What is the main purpose behind Discourse's link click count?
According to, literally, the first result when you google
discourse click count, Jeff Atwood defends the click counter as a valuable signal for users to determine if a link is worth clicking:
The purpose of links is to be clicked, their entire existence is predicated on being clicked at some point, and showing the click data gives you, THE READER, valuable signal about what others found worth clicking, as described in Don't Click Here: The Art of Hyperlinking. It also bubbles up to the topic level so for a long topic you can see the top (n) links for the entire topic based on clicks, to get just the "best of" links that others found most valuable, rather than reading and parsing the entire topic to get there.
There is nothing sadder than the unclicked link.
The short answer to the high level UX question here is -- it depends -- so here are a few cases why a company like discourse might choose to put click counters next to their hyperlinks along with things to watch out for...
I'm new here what does everyone else click?
Sometimes when I visit a new restaurant I'll ask the waiter what most people order. This is usually a good indication that something is delicious otherwise tons of people wouldn't be ordering it.
Click counts here could serve a similar purpose, however, it may also backfire because it is easier to click a bad link solely because it has been clicked a lot and not because it's relevant.
Do I want to be the first one to click this spyware link?
Another reason to show a collective counter next to a hyperlink is that it could indicate risk.
If a link doesn't have very many clicks then it could navigate to something terrible or it could take you to the most amazing undiscovered content online.
Are you a risk taker?
Counting hyperlink clicks is passive
The final reason for doing this is that it doesn't require users to do anything extra. The act of visiting a link is a vote whether you like where it goes or not. If the link is beneficial and relevant then you are more likely to tell others to click on it and/or click on it again yourself from another device.
Google realized early on that a hyperlink is simply the internet's way of marking a page as worth visiting. If there are many different companies linking to the same page then it must be more relevant than a page with similar content that nobody links to. That certainly isn't always the case but it's true enough to make
It's very simple: social proof.
People are more persuaded when they know many others have traveled the same way. This click counter is very prominent in Like buttons, to serve the same purpose:
Does adding a click count next to a hyperlink enhance the user experience?
The fact that the use of click counter makes use of social proof as clearly suggested by many answers here is true and rightly so. That being said, does it improve the user experience?
Yes it does, here is why:
Social proof is a psychological phenomenon where people reference the behavior of others to guide their own behavior.
This helps us deal with uncertainty and comfort/aid our decision making process. As such, a click count next to a hyperlink as well as numerous other examples of social proof such as user reviews, likes and dislikes, sharing etc all fall under the banner of facilitating, informing and guiding user decision process and as such improves overall user experience.
On the other hand:
Occasionally, in usability studies, users tell us that they don’t care about user reviews, they don’t trust other people’s opinions, and they make all of their decisions based totally on their own independent perspective. Unfortunately, thousands of psychology studies prove this “lone wolf” theory to be quite false — another example of why we should base design decisions on what users do rather than what they say.
How will users know it is worth clicking ?
In most cases they will not know (entirely) ! but will have to make and educated guess and weigh their options based on clues embedded in the context in which the link is used; text used for the link, how its used, by whom etc and gradually buildup a picture of how credible the link is. The more clues they find the more likely they are to make a decision to explore further.
The click counter only indicates how "credible" the link is based on other users perception.
Using social proof is a win-win situation for all involved:
- Business get to increase their credibility (Quality of social proof assumed)
- users are guided and informed by relying on the wisdom of the crowds.
- Designers and devloppers get to work on innovating and discovering new ways of doing things.
Testing Social Proof:
The most significant risk with using social proof is the perception that too few people approve of the piece of content, service, or product.
So for any social proof solution to be viable it needs to be tested and validated. below are some testing considerations to take into account:
Several answers have talked about 'social proof' and how the fact that many people have done something makes us more likely to want to do it.
I believe, in a forum context there is a further purpose to the click count. The fact that 1,000 people have clicked on something, most or all of them not knowing the contents at the time of clicking, might not make it any more worthwhile. However, knowing that 1,000 people have clicked on something helps us evaluate it alongside the other comments that have been posted in the forum.
Basically, if the contents of a link are misleading, offensive or useless, we expect that some other person will leave a comment warning us of this. This of course can not always be true, someone has to be the first person to click on a dodgy link. However, as the number of clicks rises, it becomes much more unlikely that the link is undesirable content, but that no-one has yet posted a warning response.
TL;DR: If a lot of people have already clicked on a link, but no one has posting some comment warning us of spam/a broken link/goatse.cx, we can be confident the link is kosher.
I can't see how a click counter next to the actual link would enhance the ux – if the links were not part of some time of "hot list". And even then the probability of 'backfiring' as @DaveAlger points out would be a reason not to display click counts nest to the actual links.
Instead IMHO I would suppose a click counter would actually distract many users and make them click on different link – or at leat make them think they would have clicked on a different link – which would then again make it bad ux.
If click-counting is what the client wants, I would try to pursuade him to either hide the results and make them only visible on demand ("show link poularity" or smth similar) or to leave the display of clicks counted to the follow up page.. which would then probably look like the good old page view counter.
An alternative approach could be to have some seperate section displaying "popular links" or "popupal articles". That's actually a feature I quite like on news websites and the like.