So Users Add Value. You’ve got a great news network with millions of people contributing rich, insightful material every day. Lots of people comment on your news articles; there’s a thriving debate online. Thousands of people are submitting content that could enhance the power of your journalism and help them get the information they need to run their lives.
You’re fucked. System break down. How do you deal with so much input? Sure things can get better if you let people talk – but this leads to the UGC problem. Your news source will be powerful if it contains the best of 1,000,000 users’ thoughts – but how do you separate the gems from the crap?
Gaming community design has the solutions.
CCP, the company that runs EvE Online, has an interesting strategy for running their world in conjunction with the players. Recently the game’s 220,000 players elected a Council of Stellar Management (CSM), a group of nine players that discusses how the game world should run, in conjunction with the game developers. This is especially interesting as most MMOG’s have near-dictatorial EULAs – but that’s another story. The CSM gets flown to Reykjavik once a year, to talk with the game developers about what should happen in the next year of gameplay. They’re basically a focus group of the players most involved in the game, as decided by the players of the game. No reason a news web site couldn’t select ‘power users’ in a similar manner.
Ebay – the Power Seller Model
EBay isn’t a game, but it uses some aspects of game design to succeed – namely, levelling up. Raph Koster talked about this in an excellent presentation on game and web design.
eBay relies on trust to function. But the whole point of eBay is that you’ve got access to millions of people buying and selling – it gets better the more people are there. So how do you vet everyone? If eBay vetted buyers and sellers individually, it would take far too long. So how do you make sure the best behaved buyers and sellers get noticed as such? The site is configured so that high performance participants ‘level up’ in a sense – positive feedback gets you a power seller star, which makes people more likely to trust you. In fact, you’ve played the e-bay game long enough that you’ve levelled up to power-seller.
Users rank each other, and the ones with the best rankings rise to the top. There is absolutely no reason we couldn’t implement the same strategy in a comments thread on articles on a journalism website. People whose contributions – comments, UGC, whatever – are respected by the community, get recognized as such. A submission from a well-respected contributor gets more attention than a troll, whose rating would be low in this model because they’d always get ‘thumbs-down’ ratings from the other people on the site.
I’d recommend basing the user ratings on average rating, not cumulative number of points, though. That way newbies can still participate on a level playing field.