What do downvotes in the bikeportland comment section mean?

Who belongs to a subculture is a bit slippery, but it’s basically a function of how individuals identify themselves and how collections of people identify who is one of them.

There may be a range within BP, but it has a distinct character. A high percentage of the people within the BP periphery see a certain brand of cycling and advocacy as part of their identity.

I don’t even identify as a cyclist (it’s something I do, not who I am), let alone the BP variant. My personal characteristics are far outside BP’s character. So I’m not part of the subculture. This is not a bad thing either for me or BP, simply an acknowledgement that we’re very different. Whether you belong is a function of how you and others see you. I would place you there because both your basic vision and attitudes are aligned even if you march to the beat of your own drum.

The reason I made the insularity comment is that the environment is very judgy and they’re good at drumming out people who are different than themselves. There’s absolutely no way I’d stick around if it weren’t for the fact that you can get local cycling news that doesn’t appear anywhere else.


I agree that slope is slippery! As weasel snot!

Like Kyle, I don’t identify as a cyclist at all. I just like riding bikes, and have since I was a tyke. Bikes are not my career, profession, only hobby, only transportation, sole source of joy, or much else other than just machines which I find cool, fun, and useful.

I share some stuff (values, world views, activities…) with Kyle, some with 9watts, some with Jonathan, etc. And then I disagree with y’all from time to time, too. That’s how I view most of the commenters…well, at least the ones who engage with honest opinions and view points as opposed to trol^Wpolemicists, pedants, and other snark mongers.

I do sometimes see dog-piling by like-minded people, and there seem to be a few cliques of like-minded folks, especially around urbanism and how bikes work in every-day life in the city. I don’t see that as a particularly bad thing in the context of how Jonathan has built BikePortland, and in the context of it breaking down walls erected in other bikey “communities” (very nebulous use of the word!) where one group declares superiority over another (roadie, MTB, freak, stunt, touring, whatever). Also, I know (personal experience) that some of those “cliques” are actually real-life, face-to-face advocacy partners meeting on a frequent basis, so it’s hardly surprising that they speak a jargon unto themselves.

That’s all very general, and sort of how I let the noise wash over me.

As to +/- scores, at this stage of discussion it seems a lot like navel gazing to me, but I’ll go ahead and throw in my belly button lint.

I like the up/down better than just the thumbs-up, so far. The split is interesting, even if I can’t assign meaning to it. It at least indicates there’s dissent or diversity.

I give more + than - (no surprise).

To me, the harshest use of - means “you are a [pejorative] and your post is so [wrong, mean, trollish] that it’s not worthy of further comment.” It is also possible that I respect the fundamental opinion but that the tone is so awful that I down-vote it. It’s also possible that others have already answered with thoughts similar to mine, and I simply disagree without further comment.

A + means I agree, or I acknowledge the well-stated opinion even if I don’t agree.

If two commenters are going toe-to-toe, post after post, I’m likely to upvote my favorite side and downvote the other. (Haven’t done that yet, but seems likely.)

I have also done many a ‘thumbs up’ simply to let a commenter know that someone saw their comment and cared. I will do that with +, too. It’s often a new commenter, or one I think is shy or inhibited, and whether I agree with their comment or not I would like to hear more from them.

For me personally, the worst response I can get to a comment is nothing. :no_mouth:


In reading Alan_1.0’s post, I realized that I’ve mentally separated up-/down-votes from agree/disagree because there’s another mechanism I commonly see used for agreement/disagreement: the “+1/-1”. The difference between “up-vote”, “thumbs up”, “+1”, “like”, and “favorite” may seem like a distinction without a difference, but they’ve carved out distinct purposes in my head, for whatever reason.

The +1 is “this applies to me” or “I agree”. The -1 is the opposite: doesn’t apply or disagree. This is seen in bug reports for example, where agree/disagree doesn’t really make sense, but knowing how widely impacting a bug is can be useful and the noise of a whole lot of “me too” replies is annoying. Or for new features, +1 equates to “I want this” and requests with the highest count get prioritized.

The up-vote or thumbs up is a “well said” or “good point”, even if it doesn’t apply or I don’t agree. It sort of fits, then, that down-vote and thumbs down are saying “this isn’t helping the conversation”. The extreme form of that is “flag” or “report” which says, “this is illegal or so inappropriate that administrative intervention is warranted, quickly”.

Things like “like” or “favorite” suggest something else entirely: this is a comment that I’ll want to revisit later. Presumably there’s a list somewhere of everything I’ve liked and I can peruse it to find whatever it was I wanted to save. The opposite of that is a “dislike” or “block”, which feeds a per-user score that, should it become negative enough, may make it less likely that I see things from that user, or maybe prevent me from seeing anything from that user.

So what I’m realizing is that by calling it “up vote” you’ve already suggested to me what its intended purpose should be.


So the up/down votes are gone now? Is this a technical issue or due to user feedback / experience?

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Up/down votes are now back. After receiving a very respectable complaint from someone I know and trust about how they very much disliked the downvoting, and after struggling to decide if they should remain, I just turned it all off over the weekend to see how it felt. I’ve turned voting back on and will continue to think about this and make a final decision soon.

I’m getting feedback that downvoting makes some people uncomfortable and afraid to comment. The last thing I want is for people to avoid participating because they feel unwelcome. Getting a lot of downvotes can be a deterrent for some folks… But I also like downvote tally because it illuminates opinion of readers. Perhaps we’ll go back to what we had before: Only up votes. Thanks and please keep sharing your thoughts if you have them.

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I understand the temptation to interpret the downvotes this way, but feel that it is equally possible that the up & downvotes lead opinion rather than merely reflect it. + and - are a simplified, binary evaluation of the opinions of others; they strike me as a (potentially) polarizing feature that substitutes for engagement, discussion, digging deeper; and most importantly makes understanding the other person’s perspective more difficult, less likely.

To illustrate, some of us who commented last week received what seemed like automatic downvotes, regardless of whether the comment was a simple informational statement or something one might reasonably argue about. The only way I have been able to interpret the downvotes under simple, informational comments is that they communicate a ‘go away, shut up’ sentiment.

There’s no such thing as “automatic downvotes”. What you received are negative reactions from people who simply don’t like your opinions and/or your comment. I know that sounds mean, but it’s the fact. The downvotes aren’t being hijacked or hacked or “automatically” generated.

And this is my dilemma: I think people need to know what others in the community feel about them/their comments. This is part of a healthy feedback loop that many Portlanders seem to want to avoid like the plague… Maybe that’s why our city has so many growing pains? Because no one is able to take criticism or have their idealogical bubble burst by others — especially “strangers” online? I see the downvotes as a possibly useful way of providing that feedback.

IMO a simple downvote isn’t like saying “go away, shut up”. In fact, if someone wrote those words in a comment I would delete it. And that’s a key thing: I would rather have someone show disapproval/disagreement in a downvote than by using nasty words.

And again, maybe the downvotes illuminate a difference of perspective/thought that many of us need to hear? Maybe there’s a lot more disagreement among us than some people want to admit? Disagreement is uncomfortable. It forces us to re-evaluate our positions and consider that we’re out of step with other people. What do we do upon realizing that? Do we change our position? Dig heels in? Try to understand people who disagree with us? All of those reactions are healthy IMO.

Thanks for the feedback 9watts. You know this type of thing is important to me and I want to get this right.


I agree with this logic in general – I think the “feeling thermometer” helps identify what people feel strongly about and the direction of the sentiment which in turn can help guide conversation.

Having said that, I also agree with 9watts that it also encourages polarization that undermines understanding, and would add that effect is amplified on things many people feel strongly about. Intense disagreement is no problem so long as people are trying to hear each other. But if they aren’t trying, it’s not productive.

I’ve seen this effect on other news sites – on most news sites, it’s so bad that the comments section is a cesspool not worth wading into. BP doesn’t have this specific problem, but it’s a dynamic to watch out for.


In a software sense, no. I realize that. What I meant was that observing the pattern of downvoting (as MadHatter also notes above) you can easily see that some downvoters ‘automatically’ dispense downvotes not to comments but to commenters since the substance of the (what I called informational) comment doesn’t merit any sort of vote.

If we think of the comments section as an opportunity for a conversation (and I readily admit that I do) then I don’t see how the up/downvote advances that conversation. If instead of a conversation it is a beauty contest, then taking the up/down pulse of those clicking the boxes is a useful shorthand.
It really boils down to what you, I, or anyone else - but more importantly we, collectively - want these comments to be. I think at their best they lead to insight, learning, understanding. And reflecting on the first week of up down votes I feel like the voting does not advance the conversation or any of the qualities I just listed, but instead takes it into a different direction where, like in high school, the cool (comments) are privileged, and the ones which don’t fit in, which are perhaps misunderstood, which might benefit from further explication, get ostracized.

Jonathan, we clearly have different views of what a disagreement is, how it works, where it might lead, how one learns from disagreements. I’ve been watching the up/downvotes pretty closely since you turned them on last week, and feel like we should distinguish between (a) disagreement-that-leads-to-clarification-understanding-learning (a conversation), and (b) disagreement which registers as a downvote, as I-don’t-like-what-he-said (essentially a popularity contest).
I have tried for more than ten years here on bikeportland to contribute to (a), mostly because that is what I enjoy and get something out of, on good days imagine I have something to contribute to, but (b) makes me want to get as far away as possible.

If I may be so bold as to suggest comparing this conversation here in the Forum (no voting) with the comments section under the recent Homelessness Article on the Front Page (up/downvotes included), the contrast in tone, in learning, in hearing other sides is hard to miss.

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just one more quick note on this:
A downvote is not a criticism in any useful sense. It doesn’t burst my ideological bubble, whatever that is. All it does is tell me that one (or thirty) bikeportland readers didn’t like, objected to, or in some other unspecified, and as we have seen here in this thread, perhaps unknowable way, reject what I said.

Why do they object?
Well if we had an actual conversation I could find out, we could debate the matter, and perhaps both (all those reading along) learn something.

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Thank you, Kyle.
You said it very well. A downvote as I have observed it in practice over this last week is the exact inverse of trying to hear the other person. It says I am not going to bother to ask for clarification from you, see if I might have misunderstood or may myself have some blinders on; all I have time for is a black/white tic mark.

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I have to say it does feel vaguely discouraging to take the time to attempt to share some bit of personal perspective in a thoughtful, nuanced way only to then be met with an avalanche of downvotes and little or no actual response. Makes me wonder why I even bothered.


So many nails being hit squarely on their heads right now. I’ve been viscerally turned off by the presence of what I interpret as a series of mini popularity contests in the comments, all determined in binary up/down, cheer/jeer fashion. Even when I’m not actively commenting, I just bristle. It does not strike me as particularly welcoming or illuminating and I find it an obstacle to seeing the comments as if they might actually constitute a well meaning dialog as opposed to just another online slapfight.


It’s funny, I wondered the same thing about why people were downvoting 9watts’s encouraging comment. Then I upvoted it and a downvote appeared at exactly the same time. Maybe there is a glitch? Seems unlikely that that many people are really downvoting this comment. But I’ve been wrong before.

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Thanks everyone. I’ll have my dev take a closer look at this to see if there’s a glitch. We’ll get this all sorted out soon.

A couple other examples which seem like they have oddly high “-” counts in the CotW: Moderate position… thread:

  1. MaddHatter’s initial post is quite moderate, just a nod at the reality of financial constraints, hardly something I would expect to trigger much antipathy (particularly for a fairly new commenter without a long history), and then further downvoting when he asks for feedback (sheesh!).

  1. And then my post, which I meant to be neutral, just a reference to a Portland website I found interesting and related to the topic, with very little personal opinion thrown in:

If it’s strictly personal, then in longstanding intarweb tradition, I take full credit for triggering the lurkers. :wink:

I had a crazy idea about studying the +/- BikePortland comments to look for scoring bias based on identity. Get a few frequent commenters who are willing to play along, so there’s actually some data to play with. Commenters who tend to get high votes either way would probably produce the clearest test results. They will comment as they normally would, not pretending or play acting or posting anything they wouldn’t normally post or say. After sufficient posting under their long-time nick and avatar to collect data, they’d create a new login and begin to comment pseudonymously. Compare a week (or other time) of the old, known nick against a week of the new one, count up their + and their -, divided by number of posts they made under each name. If their ideas are getting the votes, the +/- ratios should be similar. If it’s personal, the ratios are likely to change.

I have noticed this too - with the old upvote-only system. I don’t think it is a glitch. I think what happens is that the vote I (or in this case you) made triggers a refresh, so any votes that may have been made since you loaded the page will be added at that same moment"

Not necessarily. :wink:
Years ago when someone in the comments got all bent out of shape about something I had posted Jonathan replied (very generously I thought) that I sometimes (or often) posted things that others might find difficult or unfamiliar, but that in his view I tended to give the issues some thought and folks should give me the benefit of the doubt. Or words to that effect.
Anyway, that gave me a (pre-down-vote) insight into the possibility that my posts might be irksome to some, which was certainly never my intention, but now the observed downvote fusillade suggests that this must have been a more widespread antipathy than I had realized.

The question then is what one does with that knowledge.

What I have learned - at the knee of the bikeportland comment section I might add - is that this is often/ideally a fluid, dynamic, ever-shifting landscape where ideas enter and exit, are bandied about; folks from all corners chime in, and influence (my) views of the issues, history, sociology, politics, how power works in our town, what folks feel is (im-) possible, who is sticking their neck out, etc.
If one isn’t interested in understanding the other persons, other perspectives, what they can contribute, I’m at a loss to understand why people make a comment.
Some do of course, and refuse to engage when challenged, and that is their perfect right. But seven downvotes under a cheerful post isn’t something I know how to interpret. Or even 38 downvotes under something provocative. But since I am always eager to learn (and this discussion has been super insightful for me) perhaps others see lessons I could draw from the pattern of downvotes we are seeing?

I’ve played around with the voting using different browsers and believe it most likely works correctly. Probably not a bad idea to have the dev look at it, but my guess is that other votes that were cast after your screen was appear at the same time as your own vote appears giving the illusion of wonky behavior.

While I agree with the objectives for displaying this the totals, this is what I think is really goes on too much of the time. It contributes to a FOX newsy feel that helps perpetrate negative stereotypes of cyclists.

Frankly, it makes me more sympathetic to the windshield perspective. Except in places where you need a more practical perspective to get by, the quality of my interactions with motorists is actually higher than with cyclists.