I'm making a simple rating system, just like youtube has:

example of the rating UI

This works great if you have a big userbase, but it's too sensitive with just a few votes.
Say the first vote is down, no green bar will be displayed.
Or when you have two votes, with 1 downvote, results in a 50%

While this is the actual result, it's a bit too fragile. Are there any common methods to overcome this? I'm thinking of starting with stats like 10up/10down, that'll ease the influence of 1 vote, but that makes me start at 50% if no-one voted (now default is 100%).

I'd like a fair method, where one vote doesnt have to much influence? I'm the techy, I can work with a formula.

Edit, Extra info after some answers:
- I'm not expecting much votes in a small timewindow, therefore hiding the bar until X votes are placed doesn't have a preference.
- I'm not going to add 'x votes', I don't want to give away that we have a low amount of votes (for now)

  • You could mark the rating on the horizontal axis and the confidence on the vertical one, e.g. the thicker the bar the more people have cast a vote.
    – Crissov
    Oct 29, 2014 at 15:19
  • I'd suggest just displaying the ratings honestly. (That would require you to reconsider the "no vote count" decision.) Users will put less faith in fewer votes, as they should. And you should help them recognize the ratings that are more and less worthy of their trust. Oct 30, 2014 at 15:26
  • This would be a good halfway step. I don't mind displaying the few votes when it'll become more. I'm just not expecting that more to happen for a while.
    – Martijn
    Oct 30, 2014 at 15:48

3 Answers 3


An idea that I can think of is to show the thumbs up/down and replace the bar with a message saying something like "Cast your vote to see the results"

Let it display this message until you have reached your threshold and then just display the bar permanently.

This will help you avoid a fragile low-user voting system and will encourage more of your users to vote in the first place.

That's just my two cents.

  • Not showing a counter for the up/down votes. I'm not expecting much votes. We are a small site, but people tends to think we're a big company, not going to give that away with "7 votes total".
    – Martijn
    Oct 29, 2014 at 16:09
  • @Martijn Understood, well hopefully my idea can give you some inspiration anyways. I think that using a formula for superficial voting would not be a good idea though, I think it would harbor distrust in your users. Unless of course you did something like StackOverflow does and use a point system so every video starts with 100 points and each up/down vote alters it by 5 points, but this could get confusing given that the general public is used to Youtube styled voting compared to SO. Good luck! :)
    – MonkeyZeus
    Oct 29, 2014 at 16:15
  • @Martijn I also think it would be beneficial to other users if you update your question with the new details you've disclosed in the comment :)
    – MonkeyZeus
    Oct 29, 2014 at 16:18
  • "Cast your vote to see the results" can lead to people voting without being informed about the issue, just to reveal the results. Many people are there to gather info in order to make a decision. At this point, they're not prepared to cast a vote. Oct 30, 2014 at 15:14

Using a more dynamic scale (i.e. some kind of Likert scale) probably won't help you much because people tend to vote at the extremes anyways in a "like / dislike" question.

You may wish to hide the results from view until you have a sufficient number of responses that you feel comfortable displaying a mean for; many rating systems have this feature (iTunes, for example, won't show an average rating until ~5 users have given reviews or ratings).


After your edits, I'm not sure there is a good answer to your question. You expect a low number of votes, but don't want to "give away" the fact that there will be a low number of votes. You want to show an average but don't want to show an average that has a low number of votes. Perhaps you should use a different system (like a purely positive "Like") that you would feel more comfortable with.

  • This has indeed crossed my mind, this is my backup plan. I prefer to always show the bar, so I'm looking for solutions in that direction. But this is an OK failsafe.
    – Martijn
    Oct 29, 2014 at 14:07

You can make it like a point system from -2 to 7 for example. It could vary by your major content category. For a music sharing system with this point system I think a track with higher than 4 points in average is worth listening because, an average of 8 people from 10 are loving it.

I prefer this kind of dizzy numbering instead of the parallel ones (eg: -10 to 10) because you can add your own info and perspective on how people liked or disliked the material. -2 and -1 precisely mean "DISLIKE" and 7 means "LOVE" Then in your rating system you are free to make a hate-list by negative points or to make most-loved by 7s. You can even exclude negative points because there may be some users against some artist. I only mean the positive dynamics of an unfamiliar rating system.

Since your designed poll bar is great looking and I assume you finally will use it, I think a thicker green bar with a guiding level text (eg: low impression, people like it, Everyone loves it) line would make it nicer and more informative.

  • I'm not really what you mean, but 'upvotes', 'downvotes' is all I got, no rating. With the two I can calculate percentages. I need something simple, like my image. But tat you for your input (might just make the green bar thicker).
    – Martijn
    Oct 29, 2014 at 14:05
  • I really can't follow the idea you're trying to get across here. Oct 29, 2014 at 15:17

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