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StackExchange main features that can be leveraged

After interacting and contributing in C.SE intensely for 3 years as a software developer familiar with Knowledge-Base, Online Support, and Forum/Community applications, these are the 5 main features of SE which could be helpful to C.SE:

  1. KB System: to encourage the building of a library of Q & A with enduring value with a rich set of features such as markdown (for rich content), version history, tag system, etc.
  2. Meta site: to facilitate the community-based policy and rules for the main site
  3. Gamification: makes improving the KB system fun
  4. Chat:
    • helps new users or regular users discuss topics outside the KB system (prevent clutter)
    • a place for spillover of comments arising from content discussion in the Main site
  5. Community wiki answers: encourage public editing of answers dedicated as community wiki

SE's gamification features followed trend in early 2010s

Stack Exchange was also purposefully architected as a KB site with gamification technology, which started to be in vogue since 2010. At that time, the Internet technology companies were flocking to gamification to increase user participation and to reward "good behavior" with points and social recognition (badges) in the hope that psychological positive reinforcements would retain and encourage participants who are "beneficial" to the site. Computer hardware / software manufacturers started building community sites so the product owners/users themselves can supplement expensive support operation by email/phone, thus reducing their support business cost. As of 2022, this has become ubiquitous that ALL major technology companies have them. Even companies such as Amazon AWS now require paid support to engage their paid employees. Thus, gamification was designed to promote community self-support.

How SE gamification technology is designed

Did gamification technology work on me? When I reflect on my whole interaction with C.SE and also with other SE sites, I have to admit that there IS an influence there on the psychological level. I found that although (for myself) the main reason to participate is learning about Christianity, driven by

  • intellectual curiosity
  • love of research, and
  • resolving existentially/religiously unsettling ambiguity inherent in God's partial revelation (God really seems to purposely left important questions unanswered, as though the pursuit of exegetical and theological enterprise in the academy could be God's gamification effort to know him better!),

I have to admit that the gaming aspect influenced me as well (although I rarely play a computer game), adding on to the main motivation:

  1. reward for unlocking privileges such as editing without approval, seeing deleted answer, etc.
  2. answer score as competition and feedback to write the better answers for the community
  3. tag badges to showcase expertise in a particular area
  4. various badges to encourage contribution in various areas like editing, asking, answering, offering bounties, etc.
  5. league pages to show top contributors by week, month, quarter, year, and all time
  6. good way of tracking activities, bookmarking questions, and setting tag/badge goal to "plan our next move"
  7. message "inbox" notifying users of answers to our questions, updates to favorite questions, incoming comments, new questions for a tag, to "hook us back into the game"
  8. making the whole system a pleasant way to compose, edit, search, and organize question/answer, as well as to chat with other users in various rooms

It is no accident that tag edits without approval are set as requiring the highest privilege given (20,000 points). Moderators are also given the charge to protect the integrity of the game.

Does gamification technology still work nowadays?

After 10+ years, does gamification technology in a software / online-service products really get people to achieve personal goals other than the score itself? In other words, does killing two birds (learning + gaming) with one stone work?

The answer seems to be YES. I was inspired to write this question after seeing a really funny advertisement on YouTube (while viewing other videos) for the Simply Piano app for learning piano/keyboard called This app is NOT a game!

DISCLAIMER: Kudos for Simply Piano marketing team, although out of ethical consideration of being a (somewhat) professional musician, I have to warn potential users of this app that if you want to be a serious classical pianist there is no substituting a credentialed piano teacher who has some background in piano pedagogy. This is because hand posture, muscle control and musicianship is critical in playing more advanced classical pieces well. Like any sport, playing a keyboard instrument is a physical activity that can incur injuries or accumulate bad habits that need to be broken before you can achieve a higher level. I have known at least 2 advanced pianists incurring injuries and I myself have to relearn some techniques (takes a year) due to bad habits incurred because my first piano teachers were not competent. Therefore, a good piano teacher is not only teaching music but acting as a "piano sport coach", with "coach" in the fullest sense of the word as in a "baseball coach".

In a way, a similar warning for users of C.SE as well, that there is no substitute to be a serious theologian / Bible exegete without a seminary education, whether full time or self study through online courses / reading seminary textbooks. There is also no substitute (in addition to the indispensable role of the Holy Spirit) for a credentialed / sufficiently mature Christian (ideally a full-time credentialed pastor) to "coach" one to make spiritual progress, although an "app" (i.e. books, fellowship, prayer, fasting & other spiritual practices, and communal Christian activities) will certainly help.

How C.SE can be better by leveraging SE features?

Christianity.SE can then be seen as theological self-support site with various denominations as the product to be supported, if someone doesn't have access or reluctant to engage their paid pastors. This question invites discussion specifically on the gamification aspect of C.SE.

Recent C.SE meta questions by Luke Hill and by Hold To The Rod brought thoughtful concerns to the surface by asking what are the best practices for NOT turning new C.SE users away or discouraging existing users. I wonder whether part of the strategy can be through leveraging the gamification, chat, or other features of Stack Exchange?

Pointers

  • Several insightful meta.stackexchange.com questions here and here
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  • Oh wow I got a shoutout! I feel famous :)
    – Luke Hill
    Apr 9 at 23:11

2 Answers 2

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Unless I did something wrong with this query, 49/85 = 57% of my answers are to questions that have no accepted answers. Either me and anyone else answering these questions are doing something very wrong, or there is a reluctance to accept answers. For some questions, I understand that choosing which answer to accept can be hard, but for the gamification aspect I would say one area where improvement is possible is to encourage accepting answers.

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  • 1
    Personally, I only like to accept an answer when it is truly definitive, that nothing more could ever be said on the topic. But there are no rules for how people are to accept answers. People are completely free to use other criteria, or to not accept any answers at all. Which does means that answer acceptance isn't something well suited to gamification.
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Apr 13 at 1:03
  • @curiousdannii The same query on StackOverflow gives me ~36%, so there is (probably due to the topic we discuss here) either significantly more reluctance to see an answer as definitive (compared to more technical sites), or answers lack the definitiveness needed, or questions are such that, while answerable, aren't answerable well in a definitive manner. If the asker himself has little knowledge about the question asked, how can he decide when an answer can be considered "definitive"? That aside, you think then the focus should be on votes instead of accepting answers?
    – kutschkem
    Apr 13 at 8:10
  • Yes, definitely think it's better to emphasise votes over acceptance.
    – curiousdannii Mod
    Apr 13 at 9:58
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Ideas leveraging the gamification features of the platform

  1. Provide bounty to new users who provided answers that:

    • exemplify C.SE standard for an answer, and
    • demonstrate a certain level of knowledge about Christian theology

    both of which signal a great potential for their future contributions. Benefit: Earn Altruist and Investor badges.

  2. Longer-time users should be more generous in upvoting answers that seem right although not great, especially to differentiate them from obviously lower quality answers. Benefit: Earn toward a gold Electorate badge.

  3. Longer-time users should be more generous in upvoting questions and answers that are not really your interest, since the benchmark is what is valuable to the site, not what you would like to see raised within your own denomination's interest. For example, I would upvote well phrased objective questions from all denominations, not just the Reformed / Catholic ones. Benefit: Earn toward a gold Electorate badge.

  4. Be responsive to answers to your questions so even if you don't agree, they know how to improve it. Vote Up if helpful, and Accept within a few days if you're happy enough (cannot expect perfect answer sometimes). Benefit: Get 2 points every time you accept, earn toward a gold Electorate badge.

Ideas leveraging other features of the platform

  1. Although comments are strictly to provide input to make a question/answer better, I have seen comments to be used for encouragement and discussing content as well. Current moderators seem to be graceful to tolerate this, as long as it's not excessive. So one way to encourage user is by commenting on a post that you have read by packaging all these 3 elements TOGETHER in a single comment (aka dual-use) to meet the bare minimum official purpose of a comment:

    • [REQUIRED] how to make the question/answer better for the site (official purpose of comment)
    • [OPTIONAL] personal encouragement
    • [OPTIONAL] your reaction/response to the content/topic itself as a means of furthering knowledge

    which need to be written with empathy, constructive input, good rhetoric, and following SE Code of Conduct which then showed the post writers that their writings don't go unnoticed.

  2. Direct users to specially designated chat rooms for common topics to help them form good questions and to avoid extended discussion in comments.

  3. Be more gracious and helpful to new users (see the Suggestions section of my other answer).

  4. Be more generous in reopening or not closing an answer. Be more active in the queues so users get quicker response, since it takes 4 votes in many reopen questions.

I'll put more ideas here as edits as they came to me.

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