New Emphasis: Voting Patterns and Unexceptional Content

Imagine if every news article and column that Search Engine Land publishes was submitted to Sphinn. And imagine if all of the Search Engine Land writers pinged one another via email and instant messaging asking for votes on Sphinn. With a couple dozen writers involved, that group of people could push anything it wanted to the Sphinn home page. And with Search Engine Land publishing 8-10 articles per day (+/-), there’d be little room left for other Sphinn home page content to be noticed.

As a Sphinn user, you’d probably be pretty upset if Search Engine Land writers did that. And you should be.

Years ago, there were relatively few industry sites with multiple writers; our industry was mostly made up of individual bloggers doing their own thing. But times are different today: What used to be individual blogs are often becoming group projects with multiple authors. Communities and forums are developing around blogs. Many of us are now more connected than ever; rather than just writing for our own blogs, we may contribute to several blogs/communities.

How This Impacts Sphinn

It’s natural for all of us to share our Sphinn content with friends and peers. In our guidelines, we even encourage users to share Sphinn URLs via social media and other channels:

It’s okay to drum up votes via Twitter, Facebook, through IM and other means, but you should do this only for stories that you think are exceptionally deserving of attention. Excessive promotion of Sphinn stories, especially those of low-quality, can result in a story being pulled or your account terminated.

Note that there’s a quality element in that guideline: “you should do this only for stories that you think are exceptionally deserving of attention.”

Too often in recent months, we’ve seen non-exceptional articles getting a string of votes in rapid succession. The votes often come from circles of friends or co-authors associated with a particular site. Sometimes these non-exceptional articles hit the home page before our editors have time to review voting patterns, sources, IP addresses, and so forth.

When this happens, it lowers the overall quality of the Sphinn experience and affects all users.

New Emphasis Going Forward

None of us on the Sphinn staff like it when this happens. We don’t want to see non-exceptional content being submitted to Sphinn — especially by longtime members — and we don’t want to see it being voted up by friends. Sphinn isn’t a place where you should be rewarded for having a lot of friends; it’s where you should be rewarded for having great content.

So, after an excellent internal discussion, we’re announcing the following updates to how we moderate the site and enforce the existing guidelines:

1. Editors will be paying even closer attention to voting patterns.

2. We will be discarding more non-exceptional articles, even if they’ve reached the home page.

3. We will suspend and/or terminate accounts that violate our guidelines, especially those in the section titled “Voting,” no matter if it’s a longtime Sphinn member or someone who just joined us.

These aren’t new rules; they’ve always been in place. It’s a new emphasis on enforcing the rules to make sure Sphinn’s home page includes the best content possible.

What It Means For Sphinn Members (Q&A format)

Are you asking us to stop promoting our Sphinn stories on Twitter and Facebook, or elsewhere?

Not at all. We’ll continue to have social sharing buttons on the site, and you can continue to use them. But make sure you’re using them to share exceptional content.

Isn’t this subjective? My definition of “exceptional” content might be different from yours.

Moderating any community site involves some judgment calls. But so does participating in a community site. We’re asking you to be more subjective in what you submit to Sphinn and what you vote for on Sphinn. We know that new users won’t always be familiar with what the community considers quality content, but we expect our veteran users to know what’s good and what’s not.

Are you saying you want less stories submitted and less voting? That seems strange.

We’re saying what we’ve always said: The focus should be on quality, not quantity. Sphinn loses its value to our community when a lot of unexceptional content is submitted and when users vote it up as a favor to friends.

Are you trying to target certain sites and/or authors?

No. This applies to everyone. As a community, we’re all responsible for keeping Sphinn valuable and enjoyable. Submitting unexceptional content and getting friends to vote it up isn’t good for anyone. Blindly voting up a story because you were asked to isn’t good for anyone.

We’re asking all users to think about what they submit to Sphinn and what they vote up on Sphinn.

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