Three Solutions to Reform the Dislike Button

Published November 15th, 2011

In the last couple of weeks there's been some healthy debate on my blog about the Dislike button and what it would mean to lose it. Consensus amongst commentators who have thought about these issues seems to be that losing it altogether is not the solution (especially as a number of strange photos floated to the top of the Popular section when 500px experimented with disabling it for one week-end).

However, it's also commonly believed to be abused, essentially in two ways:

- first, by people whose photos are in the Popular section who will use the dislike to "knock down" pictures that are just above theirs in order to creep up in the ranking, be better viewed and presumably accrue more likes as a consequence,

- second, by people using it out of spite, as a retaliation for a comment they didn't like on one of their photos or a blog post they disagree with (I experienced the latter...)

The commonly mentioned "solutions" to fix the Dislike button were discussed but all seem to have weaknesses: making dislikes non-anonymous would likely result in most people not using it (in which case, why have it at all ?) and a number of retaliatory dislike wars that would serve no-one. Only allowing people with a certain affection level to use the dislike button - which according to some is currently implemented although I can't find a confirmation of that anywhere - doesn't seem to address any of the issues above.

If 500px wants to address the issues associated with the dislike button without ditching it entirely, then here are the three avenues that seem interesting to pursue:

1. Weighing Likes and Dislikes
The first one, and in my opinion the best one is to take into account the giver and receiver of a dislike (or, for that matter a like) into the weight that said dislike has. This was suggested by Pedro Fiol, based on the mechanics of a Spanish website called Menéame. The basic concept is as follows: each interaction (like or dislike) is logged, and the system weighs that interaction on the basis of past history between the giver and the receiver. If someone systematically likes or dislikes the photos of someone else, they would weigh less and less.

I believe this would have all kinds of virtues in fluidifying the community. It would effectively eliminate suspected like or dislike cliques, it would make lasting hatred meaningless, and it would lower the importance of huge following in the emergence of content. However, it wouldn't on its own address the two specific issues of the dislike button listed above: dislikes could still be used to "kill" competition in Popular and spiteful use would still be possible (note that I'm not sure there's a solution to eliminate that...) Still, I would love to see something like that implemented although I understand there's some coding wizardry involved. The good news is that the Menéame code is free and open access, as detailed here (in Spanish).

2. Rates Anonymous Dislike Comments
Another approach, suggested by Phrasikleia Epoiesen would be to force a comment on every dislike, but make the comment anonymous in the photo so that retaliation would not be an option. However, viewers of the comment could then rate the comment, and if a given users dislike comments all took huge negative ratings, said users ability to dislike could be curtailed, temporarily or permanently.

In theory, this would allow the community to punish abusers. There's a lot of uncertaintly into how it would be used however, and you could imagine voting cliques affecting the ratings of the dislikes to skew it too, although that would make clique disliking harder than it currently is. Another benefit is that it could potentially address, at least in part, the spiteful use of the dislike button. It would, however, be realtively easy for people using the dislike abusively to simply state neutral things like "this isn't really my kind of photography" which would likely not attract outrage from other viewers.

Implementation, while probably not as complex as the first solution, would still be somewhat complicated from a coding perspective, it seems to me.

3. No Disliking if you're in Popular
I suggested this fix in the comments. It's a very simple fix, although it only addresses the first issue of dislike voting cliques (unlike Phrasikleia's solution) and and unlike Pedro's solution doesn't do anything against potential "like" voting cliques).

The idea would be to simply disable the dislike button for users that have a photo in Popular. The assumption I'm working on is that most of the attempts at rigging occur when users have photos in Popular, so by making that impossible, you eliminate the tool with which negative rigging would happen.

In the comments, Phrasikleia suggested that you might need to do it for the Upcoming section as well, but I'm not sure. The Popular section is ranked by photo Rating, so it's very easy for someone to click on the 5 photos higher than yours and kick them back (I believe that after 5 dislikes you're forced to comment when you dislike). In Upcoming, all photos with a 65 Rating or higher (I believe) are listed by time of upload. That makes it a lot more complicated to fish around for photos that might compete with yours in making it to the Popular section. Still, if worse comes to worse, the disabling could be extended to the Upcoming section.)

The virtue of that is that it would eliminate the suspicion or the reality of dislike being used abusively to get higher in the Popular section. It wouldn't address any of the other issues, but it would be dead simple to implement.

In conclusion, there are ways to keep the dislike button alive and tweaking it slightly to make it a more integral part of the ecosystem by eliminating the suspiscions of abusive use. I hope 500px looks at these suggestions and assess them. At the very least I hope it furthers their thinking on these issues.

Interestingly, a number of other issues came up during the debate, including:
- frustration at not knowing how many likes and dislikes a given photo has
- frustration at the fact that any photo that hasn't been seen enough in the first 24 hours after posting will never be seen again
- frustration that a binary rating system (like/dislike) wasn't granular enough
- generally, frustration about comments rarely being meaningful...

None of these are directly relate to potential abuse of the dislike button, so I won't address them here. But they're interesting topics for discussion!

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Gus Doe Matik  over 4 years ago
I think they should reinstate the dislike feature. Just implement it differently. One suggestion which has been mentioned would be to not let the dislike button to effect the popularity of the image. Just give the user a representation in numbers of how many ppl disliked it. The dislike numbers should only be sen by the image poster. That way the abuse of the button will stop. Since its not directly effecting the popularity of the image.

Or another way to do it would be to have enough dislikes for it to even effect the popularity of the image. For example 10 dislikes would effect the popularity by "X" %. So the abuse factor is cut short.

Eugene Brodsky  over 4 years ago
well, hello everyone. guess what. "You do not have enough affection to dislike an image". Don't know when, how or why it came back, but here it is. I'm sorry, but that's just dumb. I just saw a truly f*king hideous image which I cannot EVER unsee, and it's my right as a photographer to dislike it, damn it.

Just sayin'.

Oh, and btw my affection has grown considerably. Them pills from the emails DO work!

GlassMan1 (inactive)  over 4 years ago
Comment deleted
Wolfgang Zimmerman  almost 5 years ago
@Brian Brinch

A guaranteed way to make an impact here (lots of affections, lots of views, and high ratings) is to have as many "friends" as possible, visit their pages as often as you can, always leave a positive comment, no matter how banal or how short, always vote "Like", thank everyone individually who has voted for you - ideally by leaving a message on their wall - and never ever get involved in a discussion about the merit/demerit of a picture. Now, that may not leave you much time to actually take (many) pictures, but the rewards will be there to be seen by everyone who cares to visit your pages.

As to the success of the user you cited, check out how many followers he has, and also how many people he follows. Having said that, his pictures, IMHO, are interesting enough, if nothing else.

Also, have a look here http://500px.com/photo/3342292 for an example of how practically no-one addresses a real issue with an image, the issue there being that it is out of focus. But you do get plenty of skilful skirting the issue:

"Oh, very beautiful bird, Irene! Such vibrant colors and a wonderful setting against the tall grasses behind him.", "Excellent!", "Great colors, fantastic bird!", "wonderful compo on these colors! great bird", "Very nice catch! Great colours!", "Ottima cattura Irene", "Great bird, nice picture", "amazing", "Amazing", "what an interesting bird!!", "Amazing color!"... and that is only on one page.

All this does, of course, do nothing to help the photographer become a better photographer, but it does ensure favourable votes in return. It's as easy as that :)

My main contention, as I have said a few times before, is that it is idiotic to only be given a choice of vote from the two ends of the spectrum. As long as this remains to be the case, this site will resemble a Facebook style lovefest more than a site for serious photography/photographers (of all levels).

Brian Brinch  almost 5 years ago
Just found this blog-entry and I think that the dislike button should be available for all levels of affection OR completely removed. I just can't figure out, why high affection makes you better to evaluate if a picture should have a dislike.

An example is this user: http://www.500px.com/ritgriz (sorry in advance to use you as my example). His affection is very high, his pictures are not among the best on 500px (IMO), but he uses a standard comment for ALL pictures and will get a lot likes and "in favorites" because of his hundreds of useless comments. Why should he be more able to dislike a picture than me with 23 in affection?

If I ever get's affection enough to use the dislilke, I will use it. But of course I will use in combination with a comment to tell why I don't like the picture

Eugene Brodsky  almost 5 years ago
Oh yea, I must mention that the "dislike threshold" seems to be gone (or did I surpass it? I don't know). I was able to dislike a photo a few days ago when my affection was at 193. So either the threshold is at 190, or it's just been removed. Guess we'll never know.
Veronique AUBOIS-MANN  almost 5 years ago
This was my idea before I read all your comments and i must admit that I am "slightly lost" now !
However, I will post what I posted in my blog.
MY idea or "How to the "dislike" button " (!):
1) you see a photo and you don't like it (after all, everybody has the RIGHT to "dislike" !)
2) you click the "dislike" button
3) the comment box gets RED telling you that you HAVE TO leave a comment BUT not only by a number of words because I can write "bad, bad. bad. bad. bad" and reach the "5 minimum words imposed" without giving an intelligent or/and interesting feedback !
4) Once the comments box accepts your "explaination", it "turns" GREEN showing that NOW and now ONLY the "dislike" will be "effective"
5) points are removed ...

I know, that may seem rather "simplistic" but it might be a possibility to avoid these UNFAIR clicks !
When I say "UNFAIR", I am not even talking about me as I am an AMATEUR photographer (and the term photographer is not what would represent me : I am a HAPPY "clicker" ... but never with the "dislike" !). I KNOW it and I have no pretention !
I only try my best and I love to see what people do ... not because I am a "voyeur" (!!!) but because an image convoys a lot ...
I am sure that you all noticed that certains "trends" are common in some countries or ethnic groups ...I have a Sociology/Anthropology/Psychology background (no thank you, I can "carry" that alone !) and images really "translate" LOTS of "things" !
But this is not the purpose !
The point being that even as an Amateur, I can still say if an image is "good" or not.
You will tell me : how do you know since you're only an amateur ?
Well, I know that photography has rules but I also know that rules are not "enough" !
The technical rules will not be what makes a photo "good" IF some other "elements" are not added. I've heard about taht"eye" so many times and I don't think that any book/school can teach you how to get that "eye" ! But I may be wrong ...
Please, tell me what you think and remember ... I am ONLY an Amateur ! (enthusiastic maateur !) :o))

Erin Babnik  almost 5 years ago
@Eugene, using the dislike button would be only one possible form of retaliation. People could also simply boycott you by refraining from ever supporting your photos, even if they really do like your work. They could also take out their aggressions beyond the confines of 500px. I would like to think that most people are mature enough to ignore the fact that you disliked their new favorite photo, but I've seen enough egos in action to know that's not the case. Having your new favorite photo tossed out of a high-exposure position is rather painful, and people deal with that kind of pain in different ways. I reckon that any very active commenter on this site would quickly alienate a lot of different people, even if all of his dislike comments were very constructive and on-point.

@Benoît, I'm trying to imagine how these voter cliques would operate to abuse the dislike button. There is no private messaging feature here on 500px, so how do they communicate? How do they all get the order to go dislike certain images? Isn't it more likely that multiple dislikes coming in at once are from the same person with multiple accounts? That seems to me to be the simplest explanation and is surely why 500px decided to impose an affection threshold on the dislike button.

As for who makes a good critic: I agree that a person can be a good critic without also being a good photographer, but 500px is simply not going to privilege low-achieving or inactive photographers over ones who are constantly wowing everyone on the top pages of Popular. And I have to disagree that more "seasoned" photographers are overly hung up on technical shortcomings. On the contrary, I've seen that kind of tunnel vision coming mostly from intermediate photographers who have just gained some competence in achieving a certain result and then have a knee-jerk reaction to any photos that display a weakness in that same area. More advanced photographers seem more able to look past any shortcomings that don't actually have a detrimental effect on a given photo. Beginners, on the other hand, tend to like everything and are particularly impressed by content and stylization. At least, that's what I've noticed in the various forums, camera club meetings, and classrooms that I've frequented, but these are generalizations, of course.

I appreciate your comment about the "level of discussion" I've maintained. I do try to be constructive, and it's not always easy with a subject as exasperating as the dislike button. You too have been very level-headed, Benoît, and we all owe you a round of applause for trying to get a dialogue going here.

@Wolfgang, I like the idea of a word/character minimum for comments, but then what would stop people from pasting the same comment over and over again? I could see a whole lot of comments along the lines of "I really like the composition." That's five words, and they could apply to any photograph. I'm sure you can think of other such generic comments that would blend right in with a page full of more thoughtful ones.

As for the 1-10 scale: yes absolutely that would help to refine the feedback, but we're talking about motiving the masses here. You really do have to keep it simple if you want millions of people to find it fun. It can be hard enough for some people to decide whether or not a photo is "worth" their vote, let alone how high of a score to give it. If the 500px site started to resemble a multiple choice exam, it would be a turn-off to a lot of folks. I also think a row of "smarties-colored" scoring features would demand too much attention and would compete with the photographs. Part of the appeal of 500px is its elegant simplicity of design.

Ah well, at least we're all agreed on one thing: there has to be a better way to implement the dislike button.

Wolfgang Zimmerman  almost 5 years ago
All the above sound far to convoluted to me.

1) in order to stop people from racing around and repaying favours - and, yes, it does happen - with one-word comments, force people to comment with a minimum number of words, ideally more than three

2) having commented, people are then 'allowed' to vote, based on a, say, 1-to-10-scale; I for one would sure like to see how high (or low) my pictures are appreciated on a numeric scale, as "fantastic shot" or "great capture" is meaningless AFAIAC; if it's good enough for figure-skating, then it should be good enough for here

3) make the 1-to-10 buttons smarties-coloured in order to encourage people to vote

4) make all comments and votes visible to everyone, which would then expose any clique style voting - and yes it does happen - as it will then become obvious who gives each other 9 or 10 all the time in which cases I would be bold enough to take the voters to task, safe in the knowledge that any retaliation voting on my pictures would become obvious

Having said all that, I have no real hope that 500 is interested in implementing any changes that will make the voting fairer. As I have said before, to only have the choice between "Like" and "Dislike" is plainly absurd and ought to abolished forthwith.

Benoît Felten  almost 5 years ago

"#3. Who are these people in these "cliques" you keep talking about? A bunch of mindless sheep liking and disliking photos because the Borg master told them to? Seriously, I don't believe they exist. More importantly, it makes no sense to privilege the votes of inactive and unpopular photographers. Presumably the people who really know a good photo when they see one are producing good photos themselves and are therefore frequently, if not always, in the popular section. It can take days for a high-scoring photo to drop out of popular. I really don't see 500px implementing a system that encourages mediocrity and inactivity."

On the existence of voting cliques, I have no proof, I haven't experienced it. But many people seem to think they exist. Without any data to back that, hard to judge, but if indeed some people have received several dislikes on photos hitting Popular within seconds of each other, it does suggest some "entente" at some level.

On the added value of comments or likes / dislikes from "better" photographers, I thoroughly disagree. I've always been of the opinion that you do not and should not need to be a practitioner of an artform to have a critical opinion of it. I don't think the opinion of people who regularly haunt the Popular section weighs more than that of regular joes (which is why the minimum rating to dislike disturbs me a little...) I also don't think that comments from seasoned photographers are any more relevant: they tend to focus on technical shortcomings and often miss the point.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying they're any worse either, just that I don't value them any more.

If anything, any of these solutions if they can be implemented should be tested in the same way that the "no dislike weekend" was a test. That would show in real-time the effects of them on the dynamics.

I also wanted to commend you for the discussion. We have disagreed on many things since I started this thread and you've always been curteous and constructive. It's refreshing and frankly too rare to have that level of discussion. Thanks !

Eugene Brodsky  almost 5 years ago
Right, but if someone took it badly, they could no longer use "Dislike" on your photos, since now it wouldn't be anonymous... And if they did, you'd instantly be able to see this "retaliation", and have the offender dealt with by the 500px administration, with concrete proof in your hands. An anonymous system, as it is now, doesn't let you do so.
Erin Babnik  almost 5 years ago
@Eugene, I for one would fear retaliation, and I'm sure others would too. If I'm going to take the time to offer thoughtful criticism, I want to do it without worrying that someone will take it badly and target my next upload (or worse--there are violent people out there, after all). I don't worry so much about people being able to "stand by their opinion," as you say (the rating of comments would sort that out); rather, I worry about people who react unreasonably to criticism, no matter how thoughtful and constructive it might be.
Eugene Brodsky  almost 5 years ago
@Benoît: Phrasikleia beat me to answering your question: "Presumably the people who really know a good photo when they see one are producing good photos themselves and are therefore frequently, if not always, in the popular section."

@Phrasikleia: I'm not sure why you think people won't dislike the image if they can be identified. After all, this will apply to everyone who uses the voting system, not just specific individuals, so everyone would be on the even playing field.
In addition, it may even be a good thing. If one can't stand by their opinion, maybe one shouldn't vote? This will help filter through only more genuine dislikes.
As a last resort, why not make it an option? "make my comment anonymous". Yet still, make the comments mandatory.

Erin Babnik  almost 5 years ago
#1. The model (made for a news site) would not port over well to a photography site. The idea of devaluing the votes of repeat visitors simply does not work for a site like this. Photographers have specialties and aesthetic preferences that will keep them voting frequently for the works of the same photographers. Take sports photographers for example; they are a minority here, so they will be very likely to vote for each other's photographs--they are the ones who are in a unique position to judge each other's photos well, and there is nothing wrong with them repeatedly voting for the same awesome sports photogs over and over again.

#2. My suggestion, and I still like it. Sure it would be interesting to know who disliked your images, but it should be enough to know *WHY*. Almost nobody will dislike any image if they have to identify themselves each time, which will be the same as not having any dislike button at all--and the weekend experiment with disabling the button showed why we need people to use it (but constructively).

#3. Who are these people in these "cliques" you keep talking about? A bunch of mindless sheep liking and disliking photos because the Borg master told them to? Seriously, I don't believe they exist. More importantly, it makes no sense to privilege the votes of inactive and unpopular photographers. Presumably the people who really know a good photo when they see one are producing good photos themselves and are therefore frequently, if not always, in the popular section. It can take days for a high-scoring photo to drop out of popular. I really don't see 500px implementing a system that encourages mediocrity and inactivity.

By the way @Benoît, I think you've misunderstood my suggestion for rating dislike comments. If the comment had two radio buttons, "Helpful" and "Unhelpful", it would be clear that "this isn't really my kind of photography" would be *unhelpful* as a dislike comment. Something like "the blown highlights are distracting" would be helpful.

Benoît Felten  almost 5 years ago
Eugene, it's not clear to me why you think that the opinions of Popular users is "worth more". Theirs is the most likely to be biased. Additionally, once you reach popular, many people vote, so one individual's vote becomes less relevant.
Eugene Brodsky  almost 5 years ago
"Only allowing people with a certain affection level to use the dislike button - which according to some is currently implemented although I can't find a confirmation of that anywhere"

It is certainly implemented; if you'd like, I can send you a screenshot of the message: "You do not have enough affection to dislike".

Eugene Brodsky  almost 5 years ago
Ah, sorry. I just re-read #3. Interesting, but it's unfair to the users who have a popular photo (and actually those users' opinions are probably worth more than others).
Eugene Brodsky  almost 5 years ago
I agree with Daniel - if a terrible photo made it to Popular, it would be impossible to knock it down, meaning we'd be facing the same issue as we saw during the "experiment", except in this case, anything NOT in the popular would still be unprotected from malicious Disliking.
#1 seems very interesting, although I'm still not fully grokking it. #2 is probably the best solution from the ones presented, in my opinion, yet I firmly believe in transparency and the removal of the cowardly anonymity screen for BOTH likes and dislikes.
Benoît Felten  almost 5 years ago
Daniel, just to be clear, why do you take issue ? Because your photos are also constantly in Popular and so you couldn't vote ?
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Daniel Mora  almost 5 years ago
I take issue with #3... I see all sorts of turds in popular that have no business there.