Remember when Youtube removed their 5-star rating system in favor of their current thumbs up/down system? From their statistics, they concluded that because there were too many choices, people ended up only using one choice - the full 5 star rating:

5 star rating youtube

Now they boiled it down to two choices: thumbs up and down.

thumbs up and down

Can we take this a step further? How about we boil it down to only 1 choice? Remove the thumbs down and only have the thumbs up.

thumbs up

  • By reducing choices, does it speed up the user's execution time?
  • Will the effective rating of the ecosystem remain the same? For example, I have only 3 items in my ecosystem to rate. In a thumbs up + down system, the ratings could be +10, +5, and -3. If we were to switch to a thumbs up-only system, would the ratings naturally converge to +13, +8, and 0?
  • Are negative ratings really that useful? There exist many successful sites whose content is rated on a positive scale. Examples include, Yelp, Amazon, and Newegg. I think negative ratings could draw too much attention to bad content. It is arguable that bad content should be ignored. Aren't Internet users trying to quickly find good content by looking at high ratings? How would drawing undue attention to bad content by marking it red help the user find good content?
  • Does getting negative ratings discourage a user from further participation? I remember back when I started using Digg, my first few comments got negative votes. It appears that one must make a snarky remark or pun to garner the approval of the Digg community at the time. This discouraged me from ever posting on Digg again. Yes, it taught me never to make comments too serious, but it didn't encourage me to further participate in a manner that would appease the masses.
  • 1
    Hacker News only has upvotes. Commented Jun 30, 2011 at 2:54
  • 5
    Effectiveness aside, I feel nauseated by only being able to express approval, but not disapproval. Such systems (e.g. Facebook Like) feel like a bastard child between a sleazy marketing/sales operation and a totalitarian police state (if you disapprove, you can shut up... see, comrade, nobody disapproves, people are either quiet or cheering).
    – dbkk
    Commented Jun 30, 2011 at 16:39
  • @dbkk Facebook may have left out disliking because it could ruin friendships. If someone gets voted down, they will feel bad and retaliate against the haters.
    – JoJo
    Commented Jul 1, 2011 at 2:00
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    Do you really think that sites like Amazon really only use a positive scale? A rating of 1 is not a positive rating on Amazon. Commented Jul 2, 2011 at 22:57
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    I think its interesting that these comments here on stackexchange have only upvotes
    – jonshariat
    Commented May 30, 2013 at 19:28

6 Answers 6


I believe having a negative voting is useful!

Normally most of the content is rated positively, but there are situations where the content is most definitely bad and by voting negative you give that input to other viewers (take Stack Exchange's sites for example, the up/down system is effective IMO). People like to voice their opinions.

It does affect me when I get negatives, I think there may be somekind of test/study already made about this (I will have to search for it), but it can also be treated as another challenge: how to produce a voting system, where the negatives don't discourage the users?

I understand your point of view, when changing from a five choice system (the stars) down to a two choice system (or one)... You would like to simplify it even more, but careful, to simplify more can be harmful, simple is good but in my opinion too simple isn't that good.

It may speed the user interaction if you have fewer options, but I suggest you make this exercise (and this is the real challenge) how to improve the usability of my voting system with this amount of choices?

Finally, don't be surprised if in the future sites like youtube.com introduce more choices. A choice is very valuable and removing most just for the sake of simplicity may be a bad thing.

  • 3
    Making sure users don't feel bad is actually a bigger concern than most UX designers think. I noticed that the more someone is censored or being picked on by other users, the more likely they are to retaliate. We've gotten death threats posted on our forums, offensive pornography posted everywhere, and even phone calls from disgruntled users. That's why I'm cautious about negative ratings. Someone could get disappointed by negative rating after negative rating. Yes, it's just the Internet, but insecure people take the Internet very seriously these days.
    – JoJo
    Commented Jul 1, 2011 at 2:12
  • @JoJo that's true, but at the end of the day, a negative vote isn't (shouldn't be) to harm the author/user, but instead to provide a feedback about the content. I know this is more or less of an utopia, users always take it personally :( even so, IMO it's best to keep it and find a way to minimize the "impact" of negatives...
    – jackJoe
    Commented Jul 1, 2011 at 9:03
  • 2
    I mostly agree, and some nuance can help. Yelp let's you give bad ratings to businesses, but it never lets you badmouth a person: all the buttons are positive. On this site, I think it would be useful to only allow downvotes if there are already upvotes. Having a negative number just feels like "why the heck did you even bother (both posting an answer and downvoting below zero)?" Very discouraging.
    – Taj Moore
    Commented Dec 16, 2011 at 17:17

To only be able to give positive feedback takes away a lot of the meaning behind asking for user feedback in the first place.

For example; imagine that TripAdvisor only gave people the choice to say they liked the holiday or not say anything at all. I for one would then have less faith in the site as a whole. Negative feedback isn't itself bad; it is informative.

For YouTube, a thumbs down vote is just a critique of that video, it's not used as a Flag for bad (i.e. offensive / illegal) content. If I were to post a short film I have made and want to gather opinions then a negative opinion is just as valid as a positive one, infact it could be said that it was more useful as it will show me that I need to make improvements in future, which is what I would do.

If I only ever got praise then how would I know that I've genuinely done something worthwhile if I know that nobody is actually able to say they don't like it?

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    "If I were to post a short film I have made and want to gather opinions then a negative opinion is just as valid as a positive one". I'd go a step further - In that example both types of votes are essential. To have just one type of vote would be meaningless.
    – gef05
    Commented Jun 30, 2011 at 12:22
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    +1 For "Negative feedback isn't itself bad; it is informative."
    – Rad'Val
    Commented Jul 1, 2011 at 0:20
  • Let's go into your Youtube analogy. If Youtube were a thumbs-up-only system, wouldn't you still be able to figure out how to improve your future videos? Just stay away from your videos that have close to a zero score and draw inspiration from your videos that have a very high score.
    – JoJo
    Commented Jul 1, 2011 at 2:07
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    @JoJo: But why do they have a low score? Is it because they hated the video, or because they simply didn't bother to vote? Downvotes let you distinguish those two situations.
    – dan04
    Commented Oct 26, 2011 at 11:13

Having only a like button can definitely work for certain sites where 'liking' something can be subjective. Such as art or design.

If you visit behance.net and look at an item, once you look at it you can 'click to appreciate', but you can't say 'this sucks'. The items that get a lot of appreciation will bubble up above those that didn't get any votes.

  • This is also a good point, I too think that it somehow depend on the content you "thumbs down"/"thumbs up"
    – Rad'Val
    Commented Jul 1, 2011 at 0:24
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    Aren't all voting systems put on subjective content? If the content were objective, a computer would be able to calculate the rating for you.
    – JoJo
    Commented Jul 1, 2011 at 2:03
  • 1
    Yeah JoJo I agree with you, clearly it's all subjective unless we're voting on solutions for math problems. However, I feel like if you're goal is to showcase the 'good' things, than a vote up only can work. If you are also trying to bury the 'crappy' things than you might want to vote down things as well.
    – Keegan
    Commented Jul 1, 2011 at 17:14

There are often many different ways that votes can be registered.

In YouTubes case if they got rid of the down vote they can still measure the number of times someone starts watching a video, but doesn't finish. This is the ultimate down vote.

In between that there are the number of people that watch the whole video, but don't Upvote.

Then there are the number of people who Upvote.

Then the ultimate Upvote are the people who Upvote and then click on the next related video link.


It's subjective, but for me - less buttons, the better.

This could be taken even further - if someone visits the same page again and again, he probably likes it...

At least, avoiding buttons or even "hiding features" can be very inspiring. Hiding in the sense of inferring as much as possible.

  • 3
    I like the idea of subconscious voting. It's in the same school of thought as Jacob Nielson's rule "Look at what the users do, not what they say." and Aza Raskin's feeling that less interface is better interface. But subconscious voting is hard to program as it requires deep understanding of psychology of Internet users, which is a relatively untapped field compared to traditional psychology. Programmers who can't do it will no doubt pack their interface with more buttons to compensate.
    – JoJo
    Commented Jul 2, 2011 at 20:58
  • I've been thinking about this a little more. No interface might be very different from a minimal interface. People might not be ready for no interface. People feel satisfaction from the cause-and-effect phenomena. "I click this thumbs up, so other people can find good content. I have done a good deed for the community". If you remove any buttons and just programmatically rate based on view time, revisit count, etc... it might take way from this satisfaction. No interface might be ahead of our time. It might pick up some decades in the future though when we have better technology.
    – JoJo
    Commented Jul 2, 2011 at 21:08
  • Yeah, like Aza said - interfaces should be right in between of "boring" and "annoying". It probably depends on the importance of voting. If it's only interaction there, thumb up (no thumb down) should be ok. If there are comments and polls, rating could be too much. Every click should be "mindless". But like in programming we prefer profiling instead of over-optimizing, user testing could bring much more valuable results. Commented Jul 2, 2011 at 21:41

The problem with "positive"-only system is that it cannot distinguish between content that doesn't get a lot of upvotes because people don't see it, and content that doesn't get a lot of upvotes because people actually hate it. For example, consider the scenario:

  • Content A is "liked" by 100 people, and "disliked" by 4 people
  • Content B is "liked" by 100 people, and "disliked" by 1904 people

If only upvotes were allowed, the recommendation system could not distinguish between A and B. If downvotes are allowed, it becomes obvious that A is "better".

  • 3
    Youtube also records "times watched", however. Even without dislikes, Content A has been "seen" (at least) 104 times whereas Content B has been "seen" (at least) 2004 times, which shows us which is probably better: 100/2004 people (5%) liked B, wheras 100/104 (96%) liked A. Commented Nov 12, 2012 at 18:49

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