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Instagram hides Like counts in leaked design prototype (techcrunch.com)
262 points by dgudkov on Apr 19, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 169 comments

I wrote a browser extension last year to hide like counts and such from the sites I visit and it definitely changes your browsing behavior for the better. Reacting to those vanity numbers is similar to slowing down to rubberneck.

Here's the repo if anyone is interested. I still use it to this day but haven't worked on it in a while cuz I'm learning rust.


The change as a function of the site owner's decision, however, would hopefully have a chilling effect on people's need for social reinforcement in the form of like chasing, and the associated cases of suicide that have happened as a result of not getting that reinforcement.

I suspect that's where instagram is aiming, and they probably see a point nearing where that'll be forced on them by european government(s) attempting to reduce the amount of high profile 'social media' suicide.

An optional opt-in system like your implementation is great, but sadly doesn't tackle that problem.

Am not sure if you are joking. As someone who does not use social media much, are people so hooked that withdrawal would cause them to commit suicide?

I don't think that that is what was meant. When your social media activity doesnt earn likes is an example of not receiving reinforcenent.

Social media is both seen as contributory to rising suicide rates among youth, and integrated into suicide attempts (eg live broadcast)

I use like/dislike in my news reader to tell it what kinds of stories I like or don't like and it seems to do a pretty great job of finding me stuff I want to read.

On sites like this one, I don't cast a lot of votes up or down with one exception. If I post a comment, I upvote every single reply for two reasons. One, I'm happy that somebody chose to reply and two, it helps me keep track of new replies. It might be a misuse of the voting system here, but as far as I can see, there isn't a better way of spotting replies.

Instead of an extension that only works in one browser, why not a blocklist that can be loaded into most adblockers?

There’s an adblock filter for comments[1] which works pretty well. This is thematically similar.

[1]: https://mute.bradconte.com/

"Why not" doing it yourself, then?

Because I have no interest in it, nor have I expressed any. I posed a question (with my reasoning), not a criticism.

I'm actually modifying the site DOM to remove the dark patterns. There's no request for remote content that I can block in most (all?) cases. This is fundamentally different than an ad blocker. It's closer to a curated selection of grease monkey scripts

...or a greasemonkey script.

I'm definitely not installing an extension just for this.

A set of greasemonkey scripts could work but my intended audience is more casual than greasemonkey users. Having a curated set of scripts bundled into its own extension makes the marketing story and installation flow easier.

I also think the security will be better on my extension. You have to give greasemonkey edit permissions for all websites whereas I have a PR in the works where you only grant permission to the sites you want to disengage from. Even now it only asks for permissions to the subset of sites it modifies. Due to the nature of how web extension manifest permissioning works, greasemonkey can't offer this. If you look at their permission model it says "This add-on can: Access your data for all websites". IMO that's way more dangerous than your paranoia about a new extension with tight permissions.

...or a modified hosts file.

1. Bold move in this day and age: prioritizing quality of UX over business metrics. Props to whoever at Instagram product made the call on this.

That said, if Instagram is serious about not being evil, the only option is ultimately to secede from Facebook. As long as they are part of F Corp, all of these tactics designed to recapture the Big Tech moral high ground are doomed to fail.

The only way I could see this happening is if there were mass protests of Instagram employees demanding to be made independent. Kind of like the Google employee protests but potentially aided by some well-timed regulatory pressure. Not holding my breath on that, but it's a least a theoretical possibility, right?

2. "Leaking" a design prototype to Constine at TechCrunch is a very clever way to beta test a massive product decision like this.

They know that hiding Likes will cost them engagement, which means revenue, but if they get enough good press about it, it might get the masses to start trusting facebook more, which would allow them to explain away the lower revenue numbers and avoid a potential investor revolt. By leaking the feature before it's even released, they can gauge the reaction of the market. It's quite a clever scheme, really.

Anyway, barring some kind of miracle secession play, I'm sad to say that Instagram making these kinds of product decisions is like rearranging deck chairs on the ethical Titanic. But I'll give them an A for effort.

It's me who reverse engineer the Instagram app, demo the unreleased features, and then tweet about it, in which is then picked up by Constine as per usual:


No employees told me anything about it before and after the tweet

Though it's unsure if Instagram purposely planted this to get me tweet about it (because that description sounds like a prepared statement) ;)

Do you have any write ups on how you find unreleased features like this? Are you looking at the binary or the network traffic? Cool findings anyways!

Yeah. I follow you on twitter. Can you write a blog post about your workflow? That would be an interesting read.

"Though it's unsure if Instagram purposely planted this to get me tweet about it"

I suppose it's game-over if Instagram is that good at inception. :-)

Big companies know that every one of their binaries gets torn apart by people eager for a scoop and have exploited this in the past. See for example https://www.androidpolice.com/2014/08/06/google-just-rickrol... (though this one was for a laugh)

Ooh, I don't know. If they regularly see people dig through their code and then tweet about what they find, planting things in the code sounds like a great way to "soft announce" features to gauge reaction. That way if they decide not to go forward, they don't lose face, it was just some unannounced feature that they were considering.

It’s not like this sort of thing hasn’t been done in the Apple rumors ecosystem for a long time...

happens more than you may think. as for instagram doing it here i don't know either.

Interesting! I have no reason to doubt your intentions or that you are working independently. That said, if you have a history of finding these and getting picked up by news, it's certainly possible that Facebook could be using your reverse engineering skills as a way to leak things.

I know how cynical that sounds, but I've seen too much from disinformation from Facebook execs to take anything from them remotely at face value, no pun intended. Anyway, there's no way to prove it, just speculation based on a feeling I had.

I actually ignore unreleased features about ads because it's not something I personally find exciting

I can't argue with that. Plus it might make people question your "Not Facebook Employee" twitter tagline.

Speaking of which, I saw a tweet that you're interviewing at Facebook this week. Is that true?

Not that I would ever begrudge someone from trying to make it big in tech, but dang, I would hope someone with your skills would find an opportunity working for the resistance rather than the occupiers :-)

I included "Not Facebook Employee" because too many people told me to not roll out this and that feature, ask me to give them verified badges and tech support

Yes, I am interviewing with Facebook. It's true. It'd be my first time actually stepping into the tech industry

Nice job Jane!

I know this is a highly unpopular opinion (and hence the throwaway), but I really don't understand this idea of wanting to "break up" Facebook and the underlying motivation behind these types of statements.

What exactly is it about the platform that makes it so "evil"? Do we just think Zuckerberg is innately corrupt and trying to slip some sort of mastermind plan of internet domination without us noticing?

I understand and similarly dislike the idea that Facebook is aggregating statistics about its users and selling them to advertisers, but at the same time, do we honestly believe that the vast majority of people would rather subscribe to "get rid of ads and access to data"?

I don't use Facebook myself (despite having an account), but from my perspective, it just seems that society as a whole has simply decided to scapegoat Facebook and its "ecosystem". We seem to be trying to blame the company for the unwanted secondary effects of the rise of the internet and all the inter-connectivity that has come as a result.

A good example in my mind is WhatsApp. Facebook went ahead and had the whole messaging system E2EE, much to the applause of everybody. From this point on, even among security experts, WhatsApp was well regarded as a messaging platform - essentially only second to Signal. However, a little while ago, following the Brazilian elections, there was a massive uproar that "fake news" was being spread through WhatsApp and that Facebook hadn't done enough to intervene and stop this. Really? So now we are complaining that Facebook isn't reading and censoring messages accordingly?

Do people not remember those annoying e-mail chains back in the day - usually forwarded by some naive friend? Are we really to blame the medium? I feel people will always find ways to use the internet to spread misinformation.

Do we really think we can stem "fake news" by expecting Facebook to bear the responsibility for everything that is communicated on their platform(s)?

Lastly, are we truly confident that hamstringing Facebook with a "break-up" is really going to lead to a better future? Do I really want my kids to be using TikTok/WeChat/Telegram or some other foreign controlled platform over which my government has much less oversight?

I’m glad somebody said this. I could list a thousand companies more evil than Facebook just in energy (3 million people a year die from coal!) and healthcare.

While N companies being more evil doesn’t make X company not evil, employing tens of thousands of people while being significantly less evil is definitely relevant.

> employing tens of thousands of people while being significantly less evil is definitely relevant.

i'm not sure what you're trying to say here, does this make criticism of Facebook any less valid?

> Oh think of the kids!

We really need to start discouraging the use of throwaway accounts for comments like this. One should be willing to stand by their beliefs and navigate the process of push-back with courage and honesty.

I personally think it's the argument that should be refuted, not the person making the argument.

I scroll right past any green accounts for that reason. What are you protecting by making a throwaway? Your magical internet points?

> What are you protecting by making a throwaway?

Themselves. People will attack others on the internet for having an unpopular opinion that differs from their own. If your username is attached to your real name, then sometimes it's safer to post risky comments on an alternate account, instead of your real account. This is similar to when you have a public account and private account.

Also you can't edit/delete comments after a couple hours, and you can't delete them after someone replies to you.

One ought to argue sub specie aeternitatis.


There is a beautiful irony of an anonymous account complaining about ad-hominem arguments.

Please see my response to piffy.

Other users downvoted and flagged your comment until it died. Now you can only see if it you have dead comments visible.

Ah, yes, I see that now. That's a shame - quite annoying really.

I don't get it. I don't really see what it is I wrote that warranted getting "flagged". I just said I wasn't keen on maintaining an account and, with that, a HN reputation.

I'm assuming it's against the rules to copy/paste my comment again in response to someone else so I'll just leave it, but that kills the want to participate.

Ironically, I'd bet that had it been a Facebook algorithm moderating the content (instead of just anybody having the power to censure/flag) my comment would still stand - and in this case, that'd be more fair to "free speech".

We are quick to plaster a company as "evil" and yet mob rule worries me more.


I think in one comment you've discovered the reason everyone is fed up with social media.

You forgot one major thing. The algorithm. Facebook decides what you see and what is being recommended to you. If they recommend to you something that has more engagement but is fundamentally false, we have a problem. It's one thing when it's just a pure communication platform (whatsapp), another when you push/promote some content in the feed over something else. No they don't have a master evil plan, but they are careless and don't care about their own responsability. One example where it becomes a problem: it was proven that there was violence in Myanmar triggered by false information that was pushed by the algorithm to more people

That's very fair criticism, and you're right, promoting something to others based on the probability of it triggering a reaction has some pretty major downsides. Although I don't know the specifics of Facebook's algorithms, from my experience, I would agree it seems to amplify posts trigger an emotional response, e.g. "oh, that's so CUTE!", "oh, that's so COOL!", "oh, that's so FUNNY!", "oh, that's so TERRIBLE!", etc.

I guess the only thing that I can say is that it may take a while before we have AI that is capable enough to distinguish baseless posts intended to stir people's emotions from those which may have merit but are emotionally engaging and controversial. In the interim, it seems like Facebook is trying to brute force solve this with human moderators - but again, perhaps not the most objective way of handling this and I wonder how they will tackle this long term.

(On a different note, I'm being throttled by HN for posting too fast, so sorry for the delay in response).

> What exactly is it about the platform that makes it so "evil"?

Off the top of my head I'd personally nominate

Ads on WhatsApp Password breaches affecting both fb and ig Forced homogenization of the product offering via Stories Sleaziness around graph growth An upcoming boondoggle of an integration between Fb Ig and WhatsApp identity systems supposedly to align them on strong privacy via end to end encryption And personally I'd add the pursuit of end to end encryption at scale, which sounds like it'll lead to a disaster of moderation. (Ie don't count me in as the supporter of e2ee in the first place.)

> Do we really think we can stem "fake news" by expecting Facebook to bear the responsibility for everything that is communicated on their platform(s)?

I am not sure what the alternative you propose is. Dig your head deeper into sand?

> are we truly confident that hamstringing Facebook with a "break-up" is really going to lead to a better future? Do I really want my kids to be using TikTok/WeChat/Telegram or some other foreign controlled platform over which my government has much less oversight

I am not sure which is your government but it would probably have some power as long as we're talking about commercial operations, which tend to have some substantial presence in the jurisdictions where they're operating at scale. Or, even just blocking...

> I am not sure what the alternative you propose is. Dig your head deeper into sand?

I was trying to edit my comment earlier to purposely extend on this point, but was unable to.

Would nobody agree that perhaps this problem stems from a perhaps larger underlying issue? Perhaps better education?

I don't know about breaking up Facebook, but I'd be happy if Instagram were spun back out (though, the founders are gone).

I'm someone who deleted their Facebook account.

In short, the reach and impact they have, given their proclivities, are not a net positive. When they make mistakes, or when they pursue questionable business practices, it has global impact.

That kind of power should be held by more accountable organizations, and with Zuck controlling more than 50% of the voting rights of the stock in FB, there's no chance.

At this point, they're tripping into a future, commensurate with the ignorance (or unconcern) of their user base, that I can't support.

If you're asking, "What do they do that's so bad?"... well, it's well documented.

Education is no doubt one of the problems underlying credulity but it is not the only one. I have seen very well-educated people repeatedly fall for misinformation on social networks that played to their preconceptions.

e2ee is just a modern way to enforce secrecy of correspondence. The contents of letters is protected from prying eyes for now 300 years in Germany and France, and to my understanding also in the US for the last 140 years. If we suddenly have an urgent fake news problem I would suspect it's caused by some new development, not a centuries old policy.

> Protected from prying eyes

Yes but only by law, which allows exceptions, notably law enforcement, national security, etc.

And I wasn't saying this causes fake news, but it does pose a moderation challenge when done at scale

Different people complain about different things. When you try to put it all together it's not going to be coherent. And yeah, people attack Facebook as a proxy for broader trends, but that's somewhat fair when you're as dominant as Facebook is. They have the power to set trends.

Any form of communication will be used to spread misinformation, but this isn't email or town gossip. Facebook is actively pushing this stuff onto people as a direct result of choices they have made in designing their algorithms. Facebook has taken a problem that has always existed and actively made it much worse than it would be if Facebook didn't exist. At the very least that's worth thinking about.

Is it really so crazy to think that these companies should bear some responsibility for what happens on their platforms? I know the longstanding tech world answer to this has been a resounding yes, but I don't think it's that simple. It shouldn't be okay to build a product designed to suck people in and then wash your hands of any and all consequences.

I don't think breaking up Facebook (whatever that means) will do anything useful, but I do sympathize with the criticisms.

There's a myth that SV is more moral because they are "smarter" because they know technology and computer things and are so smart with their novel incentions. They are morally superior to traditional good ol' boy companies like big oil or auto they just inherited a big boring uninnovative company.

I post unpopular opinions from my account all the time. I'm fine with people downvoting it, as the current state of our society is an overton window that I know I simply, at times, fall outside of.

That being said, I've seen some powerful arguments against facebook already: the newsfeed algorithm, for example, is my most important one. It should be required, by law, to be a dumb feed.

Outside of that we have to look at the evil companies that you speak of otherwise, and why we don't speak out against them, and I would draw that the reality and rules that society lives under are distorted by the existence of social media, which isn't necessarily a bad thing, many changes need to occur, however I argue the things that make facebook addictive (getting likes), and thus valuable, are the things that encourage the worst societal behaviors and extremism, making it impossible enough for society to compromise enough to do something about those bad actors. You demonstrate the power of getting likes by the fact that you used a throwaway account for your comment.

I don't think that social media can effectively work unless it is stripped of the profit motive.

Regarding "using a throwaway account", please see my response to piffey below. In short, I don't have a main - I'm usually always just a reader. I actually wholeheartedly disagree with Karma-type systems in general and the concept of leveraging previously acquired "reputation". Sadly, one requires an account to comment and new accounts get throttled/rate-limited quite quickly (I've just realized).

Re: the newsfeed algorithm, like I just replied to jeromegv, I agree and think promoting emotionally engaging posts, no matter the content (which I think we all sort of agree seems to be the way Facebook operates), is obviously problematic. Whether dumb (a.k.a. "rank by new") is the way to go, I don't know. Might just favor the loudest/most talkative, but perhaps you're right.

Also I never made the claim that TikTok/WeChat/Telegram were evil. My point with that statement was more like that proverb: "Better the devil you know than the devil you don't know".

I'm not against karma systems generally, but they really need to be carefully designed so they don't encourage cheap sensationalist crap. Reward insight, nuance, demonstrated domain expertise, and respectful dialogue.

> I know this is a highly unpopular opinion (and hence the throwaway),

Using a throwaway account makes sense if you're sharing secrets or making yourself vulnerable. Creating one to share an unpopular opinion (presumably, to avoid the terrible risk of... having a few strangers downvote you on the internet?) makes you lose credibility.

> What exactly is it about the platform that makes it so "evil"? Do we just think Zuckerberg is innately corrupt and trying to slip some sort of mastermind plan of internet domination without us noticing?

Um... yes. Have you not noticed a pattern of bad behavior coming from them for the last, 15 years or so?

> Lastly, are we truly confident that hamstringing Facebook with a "break-up" is really going to lead to a better future?

Um... Yes. The root of this problem is a lack of integrity amplified by no accountability and monopolistic power. Break up the monopoly, and things will improve. We're not going to magically fix human nature overnight, but there will be room for competitors with a different vision will at least have a chance to gain traction. Right now they have no chance.

Are you saying that Facebook is a proxy for what people don't like about where the internet is going?

I don't know whether one could "stop where the internet is going". I think the internet is what it is. It has its merits and it has its flaws. I'm just saying we seem to be pointing the finger at Facebook as the source of our problems whereas Facebook is really just a reflection of ourselves as a society.

More possibly a move to dip into the revenue stream of "influencer marketing". There are a plethora of companies with "influencer marketing platforms" that scrape Instagram likes and followers of influencers and intermediate between advertisers and them. This basically seems to deny "non-official" platforms data

I can see this being a motivation as well, not unlike how over time FB and twitter closed off parts of their api so they could monetize it for themselves. Though I think this will create new opportunities for NLP services to expand to cover the ground like scraping companies will no longer be able to cover.

> That said, if Instagram is serious about not being evil, the only option is ultimately to secede from Facebook. As long as they are part of F Corp, all of these tactics designed to recapture the Big Tech moral high ground are doomed to fail.

Of all tech giants, Facebook is incredibly easy to break up because they have multiple major products with seperate branding that could easily compete with each other. I'm still rooting for that possibility, because Instagram is not going to leave on their own.

Isn't this just instagram testing a UI response to potential legislation change?

> They know that hiding Likes will cost them engagement

The article makes the opposite argument:

> Many users delete posts that don’t immediately get ‘enough’ Likes or post to their fake ‘Finstagram’ accounts if they don’t think they’ll be proud of the hearts they collect. Hiding Like counts might get users posting more since they’ll be less self-conscious.

Hm, I don't totally buy that argument. Deleting posts without Likes is a factor, but I think this is significantly outweighed by the number of people who obsessively check the app a hundred times a day to watch their increasing Likes count.

> 1. Bold move in this day and age: prioritizing quality of UX over business metrics. Props to whoever at Instagram product made the call on this.

Or it's a cynical move to remove any user input as to what you actually see on your feed.

Very bold indeed, I am curious as to how this will affect the so-called "influencers."

This is interesting - as Jack at Twitter also expressed the same sentiment in removing likes and retweets. Alot of twitter users fired back because it was to prevent large ($), but unpopular, accounts from being ratio'd (meaning being embarrassed by their comment-to-like ratio, if the ratio is high, it is being you said something dumb, that no one likes).

The way instagram frames this is sort of healthier, but I can't imagine Facebook doing this just for social good.

I've often thought social media would be far better without a share button or at least some larger barrier to doing it.

Encouraging reposts is one of the big reasons the internet isn't fun anymore.

The push model of content consumption needs a lot of fixes to live up to the pull model of content exploration

The weird wacky web full of discovery is long dead. We need to rebuild it and undo the missteps that killed it

The problem is people make honest livings off of doing things that at this day and age require these sorts of mechanisms within social networks to allow them to thrive and work for themselves vs a company.

Many individual / independent creators 100% rely on the ability to reach others and people generally respond to the flock of many people liking / sharing a single post of some kind. I don't think it's fair to negate this as being useful.

We with generally much better paying jobs to stress / work life balance ratio within the tech industry have the privilege of not having to worry about such things being taken away and literally taking our paychecks away as well.

That's a buggy whip argument; defending an industry that essentially nobody wants because there's economic activity in it somewhere. It can be made about just about anything.

Besides, having a broken labor market is a pretty poor reason for intentionally perpetuating a broken internet

On the topic of votes.

At the time of this writing the comment I’m responding to is grayed out. Presumably due to downvotes from people not agreeing with the sentiment.

I probably don’t agree to it either, but I find the perspective brought into the discussion to be a good contribution.

I see this quite often, and actually tend to spend most of my votes “rescuing” comments, that at least shouldn’t be suppressed just for being unpopular.

There is a kind of bias at play where dissenting opinions are held to a much higher standard of quality and thus having a higher chance for being censored.

So I’ve been thinking if there should be a separation of quality and sentiment votes. Perhaps it would prevent some accidental censoring.

Writing this it occurs to me that the bias would probably still be there though. So a more qualitative approach perhaps. One could imagine some mechanism by which the poster is allowed to iterate on the comment, based on feedback, before final judgement.

I too would like to see an experiment with two types of votes (agree/disagree and quality/shitpost), but I don't think there's a big problem here. Things balance out in the end. Some people instinctively downvote things they disagree with, other upvote posts for quality regardless of their personal position on the topic; some, like you, rescue comments. Things can be in flux initially, but within couple of hours they stabilize, and the outcome is decent enough. The key thing is not treating karma points and "black/grey" instability personally; it's just the mechanism at work.

Why not require that written replies or justifications be provided for each vote. probably because of the voter's utility of voting is cheap expressions of approval or disapproval, without requiring the effort of engaging the poster or formulating the reasons for voting at all. Hence, I suspect voting discourages engagement. For downvotes it discourages the kind of engagement that derails productive conversations (ie it inhibits flamewars by providing cheaper outlet for negatively valenced emotional responses).


“Many individual / independent creators 100% rely on the ability to reach others and people generally respond to the flock of many people liking / sharing a single post of some kind.“

what if Instagram let you see only your page metrics, but nobody elses?

The problem is, individual/independent creators making honest living off these features have to do it this way because of all the people - advertisers, content marketers - making dishonest living (and quite good a living), creating a people-hostile environment. The system needs very deep changes, but that doesn't mean we can't have the welfare of artists and writers in mind when proposing or implementing those changes.

Instagram is the only large social network that does not have a "reshare" FWIW.

"being ratio'd" is completely toxic behavior. It is dogpiling someone on the internet. The quality of replies it encourages is reliably the lowest of the low. Trying to protect that practice is not very defensible; dumb tweets can be quote-tweeted and lambasted that way.

Or just, you know, ignored, like we used to do to dumb statements.

But I completely agree with you. The argument against the removal of those visible metrics on twitter sounds like an argument for toxicity, even if it is cloaked in a jab against big corp accounts.

The private upvote counts are one of the few things I dislike about Hacker News.

It feels like the system is hiding information from me that I would find interesting and that I could use to reason about the world.

I would find it even more interesting if not only the upvotes would be public but also who upvoted.

And for downvotes it could be an interesting experiment to make a statement mandatory explaining why one downvoted.

(This comment got 5 upvotes so far)

Exposing the utterly meaningless number seems to hugely encourage playing to the crowd on sites where it's visible. It's one of the worst aspects of reddit that almost every thread has the same pattern. I may be wrong, but it seems like that pattern stems from playing for karma. Not for interest, not for discussion, just points which encourages the smart arse in every sub thread.

Exposing who would just further encourage tit for tat.

Agreed, having never really thought about it until this thread. I like the fact that I can't see vote count on this site

You can on your own posts though. And that is something in of itself. Particularly because you are rewarded with powers for doing “well.”

That's fairly new isn't it? I feel like HN showed scores fairly recently

Well "new" is relative, but it's been around 8 years since the comment scores were hidden.


Hmm, not since I've been on here.

It's not only tit for tat but also the herd behavior of following the masses and like the already popular content instead of deciding for yourself if you like something.

One of the most basic ways to combat that is to set the default sort to "new", not top.

Does not eliminate that behavior, but it does very significantly reduce it to almost a non issue.

Just FYI.

True, mostly. I do find it wearing that so many interesting reddit discussions would be so much easier without the 50% that's all the "your mum" jokes and "username fits" easy karma wins.

That varies considerably by subreddit. I do agree with you though. Many Redditors are not longer form type people.

I tend to skim, and when I find something compelling, I power through where the subs do little about those things.

Some subs do cultivate better, longer form writing, and or less of the Reddit "BS."

And, I vary too. It's not always annoying. Mixed in there are some real zingers. Love those.

I confess I vary too - sometimes there's a few really clever ones. I think it's most frustrating in the busier subs where the pollution gets out of hand. I;m much more forgiving of the odd digression on here or the more on topic subs.

We all have our shallow moments. I relish them. :D

I came to the same conclusion and made a Chrome extension to remove several of these numbers (upvotes, karma, etc.) from reddit: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/novote/kepihilioco....

It's not a meaningless number, especially when not exposed. But you're right that exposing it causes undesired behaviour, + makes the number increasingly meaningless (c.f. Goodhart's law).

You nailed it. I appreciate that aspect of this site and it makes reading even the lower posted replies somehow more meaningful and relevant to me.

If number is utterly meaningless it should not be here at all, visible or not.

I don't think it adds anything at all having it visible on my own posts. Occasional surprise when something attracts a particularly high or controversial voting pattern isn't giving much. Keeping the overall total seems relatively harmless and helps identify the low and negative karma trolls.

Ordering on HN by vote count works, and would continue to work invisible to all. The few places it breaks - the political, the climate change discussions etc, are where there may be more voting for tribal reasons.

It risks biasing the comment - for example, even before you read it, you'll see a "7 votes" or "23 votes" and immediately take a glow to it you wouldn't otherwise. Well, I wouldn't trust that I'd be immune, at least. How can there not be a cognitive bias?

I do wish it took more than a single downvote to "grey" a comment. First of all, a single vote doesn't mean much statistically, and shouldn't change the color of text. Secondly, some stuff is just controversial. I've had comments go -2, +5, 3, down and back up.

Fully agreed.

aside: I think ones comment history plays a role in the threshold to grey. For new accounts it’s -1, but that decreases for older accounts. Some magic combo of karma sum average and/or mean, probably?

Likes are like feedback mechanism and it should be shared with intended person only. We don't go and share our exam results nor do we share how much we earn with the world.

Next they need to remove following and follower count.

Neither are apt examples in this case: not sharing exam results is inconsequential, and not sharing how much you earn disadvantages yourself and gives bosses more power to determine how much you earn :-)

I’m one who resisted the change to comment vote display here, and I’m happy with the change. Similarly, at MetaFilter, I’ve adopted the increasingly common practice of hiding favorites. A few Discourse forums hide likes, and so on. People are finding that not having this information makes them happier. That doesn’t mean you are wrong to prefer to see the votes, of course.

I would, though, like if the person you’re replying to could give you a public upvote to signal a friendly end to a conversation.

Agree. I was against it at first but have come to prefer it.

I'm ambivalent about it; remember that every metric can become a gameable target.

Knowing who upvoted seems like a fight-starter.

The old Slashdot system gave the user a choice of upvote and downvote reasons - and the reader could assign their own multiplier! So you could decide that "funny" merited -1 rather than the default +1.

I've never seen that anywhere else.

I believe the idea is that it prevents someone to upvote/downvote solely based on the existing score, and rather based on the actual content of the post.

I remember back in the day that the vote count were public, and there was a lot of resistance to the change. For me, while on a micro-scale I feel like I'm missing information, I agree that on a macro-scale it's a net positive for the community.

Here's the classic referential thread on the matter


Why do you TRUST the numbers you see on social media sites (including Hacker News!)? They should not be your tools for reasoning about the world (not even a little bit) - there's no way you can know if those numbers were created by the community, bots, the site owners, or "other".

Being influenced at all by numbers where there is no accountability for site owners of their origins seems increasingly like a bad idea.

Agree totally with this. It also encourages people to not think for themselves, further increasing the herd mentality. The lame defense sometimes given for this is - Well people do not have time so the numbers help them decide. That is another load of crap, the illusion that people don't have time. People should consistently question what they read and 'like' things they truly love.

That said, I am trying to think how this feature of 'hiding likes' can also be tampered with because that is human nature

It also reinforces us to confuse popularity with quality, a common mistake on the Internet going all the way back to PageRank.

I believe it's fine to hide this information if the algorithm to rank posts is obvious and easy to reason about. For example, you know on Hacker News that the top posts are the ones with the most votes. More detail doesn't give much more information.

But Instagram is like an Ocean of content, there is no clear boundaries between topics, it's an endless stream of content and events happening in parallel, AND the algorithms are known to be opaque. So the information of number of Likes are valuable to relate to other events which happened in the past. This also applies to Twitter.

By the way, we can see the total votes on the front page of Hacker News, because it helps to put things in perspective according to past events.

Instagram should hide the numbers of like in messages in the discussion of picture, but IMHO they should keep at least the order of magnitude of Likes under the pictures. ("10s Likes", "100s Likes", "1k Likes", etc)

It looks like you probably weren’t around at the time the change was made (though you may have been lurking). There was a lot of popularity voting at the time, which didn’t enhance the site. Patio11 could post anything and get 300 upvotes, just because, patio11. And arguments tended to be really overloaded with votes in both directions that caused more inflammation than anything else. I’m happy with the way it is now.

Well, another big site explored this. DailyKos made votes public.

You are not wrong. The info was very useful. One could get a map of users and a real sense of their politics, preferences, etc...

I did, and learned a TON about online dialog. Knowledge I have put to use elsewhere to great effect.

But the cost! Damn. The truth is that data generates an insane amount of meta. You name it. Cliques, brigades, retribution, beauty contests, the works!

Considering(from professional experience) how much vote manipulation occurs on online forums like HN, I'm certain no companies with sites like HN will ever implement that. I know plenty of people that make a living(or at least side money) providing voting for sites like reddit and HN and if you had that data you would realize how few of these votes are organic in nature.

It would be interesting to know the outcome the other way round: still use the numbers and the upvotes in the back end, but hide the up one count from everyone including the poster.

My guess would be a higher quality discussion, but a less addictive ui.

It would create some level of accountability, similarly if they're going to keep downvotes - showing who did it could add value; if retaliation is a worry by people downvoting, then perhaps they should reconsider not adding a downvote - and simply letting a comment fall away, or consider putting effort into writing a comment, using critical thinking to explain the dislike, as opposed to satisfying and processing their urge via a quick click of a downvote - which benefits no one.

You can't reason about the world through voting numbers in a forum primarily visited by tech people from SV. The bias is just too strong.

That's what meta-analysis is for!

>It feels like the system is hiding information from me that I would find interesting

Sometimes the behavioral impact matter more than full transparency. I definitely think it contributes to HN being higher quality than reddit for example. People say things for the sake of it not to gather 100 meme points

Has anyone done any studies on the effect of the change at HN?

Ir seems like it would be a really rich dataset. On the simple side of the analysis is simply what it did to the vote counts. Did they stay the same, or go down? What happened to the ratio? On the more complex side you could do some semantic analysis to see if the comments have changed in character at all.

It's one of my favourite features.

I feel like it does a great job of stopping the focus on karma. People who write bad comments still get downvoted/flagged/treated appropriately but everybody else doesn't feel they must write a comment with karma in mind.

And this is why you never put an engineer in charge of UX. It's such a coder answer to ask to see all the data, and it ignores everything about user behavior and human psychology. As much as we'd like to think that we're above such things, the reality is that seeing the numbers biases users and has a clear negative impact on how you read the comments.

Being engineer or coder does not mean that they don't understand human psychology and behaviour!

Public upvote counts would allow me to create a data set for analysis that would then allow me to manipulate HN to get lots of upvotes and control / influence the discussion using the knowledge I have data mined.

I am not to be trusted with such a capability.

Nor is anyone else on here.

To me, if a comment is faded or not, then that's enough info.

I enjoy hackernews for precisely this reason

I posted somewhere else on this thread, but putting a main one as well.

What gets lost in the whole "get rid of like counts" argument is that doing so generally speaking just helps those who are well-known and really makes it more tough for others to get there.

Many individual creators rely on likes, shares, reposts, w/e to drive their reach. Without a replacement that provides the same ability for the individual to gain that same reach this sort of change just hurts them.

Sadly, people do care about how many others found something interesting as a reason for whether they should pay attention to it or not, so something like this can literally take money out of people's hands that make pretty honest livings at what they do (such as webcomic artists) and makes it even more tough for them to just get while working for themselves.

Assuming that everybody uses Instagram to gain more followers, likes, exposure.

If you merely use it privately with your friends, not showing likes takes pressure and awkwardness out of it imho.

This is what is happening. Most people are running after likes and followers. Everyone wants everyone else to like their stuff and follow them. Of course this does not happen every time. To certain extent it breeds resentment and jealousy. People not validating their acquaintances might seem like a small issue on social network but it has real impact on relationships in real life.

I agree with you. But content creator need to realize that if they are fully dependent on another entity for source of their income (which they don't even have business agreement with) they are setting themselves up for disaster. The entity can make changes to platform and it does not owe anything to content creators.

You need to provide content through something that you own yourself. Instagram and other social platforms can help you promote your business but making these platform as source of living is shooting yourself in the foot.

Plenty of people, and I mean plenty, like many (I can back up with citations if that is really helpful)

a) own their content 100% that they make on their own sites b) definitely rely on social networking / media applications for driving a fanbase.

Upvotes/likes reflect popularity, it usually don't reflect quality. Take TV song/dance contests for example. HN community are often good judges but I sometimes see high quality comments being buried by clueless but more popular ones. And I usually get much more upvotes when commenting about stuff I know very little about vs when I comment about my domain of expertise.

>That’s how Instagram describes a seemingly small design change test with massive potential impact on users’ well-being.


>Hiding Like counts could reduce herd mentality, where people just Like what’s already got tons of Likes. It could reduce the sense of competition on Instagram, since users won’t compare their own counts with those of more popular friends or superstar creators.

How sad it is that we've gotten to a point in society, where our valuations are determined by fake points on the internet.

>And it could encourage creators to post what feels most authentic rather than trying to rack of Likes for everyone to see.

How is that a bad thing? Am I missing something, here?

But who is saying that it's a bad thing. I think we all are on same page here. It's good.

Am I the only person who is less likely to "like" something that has a large number of likes? If something has already been liked hundreds of times there's no benefit in my liking it.

>there's no benefit in my liking it.

ig aggregates content based on how you interact with posts

That further dissuades me from liking anything in particular.


Deconstruct what you wrote, in other circumstances why do you think there is a benefit to liking something that hasn't been liked before

You already have expanded the call to action of affirming your resonation with a post to something that transcends that action - meaning you aren't clicking the like button solely because you like the post - you decide to click it based on completely irrelevant unrelated factors (just like everyone else has), but you act like other people must be acting strange

At Tencent's WeChat this is the default from the beginning, hiding all likes and comments.

If I recall correctly it's the default for Instagram videos too— they only show you who has watched it but not how many likes it has.

I might be wrong here— it's been a while since I see a video in the app.

Did Hacker News pioneer hiding upvotes, or was there prior art?

I never saw what doing that really solves because comments are still sorted by upvote (aside from the occasional new comment being placed at the top, I actually like that), how many isn't really that relevant. Reddit does the same thing and it didn't really solve anything either.

How old is Hacker News compared to image boards, which often have no voting or approval scheme at all?

Sure, but I'm talking about sites that have a voting/liking mechanism and don't show the actual votes.

> It appears that there’s no plan to hide follower counts on user profiles, which are the true measure of popularity but also serve a purpose of distinguishing great content creators and assessing their worth to marketers.

This is the most ridiculous thing I've heard. Followers cab be bought cheaply and easily, they have nothing to do with distinguishing "great cibtent creators" (whatever that phrase may mean on Instagram, where a great work of art will always get less likes than a booblisp).

> whatever that phrase may mean on Instagram, where a great work of art will always get less likes than a booblisp

This is not particular to Instagram. It seems to have been the preference even before the internet was created.

This is a great idea, but it misses the mark in one key respect. While it professes to reduce the pressure on users, it continues to enable the “high score” addiction that drives engagement metrics — and thus advertising revenue — higher to Instagram’s benefit at their users’ expense.

Instagram’s position is that they are testing whether hiding your post accounts from others is sufficient to stop people from agonizing over how many likes their posts have. I am glad that they are testing this, but I do not think it will be sufficient.

Humans are incentivized to chase high scores in all respects, especially when the score is an integer ranging from zero to infinity. Hiding counts from others, but showing them to the user, may remove a certain degree of external pressure. However the innate drive to increase that integer count will continue to pressure users into taking actions based on the count. This keeps the core addictive loop of “post, check counts, agonize, repeat” intact, and will ensure that Instagram suffers no drop in engagement due to treating the core addictiveness of their platform.

For those users that are subject to social pressure, the high score problem will also continue to be a source of obsession over approval by their followers. Social influence is extremely difficult to measure directly, and many people actively read the leaves of events in their lives to try and discern their standing in the eyes of others. Integer counts such as “likes” and “replies” feed directly into this obsessiveness, providing an inscrutable figure that obviously carries meaning if only sufficient time and energy are invested in consideration of it. This creates a second loop of addiction, which is often confused with the first.

Removing all positive 0..N integer counts will be the only way to treat the addictive loops of today’s social media, and doing so would crater precisely the advertising-centric metric that they all depend so critically on: Engagement.

I wish all downvoters would justify their downvotes with written replies, don't you?

I saw that comment elsewhere in this post’s replies and it’s better supporting evidence for why it’s harmful to give us integers than I ever could have dreamed of.

Social networks are good for business and mating and this design choice goes in the direction of the latter.

People will be finally able to secretely like each others and the cicle of life will go on.

Too bad i'm starting to be too old

Too bad i'm starting to be too old

I am rather thankful that I'm starting to be too old for this bs.

Yesterday, FB also removed a public API endpoint showing share counts for an URL (though their official button still shows the number). Not sure if these 2 things are related.

Slightly OT, but has anyone else no idea where to find the techcrunch targeted-advertising opt out?! I've gone through like 4 menus now and can't actually find the opt out; talk about dark patterns...

Hopefully IMDB, Metacritic, Spotify, Amazon, and app stores will also empower users to make their own evaluations unencumbered by mob mentality by removing all metrics from public view.

I’d not throw these into the same bucket. Reviews and ratings on these side are a whole lot more valuable than likes and vanity metrics on social media sites.

This is probably done to hurt social media analytics companies. Without these numbers being known the only company that knows them is Facebook which means they can sell them...

Does anyone know how much of the current feed takes likes into account when choosing what to show you?

Feels a little like pulling up the ladder for the Instagram accounts who've already established a presence on the platform.

But maybe it'll work the other way around and give smaller accounts better, sigh, engagement?

Thank you- this is really liberating.

Next step: hide follower counts.

That's how a lot of "influencers" make their money, however Instagram does not get a piece of those deals that happen out of the network.

I'm not 100% sure whether I understand the reasoning behind this.

"Hiding Like counts could reduce herd mentality, where people just Like what’s already got tons of Likes."

"Hiding Like counts might get users posting more since they’ll be less self-conscious."

"Narcissism, envy spiraling, and low self-image can all stem from staring at Like counts."

Are there any sources for these claims? And are they the expressed reasons for this?

We're on a site right now that hides like counts for these reasons :D


Oh wow, that's really on point. I'd be cool if the front page would be like that as well for a week to see how it would be different. (pg if you're seeing this.)

The sort order for the frontpage is already determined by a secret score that is only partly related to upvotes.

I'm glad they stuck with hiding the like counts.

That's just the journalist's take on the feature.

In Instagram's app itself, the feature is elaborated as follow:

> We want your followers to focus on what you share, not how many likes your posts get. During this test, only the person who shared a post will see the total number of likes it gets.

source tweet: https://twitter.com/wongmjane/status/1118970853654290432

Instagram then stated to the press they are:

> exploring ways to reduce pressure on Instagram is something we’re always thinking about

It's also possible that they're experimenting with this in anticipation of https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19665221 (a proposed ban on likes for children).

Plenty of sources out there on network theory and information cascades.

Maybe I'm the minority, but seeing a post with a ton of likes will discourage me from liking it. One like has no impact among thousands. Same reason I don't upvote posts on the front page, they already made it there so why bother upvoting.

Only the first few votes give any kind of information. If you’re waiting to vote, it doesn’t matter if you’re voting with the crowd or against it. Your vote is meaningless after the cascade has started.

this will never happen because it is a literal job killer. Instagram is a business for all of its power users and the visible likes are absolutely essential for denoting 'success'.

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