We’ve been having a good discussion at work on how to encourage and reward friendly behavior on our very active user community site. One idea is to implement some kind of user rating system, like awarding points for contributions or even a Slashdot-style karma system.

I’m not crazy about these ideas. My thinking has been heavily influenced by Jimmy Wales, the BDFL of Wikipedia. He speaks strongly against using them in communities. Here’s a quote from one of his talks:

Programmers always love to have lots and lots of metrics, like the eBay rating system. The eBay rating system works really, really well because most of the interactions on eBay are not necessarily community interactions. When I go to buy something on eBay, why do I care about that number? I care about that number because I don't know that person, and I don't know anybody who knows them, so I need some kind of a metric.

That works very, very well for a site like eBay, but in our case, we don't have ratings of users, and the reason we don't have ratings of users is that people who are working together and editing articles, they come to know each other... The kinds of judgments we use to make the work be good, have nothing to do with rating metrics and numbers. You can imagine, suppose you went to work at a company and every day and you have some sort of a badge and it has a number on it that tells how many people like you or not? Not really where you want to work, I think. Instead, what do you want? You want people to judge you on a wide variety of characteristics... You can't capture that in a number. It's real human judgments about real human people.

You can download this whole talk from The Long Now, and this quote is about 1/4 of the way through. While you’re there, be sure to browse through all the other great seminars they’ve had over the past few years.