Donnie Berkholz's Story of Data

Gamifying community: Whether, and how?

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This is another post on a particularly interesting topic from the Community Leadership Summit: how to bring the increasingly popular trend of gamification to online communities. Jono Bacon, Ubuntu’s community manager, gave a plenary talk on some work he’s done to apply it to Ubuntu.

His idea is a simple one but surprisingly nontrivial to implement: In a low-friction, automated fashion, detect when people have completed a useful set of tasks that define a trophy or badge of some sort, varying from small to major. For example:

The part that makes doing so complex is integrating with a broad variety of infrastructure across the project. A centralized backend can detect all these activities happening, then pop up a transitory notification on the user’s system to let them know they’ve achieved some award.

I think there’s some potential to this, since gamification is really something that’s happened in online communities for years. Think of forum websites running phpBB, which has the concept that users can earn different ranks after they’ve made certain numbers of posts to the forums. It seems to me, though, that gamification may reach its limits with relatively simple contributions — it could be a better path to gaining new contributors than to converting existing ones to become more involved.

I’ve been thinking along similar directions for a while in the context of open-source projects like Gentoo Linux, but on a vastly different level, because I feel that most OSS projects fail to properly recognize the contributions of their own developers. There’s a huge black hole where there should be publicly expressed gratitude, and we could fill some of it with titles for various levels of contribution.

Imagine if we had a system of recognition where large open-source projects essentially had a technical promotion track. Key people who had made long-term, extensive contributions to the project could be declared Fellows, others could be Senior Principal Developers, and so forth. I think there’s an unfulfilled need for greater recognition within most open-source projects, and this might be a good way to do it.

Disclosure: Canonical is a client. The Gentoo Foundation is not, although I am an active developer.


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