Rigging any vote-based social website to keep the “early spirit”

A simple but powerful mechanism for tailoring any vote-based social website towards the spirit of the early days, in other words the taste of the initial users who find the site content degrading over time due to new user influx.

Sooner or later, any social website will get complained at by its initial users, for having lost that good old soul of the early days. Back then, the website in question was far more true in spirit and unspoiled by newcoming marauders with their roots in lesser forums out there. These complaints often take the form of “X is slowly turning into Y” or “What has happened to X, it used to be about Z and now all I see is pictures of kittens” and so on.

This phenomenon is commonly observed on vote-based sites, such ones where users post links and everyone gets to upvote or downvote them, creating an ecosystem of allegedly qualitative content filtering. Good links will rise and bad ones will fall. At least that’s what is supposed to happen, but of course good and bad are subjective values. Which is exactly why mentioned type of complaints will increase over time. The larger and more diverse group of users, the less common will the least denominator be for what is considered quality. And so, one group of users will perceive its “high-grade” content sabotaged by some other group’s “low-grade” content.

Interesting enough, the feeling of entitlement to dictate what is to be considered proper content for a given website seems to be in direct relationship to the users’ registration date. Carrying this observation all the way through, the early users will have a mostly consensual view of what the website was like in the “early days”, and how this is also how it should be. Such sentiment may seem conservative, but is merely a logical result of why those users kept coming back to the website in the first place. Had they not liked those days, they would not be around today talking about the same.

So, can a vote-based social website be rigged to please those longing for the early spirit? Yes, it can, and by a very simple mechanism: Weight all votes according to user registration date. The earlier the user became a member, the more significant will their vote be. The system will by definition lean towards what the early users want out of it.

This straight-forward but powerful mechanism could be used for all sorts of websites and in a number of variations. For example, any user could ask for content weighted towards an arbitrary date, like “Show me content to the taste of people who registered in December 2008” or “What do the 1,000 newest users like?” or just “Only count votes from the first 100 users”.

Does anyone already do something like this, or dare try it?

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