Thumbs up/down, the simplest form of user feedback

5 March, 2009 at 2:22 am 93 comments

Users really appear to love being able to give a ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’ to any statement they see on a website.

Strongly disagree with a YouTube comment?  Give a thumbs-down!  You have expressed an opinion in only a single mouse-click!

The ease of expressing pleasure or displeasure upon someone else’s opinion in a single click seems to be a highly effective way of getting feedback from your users, because it exploits their desire to have their say, at the same time reducing the barrier of entry: typing a reply in words is no longer necessary, neither is logging in, filling out a form, or even visiting a different page.

Harness the crowd’s wisdom

Simple feedback systems like this can even serve as a n0-maintenance extension to your comment moderation: enough down-votes, and your system can be pretty sure, without you even reading it, that a comment is offensive or irrelevant enough to be removed.  A YouTube comment with many down-votes appears hidden by default – depending on how many, you may still be able to view it, but it’s highly likely to be offensive or spam.  It appears to be pretty effective.  Users are willing to do your moderation for you even if they get nothing in return other than the satisfaction of showing their approval or disapproval.

Getting feedback on a blog in the form of comments is very difficult: for every thousand people who read something, a tiny fraction will go through the effort required to fill in their name and write out a proper response, even if you have a comment form that requires no approval or sign-up.  If you are writing something highly controversial or offensive, or taking a side on a ‘hot topic’ (Apple sucks, Microsoft is better) you’ll probably find that tiny fraction rise substancially, but otherwise eight hundred people could read a blog post before anyone comments.  So, given that it is so hard to get any feedback by comments, why not allow one-click feedback?


What I think of as the YouTube model is not unique to YouTube: Facebook uses the same sort of thing, so does Digg (of  ‘digg it’ fame), and my new favourite StackOverflow does the same sort of thing too (though you need reputation to vote), and many others – sadly, sites such as haven’t followed yet.  The basic characteristics of this model are:

  • One click ‘vote up’ or ‘vote down’ buttons next to comments.
  • Clicking them records your vote instantly without a page refresh (Ajax techniques are used).
  • There is usually some way that voting something ‘down’ penalises it; it may cause it to move further down the page, or a certain number of down-votes may ‘hide’ it.

I like it so much that when I find myself reading user comments and I can’t give it a thumbs-up or thumbs-down, it frustrates me; I’ve come to expect to be able to give one-click feedback.

Previous experience

The success of Hot or Not and a whole generation of clones showed the addictive popularity of giving users the ability to give feedback with no more intellectual effort than a single click.  Instead of a single up-vote or down-vote, however, the user had to choose a value out of ten, and while it only required a single click, it did result in a page load.  Nevertheless, people spent hours and hours on sites following that model.  While originally they were rating photos of people based on looks, the concept spread to rating all sorts of other things, like graphic design work, poetry, and jokes.

I believe that the thumbs up/down approach takes this two steps further – by reducing the number of available choices down to two instead of ten, and by accepting the feedback without a page reload (due to Ajax techniques).

Years ago I implemented a rating system on a website of my own, making a conscious decision to reduce the number of possible choices from ten down to only three.  My belief at the time was that it was a sweet spot, between getting enough useful information from users, and being simple enough so that as many users as possible would use it, because it was such a no-brainer.  Adding the voting option under each piece of content did result in participation and increase page views per user.  In retrospect, I could have reduced it further to a single ‘up-vote’ and ‘down-vote’, and I suspect the participation rate would have been even higher due to the lower mental effort required.  The ‘results’ allowed me to rank items on the site according to popularity; the front page item was always one of the most ‘popular’ in terms of votes.

As I publish this, I just noticed that allows nested comments now – maybe they can allow ratings on comments one day soon!


Entry filed under: User interfaces.

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