The Competitive Spectrum

Best Practice · Last modified July 15, 2009

The degree of competitiveness of a community depends on the individual goals of community members, the actions they engage in, and to what degree inter-person comparisons or contests are desired. Articulating the community's competitiveness can help the designer of a reputation system determine which specific reputation patterns to employ.

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What Problem Does This Solve?

When a new or existing community requires a reputation system, the designer must pay careful consideration to the degree of competitiveness the community ought to exhibit. Haphazardly introducing competitive incentives into non-competitive contexts can create problems and may cause a schism within the community.

When to Use This Pattern

Use this pattern when choosing the type of reputation system to design for a community.

What's the Solution?

This chart attempts to describe a community in terms of its 'competitiveness' - a broad term, but used here to describe a combination of things: the individual goals of community members, and to what degree those goals coexist peacefully, or conflict; the actions that community-members engage in, and to what degree those actions may impinge on the experiences of other community-members; and to what degree inter-person comparisons or contests are desired.

This 'competitiveness spectrum' is admittedly subjective - it would not be surprising to find many examples where this model does not hold up exactly as illustrated. The attempt is to have any kind of framework to start from, not to have a definitive and comprehensive model.

Finally, depending on the relative level of competitiveness present in your community, recommendations are made for appropriate reputation patterns.

The model:

Members are motivated by helping other members - giving advice, solace or comfort. Member goals are largely shared ones. Members work together to achieve those goals. Members have their own intrinsic motivations, but these goals need not conflict with other members' goals. Members share the same goals, but must compete against each other to achieve them. Members share opposing goals: in order for one member to achieve these goals, others must necessarily be denied their own.
Use Reputation to...
Identify senior community members of good standing, so that others can find them for advice and guidance. Identify community members with a proven track-record of being trustworthy partners. Show a member's history of participation, that others may get a general sense for their interests, identity and values. Show a member's level of accomplishment, that others may acknowledge (and admire) their level of performance. Show a member's history of accomplishments, including other members' victories and defeats against them. Reputation is used to establish bragging rights.
Represent Reputation with...
Accept volunteers (of good standing) from the community to wear an Identifying Label: 'Helpful' or 'Forum Leader'. New members can trust these folks to help initiate them into the community. Use Named Levels to communicate members' history and standing: members with higher ranks should be trusted more easily than newbies. Consider Statistical Evidence to highlight a members' contributions: just show the facts and let the community decide their worth. Optionally, Top X designations can highlight members with numerous valued contributions. Allow easy comparisons between members with Numbered Levels. Provide mini-motivations by awarding Collectible Achievements. Let a member track her own progress by assigning Point Values to different actions. Rank members against each other, displaying winners and losers.
Example Communities

Why Use This Pattern?

  1. In Metrics for Healthy Communities, Tara Hunt attempts to describe the health of a community. One measure is the balance between Competition and Collaboration.
  2. In the (wonderfully titled) I Love My Chicken Wire Mommy, Ben Brown talks about's "ill-fated point system" and the effects that it wreaked upon the community spirit.