While browsing various social media platforms, I encounter this upvote, likes button that shows an ambiguous count for the aforementioned things.

Is there a name for such a pattern ?

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    That is called a 'counter' – likes counter, share counter or comment counter. The entire bar may be called a status bar if the features are read-only. Otherwise, perhaps, a 'control bar' if constituted of active items. – Ren Dec 18 '19 at 10:20
  • The "100+" itself isn't an exact count so shouldn't be a counter. It is infact an ambiguous counter. Is there a name for such a thing ? – cafebabe1991 Dec 18 '19 at 11:42
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    I concur this is a counter, but within the larger context of a rating system. I'll add that it has a significant usability problem in that it doesn't make clear to the user the exact number. This can cause problems for users trying to understand why certain object are ranked higher than others. In an effort to summarize the count probably for real-estate they sacrificed clarity. In my opinion its a counter with a poor implementation. medium.muz.li/… – Mark Dec 18 '19 at 15:04
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    Showing an exact count, say 35426, upvote won't add much to a user's experience but might compete for extra space with other elements. Maybe the exact count is deferred till it is actually required. Sometimes due to technical limitations these counts can be calculated for a smaller number and when user navigates to detail page the actual counts can be calculated and presented. Just my intuition. – cafebabe1991 Dec 18 '19 at 15:14

I peeked into quora's html code in the browser, the word they use for these is 'optimistic count'. I am not sure if that is a real name or a made up name for the html.

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  • +1 Optimistic as in that it is ambiguous and likely to be higher or optimistic as in hoping that people will click it? :) – Michael Lai Dec 21 '19 at 14:05
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    That people will click it. The next higher value is also there but made visible when clicked. I verified it. – cafebabe1991 Dec 21 '19 at 14:08
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    Optimistic here refers to an implementation method. When the button is clicked a request is send to the database to increase the count. Normally you'd have to wait for the request to be received by said database and return the new count. Optimistic counting means your browser / app will assume that the request will be delivered as normal and increase the count directly and not wait for the new count from the server. This makes the user experience faster and nicer. Hope that helps. – Martyn Jan 3 at 11:00
  • Thanks @martyn. That actually helps. – cafebabe1991 Jan 3 at 11:01

First-order approximation


"First-order approximation is the term scientists use for a slightly better answer. Some simplifying assumptions are made, and when a number is needed, an answer with only one significant figure is often given ("the town has 4×103 or four thousand residents"). In the case of a first-order approximation, at least one number given is exact."


As you said in one of your comments yourself, it probably has to do with reduction of information to process, or just simplicity.

Maybe they determined that the exact number is not important for the majority of users and an estimate fulfills the role just as well. As you said, knowing the exact number won't add that much to a user's experience, e.g. 3000+ vs. 3845.

But on the other hand, I wonder if it really "saves" them anything. Because personally, such things instantly make me feel manipulated or make me wonder "what are they trying to persuade me for as a user here?"; and I'm sure that's not only me.

It feels like someone made the decision that it would be too complex for you to view detailed numbers.

Anyway, your question was about the name and it seems there is no definitive name or pattern for it out there yet. Not really a fan of "optimistic count", as it doesn't really represent what it means. I actually feel like the term you used, ambiguous count, fits very well.


I am interested to see if there is a more specific terminology for this, but in general anything that exists on a social media platform which encapsulates the behaviour of a group of people contributes to the concept of social proof.

Therefore, any terminology derived from the interactions that utilizes or is caused by social proof should have some consistency in wording.

I would argue that these are perhaps 'social proof' counters? And if you want to be specific then each of them could be named based on the type of social proof it is counting or reflecting, so upvote or reputation social proof counter, and share link social proof counter (except perhaps for the comments since it is a more direct metric of engagement).

Sounds a bit wordy but hopefully a good starting point.

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    I peeked into quora's html code in the browser, the word they use for these is 'optimistic count'. I am not sure if that is a real name or a made up name for the html. – cafebabe1991 Dec 19 '19 at 16:57

I'm not sure if there is an actual name for this other than an approximate count but I believe there may be two reasons why it was implemented this way.

Firstly, an accurate number doesn't really provide much benefit to the user. The average user is probably not going to spend time analysing exactly which post has more likes than another post and only really cares about relative popularity which this approximation gives. Using this format provides an easier to parse representation of popularity that doesn't take space away from other UI components.

Secondly, (and more likely the actual reason it is shown in this way) they likely cannot provide an accurate value immediately. Most social services are now provided on distributed platforms meaning votes and comments will likely be stored on multiple servers across the globe and would require synchronizing before an accurate count could be determined. It is easy to estimate these values by adding the local totals together but is much harder to verify an accurate total count as each vote counted needs to be synchronized with the main server to ensure votes aren't duplicated across servers.

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