Named Levels

Best Practice · Last modified July 15, 2009

Define a family of reputation levels on a progressive continuum. Each level is higher than the one before it.

Unique names give the levels a fun and approachable quality. Quick comparisons between levels, however, become slightly more difficult.


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What Problem Does This Solve?

Participants in a community need some way to gauge their own personal development within that community: how far they've progressed; how deeply they've interacted with the community or its offerings. Additionally, these same measures can be used to compare members, to understand who has more or less experience in the community (as long as a high degree of comparability is not desired).

When to Use This Pattern

  • You want to enable consumers to discover and identify high-quality contributors.
  • The community is competitive, but not highly competitive. While Named Levels can have a competitive edge to them (my Wookie beats your Jawa!) they are perceived as less competitive than some other patterns (e.g., Ranking, Points, Numbered Levels) perhaps because they are less-empirical in nature.
  • You want to enable your users to track their individual growth in the community, and suggest ways that they may attain the next level in the hierarchy.

What's the Solution?

Define a family of reputations on a progressive continuum. Each level that is achieved is higher than the one before it. Levels are given unique names, which can give them a fun and approachable quality. Quick comparisons between levels, however, become slightly more difficult.

Recommendations

  • Consider a generic, but universally-understandable, set of names for your property.
    • For example, Gold-Silver-and-Bronze levels are generally well understood. These might be appropriate in Sports contexts, or - generally - any context where clarity and understanding of the level hierarchy are more important than fun, context-specific names.
  • Or consider thematically named levels, using a fun and 'natural' set of names that enhance the experience. (For example, a Star Wars community might leverage the names of creatures or concepts from that universe.
  • You may consider adding levels at the upper end of the scale, in cases where a significant number of users have already achieved the highest-possible level.
    • It is not recommended, however, that you add 'interstitial' levels or levels between already existing ones.
    • In general, add levels sparingly, if at all: You risk losing the trust of the community with too many, or arbitrary-seeming changes to your reputation system.

Cautions

  • Selecting a good set of thematically-appropriate names may be more difficult than it seems.
    • Don't expect your users to intuitively know that one name indicates a more-senior level than any other. In our Star Wars example, 'Jedi' trumps 'Padawan', but does 'Bounty Hunter' win over 'Podracer?'
    • Also, the more specific to a context the names you choose are, the greater the risk that you'll alienate or confuse a visitor who's not yet attuned to that community.
  • Avoid even slightly offensive names for levels (e.g., Music Hotshot! or Photo Flyguy!)
    • These may be learnable with appropriate supporting material, but remember that reputations are also a form of self-expression and odds are good that a sizable portion of your community won't want to be identified with frivolous, insulting or just goofy-sounding labels.
    • Ambiguous level names like these tested very poorly with some of our users.

Examples

Yahoo EU Sports Message Boards employ a simple Gold/Silver/Bronze naming system to reward quality contributors on a particular message board. Blizzard's World of Warcraft uses Named Levels to communicate reputation between clans. This naming system effectively communicates the hierarchy of levels ('Honored' is obviously better than 'Hated.')