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More from deviantART


Submitted on
March 11, 2012


17,136 (9 today)
249 (who?)
deviantART is a categories game.

According to deviantART's hq, "deviantART's algorithm for Popular browse results (ie. front page) is known as Fair Exposure. The goal is to maximize the display of the most popular deviations in a variety of topics…with Fair Exposure, the community is exposed to a varied cross-section of deviantART. "

What this boils down to is that certain art categories have inherent ranking advantages and others inherent ranking disadvantages on front page as a means of ensuring that a variety of works from across deviantART are visible on front page and not just that of one category. Sounds pretty good right?

Well let me say before I continue that I do not know deviantART's actual mathematical algorithm for front page ranking. However, I think that anyone who notices the composition of front pages (whether 8 hour or 24, main or by category) and the statistics of the pieces that populate those fronts pages can give you a pretty good guess.

You may have noticed deviations from weird categories such as Customization popping up on front page despite having relatively "few" favorites. I say relatively "few" as being less than 100 in a 24 hour window, which is quite a lot but nothing compared to its neighboring deviations on front page from categories such as Digital Art. This suggests that Customization is a "non-competitive" category. As you can probably guess, not many people submit to the Customization section. Most things there are screenshots or webcam pictures. But because of deviantART's Fair Exposure algorithm, there is a "spot", in a way, on front page for Customization. No, this spot isn't fixed as the number 5 slot or anything. But if a piece gets 100 favorites in Customization, it may be ranked 10th on front page to ensure that front page does have at least one Customization deviation as a part of Fair Exposure. Whereas if a piece gets 100 favorites in Digital Art, it'd be nowhere to be seen on front page and probably not even on the front page for the Digital Art category. Given this, Digital Art can be seen as a highly competitive category. So sorry digital artists, I guess you'll just have to work that much harder to get your work exposure. Doesn't seem as fair now does it?

As you can probably guess, there are also ranking advantages and disadvantages within categories. Take for example the Photography category, which I'm most familiar with. A deviation with 100 favorites in Photography/Macros/Nature will not rank as high as a deviation with 50 favorites in Photography/Macros/Objects and otherwise comparable statistics. Perhaps this is because there is another photography section for nature already, presumably Photography/Animals, Plants and Nature. I'm not really sure the "reasoning" is here. But what this seems to suggest is that if you have a nature-related photograph, perhaps it's better to avoid the Photography/Macros/Nature section and instead go for Photography/Animals, Plants and Nature. Or if you want to be a real player, submit it to something like Photography/Horror & Macabre (a surprisingly non-competitive subcategory for Photography). Or maybe even Customization! Who cares? deviantART sure doesn't seem to. So is this still fair?

Is deviantART's algorithm really this simple? Yes and no. The algorithm seems to also takes into consideration a number of things like the "age" of the submission, the "rate" of favorites (presumably both the number of favorites per view rate and number of favorites per time unit rate), the number of views, the number of comments, and so forth. But categories are a big part of the algorithm. And therefore a big part of deviantART's categories game.

But don't take my word for it. Read about deviantART's Fair Exposure algorithm which "explicitly attempts to select popular deviations that showcase as many popular topics as possible" here:…

(So this is how popular deviants became popular?!!? Haha not really. deviantART only came out with this algorithm earlier this year. So I guess I'm actually a bit of a slowpoke. But maybe now the changes in front page trends since the beginning of this year make a bit more sense?)

If you say that you don't care about front page or favorites, good for you. Be above the machine (serious here, not sarcastic). If you say that you don't mind a bit of competition, even better.

But a lot of us are trying to get our artworks out there for the greater community to view and enjoy. And it's discouraging to have your artwork be put at a "disadvantage" simply because of the category its in (by this weird kind of art discrimination?). If you're a nature photographer, you'll simply have a harder time getting exposure than a horror photographer, not necessarily because people like nature less and horror more but because the system favors horror. And it's even more enraging when you see others take advantage of this system by playing the categories game while others are left out in the dark.

So now if you want to play this game, go ahead. Now you know. If we're all informed then we're all on even playing grounds then that's what's fair...right?

Should you play the categories game? I'd recommend it. It's a good real world non-science application of the scientific method. Plus, if you think everything I've said is complete bull then try it yourself and see. So submit something. See where it ranks. (Maybe on the 5th page of a subcategory. The deviation doesn't have to be on a front page but you do need to be able to locate it and see where it ranks.) Change the category. Then wait half an hour or so (there's a delay in switching categories and all) and see where your deviation ranks under the new category. Observe the consequences, draw a correlation, and deduce the underlying pattern. Then write a rant-y journal like this one about what you found.

Do I play? At least enough times to make these boisterous claims anyway. Do others already play? I've seen many many people play "discretely" by switching their deviation's category between similar categories. For example, if your deviation is ranked first in the Photography/People and Portraits subcategory but then a more popular piece "overtakes" your spot as first, perhaps you will change your deviation's category to Photography/Miscellaneous so that it can be ranked first in the Photography/Miscellaneous category and therefore rank higher in the front page of the Photography category and subsequently the main front page. I've also infrequently seen others play more outrageously, blatantly submitting to the wrong category to gain an advantage. Traditional Art submitted into Photography/Miscellaneous. Photography submitted into Literature (a very non-competitive category mind you). You name it.

So why doesn't deviantART try to prevent this categories game? If you've ever tried to report a deviation for Misplacement (or anything), you probably know how slow and non-responsive deviantART can be. And who can blame them? I'd say 90% or more deviations on deviantART are misplaced. Most just don't ever make it to where they're visible. Other times, it's really hard to say who's playing the game. Who's to say this photo of a flower isn't really "Darkroom" (another fairly non-competitive subcategory for Photography)? Or even if you see someone switch categories every few hours, who's to say they didn't just realize their piece "belonged" in a different section. Maybe they just made a mistake? Of course, it happens. But maybe deviantART doesn't care because people don't seem to care. Maybe there are no reports to begin with. Or maybe people don't even notice the category something's in once it's on front page. Or more likely a bit of both.

So what should deviantART do? Perhaps a change of algorithms is due. deviantART's old algorithm based on raw popularity didn't seem to work too well since those who were popular simply gained more exposure and became more popular while those who were new couldn't even get their foot in the door. deviantART's new algorithm actually seems to favor what's new and is gaining momentum quickly (so a high rate of favorites) though this has a tendency of favoring fan-art, porn, stolen works, or whatever else has a large immediate wow factor. So what algorithm would be better? I honestly have no clue.

Then why am I complaining if I can't fix the problem? Eh, I'd rather think of this as disseminating information than complaining.

Take what you've learned here and do what you want with it. Judge me for it or do as I've recommended you do: play the categories game.

May the best artists players win?
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rsiphotography Featured By Owner Apr 30, 2014  Professional General Artist
It is mostly about how many watchers you and what category and how many views. You can have no favs at all but if you have the rest your work will be seen.
Xiaooyu Featured By Owner May 11, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
I'm always wondering about how some types of artworks are always up in the front page.
I guess maybe now people will cheat and put their digital art as "customization" or something? Who knows. I think the best way to get on the page is to have a high number of views, favourites and comments. At least its fair// '._.
The-Golden-Knight Featured By Owner Feb 3, 2013  Professional Filmographer
Revisiting this; 100 favorites is a lot. I'm lucky to even get 5!
bib993 Featured By Owner Nov 12, 2012  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Interesting. You forgot to say that the algorithm also seems to take into account the number or frequency of your submissions. I submit in the fractal category only. Recently I became very popular (don't know why) and all my deviations now almost instantly make it to the 24 hours front page (I guess thanks to Fair exposure stuff that want to show at least 1 fractal image on the front page).

But now I became "so" popular (more than 20,000 views every time in less than 48 hours) that my deviations do not appear anymore on the 3 days, 1 week and 1 month popular pages, like if I've been blacklisted, too many successful images, sorry man, you out of here, leave room for the youngster! However, my older deviations with much less views, favs (and lower fav/views ratios) are still there. Very weird!
invictuzz688 Featured By Owner Apr 6, 2012  Student General Artist
lol! i know this to be true, it makes sense!
but i see no point of playing the "game".

deviantart is a bit more of a repository for my works. an online vault for my portfolio. thats it.

thanks jean for putting this up :)
ElenaHelfrecht Featured By Owner Apr 1, 2012  Professional Photographer
Well, I think you're quite right with this and captured this system in a very clever way. But I think the good thing with this is, that you get a greater band width of different categories. We all know that Nature photographs are more socially acceptable than Horror ones. And this adds a rich diversity of art to the frontpage... but that's just what I as a Horror-artist think.
BrielleCoppola Featured By Owner Mar 23, 2012  Student General Artist
You're a very clever person, and an excellent writer.
MidnighBlood Featured By Owner Mar 22, 2012  Student General Artist
This blew my mind... o.o I would've never realized this!
avalanchepark Featured By Owner Mar 15, 2012
little bit of chicken and egg here - in any system based on favs you need to get them to get on the front page to be seen to get them .

If they wipe out all the preference for less popular categories then the 10 bazillion people competing in the most popular one would have twice as many slots (say) in the first 10 pages (or however many you think get searched in the popular gallery). You folks are still out of luck !

The fact that any fav carries equal weight also sort of insures that 'serious' artists here will always be dissatisfied with who makes the top if it is a pure fav contest.

Some long time ago I tried to make a suggestion that they use some sort of social model that would look at the images an individual had fav'd , then look at all the other people who have faved each image , finally creating a page of art this pool of like minded viewers had fav'd . Sort of the Amazon "if you like this book you might also like ..." approach. A personal popular page based on the opinions of people whose opinions I might actually care about. I often go through the fav galleries of the artists I follow as one approximation of this approach.

And in the end I spend a LOT of time cruising the newest gallery because it gets me past all the screening and gives a chance for new discovery that isn't 30 pages back in some imperfect ranking system. Near as I can tell my tastes must be unique because I go through a lot of the popular gallery and it doesn't speak to me that often........
M0THart Featured By Owner Mar 14, 2012  Professional Photographer
i'm so happy you wrote this! i've noticed something, but never try to understand better the situation, and you really made it! huge respect for you- i'm in the same situation as yours (since i follow you for years by now, i only completely agree with you)
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