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What is the main purpose behind Discourse's link click count?

an hyperlink showing how many people clicked it

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    It's hard to be objective in UX.. Never disappointing me in learning something new, this website. – Mazyod Mar 10 '15 at 19:46
  • Most things in UX seem to be a double-edged sword. If the social proof is valid then users build on this experience and learn to trust it. If the social proof turns out to be a 'hype' then users learn from this experience and learn not to trust it. – Michael Lai Mar 11 '15 at 22:04
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    Oh, it's a click counter?! I've visited quite some discourse pages lately and constantly wondered what this silly number was. If you are going to do this, make sure you tell your users. – 11684 Mar 12 '15 at 6:59
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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.

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    I don't buy it; no one can tell if it was worth clicking until after the count has already been incremented. This is almost like arguing for clickbait, something I think we all want to see less of... – Izkata Mar 10 '15 at 19:13
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    @Izkata I agree. But, that's not the point of my answer. The point is that Jeff Atwood thinks there's value in it. There's plenty of discussion on the topic in the linked thread. – Darrick Herwehe Mar 10 '15 at 19:24
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    Don't judge a link by it's anchor text. Trust me, I do SEO. – Chloe Mar 10 '15 at 19:29
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    Darrick has way better Google foo than I do. Thanks for finding and posting this quote which certainly answers the question in the case of why Discourse chooses to use link counters. There is still plenty of room for discussion if this choice "enhances the user experience" in general. – DaveAlger Mar 10 '15 at 22:40
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    If it showed the number of people to visit the page, that's a different story. Often linked-to pages are a good sign of what's worth clicking. – Prinsig Mar 11 '15 at 17:21
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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?

Choose wisely.

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 google a verb in the dictionary.

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    Good point. Yet, I see discourse as Jeff's UX masterpiece, so I was hoping for a convincing answer, preferably by the discourse team, or a quote thereof. – Mazyod Mar 10 '15 at 14:27
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    I like your 'real world' example at lot. While I also tend to ask the waiter ""hat can you recommend?" and often I get the answer "XY is quite popular" I would probably be still a bit irritated if I found a counter on the menu. – tillinberlin Mar 10 '15 at 15:28
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    I can't find any official quotes as to why discourse does this but you know what? I also can't find any links with counters next to them on their website. – DaveAlger Mar 10 '15 at 15:58
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    Good answer, many news sites use "hot topics" / "most read topics" section on their site, and sometimes when I navigate to any of the links I wonder "why the h*ll is this a hot or most read topic?"... if people click on an "interesting" link, it might still not have that interesting content behind it. Not always a good thing as you pointed out. – Samuel M Mar 10 '15 at 16:49
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    Ah well, maybe I can finally get that badge for getting way more votes than the accepted answer -- :) – DaveAlger Mar 10 '15 at 22:35
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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:

enter image description here

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    @Mazyod this answer is of poor quality. It just says "Well Facebook does it, so should you." with no additional insights nor explanations. Facebook has been wrong before (FBX anyone?). What about when the click counter says only 2 people have clicked? Does it carry the same effect? This answer addresses none of your question. – SnakeDoc Mar 10 '15 at 16:24
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    I would understand "social proof" – but either the question is misleading, or the answer is: IMHO "facebook likes" are not the same as "click counts". – tillinberlin Mar 10 '15 at 16:50
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    i see your point – but how does "following the herd" really "enhance the user experience" ? – tillinberlin Mar 10 '15 at 17:12
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    TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood, And sorry I could not travel both, A sign post harks of Facebook likes, "33,192 travelers doth passed." Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one most traveled by, And that has made all the difference. – Chloe Mar 10 '15 at 19:27
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    There's a pretty big difference here, when you click a link you can't take it back and there is no way to verify you wanted what was on the other end of the link whereas with a "like" you already know the content and have determined its significance. – Jasper Mar 10 '15 at 23:21
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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.

Source: Social Proof in the User Experience

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.

Source: Social Proof in the User Experience

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.


Win-Win situation:

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.

Source: Social Proof in the User Experience

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:

enter image description here

1

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.

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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.

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