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.