Many websites allow users to find good content through a plethora of metrics. From my quick scan of some big websites, I found these metrics to be most common:

  • Popular
  • Trending
  • Most discussed
  • Most viewed
  • Highest rating

Do the various ways to sort end up being nearly identical? For example, wouldn't content that is viewed more tend to be discussed more? And as it is both viewed and discussed more, wouldn't that make it more popular? If so, is there still a need to have multiple choices of sorting?

Does the typical user understand the difference between all these metrics? For example, do they know what "trending" means and how it differs from "popular"?

  • I've never seen "popular" & "trending" being present in the same interface. "Popular" usually has a qualifier to it: right now (aka trending), today, this week, this month, all-time.
    – dnbrv
    Commented Feb 12, 2012 at 22:16
  • @dnbrv Youtube has both popular and trending. Look at the homepage on the left side. I personally never figured out what "trending" means because Youtube doesn't explain it anywhere. I think I understand popular - it may be an weighted sum of view count, recency, and comment count.
    – JoJo
    Commented Feb 12, 2012 at 22:38
  • 1
    @JoJo trending is always a function of (usually brief) time. I can't say for sure what Youtube's criteria are, but Twitter's trends are to the second, high volume topics.
    – Zelda
    Commented Feb 13, 2012 at 1:40
  • Is there any particular type of content you're hoping to sort? For small amounts of content or infrequent content, "most popular ever" can be a good choice. If it's something like news, all your sort options need to focus on what's current.
    – Zelda
    Commented Feb 13, 2012 at 14:11
  • @BenBrocka After explaining it to me, I now understand what trending means. I doubt your mother or my mother would figure out what it means because it's not described anywhere. Same with # and @ in Twitter. If it must be taught verbally to your mother, it's not good UI.
    – JoJo
    Commented Feb 13, 2012 at 19:37

4 Answers 4


These all have their own uses, it depends on what content you have and how you want users to find content that determins which should be used. Using all of them will certianly be confusing, as all of these are variations on the same theme.

Highest Rating

If voting or reviewing is important to your content, this is a great way to go. However it's also technically complex; if you go by % good/bad ratings, a single Good vote puts you at 100%, which would put you at the top of a post with 999 good votes and one bad.

Ratings are great for sorting out quality, which is important for commerce. I might not care what the most popular headphones on Amazon are, I want the best ones. If your content requires less buy in or varies less in quality (like news), rating probably isn't that helpful. Ratings are helpful on Stack Exchange because there's a lot of content and it varies greatly in quality.


This is popularity as a function of time; only recently popular items will show up in a "trending" sort, though how you weight time/popularity in the algorithm is up to you. These are generally very up to date, to the minute or second. Think "stock ticker."

Trending is vital for news; no one goes to CNN or the BBC and wants to see old news plastered on the front page. I've also seen "recently popular" used to describe this sorting method, trending is a bit informal and less clear as to what it means.

Note that lots of users have trouble understanding what "trending" actually means; many people find it hard to grasp what trending means on twitter. I would try to avoid the actual wording of "trending" even if you use the sort pattern.

Most Discussed

This is the big one for highly social communities (and is often the same as "popular" on those communities) but the name clearly explains why it's popular; people are talking about it. Facebook and Twitter sort out content (by the Top Stories and Trending sections respectively). This can also be a fit for news sites that emphasize discussion.

A risk is that flamewars and contraversial topics are often emphasized in this sort method. That's not always the face you want to present to users.

Most Viewed

This one is very clear, use this title instead of "Most Popular" if you want to differentiate it from Most Discussed ect. This is generally the same as "Most Popular"

Most Popular

This is really vauge; it can really mean any of the other sort methods I've covered, and it will be ambiguous if you include others. Generally this means "most views" or a combination of views and discussion, which is sort of what Stack Exchange does, though we use votes, not discussed.

This is a good title to use if you only have one sort method, and it's generally taken to mean "of all time". The Oatmeal updates once every couple weeks and so they have a Most Popular (of all time, best I can tell) to show the best of the best of their content. This can be ideal if your content isn't time sensitive. Note that none of The Oatmeal's Most Popular posts are that dated; it's a comic, not a news site.

What Users Think

Some of these terms can be confusing, much more so when they're used together. What's "Most Viewed" and "Most Discussed" is explicitly clear, so they're an effective (though technical) way to sort things out. Highest rating is clear (at least as clear as your rating system) but it doesn't always apply.

Most Popular and Trending are certainly easy to mix up; if you have just one sort method, most popular is probably fine. It's okay to be a little vague if there's only one sort method; people have a general idea of what popular means; lots of people are reading or talking about it. Start to mix that up with other sort methods that are kind of like popular and you'll start to have trouble.

Whether you need multiple sort methods depends on your content; highest rated and most popular are certainly different and can provide value if popular tends to be different from high quality/higly rated posts. Controversial topics are likely to get mixed ratings, but large amounts of views/discussion.

If you don't see the value in multiple sorting methods, your users probably see even less. Keep it simple unless it's clear to you or your users that more sorting methods are needed. If good posts are buried because recent posts get all the attention, consider adding rating sorts. If old content is emphasized too much, consider sorting by time or "trending" (recent popularity).

  • 1
    You explained the terms but didn't answer the OP's question...
    – dnbrv
    Commented Feb 13, 2012 at 15:24
  • I don't really have a "one liner" but it seems the primary cause of confusion was when or whether to employ any or all of them. I explained that 1) users don't necessarily know the difference between popular/trending 2) Yes, these can be identical (Most popular can mean any of these really). I didn't specifically address whether you need multiple ones but I did address when you should need each one.
    – Zelda
    Commented Feb 13, 2012 at 15:33

The first question is simple: do users need multiple ways to sort? It depends simply on the amount of items they need to sort through. If you have 7 items total, an unordered list is sufficient. If you have 7 billion items, you'll need super-fancy sort orders combined with multiple filters. If you've something in between, well, you'll need something in between.

The second question is whether some filters are similar. The answer is quite certainly yes. What's worse, the terms are not objective, which also means they're not consistent across sites. Someone's "popular" will be someone else's "trending". It's not as bad as it sounds. If you offer both, users will try both when exploring. They don't need to understand your precise interpretation for that.


Interesting point. I agree that most of these if not all can represent the same thing. I found in most cases a website will almost always use at lease one. And the metric used I think has something to do with the type of website or how content is presented to the user.

eg. "Most Discussed" would be more suited to discussion forums and blog type websites, while "Most Viewed" will probably be more appropriate to News items, "Highest rating" for products or services websites etc. etc... If you think your audience won't understand the meaning of a particular metric/term then avoid using it to organise your content.

Although I believe that offering the user multiple ways to sort out content is important, we should also be careful not to over complicate things. One of these I think will prove effective and serve its purpose according to its audience and content type.


This is a good question!

Trending and Popular almost are synonymous, but as in the case with Youtube both these terms exist. Trending is something that is of present age, at the moment and a time scale that is relevant as of in shorter span of time. Trending news that is emerging news. Popular is alike Trending, but could be in a medium span of time, where it relates to days instead of hours; as what is the case with Trending.

Users will definitely understand Popular news, but Trending is much a term that caught up with social media hype. www.mashable.com also uses the term Trending where the site relatively discusses social media/channels about trends.

Also fairly people never consume all of them, but few of them and lately they use items like Highest rating in case of "songs". So it becomes contextual with the material that user relates with. It is never an imposing rule, but these are flavors. Flavors and channels which are available to find multiple data in multiple ways. It means that certain information may overlap. This overlap is really a thin line, and people skip through the information that they came across in another segment.

But widely differentiated items like Top News and Latest news clearly mention two different context. Its also less probable that people looked into items like Most Read in a News website, since why should one user care about which items are most read, when he himself regularly checks the latest news. But this is different for a user who visits the website after a week and will want to find the Most Read news since those will incidentally be the Top News for that period of time.

Its highly contextual and multiple choices will still serve users in differing perspectives, but it also needs to be mapped with the user learnability and experiences with such terms. A careful choice is the best way it can be brought in, so user research is critical, since sorting should be with the best context and purpose for that site.

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