The Downvote Has No Clothes

A neat study about the dynamics of Internet communication: upvotes beget upvotes, while downvote beget nothing!  Randomized testing on comments found that starting off a post with an upvote led to it collecting greater attention overall – around 25% more upvotes on average than one which started off with nothing.  This makes Facebook’s steadfast refusal to include a “Dislike” button much more sensible – when the only potential interaction is positive, the aggregate sum of interactions (and hopefully usage time) will be higher.

A followon from this:  Facebook either is or should be investing a great deal of time into the lifecycle of updates.  There’s a large upside, in terms of creating the most total interactions, into first getting an update into the newsfeed of the person most likely to click “like”.  At the same time, one doesn’t want to supply them with too much – they would get burnt out.  Ideally everyone should get a newsfeed that’s full either of 1. items that have not yet been liked for which they are the single person most likely to like and 2. items that have already been liked by others.

The really interesting question here is whether this is a new pattern of communication, or whether digital communication accurately reflects how we generally share opinions.  Probably the latter – in retrospect we can recognize lots of stupid things (cf. disco) that we and others only like because they’re already popular.  If the former, perhaps the growing importance of digital communications is actually tilting peoples’ aggregate balance of opinions more positive.  That would be pretty cool – and a very unanticipated result of the use of social networks.

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