A reputation economy is a good model for comments

If you’re a serious code master (I’m not, but I know several) you probably already know about Stack Overflow, a handy place to find answers to specific programming questions on everything from Visual Basic to Flash. (And if not, you should check it out.)

I was listening to Joel Spolsky, one of the site’s founders, talk about it on a podcast interview recently. The site uses community voting and wiki features to improve the quality of the responses. All very cool, but what was intriguing from a news perspective is how they chose to architect the community ecosystem. From the FAQ page:

Here’s how it works: if you post a good question or helpful answer, it will be voted up by your peers: you gain 10 reputation points. If you post something that’s off topic or incorrect, it will be voted down: you lose 2 reputation points. You can earn up to 200 reputation per day, but no more. (Note that votes for any posts marked “community wiki” do not generate reputation.)

Amass enough reputation points and Stack Overflow will allow you to go beyond simply asking and answering questions:
15 Vote up
15 Flag offensive
50 Leave comments
100 Vote down (costs 1 rep), create new tags
200 Reduced advertising
250 Vote to close or open your questions
500 Retag questions
750 Edit community wiki posts
2000 Edit other people’s posts
3000 Vote to close any questions
10000 Delete closed questions, access to moderation tools

At the high end of this reputation spectrum there is little difference between users with high reputation and moderators. That is very much intentional. We don’t run Stack Overflow. The community does.

I’m guessing there are pletny of news sites and blogs that wish they would have had this repuation economy in place when they launched comments on stories and blog posts. It’s a positive step toward improved collaboration and conversation that our networked world allows. And it makes me think the dark early days of inanity and insults will be quickly forgotten when systems – and the people using them – evolve into more sophisticated exchanges.

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