For a long time, I was a big fan of the TechPoints system at work in or Technical Q&A forums.

I loved the idea of a virtual economy, and preached for quite a while

that all we had to do was increase the transparency of the feature–let

everyone know what your Q&A behavior was–and the whole Adam Smith

thing would take over, and we’d be on our way. A low-touch,

self-policing virtual economy, with capitalism powering it along.

I’m really an idiot sometimes.

Under our current system, you have to spend TechPoints to ask a

question. That’s a barrier to entry. A big one, if the only way to earn

TechPoints is to answer questions. Basically, the people who

need help most are the people who are least likely to get it, because

they can’t earn enough points to ask questions. It’s like an economy

where the only job is as a plumber, so the good plumbers solve all

their own clogs and pipe breaks, and the bad plumbers can’t get enough

work to hire the help they need.

Worse, we’ve got a parallel economy with no barrier to entry: The Discussion Forums.

If Q&A gets too hard, you can just ask a “free” question in

Discussions, and will likely get a decent response. Why would you even

bother with Q&A under those circumstances?

Well, if Q&A gave you a better quality of response, you’d use it

instead of Discussions. Q&A can’t compete with Discussions on

price, because Discussions are free. So, Q&A has to compete on

quality. We need to build a new Q&A system that focuses clearly on

answering technical questions faster and more effectively, rather than

on trafficking in meaningless TechPoints.

I think that’s true of both those who ask questions, and who answer

them. The hardcore Q&A answerers aren’t competing for TechPoint

profit, they want recognition of their superior tech pro mojo. I’ve

been looking at a scoring system that analyzes your Q&A activity

and ranks answerers on problem-solving skill. Personally, I’m betting a

list of the “top technical problem solvers” would carry a lot of weight

with our users, and be a pretty serious point of pride worth competing

for. Better than TechPoints, anyway.