When Medium changed its “like” system to the current clapping system I let out a deep sigh. Not just because I thought the old one worked fine (if you liked something enough, you gave it a heart — if you didn’t, you didn’t). No, because this one is not only flawed, it’s also silly. Let me explain.
1-person-1-like is simple. It’s intuitive. You like it? Like it. You don’t? Don’t. You like it a little, but not enough to give it a heart? Then don’t. Sure, there are grey zones and doubts and situations, but at the end of the day, it’s understandable and easy. The number of hearts your post got was the number of people who cared enough to give it a heart.
Now? Now you can give “claps”. You can give one clap, or five, or twenty seven or thirty nine or even fifty. Fifty is the max. However, when you (as a writer) check your stats, they don’t show you the number of claps. No, they show you the number of “fans” (people who have clapped for a blog post).
So now there are two systems. There’s the frontend one, where people see how many claps a post has (with everyone who liked it contributing 1–50 claps) and there’s a backend where it doesn’t matter if a reader claps once or goes full on +50 for your words.
Add to that the fact that if you look at WHO has clapped, you can see who has given how much praise. 34 claps might be 26+4+1+1+1+1 (six fans), it might be one fan clapping 34 times or 34 fans clapping once each. This you can find out as a creator, but only by manually checking.
But what do those claps mean? What’s 4-clap compared to a 17-clap? Is a 47-clap reserved for an article that changes your life, and does a 50-clap signify you actually think it deserved a hundred but the system couldn’t handle it? Is my 6-clap the same as the 6-clap of someone else? Why did that guy who clapped 35 times for my post not clap 36 or 37? Did he just get tired or did he feel it was a 35/50 post?
The human brain is made for contrast, not nuance. We can easily arrange five strangers by height within seconds, but figuring out how high 5’7” is just by eyeball alone? That’s hard. The same goes for our judgement calls and valuations. Show me two articles on a subject and I’ll rank them instantly. But tell me to rate them on a 10-scale and I’ll be struggling to figure out whether they’re a 7 and an 8 (respectively), or an and an 9. Or maybe a 7 and a 9. Throw in a third option and it gets extra tricky.
Back to the claps. My point is that we don’t know what they mean, since that’s crazily individual. To one person, a 4-clap means that the reader really liked the article. To another, a 4-clap is congratulating effort instead of content, without being particularly impressed by either.
So in the example from above, is it “better” to have 34 people give it one clap each or have one person give 34 claps? And what does better even mean? In the old days, it was obviously more interesting to have 34 hearts than one. And yes, I know. Maybe that one heart was a very big one with the 34 being very small ones. That’s possible, of course. But still — I don’t think any writer would choose the one over the 34, if they could.
Now? It’s not exactly transparent.
And then of course, there’s reader psychology. That hasn’t gone away. It’s just become more muddied as well. If you read an article that has 5,3k claps already, it’s hard not to feel obliged to add a few to the pile. Giving it a +10 or a +20 seems like no big deal. Look at one with 17, and it’s easy to almost feel guilty for liking it — and if you DO clap, then anything more than a few seems like overdoing it.
All of this means that it’s become pretty hard to figure out what those numbers mean. This, in turn, means that they don’t communicate as much information, and that means that they don’t motivate in the same way. Earlier, if you got a heart/like, you knew that there was a human being who cared enough about what you wrote to push that button. It could be for any number of reasons, but you knew what was going on. Now, it’s much less clear.
So that’s why I have a boon to ask of you all.
Don’t give one clap. Give the full +50. For all of our sakes.
Thank you for reading.