Contemplating Open Source UX

There are many reasons why I am tremendously excited about being involved in the redesign project for, not the least of which is that – for a change – I’m actually allowed to talk to you all about the project as we go. Afterall, it’s an open source project – we don’t care so much for confidentiality and Intellectual Property, what we care about here is being open and being part of the community.

Exciting yes? but also somewhat terrifying! What an amazing (and enormous!) community to try to become a part of! As Mark said in our keynote at Drupalcon – it feels like being the new kid at school – will we make friends?!  But one of the things I’m really thinking hard about is how to harness their amazingness in the best way for this project?

Back in the olden days I was a project manager, so I have a great appreciation for an approach that works to limit the amount of feedback that you take into a project – how much, how often etc. Trying to get ‘consolidated’ feedback has traditionally been the goal, so that we can move through the design process as efficiently and calmly as possible.

As a part of our plan we have already factored in ‘community feedback’ to the iterations of the prototype that we’ll be releasing from very early in the design lifecycle – the community *will* be involved in this project, albeit in a somewhat structured way.

But, against all of my project management instincts, I am itching to get as much community involvement in this project as I possibly can! To encourage the entire community to think about things like experience strategies, and information architecture and  user centred design.

I am tempted to set up a Twitter group (@drupalredesign perhaps) where we can all tweet little brainbursts we have about the redesign. To set up a Flickr group where we can all post annotated screenshots of stuff we like, stuff that’s broken. To blog about half finished ideas I’m having about strategies and solutions we’re working on.

This is all ridiculously dangerous from a expectation management perspective – there is no way on earth that we could make any assurances about taking everything into consideration, answering every suggestion or issue raised, solving all of the problems…. (don’t let me start coining a project management buzzword that involves ambiance!)

And yet… it’s also ridiculously exciting.

Already, from blogging about the gaming / karma issue, I’m now talking to someone out in Drupal land who is already working on a module we might be able to use. I wonder whether we would have made that connection otherwise.

Eh. I almost feel as though it is inevitable. We have to open up completely, and just see what happens.

I’m almost certain some expectation management/ community disasters will ensue, but hopefully also some amazingness. I’m sure you’ll hear all about it as we go!

What say you? Am I having a moment of insanity? Or shall we open the floodgates and see what happens?

Social literacy – does ‘karma gaming’ matter?

I have a question for all of you smart people out there. Does the fact that some people ‘game’ karma or rankings or anything you can count in social networks matter?

Here’s the context – I’m doing some work with the Drupal crew and at first blush it seems (perhaps obviously?) that is actually much more of a ‘social’ site than a ‘content’ site, and that many of the social and content issues we need to address might be helped along by making the activity that community members are undertaking visible – which essentially becomes a kind of ‘karma’ (a la Slashdot)

Karma is the sum of your activity on Slashdot. This means posting, moderation, story submissions. It’s just an integer in a database. The tiers are Terrible, Bad, Neutral, Positive, Good, and Excellent.

The obvious objection to this is gaming – that people will behave in a way that will increase their karma which is not necessarily in the best interest of the community at large.

There are a number of ways that you can design karma systems so that they are less likely to be gamed (see again Slashdot):

People like to treat their Slashdot Karma like some sort of video game, with a numeric integer representing their score in the game. People who do this simply are missing the point. The text label is one way we’ve decided to emphasize the point that karma doesn’t matter.


Yes. Karma is now capped at “Excellent” This was done to keep people from running up insane karma scores, and then being immune from moderation. Despite some theories to the contrary, the karma cap applies to every account.

And, of course, the well documented removal of the ‘top diggers’ page from Digg is another example of removing the incentive to game karma.

What I wonder about, though, is this:
  • is it just a minority of people who are compelled to have enormous numbers next to their names? 
  • is this minority behaviour *really* disruptive to everyone’s experience of the system?
When I think about my experience of Twitter – I know there are a bunch of people out there who are very interested in having huge lists of followers. I guess it’s an ego thing. For the rest of us though, we get our value from Twitter from a much smaller group of more carefully selected individuals. 
And we’re literate about ‘the numbers’ when evaluating people to include in our network. A common behaviour is to compare the ‘following’ to ‘followers’ numbers – if the ratio is screwed far toward ‘following’ then proceed with caution (or, more likely, don’t follow!)
My gut feeling is that:
  • yes, *some* people will game the system. No system you design will ever stop this.
  • making this gaming visible and traceable (you can see what people have done to achieve their ‘number’ or ranking) means that people can be discerning about the value they place on ‘rankings’
  • if people have high rankings, chance are they’ve been busy/loud in the community – their true value is really on the value of the noise they’ve been making (hopefully good noise)
  • showing rankings in order (a la Top Diggers) should be avoided at all cost.
What do you think?