At Urban Dictionary we are committed to providing the best definitions for any word, whether you’ve heard it from your friends, on the street, in a book, a song, or a movie. Whatever you hear, we want to have a good definition for it. “Good” is subjective. Maybe the people in Cleveland think the best definition of a Cleveland Steamer is a boat.
That’s where voting comes in. At Urban Dictionary, we put the question of what’s best to the users of the site, letting them vote and decide on the order that definitions are presented. Recently, we’ve been pursuing a more data-driven approach to monitoring this process, and we’ve identified some trends in the voting that we feel are detrimental.
Problem #1: Not enough people vote.
There is no other mechanism on the site for deciding what definition is best other than voting. Right now, voting seems to do a good job for the most part. However, because only a small number of readers vote, there is a chance that the results could become skewed. This is particularly a problem when someone might have an incentive to sabotage the process (see #2 below). For example, on a random day, only about 3% of visitors to the site actually voted, and only 2.7% of potential definitions received votes.
Over time, enough votes are cast to do a pretty good job at ranking definitions. However, we’d like to do better. Part of what we’d like to do is encourage you to vote more in order to get rankings that reflect how you actually speak. We have some ideas about this, such as making the icons more prominent and reminding you that your voice is important in the rankings.
Problem #2: Gaming the system.
Although this problem is relatively small, there has always been a certain element of Urban Dictionary’s users that try to influence the rankings for particular words. Most of the time, these words are relatively niche or specific. In other words, the affected words aren’t ones a lot of people seem to care about – but we still care!
Some of these attempts seem to be to push racist or potentially offensive definitions. Urban Dictionary will always have potentially offensive words in it – after all, slang is often offensive. However, it’s a problem when people are using the site more as a platform for this type of speech rather than as a source for definitions.
Sometimes, people try to mess with the rankings for popular words, which can be dangerous because newspapers and courtrooms refer to Urban Dictionary. Part of Urban Dictionary will always be a satire of an overly serious attitude towards language, but we’d like to reduce the impact of some of these automated or organized efforts to rig the votes.
We want to fix these, and so you may see some changes around the site in the future. We also wanted to share these problems in the hopes that someone reading this might have good ideas on how to solve them too. We’d love to hear from you about these problems or anything else you’ve noticed at firstname.lastname@example.org.