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We take link aggregators for granted

A reminder to those who work in the tech industry: The tools, knowledge, and companies you rely on are brought to life by your humble upvotes

This phenomenon is unique to tech. No other industry has its trends sourced entirely by link aggregators namely, Hacker News, Product Hunt, and Designer News.

Here's why I'm writing this post: The submissions on the front page of these high-leverage aggregators are determined by just a handful of people. It's not because there's an old boys' club at work. There's no conspiracy here.

It's because there's mass indifference among visitors. 

As with any community, mass indifference leaves a vocal few in power. This leads to two problems. First, the fate of worthwhile submissions is left to chance: Are there enough voters to catch all the quality submissions that hit the New Submissions page? 

Second, when only a few vote, the front page may be unrepresentative of the majoritys interests. Whatever compels the vocal minority to vote might make them unique.

The power of a single upvote

The importance of a single vote is easy to illustrate: On Hacker News, a popular post can receive 500 votes, which can generate ~50,000 visits depending on how interesting the title is. (Im pulling data from Algolia.) Using simple math, this equates to: 

By taking half a second to upvote, you're responsible for sending an additional 100 humans to that submission.

Do you see how powerful your single upvote is? In just a half-second, any random person on the Internet can send 100 people to a third random persons year-long passion project. 

And among those 100 people you send to the submission, there might be a visitor who catapults it maybe an investor or marquee client that kickstarts the project.

When casting a political vote, you know how it can feel like your vote won't matter? That doesn't apply at all to link aggregators. A single upvote has a measurable impact within minutes. This isn't superfluous.

If we estimate hundreds of thousands of people visit Hacker News daily to cast a total of 5,000 votes, an enormous amount of upvotes are left on the table. So we're leaving the aggregator that sets the direction of our industry in the hands of ~2% of our peers.

That's not to say link aggregators as they exist today are broken. Instead, I want to know, How much better can aggregators be? Is there a world where no one's amazing niche project goes overlooked?

Why don't we vote?

I believe we overlook upvoting on link aggregators because Twitter and Facebook have tanked the signalling value of social engagement. Consider this:

In other words, liking and favoriting are commonly used as superficial reactions online.

And here's the problem: An upvote on a link aggregator is so similar in nomenclature and experience to a "like or "favorite" that we mistake it for being similarly useless.

In reality:

An upvote is closer to a share than a like. However, instead of sharing with your friends or followers, you're sharing with other link aggregator visitors!

An upvote on a link aggregator is worth much more than a "like" on social media. It has real value and it's worth your time to engage. We should recognize this distinction so we can help catapult our peers' work.

But the burden isn't all on us voters. Submitters have to bring the goods to the table.

Submitters also have to do their part

The onus ultimately lies with the submitter: You need to make the awesomeness of your submission self-evident within moments of someone hitting your page. 

Depending on the submission, this may be hard to do. But, if you don't do it, it's naive to act as if the burden is on the generous people spending their time reviewing new submissions to vigorously examine your work. That could require hours integrating your code to give it its fair share. Or reading the entirety of your 4,000 word essay.

So if you're submitting, say, a Github link, know that great documentation is not enough. You must also put together a demo, a video, or a screenshare. At minimum, you owe it to yourself to have an enticing landing page.

It doesn't matter if you're "not a good marketer. You short-change your work and the community by submitting without taking these presentational aspects earnestly.

For blog post submissions, write a compelling intro that entices people to continue reading and teases them with what they're going to get out of the post. (Does this feel too "growth hacker-y?" I guess, but peoples' attention spans are limited...)

Oh, and if a submission is bad...

It's okay to downvote

Downvoting is just as participatory as upvoting. So long as you do it in accordance with the aggregator's policies. 

We can frame the importance of downvoting by tweaking our quote from earlier:

By taking a half-second to downvote a low-value submission, you help 100 people avoid wasting their time. 

Perhaps you save those 100 people an average of 2 minutes each. Thats 3.3 hours saved because you took a half-second on the Internet to hit a button. How neat is that?

But don't downvote just because a small part of the submission irks you. Did the author forgot to mention X? Or maybe she repeatedly used the wrong term when describing Y? Or maybe she included a plug for her startup at the bottom of the page? 

I dont care. 

The downvote button is not there for you to air your petty grievances over small oversights. That's what the comments section is (partly) for  And, when you leave a comment detailing your grievance, do it constructively or risk being one of the people who makes the comments section toxic. 

For example, it's helpful to say, "Here's something to consider: You said this when you should have been saying that according to [actual proof, not just my knee-jerk reactions]. You can go here to learn more: [Wikipedia.]"

Don't be the person who snarks, "I can't take this post seriously when she says this when she should have been saying that. I had to stop reading after 30s." Your comment is useless, and now you're wasting the time of people reading the comments.

Now heres when you should consider a downvote instead of commenting: If the post violates the aggregator's policies or if the post serves extremely little value to the community in its full, considered form. In other words, ignoring the submission's minor flaws, ask, Will the average person have their time wasted from visiting this post compared to the typical post that makes it to the front page of this aggregator?

If so, perhaps a downvote is appropriate. 

There's a lot on the line

It's trendy to dismiss social networks as frivolous, but link aggregators are a special type of social network that we should value higher. Consider:

I don't take aggregators for granted. I hope you don't either.

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