Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Mystery of the Downvote

I don't have a good lead-in, but if you click below the break, you can treat yourself to some of my patented ramblings.  Today's topic?  That little thumbs-down button on FIMFiction: an entirely imaginary case study.



By quite a large margin, Going Up is the story of mine with the most FIMFic views.  As I type this, the story has 2494 views, 343 thumbs-ups, 284 favorites, 84 comments (81, if you don't count my own)... and three thumbs-downs.

Now, by my calculations, that means that right around 0.1% of readers were disappointed enough in the story to give it a thumbs-down, and those are numbers I'll take any day for any story.  But when I see that little red three sitting there amidst all the other feel-good stats, it does make me wonder: who were those three people, and what did they see in my fic that turned them off?  The comments don't give any clues; no "I hated such-and-such about this story," or even just a "I hated this story," period.  I've gotten some (wonderful!) constructive criticism on it, but I'm pretty sure the people I got it from aren't the three I'm wondering about.

It's not that I can't imagine anyone disliking the story, mind you.  It's true that it's pretty inoffensive, but that's not the same as saying that everyone should love it.  I don't even mind that they didn't leave comments, though it would have been nice.  It's just that... well, I don't actually know who these three people were, or what it was, specifically, that they didn't like.

So I assigned them each personalities.

I gave them each names, too.  I think there's something wrong with me.

Anyway, we'll start with Carl.  Carl's a nice enough guy, but he's something of a contrarian.  He saw this story sitting at a hundred and fifty or so thumbs-ups, with not a single thumbs-down to counterbalance.  As soon as he saw that, Carl knew that someone had to be That Guy, and he was just the Guy to do it.

That's not to say he mashed the thumbs-down button as soon as he saw the numbers, mind you.  No, he opened up the story and skimmed through it.  "Well," he said to himself, a few minutes later, "It's not awful, but most of it's just these two ponies talking.  And the way the narrator talks to the reader sometimes is weird..."  He looked back at the red zero which marked the stories downvote total.  "...Yeah, it wasn't that good," he said to himself, as he clicked it.

The next neigh-sayer was Wilbur.  Wilbur mostly reads grimdark stuff and warfics; he plays a lot of Call of Duty, and doesn't blow himself up with rocket launchers nearly as much as I do, whenever I try my hand at it.  Anyway, Wilbur clicked open the story on a whim.

"That's it?" he grunted, when he finished reading (I don't know why my imaginary people are so bent on declaiming to their computer screens, but they are).  "That was boring.  Why do people like this crap?"  He glanced back at the description.  "Yeah, who wants to read a kid's story, seriously.  These people need to grow up."  Then he absentmindedly tapped the thumbs-down as he closed out the window.

The last person was Todd.  Todd read a recommendation of the story which described it as "really funny."  Well, Todd likes funny things (who doesn't?), so he decided to give it a try.

After he was done with the fic, he sighed while biting his lip and stared off into the middle distance.  "I guess it was okay," he mumbled, "but it wasn't really very funny.  Well, the bit about Carrot Top's weight was, but a lot of the jokes were really drawn out.  I suppose pacing isn't a big deal for a story this whimsical, but the digressions do get old after a while.  And I really didn't like the way it felt like the author was talking down to me.  Wow, that's a fifteen minute story that could have been half as long without losing anything."  He hovered his pointer over the downvote button, then paused.  "Hmm..."  He wavered.  Then he clicked.  "Yeah."

I'm quite certain I'm oh-for-three on reasons, personalities, and all the rest, but in a weird way, picturing those people eases my curiosity a bit.  Even if they're just two of my friends and myself mentally dressed up as fanfic-reading strangers.

23 comments:

  1. I don't like to downvote. If I don't see anything I really like in a story, then I just won't vote for it. If there's something I think really needs to be worked on, I'll tell the author in the comments; I've found that to be much more effective than a meaningless number. I also rarely upvote, so unless the story is awesome and I truly love every moment of it, I'll just stick to comments.

    I've only downvoted one story in my entire time with the fandom: Around the Bend by Chatoyance. And that was only after I had a lovely run-in with the author when I expressed my dislike for parts of the story.

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  2. I now have a terrible desire to downvote Going Up, just so Chris will create a fourth persona in his mind based on my actions. This is clearly unacceptable, and the only answer is to have a second post that covers each of the 343 upvoter's personalities!

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  3. I only downvote when a story really, truly makes me angry. That doesn't happen all that often, because I tend to avoid stories that I know from the description will make me angry, so it only happens when a story pulls a shocking swerve somewhere (*cough* "Winter's Child" *cough*). The sole exception was "Cheerilee's Garden", of which I read an MSTing and found it so unutterably vile that I had to make my stance on it clear.

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  4. My problem is that I have to finish a story before I downvote it. I usually just give up on stories I dislike, and the few I did finish aren't even on FIMFiction

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  5. So you're getting a vote out of every seventh reader and a comment from every thirtieth reader. Not bad. I've always noticed that I never get much response. It doesn't trouble me, but it's curious. I typically get a vote about every twenty readers, and a comment from about every fiftieth reader. I frequently see stories that have 600 votes on only 1500 or so views, and on the occasion that I actually read one, wonder what about it made so many people want to have their say.

    In any case, you're getting a good number of votes, but somewhat surprisingly few comments.

    And here's one for your personality file: On my latest, which is getting a vote every 6.5 readers (by far my best rate by nearly a factor of two, for some reason), a commenter said that he likes to look at the up/down ratio for guidance, and was sorely tempted to downvote just so it would make mathematical sense (it had zero at the time). I humbly suggest your first downvoter was having an equally OCD math day.

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  6. You're wrong about the personalities because all of those people are in fact ogres living in a bizarro world where plants grow into the earth and good things are bad. Like the 80's supervillain who grouses about being awoken from a nightmare, they in fact either liked your story and clicked the button that means "like" in their world, or else hated it because it was good. The metaphor breaks down in there somewhere.

    But no, seriously, I immediately thought of cases 1 and 2 in trying to answer that question. Although, if you notice, as I did, that a bunch of your stories with no downvotes suddenly have one each, it might be worth bringing to the attention of a moderator. They can remove malicious downvotes and ban those responsible. :D

    What baffles me more though is the fact that total votes are usually about a tenth of my stories' views. :/ What do the rest of these people do?

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    1. It's possible people simply aren't finishing your stories and therefore don't rate them, or (if FIMFic doesn't care whether views are unique) you're getting re-reads

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  7. It would be interesting if whenever you clicked the dislike button in FimFiction it would show a discrete notification with "The author would like to know why you disliked his story, please leave a comment", or something to that effect. I always try to leave a comment anyway, but I tend to be specially careful when leaving a dislike.

    OBS: Who else misses a "meh" button? I find that most stories kinda fall on this category.

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    1. I worry that might reduce the number of dislikes

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    2. I find that if I can't really work up the effort to like a story, it's worth a downvote. Going off the old star system from EQD, 3 stars was "I like it", so anything there or higher is an upvote. 2.5 stars would be average on the 5-star system, and as we should not be rewarding mediocrity, it gets a downvote.

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  8. Hmm. I actually downvote quite liberally, but I always leave a comment if I manage to reach the end. Things I downvote are, including but not limited to, gratuitous rape (now that my filter's back on, I'll be seeing none of that, thankfully), gratuitous language, gratuitous violence, terrible characterization, grammar... Oddly enough I can't remember downvoting anything mediocre. I guess I just leave them without a second thought, and promptly forget I ever read it.

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    1. I'm glad someone else is like that too.

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  9. I partially want to make an argument for the removal of downvoting on fimfic, but then I consider that no downvote button could lead to the trolls, hate groups and other votebombers commenting more often.

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  10. Ah, so I'm not alone in assigning character traits to other people like that. I don't do it with downvoters on FIMfic, but instead with reckless or annoying drivers on the road.

    To follow your example, Jeff is utterly brimming with confidence in all he does. When he enters a room, you know he's there. You can tell by the ear-splitting buzz of conversation that follows him wherever he goes. And it doesn't just stop there, either. Oh no, he's even kind enough to attach an enormous exhaust to his car, so that even when he's driving he can let everyone hear his departure. And he'd try to make a quick business of it if he could, if those pesky motorists weren't trying to hinder his progress by having the bare-faced cheek to obey the speed limit. But of course, his oh-so-clever tactic of tailgating all those in front of him always shows them what for! etc...

    It's fun to make up such characters, even though it might not really be the case in reality, but it is related to a question that lingers in my head. Who even are these people who tailgate, or downvote stories, or leave spam comments on blogs? What are they like when they're doing something else in life? It's a mystery.

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    1. Did you seriously just compare downvoting to tailgating and spam?

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    2. Yeah, I know. I only realised how unfair that sounded after I posted it. Apologies to the folks who do downvote, I suppose I was only thinking of trolls who dislike fics just because there are only likes. I somehow forgot that people downvote things because they just don't like them. I don't do it at all, personally, but I hardly ever upvote either.

      I just meant like how Chris made up those imaginary dislikers is how I make up imaginary bad drivers, that's all.

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  11. I get like that with my down-votes too, wondering what exactly it was that they disliked. Of course, I don't really have to do much guessing, because there already are a few commenters that pointed out the most obvious problems with my early chapters, and if there are dislikes then I can generally assume that they were unhappy with the story for the same reasons. Though clarification would be nice.

    When down-voting myself, I often take the attitude that a story that I don't find interesting isn't necessarily bad. It just may not be to my tastes. So if I don't find myself enjoying a story, I'll usually quit before finishing the whole thing and not vote at all.

    If I ever do dislike a story, (which I've only done three, maybe four times), then it's usually because it's something that got me invested or had something going for it but lost me and made a huge mess of things at some point. Most times I force myself to read to the end before deciding, "Yeah, this really wasn't worth my time," and down-voting. I'm usually optimistic about most stories, and like to give them the chance to impress me again before the end if they disappoint me.

    The only reason I'll both down-vote and quit before the ending is if it's just something I find so offensively bad that it actually makes me angry, but still somehow managed to sucker me in at the beginning, even if only out of curiosity. And that's something that's only happened once. Around the Bend by Chatoyance. It's already been mentioned in the prior comments.

    I do make sure to leave comments when I dislike or stop reading though. At least where necessary. If somebody else already made my point for me in the comments, I rarely see any point in repeating them.

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  12. There was a period where I wondered who those six people who downvoted Mission: Implausible were and what separated them from the 500+ people who upvoted it before I stopped thinking about who they were and what their motivations were and just starting bemoaning the fact that I lost the 100:1 like/dislike ratio I had going for a while.

    My best guess is that there's a very small minority who use the dislike button for "meh" stories, while the rest of us use it for stories we find truly offensive to our sensibilities.

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  13. I've often wondered the same thing about my downvotes. Since I have very few negative comments, I'm left trying to make an impossible deduction. I'm actually kinda shocked I don't have more downvotes than I do, but I do feel a twinge of anger and disappointment when they show up. I don't really mind that people don't like the story, but I do wish I knew WHY they didn't like it so that I could evaluate if I need to improve something.

    I do feel like a lot of it has to do with people feeling like a story has an undeserved number of upvotes. While the story might not be BAD, they see it as s 'meh' story that is getting too much attention. I have no real evidence that that is the case, but my gut tells me it's probably happening a lot.

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    1. That is absolutely something I consider in making my own voting choices. I use the "Top Rated" list very liberally for identifying stories I'm interested in reading, and because of that, I want it to be organized into a rough hierarchy of quality.

      That's not to say I necessarily compare stories to each other, but I'm definitely conscious of where they are in that ordering.

      Anything in the first 40 pages of the "Top Rated" list has effectively been voted into the top 1% of stories on Fimfiction. If I see serious structural deficiencies in these stories (gross overuse of passive language or unnecessary modifiers, for example), I'm likely to give a downvote simply to try to get the story to a position I think is more reasonable in the hierarchy.

      Anything I see in the first four pages, that's more like looking at the best tenth-of-a-percent, so stories up there should be legitimately good, and I'm even less tolerant of problems. If I don't find the story engaging, compelling, and well-constructed, I'm probably going to bump it down. That's not to say a story has to be perfect. I upvote a lot more than I downvote in the first four pages, and the first forty. But I'll downvote for things I'd never downvote for, if a story were hovering around a 20:1 upvote:downvote ratio, say.

      I try to be conscious of where a downvote will take a story, as well. It bumps a 0-downvote story back a large number of "Top Rated" pages, usually. If a downvote is going to just serve to screw up what I think of as good ordering in a different way, I'll probably just decline to vote.

      So yes, some of us definitely vote relative to the overall numbers we see.

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    2. That certainly does appear to be what happens with my stories. I see myself as a "B" level writer, so when my stories get to the first page of the compacted view, I know a downvote is coming pretty soon. I have several that are on the third through sixth page, and that is probably right about where they belong. It has happened so consistently that I figured that must be what a lot of people were doing.

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  14. I blogged about this in "Writing to not be disliked", http://www.fimfiction.net/blog/125545/writing-to-not-be-disliked . Judging from comments, those inevitable few downvotes you always find on a great story come from people who have a bug up their ass about something trivial. You referred to Derpy as Ditzy. You spelled Cadence "Cadance". They have a serious political commitment to Luna as leader of the resistance against Celestia.

    The only solution I can think of is for people to downvote /more/. If everyone avoids down-voting because they want to be nice, what's left are the down-votes from morons.

    How do you get a picture to show up by your username on this blog, anyway?

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    1. I think the problem's that you're using OpenID. Shame, we really need more smoking horses wearing top hats

      I don't avoid down-voting to be nice, but I'm willing to make up for the reluctance of others! Thank God there's tags to make my job easier :D

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