We run contests in which people submit either a photo or video, then audiences vote online each day for their favorites. When there are enough entries that many fall below the fold (particularly in mobile), how do we optimally choose the best order to present them in?

We want to balance the user experience of audience members with participants. However, audience member experience ranks first in priority.

  1. Random order seems the most equitable, but then a particular entry could be anywhere on the page, thus making it hard to locate or predict.

  2. Top votes first seems the most popular and best geared for casual audience members who do not know the contestants. However, the Matthew Effect (where the rich get richer) removes equitability pretty quickly.

  3. Most recent first gives everyone a fair shake (just like on this site), but could bury top entries that came in early.

  4. What other methods are available and practicable?

Bear in mind, users will go out and recruit their social networks to vote for them. In lesser publicized contests, this has a disproportionately high effect on ranking. In higher budget contests, the social effect is minimized against larger audience participation.

  • I would think another method, for reference, would be newest entries first. I've seen that implemented a couple of times in these scenarios.
    – GotDibbs
    May 16, 2012 at 21:13

5 Answers 5


The best way to minimize bias in voting is to have random contestant ordering. Any ordering other than random will introduce a bias that favors what appears at the top, whether it's the ones already winning, those who come alphabetically first, or whatever other consistent sorting you choose.

To allow contestants to provide 'vote for me' links, you can use #anchors or detail pages as destinations to auto-scroll the page to a particular user, or to go to a page for a specific entry rather than the entire list.

One specific method to avoid is lowest first. While it seems like it will avoid bias by showing the new users first, what really happens is that after some time it shows the worst first. This discourages people from voting at all, because the top listed items are all so bad (often troll entries).


I agree that random ordering is best and you should provide an option to "show more" entries, so the user can keep exposing themselves to more and more random entries, if they want.

Also, it makes sense to have a link to show the top entries, even if it's not the first point of exposure to the entries. Every entry should have its own "page" so that people can link directly to their entries or bookmark their favorite entries.


I think that since it's a contest, and since members do promote on social sites to get more votes for the contestants, thus I believe the site therefore should show the top ranked first by default. It must be like a dashboard that shows overview of who is currently leading.

However there should be a filter for users to quickly sort the contestants based on; latest first, most viewed, most shared etc.


I think the fair way to do this is to put the most recent photos/videos first as a default. The user should then have the opportunity to change the filter to "Most Viewed" or "Most Votes".

A visitor to the site will be able to view the newest items first, allowing him to view photos and videos that he has not yet seen. This in turn allows a new entrant better exposure of his material.

Should the "Most Viewed" or "Most Votes" be placed first, new material may get lost and never have a fair chance.

  • Can you expand a bit on why the most recent items is the fair way to do this?
    – JonW
    May 17, 2012 at 7:42
  • I see her point...this allows the new people to get a chance at being seen before being overwhelmed by those with large numbers of votes. Random order is the most "fair"...but it really all depends on how prominent the current vote count is as to if it would skew people's attention. May 17, 2012 at 8:45

I agree with @MyrddinEmrys that RANDOM order is the best in terms of fairness. It would certainly be important to provide a way to link directly to a specific entry (as mentioned, the #anchor tag would work great for this). You could also give your USERS a CHOICE. Use the random order by default, but allow the user to click to sort by "newest first" and "most votes first" etc...just like any ecommerce site.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.