There is one reason and one reason alone that I haven’t catastrophically dropped out of college yet: I avoid World of Warcraft as though it were the plague. In case you are unfamiliar, World of Warcraft is an incredibly popular game made by Blizzard Entertainment in which players take on the role of an adventurer in a Tolkein-esque virtual world alongside thousands of other people.
Obviously the game must be fun, but what makes it dangerously addictive is that the more you play the more you can do and the better you can do it. The result is an incredibly unproductive feedback loop. This post is about how to apply this formula to digital media in the hopes that it will improve participatory processes and maybe even offer some help when it comes to identifying journalists and citizens online.
The Idea: utilizing experience in a media conversation
We should all know by now that regular users of a media system need an internally provided sense of ownership over whatever content they produce. Really, though, the site should actually give a little bit back to the people who are providing free services and creating free content.
Kudos isn’t really that satisfying, karma only goes so far, and cash is probably in short supply, so what’s a system designer/local paper to do? Well, if we grant the owners of quality contributions slightly extra clout we simultaneously tap into the WoW feedback loop, reward the contributor, and use archived contributions in a way that actually provides added meaning to the current conversation.
Below are a few traits that the system could recognize along with examples of how such recognition might work. The examples use the context of the reader-driven media repository that I’ve been blogging about for oh so long.
- Recognize quantity – The more a user ranks and judges new content, the more potent that user’s vote could be. For instance, after voting on 100 articles that person’s vote could count as 1.01 votes in future. As always, Newgrounds.com uses a system like this.
- Recognize accuracy – The more accurate a user’s judgment is when categorizing new content the more sway they could have over the categorization process in future.
- Recognize quality – If a user has a track record of submitting valid journalism articles, maybe it could be slightly easier for them to submit future journalistic articles.
- Recognize wisdom – If a user’s contributions are regularly judged to particularly insightful or even just accurately reflect the attitude of a community then their future observations could have slightly more prominence.
- *Recognize roles*- As a user performs acts that fit the role of a good journalist or good citizen the system will slowly start to associate their digital identity with these social roles. [More on this below]
There are a few risks you need to keep in mind: make sure the system isn’t overcomplicated, make sure the rewards don’t get in the way of journalistic ideals, and make sure users can’t ever get unfairly powerful. These rules can be easily addressed by limiting the amount a person can grow in a given day and making sure that the rewards are not so influential that they could come close to dominating the system’s natural order.
A Solved Problem: Identifying journalists and citizens
A long time ago I begged and pleaded for the industry to come up with a solution for developers who want an elegant way to identify journalists online. Although there were some great ideas in the comments, nobody went out and spent all their time working to fix the problem for me. Needless to say I’m heartbroken.
I have since decided that the best way to think of journalists and citizens on a digital system is in terms of their roles. As far as I’m concerned, if you act like a journalist online and you do a good job of it then you’re a journalist; same goes for being a citizen. With a system that can recognize and analyze the quality and nature of a user’s participation it becomes possible to identify journalists and citizens internally.
Depending on how you want to take it from here you can grant slight privileges as users become more developed in a particular role. Maybe system-recognized journalists will have a slightly easier time getting their content approved; maybe system-recognized citizens will be able to have more power over what items are considered more important to the community.
Final Thoughts and an Example Story
Imagine a user who uploads a personally written piece about the recent debate surrounding local zoning laws. By the time the article goes through the system it seems that community members feel the author got the facts right, offered great insight and fair analysis. The system and the community now have that information in their memory banks – they know that this person has produced one piece of quality journalism.
The author has this feedback and feels warm and fuzzy, and assuming the article quality wasn’t a fluke there will be more good ones over time. Eventually the system sees that about 94% of this person’s 30 submissions are flat out great and comes to a brilliant deduction: this user is a journalist.
We also have another user (or the same user) who enjoys perusing the purgatory section, which contains upcoming and un-vetted news about the local area and personalized interests. The person has judged about 500 articles over the months and based on the statistics he seems to have a pretty good eye for quality.
60% of the time he correctly identified good articles and 95% of the time he correctly identified bad articles. This user has also helped call out 20 pieces of content that went on to be incredibly well received by his community. It would seem he is pretty good at identifying community agenda. Egads, it’s a citizen!
I’ll close this post by saying that even if you don’t care about role classification, leveraging a user’s history can make your site more intelligent, more responsive, and more rewarding for everyone involved, so go figure out how to fit it in.
(This post pertains to a bullet point from Tying it All Together – User roles)
Option 1 I reject outright, and I’m uncomfortable with all your other suggestions for encouraging participation too.
The problem is, they will probably work– but at what cost?
For World of Warcraft or a fan site of of the same or any other niche not of great public interest, I think using these techniques is great.
But when applied to a key site of public discussion and record, which I think all of us here are aiming at in one way or another, anything that serves to privilege an in-group strikes me as creating a catch-22: incentives that encourage heavy users can discourage new and less-able-to-be-involved users.
When this plays out in a common space where the public interest should be pursued, I find a clique – even one in part rewarded by how well they track the wider community, which bothers me on a different level as encouraging groupthink/pandering – to go against this basic interest.
I’m sure Dan will address all this and how to bring geotagging, democratic moderation (juries!), and multimedia in his next post. ;-)
Ahh well – ya win some ya lose some;) Although I was pretty sure you actually suggested option 1 yourself in a past comment…
At any rate I agree with you for the most part. Like I said in the article you can NEVER let any of these ideas produce a situation where any class of user could squelch the voice of any other class of user or create some sort of power inequality. That being said, I think it is foolish to ignore past contributions when trying to create an semi-automated process for the judgment of quality, and I still claim that system recognition of journalistic tendencies is valuble. Ultimately it would just come down to balancing those two requirements – something that would have to be done on the design/implementation level.
The reason I will still defend “option 1” as potentially viable is that it can be restricted to being a very small benefit that could still genuinely encourage activity. I know that 4 years later I still log onto newgrounds a few times a week just to rate my five submissions. In fact, I would probably do so even if it was just for the fact that I gain access to new avatars as I increase in voting rank. I know flash animations are far less important to society than the news, but that’s why you tweak the formula.
Anyway the example suggestions were just examples – the concept doesn’t require more functional clout, it could be a purely social clout situation too, meaning the benfits woudl still be internal to the system but they would come strictly from other users as opposed to the machine.
TL;DR — You’re right, the specific examples I listed may not be appropriate for our venue, but the idea behind them (harnessing past contributions to help improve collective intelligence) is downright important.