Whenever and wherever I try to interact with others online, I see a problem that is best expressed with three simple statements:
1. When creating content, I want it to be seen by others.
2. Most online platforms allow people to acknowledge they've seen something, either explicitly (thumbs-up, plus-one, upvote, ...) or implicitly (view count).
3. When I consume content, I often forget to acknowledge it myself.
If this isn't just me - and I assume that many people behave similarly - then this poses a problem: people want the recognition or "applause", or they will eventually stop producing content (or at least slow down). At the same time, we're bad at giving this recognition to others simply because interacting with some UI element isn't something that just happens as naturally as applause or other forms of non-verbal communication in "real life".
All of the various interaction models I can think of have different up- and downsides, but not a single one of them is completely convincing:
Reply - On old forums or BBS, the only way to applaud someone often is to write a reply.
Upside: This obviously continues the conversation, and a reply is often more meaningful than a good number of upvotes.
Downside: There are situations where writing a reply in unnecessary - and doing it anyway can be spammy and annoying.
Upside: Can be automated, so that users don't have to think about it.
Downside: Happens automatically, so doesn't mean as much. Can be confusing without context.
Upside: Sharing content is a really meaningful metric.
Downside: Sharing happens even less than replies. Is not possible/useful in many situations.
Upside: Relatively easy to do...
Downside: ...but still not automatic. Also, the fact that this implies approval means that it can't be used in some contexts.
Up- & Downvotes
Upside: Allows use in more situations, while still being somewhat easy.
Downside: Can be abused for trolling. The fact that this is often used for content sorting at the same time means that users are tempted to downvote a conversation they've read even if they don't necessarily disagree with it.
Clapping - Medium does this, basically allowing readers to upvote not just once, but as many times as they like.
Upside: Allows readers to react in different ways without having to choose from a range of reactions. A bit playful, so might be inviting to readers.
Downside: In the end, same as simple upvoting. Probably open to manipulation and/or "inflation".
React (what Cake does)
Upside: A whole range of interactions, none of which is explicitly negative. Allowing users to choose from many options can be inviting to use this feature more often.
Downside: Too many options can be confusing for both parties: "Which reaction do I choose - and how do I interpret the random reactions I get from others?". As most others, doesn't solve the problem of this not being automated - and in fact, probably needs more mental capacity than just clicking an upvote button.
So... are there any other ideas of what could work instead - or how to make one of the existing ideas work more reliably? Would some aggregate score that takes into account both explicit reactions and implicit numbers like view count, but doesn't necessarily display a simple number, work?
(Last but not least - I've added the "Cake feedback" topic just in case this leads somewhere, although I don't think you're doing anything wrong right now. Reactions are sometimes confusing, but fun. ;))