Unintended Consequences Of Incentives

June 11, 2014Comments Off on Unintended Consequences Of Incentives

StackExchange writes about the perils involved in reputation and collaborative wiki creation.

It’s hard to ask people to put a lot of effort into creating something together when the asker is going to keep all the credit and all the reputation. I don’t care about rep and attribution when I’m self-motivated to improve a post I come across, but it feels different when someone outright asks me to pitch in while intending to keep all the fake internet points for themselves!

That’s where Community Wiki came in – it killed those friction points by eliminating rep generation from those posts and lowering the bar on who could edit them. Which made it much easier for people who wanted to create collaborative, ensemble works – true community owned and edited resources.

But, much like dynamite, this well-intentioned invention was quickly weaponized into an instrument of destruction. Our big mistake: thinking we could systematically detect when such collaboration was happening, and automatically convert those posts to Community Wiki. It sounded awesome – “we’ll help you collaborate even more! When we see enough editors, we’ll save you the trouble of making it community wiki yourself and do it for you…”

If there was no reputation system, members would be happy to contribute to a wiki article. But they will be damned if a) other people get the reputation points from their work or b) they los all reputation points by inviting more people to collaborate. 

The outcome of incentives is tough to predict.

Any action that tinkers with incentives can have perverse consequences. 

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