I went back to paying the $5 because I read a lot on Medium. The new software sucks but oh well.
Unlike you I don’t go by the number of recommends. I usually get “into” this or that author and read pretty much everything they write. For a while anyway. If someone recommends or comments on one of my stories I look at their profile and if I’m not already following them and they seem interesting I hit follow. I’m especially prone to do this when people seem like newbies. In this way I’ve found some unexpected treasures such as Bee Millz.
If I make it to the end of something it means that it didn’t bore me so I hit the heart. You say no taking back recommends but there would have to be say a one minute window to take care of accidental heart tapping.