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: hq.deviantart.com/journal/Popu…
(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