Updated Trending Algorithm for More Diversity and Quality

The Trending Wall on ArtStation has been one of the most talked about features on ArtStation. It’s a good representation of what’s currently popular in the art community. Whenever we meet artists, usually one of the first questions asked is how artwork trends, and our support page documenting this is one of the most visited pages on the site.

How the Trending Wall worked before

Before, the Trending Wall worked on a relatively simple algorithm (simplified even more here so we don’t have to deal with complex math). Basically we take the amount of likes an artwork has from the time it was published, and calculate a rank. This determines where on the Trending Wall it should sit. More votes within a shorter amount of time makes an artwork trend higher. As an artwork gets older, it goes down the trending wall.

The problem

This approach worked well for a number of years. But as the site grew, we began to experience issues.

Homogeneity in art

The biggest issue was how the trending wall started to become homogenous in terms of art. By that, we mean that the same kinds of artwork would always trend: highly polished, fan-esque, sexy artwork. You’ve seen it before. You call it by different derogatory names (T&A, etc.). We’ve heard your concerns and we saw the issue ourselves too. It was bothering us. So we brought it to the Council.

ArtStation Artist Advisory Council

At ArtStation, we work very closely with the community. In addition to talking with artists regularly both individually and in groups, we have an Artist Advisory Council. This advisory council comprises of 20+ artists, ranging from students and new artists all the way to art directors, representing those just starting out all the way to those who are art-directing billion dollar franchises. The diversity of this group enables us to have differing viewpoints and discussions about how to build a high quality platform that impacts the industry positively.

All the artists are active on ArtStation and we collaborate closely as we roll out new features. For example, when we rolled out the Pro accounts, we tested all our concerns with how Free users might feel about Pro users, and the current feature set reflects what came out of that council. We are wrestling with the topic of community and forums, and you’d be surprised how there’s very diverse viewpoints about whether or not we should build a forum.

The cause

The cause of the issue was due to the increasing number of fans / non-artists using ArtStation, who have very different tastes to professional artists working in the industry. In this graph, you can see our user growth since the beginning of ArtStation. While artists continue to grow at a steady pace, the number of fans/non-artists are growing exponentially. It makes sense. ArtStation is one of the most popular sites on the Internet now with an Alexa ranking around 1000 on the Internet (that’s the 1000th most popular site on the Internet).

As the number of fans increased, we saw the problem increasing too. Fans would generally vote for the pieces that they liked – highly polished/rendered, sexy, fan-esque art.

“Ok, what’s wrong with that?” I hear you asking.

The problem was that for the artists using ArtStation, it was becoming unfair:

  1. It was becoming a popularity contest. Artists would try to game the system by getting more likes in creative ways.
  2. Those artists with highly polished, sexy, fan art would always trend highly, which encouraged more artists to make highly polished, sexy fan art and made the site more homogenous.
  3. It was really hard for newcomers to ArtStation to get noticed, because they have fewer followers.
  4. Professionals in the industry (the people ArtStation is made for) were becoming less happy with the lack of diversity on the site.

This shows the philosophical difference between the ArtStation community and other art sites. ArtStation was always designed for the professional and aspiring professional community. Other art sites are broader-focused. Neither is “better” per se, they just have different goals and objectives. While other sites take the notion that everyone is creative and should have the right to express themselves, ArtStation takes the notion that a smaller number of us are dedicating our careers to creating art and our livelihoods depend on it. That’s why it gets frustrating when someone photobashes some sexy fan art together and it trends to the top of the ArtStation home page.

Our Solution

Our solution gives more power back to the artists. In the old algorithm, 1 vote = 1 vote. In the new algorithm, artists with more followers have a higher weight. 1 Raphael Lacoste vote > 1 Fan vote.  An artist cannot vote for himself (has no effect). The algorithm is more complex but in practice (there’s a lot of math involved), what it comes down to is that an artist with many followers can influence the way a piece trends much more than a fan with no artwork browsing the site.

How this solves the issue:

  • There’s more focus on quality. We’ve put power back into the hands of artists. As an artist, your Likes now have greater effect on the way a piece trends.
  • It’s less about the quantity of likes, and more about who liked the piece. An artwork can get more likes than another, but not trend as high. Both still trend and are visible, but the algorithm favours artwork with likes from artists with followers.
  • It’s much easier for a newcomer to be visible if his/her work is quality. E.g. if an artist on ArtStation with many followers sees a newcomer’s artwork and gives it a like, it will boost.
  • More diverse artwork. By putting power back into the hands of artists, it gives them the ability to vote for a more diverse set of artworks.

We brought this to the advisory council who were all very positive about the changes. They too were aware of the issues and didn’t really know how to approach it, and felt that this was a good solution to try out. “Great idea, sounds like an excellent tweak!” they said.

Rolling it out

The thing about rolling out a trending wall update is that it’s controversial. You’ve basically changed the rules of the game so it’s bound to get some people upset (now that this is public information, I’m sure some people are going to be upset).

We quietly rolled out this new Trending algorithm at the end of March. The results were immediate. Most of the shiny, sexy fan art didn’t trend as highly. There was a big difference in the variety of work that was trending and some really interesting pieces that would have otherwise been missed caught our attention. Our advisory council opened the new Trending wall and were really happy with the results. “Today is a day of glory and celebration!” one said.

Is this system perfect? Probably not. There’s always room for improvement and we’re likely to revisit it again and continue to tweak and improve it. But this has been a positive step forward in resolving the concerns brought by the community.

What about newcomers?

I’ve had a number of people raise concerns about newcomers and how they’d get noticed. Here’s the thing – no matter what, if you’re a newcomer to the industry, you’re going to have to go through a period of hustle. Everyone has to do it in their careers. No matter what site you’re using, you’d have to make the effort to connect and be seen by posting work regularly and engaging in the community. There are many examples of newcomers on ArtStation who have become very successful.

This new system is better for newcomers because it requires less votes from established members of the community to push the artwork into a visible position.

On that note, we’ve got this mulling over in the back of our minds and I’m sure we’ll have a more refined solution in the future.

Picks

While we’re talking about Trending, people are definitely going to ask about Picks. Currently Picks is still done manually by staff at ArtStation, and we do strive to pick a diverse set of works. In the future, we have a vision to have picks run by the community as well, but that’s still a ways off while we work on other higher priority things on the roadmap.

Onwards and Upwards

We’re all in this together. ArtStation is an active part of the art community. We’re always open to feedback and we’re all in this together in building a great platform that can impact the art industry in a positive way.

If you have any comments or suggestions, please feel free to contact us at support@artstation.com.


About the author

Leo is the CEO of ArtStation.