What does Clap measure?

Ryan Nguyen
Nov 7, 2017 · 4 min read

This was published as part of Design Notebook, a publication documenting my thoughts when working as UX Designer.

This article reflects my opinion of Clap button on Medium.

What it means when you clap an article? Photo by Ezra Jeffrey

An Intentional Action

When I reach the end of an interesting article, I generally feel inclined to click Clap, but after clicking once, whenever I want to click more, I find myself questioning my motivation of doing that.

Clapping reflects the (almost) irreversible intention of wanting to show appreciation when you press the button. After doing that you might want to reverse the action, thinking ”I don’t like this article anymore”. But is it equivalent to saying “I regret clapping this article”? Maybe. Like reflects a state of mind while Clap is one of many actions that result from that liking intention. You can change your mind, but you can’t undo the action. I think it also raise a point about people doing different things when they want show their appreciation for the article.

Like reflects a state of mind while Clap is one of many actions that result from that liking intention.

Measurement of Engagement

People can do a quick action such as Like or Clap, or leave a comment, which, in my opinion, reflect the conversational nature of Medium. We see more and more Medium articles having opinionated, and even provocative voices. You can agree, disagree with parts of the article, which is what Medium should encourage people to do: have your own voices on Medium. And it is very critical to show the original point you refer to. These behaviours can be observed in the form of highlighting and commenting. Sometimes, highlighting just means you find this point interesting and want others to think about it. From all those points mentioned, its hard to conclude the more claps there are, the better Medium community is going to be. I would argue there are many level of engagement and Medium want to have both quantitative (claps) and qualitative (highlights, responses) metrics in place.

Measurement of Satisfaction (of Reader)

Personally, my satisfaction comes at 2 moments:

- Right after reading it: I judge whether I should reread it, bookmarked it or simply feel that I grasp enough information from the article.

- After rereading it: I reflect upon the details in the article and might give a second judgment.

People have different reading habits. Therefore, if we assume the quality of article is measured by the satisfaction of reader, how can the satisfaction of different reading style be measured fairly?

I find some articles interesting, but reading them again may change my opinion. Also I found myself reading the same article again sometimes, and realized that I already gave it a Like. Should I Like it one more time? Yes, but I couldn’t. In this case, it makes more sense with Clap.

Having time to reflect upon the article and reread to extract more details from it is difficult to be measured by Like. Clap does this better by allowing people to record satisfaction at first, second, nth time of reading. Clap not only measures an instant moment of satisfaction after reading an article, but an incremental satisfaction after reading, reflecting and eventually, in my case, bookmarking for re-visiting in the future. I imagine that when we look at data of reading habits, we can see how many subsequent claps people give when they revisit the article and have a fairer conclusion after considering this pattern.

Clap not only measures an instant moment of satisfaction after reading article, but an incremental satisfaction

In the another context, when I attend a play or speech, I don’t simply clap once but many. Introducing “fake” Clap provide more opportunities to understand social phenomenon on digital platforms like Medium. I’m concerned that people are more generous with clapping as a courtesy act as they subconsciously think about clapping in other social context.

Measurement of Appreciation (to Writer)

From a business perspective, Clap has a huge potential to differentiate further how different people value articles. Medium articulates this clearly at the end of every article: “By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.” The more people claps, the more appreciation the writer receive in the form of monetary rewards.


From user perspective, clapping holds different meaning to different person and so introducing such a new pattern will require people to build a new behavioural model. It would be interesting to look at the relationship between number of clap, satisfaction of reader and revenue from Medium membership to judge whether the feature works as intended.

I was intrigued by the Clap button initially, but got used to it by treating it as Like button, which defeat the intended purpose of Clap. I am curious to know if anyone else is hesitant in clapping multiple times, or if this is due to my subconscious resistance to a new behavioural model.

Thank you for reading!

Ryan Nguyen

Written by

Product Designer, Researcher in Sydney. Find me at @ryannguyentt or ryanntt.com

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