12 votes

Credit-based communication platforms?

Does anyone know of any communication platforms [1] which use a credit system or have a 'cost' attached to actions such as making a post or commenting? I am imagining something like Reddit or a forum where users have a balance, and actions have a cost which is charged against that balance. So if I have 100 credits and posting in r/whatever costs 2 credits/post and 1 credit/comment then that limits the amount of interaction in that sub.

I am wondering if a cost system like this would be useful for moderation or to promote high-value content, since it effectively turns the platform into a market. One effect of this system is that it would discourage low-value posts/replies/comments, because there is a cost associated with making a post, namely opportunity cost of posting something else later. Perhaps the credits are purchased with real-world currency, which I assume would amplify this effect?

I imagine a sustainable system would have some way to reward users of high-value content with more credit so they are incentivised and able to produce more content: maybe upvotes count as credit, or users can donate credit to each other?

[1] I hope this term is vague enough to encompass all forms of modern digital communication. I am curious about direct communication (email, WhatsApp, ...) as well as social media in its various forms (Reddit, Tildes, Twitter, ...), niche platforms (Letter), wikis, fora, and anything else under the sun.

21 comments

  1. [5]
    suspended
    Link
    The first problem that comes to my mind is how inequitable this would be. I can imagine the wealthiest of persons 'owning' the forum very quickly.

    The first problem that comes to my mind is how inequitable this would be. I can imagine the wealthiest of persons 'owning' the forum very quickly.

    13 votes
    1. [2]
      DataWraith
      Link Parent
      Maybe something akin to Quadratic voting could be used, where the cost to post or comment more than once in $timespan per subgroup or post would go up exponentially. Though that still doesn't...

      Maybe something akin to Quadratic voting could be used, where the cost to post or comment more than once in $timespan per subgroup or post would go up exponentially. Though that still doesn't prevent a single person out-spending someone else, it makes it harder to outright own a thread when multiple people are posting.

      That said, I doubt this would work better than an Advogato-style trust-metric for moderation purposes.

      8 votes
      1. wcerfgba
        Link Parent
        Wow super cool ideas, thanks :)

        Wow super cool ideas, thanks :)

    2. dblohm7
      Link Parent
      The technique has actually been theorized as an anti-spam technique, under the guise of it being incredibly cheap for individuals (like one cent per message), but incredibly expensive for spammers...

      The technique has actually been theorized as an anti-spam technique, under the guise of it being incredibly cheap for individuals (like one cent per message), but incredibly expensive for spammers (because of their volume).

      3 votes
    3. wcerfgba
      Link Parent
      I can understand your intuition but I am not sure exactly what the effect would be or what this would look like in practice. I guess if some people had an incredible wealth of credits relative to...

      I can understand your intuition but I am not sure exactly what the effect would be or what this would look like in practice. I guess if some people had an incredible wealth of credits relative to the costs of various interactions, those users could dominate discussions because they will always be able to have the last say and post as much as they want without regard for their balance.

      Perhaps a limit on the maximum number of credits a user can accumulate is in order?

      This also makes me think such a platform would be an interesting experiment in economics, politics and sociology. I am seeing parallels between such a system and aspects of the real world such as the legislature-lobbyist relationship. Effectively, there are people who will pay a premium to ensure that they can communicate with people with power that they wish to influence and they can use their wealth to ensure that their opinions are given more weight by legislators. We use tools like progressive taxation to fight wealth and income inequality, and I wonder if we could simulate these effects on a market-based social network, i.e. if a tax was enacted on user credits, we could look at the effect this has on credit distribution, and maybe the effect this has on content, meta-content (such as discussions around moderation and the way moderation is enacted/handled).

      2 votes
  2. [2]
    joplin
    Link
    Stack Overflow works this way and has been pretty effective at reaching its goals (which don't always align with its users' goals). When you sign up, I think you get 10 reputation points...

    Stack Overflow works this way and has been pretty effective at reaching its goals (which don't always align with its users' goals). When you sign up, I think you get 10 reputation points (abbreviated as "rep"). This allows you to post either a question or an answer and not much else. You can't even reply to a comment on your own post with that little rep. You get more points through a few methods, but the most sustainable one is by people upvoting your questions and answers. There are some other tasks you can do, too. I think that if you have less than 200 rep, then editing a post gives you a small amount of reputation as well. These activities quickly stop giving rep, though as you advance. When you reach other goals you get more privileges including adding and editing tags, updating the wiki descriptions and text, closing or re-opening posts, seeing deleted posts, and eventually you get to use the admin tools as well once you reach ~20,000 rep. and see site analytics at 25,000 rep.

    I think the system works pretty well. You'll hear a lot of complaints about the site, but these largely revolve around people's misguided expectations of the site and complaints about the other users on the site. It might be instructive for your purposes to read up on the issues. (Search for any thread about StackOverflow on Hacker News, for example.) My view is that the site's goal is to provide good answers to common and tough specific questions about computer programming. Many people want it to be a discussion forum, and that is explicitly a non-goal of the site. The creators don't want it to be that. (Or I should say didn't. I think most of the people who started the site have now either retired or moved on to other projects.)

    The other main complaint I hear about it is how users treat each other. Many questions are quickly closed by higher-rep users as duplicates of existing questions. These largely fall into 2 categories: 1) questions that actually are duplicates asked by a person who did absolutely no research ahead of time and didn't even search the site, and 2) questions that are similar to other existing questions but are in fact not a duplicate. (I have had the unfortunate experience of searching for an answer to my question for the better part of an hour, finding nothing, posting it, and having someone else legitimately find a duplicate minutes later!)

    Also, new users tend to not be very good at explaining the problem they're having, and many are non-native English speakers so their questions are often confusingly worded. Responses to these types of questions range from earnest attempts to elicit more information to rude trolling and name calling (which goes against the sites rules). Stack Overflow has attempted to address these problems by automatically detecting possible duplicates as you're drafting your question, prompting for specific bits of information, and things like that. They've also attempted to institute rules about rude responses which largely resulted in pushback by privileged users who felt like the site they loved was turning into a stupider version of itself. Some have suggested having an "Advanced Stack Overflow" that only high-rep users can access. I suspect if they did that, the "advanced" site would end up with all the same complaints after a short honeymoon period. But I guess until you do the experiment you won't know.

    Judging from StackOverflow, gamification like this has its problems. More privileged users feel more entitled and tend to resent the site and other users when things don't go their way. (For example, when they mark a question as a duplicate and someone else unmarks it as a dupe.) New users often feel bullied even when more privileged users are treating them not only fairly, but delicately, but they disagree with the outcome of the interaction. (You'll find lots of posts around the internet complaining about "out of control mods" on StackOverflow. These actions are often performed by normal users with medium to high rep and not actual moderators.) To be honest, though, I'm not sure how you'd improve on a system like this. After 10-15 years, it seems to have ironed out a number of its problems.

    Note also that these problems with the reputation system are all outside of the recent problem the site had with expelling actual moderators for asking for clarification of some of their new rules. I'm a high-rep user and haven't been back to the site on any regular basis in the last year or two because of how poorly the site owners handled that situation.

    8 votes
    1. wcerfgba
      Link Parent
      Thanks for the detailed answer and for outlining some of the issues around SO's system. I agree there are some problems with SO, I can't count the number of time's I've found a post which...

      Thanks for the detailed answer and for outlining some of the issues around SO's system. I agree there are some problems with SO, I can't count the number of time's I've found a post which perfectly answered my question but as also closed as 'off-topic' :/

      Just to clarify, SO is not exactly like what I have in mind because on SO reputation is cumulative, but I am envisioning a system where that reputation is actually ;spent'.

      4 votes
  3. [2]
    Deimos
    Link
    The main one that comes to mind is Steemit, which uses the Steem cryptocurrency. The guide linked at the top might be the best thing to read (but it's relatively new and I haven't read it myself,...

    The main one that comes to mind is Steemit, which uses the Steem cryptocurrency. The guide linked at the top might be the best thing to read (but it's relatively new and I haven't read it myself, so I'm not sure). There's been a bunch of drama recently with it getting acquired by Tron that I haven't even tried to keep up with, but this seemed like a good article from a few months ago: Steem vs Tron: The rebellion against a cryptocurrency empire

    I've seen the general concept suggested a lot, but I don't know of any other sites/services centered around it that actually managed to launch or get to the point where they have more than a couple of users. Some sites use some vaguely similar concepts for certain actions, for example Stack Overflow makes you "spend" one of your own reputation points to downvote anyone else's answer.

    6 votes
    1. wcerfgba
      Link Parent
      Iiiinteresting, guess I will go read about Steemit later then, thanks :)

      Iiiinteresting, guess I will go read about Steemit later then, thanks :)

      2 votes
  4. [2]
    Turtle
    Link
    High value isn't the same as good quality though. Youtube is kind of like what your describing, in that it incurs costs on consumers in the form of watching ads, and on producers in the form of...

    High value isn't the same as good quality though. Youtube is kind of like what your describing, in that it incurs costs on consumers in the form of watching ads, and on producers in the form of opportunity cost, and rewards the most high value producers. Very little of the most popular content is what I would consider high quality. For that to be the case, your use base would have to value good quality content already, and then there's not really much point to what your proposing besides compensating creators.

    3 votes
    1. wcerfgba
      Link Parent
      I think 'quality' is very subjective though: whereas 'value' is dictated by supply and demand and the market price (i.e. subjective theory of value), quality depends on the aesthetics of...

      I think 'quality' is very subjective though: whereas 'value' is dictated by supply and demand and the market price (i.e. subjective theory of value), quality depends on the aesthetics of individual users and the emergent culture of the userbase as a whole. I don't disagree with you that there are plenty of videos on YT with high viewer counts which I would also consider garbage (prank vids come to mind), but that's relative to my own definition of quality -- I think you could argue that high value content meets a minimum quality level for the majority of the userbase, relative to their collective values, and regardless of what that content is. Asking whether or not we should aspire for a higher level of quality seems to me to be moving closer to a normative, cross-cultural argument. So I agree that the community needs to already be aligned on what constitutes quality content, which raises more questions:

      • would a market-based platform assist users in aligning on what constitutes 'quality' content?
      • what other processes or tools could be used to align users on what constitutes 'quality' content?
      • if a community is already aligned on what constitutes 'quality' content, do members/users also need incentives to nudge them towards producing such content, investing (time) in content?
      • if users do need incentives, does market-based platform provide such incentives or are there better ways to incentivise?

      I used Reddit as the example in the original post because I think it gives good examples of communities with very wide ranges of quality within them. Some posts (like the wiki posts in r/economics) are what I would regard as very high quality: long form, well cited, link to other relevant material, cover a range of perspectives and questions on given subject matter -- in other words thorough or comprehensive. I'd like to incentivise that kind of content creation.

      4 votes
  5. [2]
    ICN
    Link
    I don't see this working, at least for social media. The first barrier is building up a large enough user base to be viable. You need a big upfront influx of new users to get things rolling, and a...

    I don't see this working, at least for social media.

    The first barrier is building up a large enough user base to be viable. You need a big upfront influx of new users to get things rolling, and a continuous stream of new users to replace existing users that cease using the product for whatever reason. This system is the most unfriendly to new users though; they're the ones least likely to get extra credits for content/money, and their first impression is a limitation on what they can do that other platforms don't have.

    The second barrier, assuming that the first one is overcome, is that I'm not sure this would even have the effect you're hoping for. IIRC, the rule of thumb about engagement is that around 90% of users mostly lurk, 9% post occasionally, and 1% post frequently. The credit system would have no mechanical effect on 99% of your users, and if it had a psychological effect would stifle discussion, both good and bad, leading back to the first problem. The 1% it would have the largest effect on would be, since this is social media, your primary content creators. One of the key drivers behind Wikipedia's success was that it harnessed the power of enthusiasts. The credit system could easily limit them, leading to less content overall and back to the first problem.

    If both those barriers are overcome, what does the final product look like? What it most incentivizes is a one and done system; no discussion, because that's penalized. No insult threads, but also no honest back and forth or Q&A. The system would almost inevitably be monetized, and then evolve into the same addiction machine every social media product strives for, except now with more exploitation of the psychologically vulnerable; people throwing money they don't have into the system because of underlying psychological issues, like gambling does today. Voices of the rich would be amplified, the people who benefit most under current world systems and therefore the least likely to say or believe that there are any underlying issues, to the detriment of those hurt by those systems who need a platform much more. Overall, even if it could reach widespread circulation, I just see it as leading to a worse version of existing social media.

    3 votes
    1. wcerfgba
      Link Parent
      I'm not really bothered about the social capital issue, which I think it already solved through active and targeted community building, and it's not a requirement of this system to be a broad-base...

      I'm not really bothered about the social capital issue, which I think it already solved through active and targeted community building, and it's not a requirement of this system to be a broad-base mass communication tool, but I agree that building social capital is a big problem for platforms that intend to fit that use case.

      The 90-9-1 rule is very interesting and I agree that is something that needs to be considered with this system. Perhaps something that more directly addresses that issue would be more interesting. Maybe if credits were required to read content then that would motivate users to move down the funnel and to post more often instead of just lurking? Although again I can see that there are potential downsides to such a system, if anything such a policy would probably encourage posting lots of low-effort content in order to farm credit.

      I did start to consider the monetization side of this system but haven't thought about it much. This is obviously the direction that Steemit is trying to take. I agree that there are potentially serious issues with this, particularly amplification of already-privileged voices and muting of already-unprivileged voices as you describe.

      Just to be clear, I'm not saying credit-based communication is a good idea, not advocating for it, I am just curious to see if it is in use and what such a system could look like, on the grounds that experimenting with stuff is fun and it might provide a useful simulation of (information) markets. I will probably try to hack something together as a hobby project when I have the energy for some non-work programming.

      3 votes
  6. [5]
    lonk
    Link
    I am working on an information sharing website that has some of the incentives you are talking about. In particular, the more you post/vote - the less weight your votes get. If, however, other...

    I am working on an information sharing website that has some of the incentives you are talking about. In particular, the more you post/vote - the less weight your votes get. If, however, other people liked what you posted then you get more weight. In that system your votes are kind of bets on content. If others don't like that content then you lose your bet. If they do like it, then you get rewarded with more of the users' attention.

    I want to share it on Tildes once it's ready for beta-testing. If you would like to help me test it before the beta is ready then please send me a DM and I'll send you invite codes once it's usable (maybe in a couple of months).

    3 votes
    1. [4]
      onyxleopard
      Link Parent
      This sounds like a good way to cluster users into bubbles, but not a good way to encourage a variety of discourse that encourages users to share opinions that the go against the grain of the...

      This sounds like a good way to cluster users into bubbles, but not a good way to encourage a variety of discourse that encourages users to share opinions that the go against the grain of the hive-mind. If my tastes are in the minority, I will be discouraged from using your system, and likely will not be incentivized to vote on content, thus leading to a feedback loop that will minimize my "weight". By contrast, you could also have a positive feedback loop for "weight-whores" who intentionally vote on content that panders to the hive-mind.

      I think it would be very important to hide votes from users in this system, otherwise it would be easy to fish for likes. Users do this on Reddit successfully with reposts because you can find posts that were already successful by looking at their vote counts. If it’s not obvious from the system what posts users like, though, that presents a problem because now your system is not good at surfacing good content to users. I think this overall tension between hiding how the system works and surfacing the best content is an extremely hard problem. Reddit’s vote fuzzing strategies, I think, are ultimately not enough in the aggregate to hinder those who want to game the system.

      2 votes
      1. [3]
        lonk
        Link Parent
        All good points. That is why joined Tildes in the first place, it has attracted folks that care about this problem space. To keep the original comment short I didn't get into the details of how...

        All good points. That is why joined Tildes in the first place, it has attracted folks that care about this problem space.

        To keep the original comment short I didn't get into the details of how the system will work.

        Your "weight" is not global like karma is on Reddit. Your weight is personal. For people who liked your contributions your weight will be larger, for those who didn't - smaller. So even being in the minority you will have a voice for people who appreciate what you have to say.

        Reposting may not be as big of a problem in this case. Those who saw the original post can dislike on the repost and will see less content from you. Those who didn't see it may find it useful and will like it. One person's noise is another person's signal :)

        My hope is that the system will be much harder to game because it gives control to the user to decide how they want their attention to be allocated in the future. All with a very transparent algorithm that will explain why you see each piece of content (e.g. "because you like A, B and C"). Will it be a filter bubble? Yes, but you will be in total control of it.

        3 votes
        1. [2]
          onyxleopard
          Link Parent
          What content will you show to users who are new and have not give you any signal about their content preferences? It seems like this whole system is basically creating a per-user logistic...

          What content will you show to users who are new and have not give you any signal about their content preferences? It seems like this whole system is basically creating a per-user logistic regression based recommendation engine?

          2 votes
          1. lonk
            Link Parent
            Yes, it is similar to per-user logistic regression where item "features" are the users that liked that item. When you like the item, the system increases the weight of all other users that also...

            Yes, it is similar to per-user logistic regression where item "features" are the users that liked that item. When you like the item, the system increases the weight of all other users that also liked it. When you dislike, the system lowers the weights of those who liked it. That alone is not enough though because the weights of other users only get larger and larger, unless you explicitly dislike items. One way to address this is to reduce the weight of the poster (eg, -1%) each time they post/like something.

            But there is even simpler and more explainable algorithm that I'm working on. It does not have any hyperparameter such as the learning rate or the reduction rate (the -1% above), which is a bonus.

            For new users, we will show generally popular content to new users. Once there is enough content&users we could have an onboarding flow where the system asks the user to submit 3-5 links that they recently liked and use these to initialize the weights. That requires that those 3-5 links have a significant chance to match likes of the existing users.

            1 vote
  7. nerb
    Link
    Oddly enough I still think that the something awful forums had the right idea on this. Rather than putting in any metrics (which get gamified) there's just a low-barrier flat entry fee. If you get...

    Oddly enough I still think that the something awful forums had the right idea on this. Rather than putting in any metrics (which get gamified) there's just a low-barrier flat entry fee. If you get banned you have to re-pay that fee.

    3 votes
  8. Amarok
    Link
    LBRY is a newish video content platform that's going in this direction. They've built it on blockchain and crypto, so you earn credits through using the site and its social systems. If you want...

    LBRY is a newish video content platform that's going in this direction. They've built it on blockchain and crypto, so you earn credits through using the site and its social systems. If you want the full technical description of their platform it's at this link.

    3 votes
  9. onyxleopard
    (edited )
    Link
    The main question I’d have for such as system is how does a user acquire credits? That’s what someone looking to exploit this system is going to go after, so it’s worth thinking carefully about...

    The main question I’d have for such as system is how does a user acquire credits?

    That’s what someone looking to exploit this system is going to go after, so it’s worth thinking carefully about this. Does a user get an allowance of credits provided by the system at some fixed credits/time rate? If so, what is the rate and what is an optimal rate, and according to what measure? Can users be granted credits by other users (probably a bad idea)? Can users purchase credits from the system, or from a market (probably a bad idea)?

    Edit:
    My somewhat rhetorical questions need context, and that context is that, if users can give one another credits, or buy them from a market, then this incentivizes creating networks of user accounts to game the system. Either there is pressure to form natural cliques (it may be a value judgment about whether this is good or bad), or synthetic networks of weight-farmers (I think categorically should be discouraged).

    Edit 2:
    I think ultimately if you wanted to go a gamification route, what really hurts a system like this is a lack of signal, i.e., unvoted content. So, maybe you could fix this by crediting users who vote on unvoted content. In Reddit terms, this is rewarding those who sort by new and actively vote on the newest, unvoted posts, which is a service to the community. I think you’d need to explore other ways to use the system to self-regulate and incentivize providing signal where there is none or it is noisy.

    2 votes