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What are the pros and cons of gamifying Codidact.org?

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−11

https://meta.codidact.com/posts/281235 - A post about easter eggs that promises to build one for April 1st of next year. Is this site interested in gamification or a serious Q&A Platform? Is this a community interested in properly celebrating fools' day or interested in helping others learn? Anything in between won't work, since it has already failed (StackOverflow.com is a bad example in this post, since it got nothing right).

Gamification (using upvotes, downvotes and reputation) does not allow us to have a serious Q&A Platform. Case study: StackOverflow.com is too focused on gamification, and this has negatively affected the Q&A goal of the site. Stack Overflow users are incentivized to gain upvotes, so they try to come up with impressive questions of no practical value, or they enjoy writing cheesy, sarcastic comments on posts to get upvotes on comments. I've also observed the behaviour of including unnecessary and factually incorrect content intended as a joke in otherwise correct answers, to get more upvotes and extra attention.

Gamification is just a marketing tactic to get people to participate on a commercial platform so that advertisements can be sold. Serious platforms don't need gamification to survive because they will survive out of interest in the community. I have visited and participated in serious forums like accellera.org's SystemC forum that has a razor-sharp focus with minimal to no gamification. No nonsense on Accellera's forum. No advertisements are sold on Accellera's forum. See for example: https://forums.accellera.org/forum/14-systemc-tlm-transaction-level-modeling/ User profiles look like this: https://forums.accellera.org/profile/11808-roman-popov/

This forum is built by professional engineers and for professional engineers, so it is very serious and no sarcastic comments or abusive behaviour is found or tolerated. Professional engineers have very good interpersonal skills since they work in teams.

If fun is encouraged or kept as a gray area, those who object to fun will be ridiculed and trolled heavily. Those siding with fun engage in trolling the serious users. I have a real-time example of this behaviour on Electrical Engineering Stack Exchange. See: https://electronics.stackexchange.com/questions/473120/whats-this-noise

The borderline between 'fun' and abusive behaviour will be very narrow or blurry. People enjoy having fun at another person's expense. But from another perspective, it is rude and abusive behaviour.

Another behaviour observed due to gamification is downvoting a correct answer that competes with your own. Top users seldom upvote correct answers for fear of losing their top position.

Another very negative behaviour due to gamification and "fun" is this: Generally it is the "very high reputation" users and moderators who feel they have a right to have cheesy content, sarcastic content on the Q&A platform and get away with it. Since "high reputation" users have more "privileges" or "abilities", the "low reputation" users cannot question them. When the low reputation users question them for their behaviour, the high reputation users and moderators take "disciplinary action" on the low reputation users, like suspending them or labelling them or deleting their posts. This was witnessed on the Electrical Engineering Stack Exchange and Stack Overflow, both of which are clearly not serious enough to be an engineering Q&A site.

When the sites are not serious enough, the experts lose interest and leave the platform. The platform then evolves to become a "monkey circus" where there is no real difference between the "high rep" and "low rep" users, since the real experts have already left. Only those interested in fun and in increasing reputation points remain. No serious answers containing code that is secure and actually runs will be found on such a low quality platform. No circuit that is efficient and actually works will be found on such a platform. See https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/7958574

I have made a study of the inherent weakness in the design of Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange. This can be found here: https://github.com/ShashankVM/meta_stack


Update: I have found the weakness of this site, and I am disclosing it here, so it may be fixed and so other users can see it:

  1. As Mithical says in their answer:

"gamification" is a bit of a different concept from "fun".

While it is true they are slightly different concepts, it is also true that they are intertwined. I will quote the post "A note on April 1st" which is seen as "fun" and not gamification by Mithical:

Therefore, for your own safety: DO NOT try to enter any secret code on April 1st. DO NOT play the game ('cause there is none). DO NOT post your high scores in this thread (because you can't get any (as there is no game)). DO NOT let the Codidactyl touch any sugar (not that there is a danger (because there is no game of course))

Hope no one missed the "game" part in this quote. So it is not only fun but also a kind of gamification.


Mithical says in their answer:

Fun, on the other hand, isn't the same thing as gamification. Fun is an optional thing that encourages community building. People can laugh together about a silly April Fools Easter Egg (which participation in is strictly voluntary; you're not required to use the Konami Code whenever you access the site).

But when strange posts such as "A note on April 1st" are found on Meta Codidact, new users, such as myself, feel alienated and find this site to be very weird and strange. Another user has also commented:

I would prefer to not have such uh "fun". This day is annoying enough elsewhere.

  • Some users from other parts of the world may not even be aware of Fool's day or Easter Eggs and it is not a globally recognized event as Mithical says below.

  • Other users may know only one meaning of easter egg i.e. the egg shared on Easter Sunday (a religious event). Trivialising a religious event of significant importance to the followers of that religion, might hurt the sentiments of the people who follow that religion. While the "Easter Eggs" found in some video games do just that, we should not be following the bad example of such video games.

We want to build a community.

Fun events - such as contests, or Easter Eggs - help increase a feeling of belonging and community for a lot of people. It keeps people engaged and people bond over events, or meet new people while comparing high scores. There's a reason we call our various sites "communities"; because that's what we're trying to facilitate. And sometimes, that means lightening things up a little (especially around gloablly-recognized fun events like April Fools).

While I agree about the community bonding part, I think it is also important that before doing such events we should ask ourselves: "Are we interested in creating a diverse and inclusive global community?"

If yes, this implies we should not be giving importance to any one culture over the multitude of cultures found in the world. There are so many festivals celebrated by so many cultures, can we celebrate them all? If the answer is no, would it be fair to treat one culture as more important and significant than another? I believe treating minorities with respect is very important for a diverse and inclusive global community.

  1. Monica Cellio says in their answer:

The Codidact team is still very small, and if there's something I can do to help them enjoy what they're doing without diminishing the platform, I'll do it.

Codidact is by the community, for the community -- please join us if you want to be a bigger part of that.

I don't understand Monica Cellio's point since I have already asked the question and by definition I am already a part of the community. If Monica Cellio is implying that I need to be a part of the development team to "be a bigger part of that", then I can't help but point out it seems there is already a significant conflict of interest between the development team and the user community. It is important that there is no separation nor conflict of interest between the development team and the user community. User community can contribute to development if they want to, likewise, the development team can participate on the Q&A if they want to.

Development teams should focus on building usable applications for the user community. Development teams should not focus on building something that they, and only they enjoy using, since people who use this Q&A platform might come from all backgrounds, including non-software development backgrounds.

Many developers hate using Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange since that community is toxic and lacks focus, quality and inclusivity. Creating a platform that has better quality (a high bar for getting a post accepted) and inclusivity than Stack Overflow, with zero tolerance for unkind and sarcastic remarks and off-topic posts solves the problems that developers currently face on Stack Overflow.

Monica Cellio says in a comment:

Similarly, the hidden game here doesn't affect Q&A, profiles, abilities, rep, badges (we don't have badges), or anything else. It's just an extra. Most of the time I neither like nor dislike eggs; they're just there

The hidden game has already affected my Meta Codidact rep somewhat negatively, since my posts related to the hidden game tend to get downvoted heavily. The staff user's post related to the hidden game and the posts of those who supported the staff user's action of creating a hidden game tend to get upvoted heavily, increasing their rep. Is this side effect good or bad? I will leave that to the reader to judge.

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6 comments

codidact.org or codidact.com? I suspect you meant codidact.com. Canina‭ 11 days ago

I have written very similar posts in the past which have been similarly downvoted. I dont know which community you belong to, but I specially refer to the Judaism one, which has all the problems you mention 'tenfold' since one doesnt have to be an expert in anything to want to join only to be Jewish, which is hardly intellectual. interested‭ 10 days ago

@Interested Actually, one does not need to be Jewish to join the Codidact Judaism community, just interested in Judaism. Once certainly doesn't have to be an "expert" to join any of the Codidact communities - the idea is to build places where people can learn from each other, which includes all levels of knowledge. On some topics in some communities, being an expert is a prerequisite to providing a good answer. You don't need to be "intellectual" to have a meaningful discussion. manassehkatz‭ 10 days ago

You know very well that in all communities Writing etc one has to have some interest in the subject and be knowledgeable If you have no idea you wont belong or wont ask questions or even enter the room. I have not entered any other room at all and I am sure that goes for almost all your judaism members. These other rooms are not meant for beginners unlike Judaism. They are also on a high level, I have no idea what they are talking about. You are Jewish how many other rooms do you frequent? interested‭ 10 days ago

I ought to add to Ms Cellio post. This site is more interested in getting development teams than getting community members who ask and answer questions. I have already asked why no chat. The reason seems to be because there are no votes there. Your own members are asking daily on SE and answering. Why dont they come here to do that. That is what you should be asking. I know the answer why dont you know. interested‭ 10 days ago

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2 answers

+12
−1

"gamification" is a bit of a different concept from "fun".

Gamification refers to incentivizing participation; we do this currently via reputation (and Abilities to a certain extent). You get points (and unlock Abilities) the more you participate. We don't currently have any sort of badge system, which is also a gamification method.

Fun, on the other hand, isn't the same thing as gamification. Fun is an optional thing that encourages community building. People can laugh together about a silly April Fools Easter Egg (which participation in is strictly voluntary; you're not required to use the Konami Code whenever you access the site).

As for whether or not we want to be "serious"... that's entirely up to the individual communities. If our Electrical Engineering site wants to be an all-business, no-fun place, that's fine; that's their prerogative and the type of community they want to build there.

On the other hand, if our Judaism site wants to have a yearly silly-question time for a month, that's also perfectly acceptable. Codidact as an organization leaves that up to the original community.


Now, another angle I want to get at is this: We're not just aiming to build another Q&A site. We want to build a community.

Fun events - such as contests, or Easter Eggs - help increase a feeling of belonging and community for a lot of people. It keeps people engaged and people bond over events, or meet new people while comparing high scores.
There's a reason we call our various sites "communities"; because that's what we're trying to facilitate. And sometimes, that means lightening things up a little (especially around gloablly-recognized fun events like April Fools).


Now, I partly agree with your main point that gamification encourages low-quality contributions just to get points or badges or whatever. That's one of the reasons that on the platform, we've been de-emphasizing reputation, to mitigate the gaming-the-system urge. I've been trying to think of alternative ways of signifying experts that doesn't encourage the same type of gamification, but so far have been coming up largely empty-handed. Any suggestions are welcome on that front.
However, it's important to not conflate that with a fun - and entirely optional - event that lasts for all of a single day. An Easter Egg game doesn't have the same encouraging-bad-behavior aspect that gamification does; instead, it's a way of building some community culture and having a little bit of fun. If you don't want to participate, that's totally fine - it shouldn't affect your other participation at all.
There's nothing wrong with not wanting to participate. But other people can just find it a fun event, and that's also fine.

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2 comments

The opt-in nature is an important aspect. One year SE restyled all their sites to look like those awful Myspace sites from the 90s. (Maybe not SO because they care about that one; don't remember.) It rendered SE completely unusable for people with certain visual disabilities and very annoying for many other people, and it lasted for about a day and a half (because of timezones). That is exactly the wrong way to do "fun" (sic) in a shared community. We aim to keep extras non-invasive. Monica Cellio‭ 11 days ago

@ShashankVM - You're welcome to post a feature request to change where the user information shows up! That deserves its own discussion, though, not the comments section on an unrelated post. As for gray areas - yes, that's something I'm willing to accept. Communities and their moderators can figure out where they want to draw the lines, with guidance from the Codidact Team if necessary. Different communities will draw those lines in different places. Mithical‭ 11 days ago

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I want to supplement Mithical's answer, with which I agree.

Broadly speaking, Codidact has three major pieces, all essential:

  • its communities, without which none of the rest of this would matter
  • the platform itself (the code that runs our communities)
  • the development team, the people who contribute to this non-profit project

(There's also the Codidact Foundation, the non-profit legal entity that protects us from the whims of stockholders seeking profits, but that's more tangential in this discussion.)

I want to focus on this last part: the development team. Codidact isn't a company that can hire people to do assigned work; we exist because people are willing to volunteer their time and talents, sometimes in large quantities over extended periods of time. This is a gift that I'm grateful for every day.

People can be stressed, can have other demands in their lives, or need to take a lighter load for a period of time. The wellbeing of our team members is essential; if any of our volunteers felt too much pressure from the demands of the project, we would all lose. If any of our team members need a break, or want to do something small and perhaps lower priority before diving into the next big thing or the most urgent demand, I support that.

Was an April Fool's game[1] on our roadmap? Not particularly. Am I ok with a developer who wanted a "fun" break spending a few hours on it anyway? Absolutely.[2] I never want to take our volunteers for granted, and I never want them to feel that the priorities we've set are so much of a burden that they're not enjoying working on the project any more.[3] The Codidact team is still very small, and if there's something I can do to help them enjoy what they're doing without diminishing the platform, I'll do it. I wasn't looking for a game, but I stand by it. Besides, now that it's there, I'm looking forward to playing it in a few hours.

This is a good time for a pitch: if you're interested in helping us to improve the platform, which is built with Ruby on Rails, HTML/CSS, and Javascript, please let us know or peruse our GitHub issues and let us know if you want to work on one of them. We all want to build a good platform that supports a variety of communities; we welcome new contributors at any time, whether it's to fix one or two bugs or to build out major pieces. Codidact is by the community, for the community -- please join us if you want to be a bigger part of that.


  1. Game, not gamification. Gamification is a practice where site features encourage certain competitive behaviors, like collecting badges or increasing reputation/karma/likes. Gamification has game-like elements (hence the name), but a game is not inherently gamification. For example, this opt-in one-day game doesn't produce any visible effects on the main site at all. Mithical's answer addresses gamification in more detail. ↩︎

  2. This game had a predecessor; when our downtime for the abilities rollout was dragging along, somebody spent an hour or so writing a little game that we could put up as both a "yes we're down, sorry" notice and something lighthearted for the community. The new game builds on that work, so while I haven't asked, I don't imagine it took much additional time to build. ↩︎

  3. I'm not saying anybody had reached this point. Even if someone had and I knew about it, it wouldn't be mine to share. Please read this in the general terms in which it was written. ↩︎

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10 comments

@ShashankVM‭ I'm having trouble understanding how my invitation for people to help with development if they want to led you to think I'm expressing a requirement. That's not my intention at all, and I'd happily rephrase if it's unclear but I'm a little confused about how to do so. Nobody is required to help build the tools. Nobody's input will be given more or less weight depending on whether the person has written code. It's completely optional, and of course many can't even if they want to. Monica Cellio‭ 10 days ago

@ShashankVM‭ re "getting the Q&A back on track", you probably didn't see it if you're not active on the Judaism community, but the "fun" questions were segregated (different category) and only live for a limited period of time. The category description also made it very clear what was going on. Purim Torah is a longstanding tradition in the Jewish community; this wasn't something random and disconnected. Monica Cellio‭ 10 days ago

'Easter egg' is a well-known phrase that's since been added to the English language to mean things in addition to what it originally meant. I for one certainly do not find it in any way offensive or insulting and if you want to have a discussion about whether certain accepted phrases in language should or shouldn't be offensive and all the context, I'd suggest going somewhere like Languages & Linguistics Mithrandir24601‭ 10 days ago

@ShashankVM‭ was the only use of "easter egg" in an answer to one of these questions? I admit I hadn't given the term, which I've heard for years, any deeper thought. Now that you've brought up the religious angle I'll try to be more careful about it. I don't play video games and can't comment on the culture. If it's toxic, that doesn't automatically taint everything they do; I mean, they write code too but we don't ban software because it's been used for games, right? Context matters. Monica Cellio‭ 10 days ago

The "easter eggs" I've seen (I think my first was some hidden content on a DVD, not even software) have been extras that you have to seek out and that don't affect anything else. The DVD one led to some deleted scenes, I think, but didn't affect my normal viewing of the movie. Similarly, the hidden game here doesn't affect Q&A, profiles, abilities, rep, badges (we don't have badges), or anything else. It's just an extra. Most of the time I neither like nor dislike eggs; they're just there. Monica Cellio‭ 10 days ago

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