Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Getting individuals excited while trying to create a community

As you might have heard, I've been spending a lot of time with Plurk lately. One think that differentiates Plurk from other microblogging sites is that each user has a 'karma' number. Most of us didn't really know much about this number, other than it seemed to be tied to which emoticons you get, as you hit 25 you get about a dozen new ones to use in plurks, at 50 you get about another dozen.

But there was no shortage of speculation about how this number was calculated. But earlier this week, Plurk better explained how their karma score was calculated on their blog. One of the ways they explain to raise your karma score is by plurking each day, and getting responses to your plurks.

Unfortunately, over the last couple of days, I have noticed a big increase in plurks that basically repeat themselves. Here's an example:

12:36am 'Wow it's already after midnight, getting sleepy!'

12:39am 'Ok getting close to bed-time!'

12:43am 'I have GOT to close Plurk and go to sleep! Nite guys!'

12:45am 'Ok I am REALLY going now! zzzzzzzzz'

Now that looks like 4 plurks for the price of one to me. I'm also noticing that the people that do this tend to also be the ones that constantly update their karma levels, and mention how it must be going up because of all the plurks they are leaving!

I understand Plurk's thinking here, they believe if they tie karma scores to participation, that an active and lively community-site will be the result. The problem is, unless that community is already in place, then all you have is a buncha individuals looking out for their best interests, not what's best to help create a community. You have individuals looking to do whatever it takes to get their karma scores up, while everyone else is looking at their timelines and seeing the quality of plurks being left going downhill fast.

And it's not just Plurk. Think back to how the Z-List grew and evolved. At first, the Z-List was truly a community-driven project. Everyone on the list at first realized that it was about putting the spotlight on other deserving bloggers. Which caused it to take off like a rocket. Unfortunately, it eventually grew to the point where it reached bloggers that had no sense of the community that was pushing it, and started using the list to promote themselves, not the larger community. That's when it began to fizzle and lose steam.

This is what I'm beginning to see with Plurk. At first it was like we had all found this cool new hangout. Now that everyone is beginning to realize how they can boost their individual karma, the quality of plurks being created as a whole, seems to be falling. Now to their credit, The A-Team has been very receptive to community-feedback so far, so hopefully they'll consider changes to the karma system, or scrapping it altogether.

But the bigger question here is, does any sort of ranking/authority system that puts the focus on the individual on a site such as plurk, hurt the chances that a community will form? Or is the question too broad? Could competition spur individuals to create something that a community can form around? That certainly seems to be working for Threadless, but not as well for Plurk.

As with so much in life, it seems the devil is in the details.


Hire Mack!


Anonymous said...

as with all rewards and recognition care has to be taken to reward the "right" behavior. If you reward mindless spam you will get mindless spam. If you reward contribution to the community you will get contribution to the community. Take a look at these two articles about yelp:

It's all about rewards and recognition.

One thing I don't think many people get is that when you are building a community you are the most passionate members become pseudo employees and therefore beyond consumer motivation you need to look at employee motivation, and we're not talking money here, we're talking things like autonomy and recognition, things like that.

Unknown said...

I think forcing community involvement typically has an initial positive impact, but eventually frustrates participants who are there for authentic purposes. People love being popular, but as you said, quality begins to suffer. Great post!

Anonymous said...

I suspect the drive to pad karma will fall off for individuals as they realize it's more work than it's worth.

However, I completely see your point. It's always useful to reflect on the behavior your policies encourage.

Plurk is a mixed bag for me. I would love to toggle between the threaded discussions, as it has now, and a simpler interface such as Twitter has now.

On the one hand, Plurk allows you to keep track of conversations, but on the other hand, it's more difficult to scan.

katfrench said...

For what it's worth, Mixx has had a similar Karma score for participation, and additional functionality when your karma reaches a certain amount, and people still don't comment much on Mixx.

Frank Conrad Martin said...

Excellent post, Mack. I think your best question is whether the focus upon the individual points in the form of karma will undermine the development of a community in which we all work to help each other.

My thinking is that the concept of karma is "good" but should drop only with negativity, sarcasm, "hating", etc. Of course, that would be impossible to monitor.

Anonymous said...

I really believe that a public reward system will bring the best and worst out of competitive people. The hope is that the system can not be easily manipulated, and if it is, then the community and/or community managers will punish the behavior. A good starts is the way we have been unfollowing people this week, and leaving the people that truly add value to our network to remain in it.

Plurk's algorithm could be improved, but beyond that, the rewards for top contributors should be more than a few smileys. Plurk should leverage its early evangelists and begin to form a user advisory board or influencer program.

Mack Collier said...

Good points all, and thanks for commenting! Really I'm not sure that there IS a 'one-size-fits-all' answer.

But I think it's more important to get the conversation started now while Plurk is still smart, and still receptive to feedback from the community. As we saw recently with Twitter, attention from a small startup doesn't scale very well when the userbase is a few million, versus the few thousand that Plurk supposedly has now.

Anonymous said...

The Karma feature in Plurk is kind of "cute", but I can see why it inspires abuse. It reminds me of how people abuse LinkedIn Questions by using it as a promotion tool. In short, whenever there is the opportunity for promotion, there will be a certain group of people that will use it - even if it is in poor taste - i.e. handing out business cards at a funeral.

Anonymous said...

I agree that the Plurk karma system may have value in the sense that it gets people involved beyond just lurking, and even maybe joining in conversations that they otherwise might not have. Perhaps the way for the Plurkbuddies to handle it, is not in whether a plurk is rewarded by additional comments (sometimes, you miss plurks) or by number of plurks started, but by putting more emphasis on discussion and participation in and among threads. (I have no idea how they'd figure that out though.) And like Frank, I agree it should drop when negativity, rudeness and snarkiness ensues. (Again, no idea how they'd figure that out either.)
As usual, a great post, Mack!

Anonymous said...

That’s a great question. Totally depends on what Plurk’s goal is. If it’s all about number of user accounts and frequency of use, then the A-Team may have no problems placing emphasis on quantity instead of quality. If it’s all about creating a site with rich conversations, then hopefully the A-Team will listen to feedback and concerns from fine folks like yourself.

One potential fix would be to receive rewards from other users based on the perceptions about the value I add to the conversation. You’d have to spend some time designing how to work that out, but there are numerous ways to develop that from a tactical standpoint. Users would probably be more purposeful in their posts if they knew their rewards were tied directly to the value it shares.

The example you shared is a great example of ridiculous karma abuse and showcases the problem spot on. That’s why tying any incentive or reward program directly back to your goals is important at the outset. Otherwise, you could lose those people that bring the most to the table and contribute positively to your site’s reputation.

Thanks for sharing!

Luc Debaisieux said...

The question that teases me after reading all the talk on this subject, is : what did the people who thought about this Karma system really have in mind when they implemented it? What is the intention behind the karma yo-yo?

- Is it "people oriented"? ...simply targeting fun, or satisfaction?

- Is it "community oriented"? ...targeting WOM, or to enhance conversation?

- Is it "Plurk" oriented? ...targeting human attraction to any kind of scoring/ranking system, or a smart tool to help the system grow?

As you said Mack, there is no 'one-size-fits-all' answer. From a very personal point of view, I think that (human) value can't be quantified by a ranking system. I think "karma" is an inappropriate word as by definition it is linked to "action" and so... more to what people actually DO (rather to what they say). I definitely don't see it as "points" that may be given and or taken back.

This said, Plurk is a fantastic, human, conversation platform and I very much hope that with time, people will be driving it with their eyes off the K-counter.