15 at 15:06
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    I've seen voting systems make quite a positive difference in discussion systems as well. You have to do it a little bit differently (like not feeding the votes directly into a rep system and not doing as much post sorting based on votes) but voting can still help differentiate posts in a discussion worth reading from those worth skipping as well as other factors. Case in points: Slashdot, Reddit, Disqus, et al. Voting itself isn't the problem nor do I think removing it is a blanket solution. – Caleb Jan 8 '15 at 17:13
  • @Calen Voting systems encourage people to create posts the community will like and discourage posts that the community don't like. This reinforces the established views and essientially censors every dissent. Top posts in Reddit and Disqus don't add anything new to the discussion, they are only posts the most people know, relate to and agree with. This doesn't move the humankind ahead. New ideas, original thoughts, questioning the status quo, recognizing the problems, shallowing the red pill is needed to advance. Voting systems actively discourage that. And I think this is bad. – Calmarius Nov 25 at 12:56

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