I'm stepping into a hornet's nest here.

Popularity contests have been controversial. Some detractors believe that non-objective winning criteria are simply unacceptable. Others are OK with subjectivity in theory, but dislike that voters upvote answers based on coolness rather than programming merit or following the spec. My proposal is aimed at the second group.

I propose a new winning criterion . The highest-voted answer wins, like pop cons, but the question spec must explicitly give (subjective) criteria for voters to decide what to upvote or downvote. There are many things that humans can judge much better than a hard algorithmic spec, like looking like a forest.

Will voters actually follow it? I don't know. But, I hope that explicit instructors will sway some voters and make it clear what a good answer is expected to be, a source of endless controversy in discussions to close.

The problem with the name is that it's a mildly disparaging phrase that evokes high-school elections and voting in a bandwagon on appearances rather than merit. Hence my proposal for a new tag that frames voters as judges. The tag would be reserved for questions where voters are in fact expected to vote for whatever they fancy.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think several people have tried that with popularity contests already. In the end, you just can't control how people vote. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 22:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MartinBüttner Could you please link me to some examples? \$\endgroup\$
    – xnor
    Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 22:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MartinBüttner Also, what would you think of the following to address the voter issue: instead, readers give Olympic-style ratings as comments to answers, and the highest average rating wins (ignoring ones with too few ratings). \$\endgroup\$
    – xnor
    Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 22:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'll try to find a few examples tomorrow. Comments might work, but would be annoying to collate I think. It would also generate a few autoflags for our dear mods, because comments are not meant for stuff like this. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 18, 2014 at 22:34

3 Answers 3


While I believe there is room for improvement as far as goes, I'm not convinced this is the answer.

There are already popcons that give subjective voting criteria, such as good/bad bullets, most beautiful/interesting, audio quality/complexity, etc. So the solution you propose would do nothing for these except retag them.

We could add a line to popcon rules that say you must specify some subjective rules to address the others, but what does that actually gain?

The problem is, it's simply not enforceable. Oh, you can make sure people put guidelines in the question. Voting is up in the air, though. It's not just unenforceable, but you also have no way of even knowing if voters are following the guidelines. There's just nothing you can do about anonymous votes. Even if you clearly say spell out voting guidelines, pretty pictures are still pretty pictures, and it's hard for me to believe that people will just change behavior. If that's the case, what purpose does the rule serve?

So in my opinion, this is nothing more than a name change. And while that may have its merits, "popularity contest" is actually a very accurate name.

I have to add that comment-voting sounds like a distinctly bad idea to me.

  • There's no way to change a comment (if the answer gets edited, etc) except deleting it and writing a new one. This would invalidate any comment-upvotes it had.
  • There's also no way to un-upvote a comment
  • It changes the rep barrier for voting
  • Upvoted comments reading "6" or "7" would block constructive comments until expanded
  • With a 15 character minimum comment length, people will just put a number and fluff the rest
  • The mods will probably hate this ;)
  • \$\begingroup\$ If voters are going to vote by gut, I agree the putting in instructions for voting won't change anything. Where are these unruly voters coming from? Lurkers on the site? Visitors from the hot questions tab? Or are they just regular golfers who don't take the time to read the whole question? Do we have some stats on this? \$\endgroup\$
    – xnor
    Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 3:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @xnor "Unruly voters"? There's just no incentive to follow the criteria laid out in the question. If I like an answer, I want to upvote it (and probably will), regardless of the specific criteria mentioned in the question. If an answers meets all criteria, but is otherwise bad, because it's stolen or abusing some loophole, I'll downvote it, even if the question wants me to do otherwise. Furthermore, people participating in these contests might downvote other answers to get a better relative score themselves (yes, you might call those "unruly"). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 9:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @xnor Unless a mod has access to better stats, there aren't any good voting stats available. That's what I meant when I said you have no way to know; it's completely anonymous (for good reason, considering SE as a whole). Downvotes are probably more from at least semi-participating members since there's a 125 rep barrier, but upvotes can come from anyone with 15+, which includes anyone with an association bonus. \$\endgroup\$
    – Geobits
    Commented Sep 19, 2014 at 12:47

I'm not really your target audience, but it sounds to me like you're trying to split pop-con into two tags which function roughly as "good pop-con" and "bad pop-con". I don't think that's your intention, but it can be perceived like that, and could send the message that "bad pop-con is ok".

I would be less unhappy about a push to get pop-con writers to give voting guidelines, maybe coupled with a renaming of the tag, than with this idea of splitting the tag.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Actually, splitting the types of pop-cons is pretty much my intention, though I wouldn't call them "good" and "bad". I don't mean the split though to condone "bad pop-con", just to separate it so to make is easier to discuss and filter. To the contrary, I feel the term "voter-judged" gives a certain respectability above "popularity contest". That said, I could go either way on discouraging "bad pop-cons" and defer to what the community wants. \$\endgroup\$
    – xnor
    Commented Sep 20, 2014 at 23:46

This sounds like a good idea to me. There is power in the name of a thing. "Voter-judged" has better connotations than "Popularity-contest" and is more correct for the use to which we're putting it. Even if it's a slight gain, it is a gain.


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