Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Strong Focus on Reputation

You may have noticed that Brainify places a huge emphasis on member reputation. In fact, reputation is so important that we maintain a numerical approximation of each member’s reputation and display it along with their profile.

Why the Emphasis on Reputation?

Reputation is critically important in Brainify. There are a few reasons for this.

Who can You Trust?

First, this is an academic community. Ideally, then, when reading a comment or an answer to a question posted by some member, there is some way to determine whether this person does, or does not, know what they are saying. A lot of the clues are embodied in the comment or answer itself, but it would be nice to be able to “ask” the community about this person. That is one place reputation comes in. If the member’s reputation summary in Brainify is high, this is a good indication that the community at large generally values the contributions of this member and perhaps you can trust what they say a bit more than what is said by members with a lower reputation.

Who Can You Learn From?

Second, Brainify is meant to be a very open site. As such, things like and individual’s group membership and content collections are open for the community to view. Browsing the site for members with high reputations who are pursuing similar academic goals allows us to connect with others we “respect”. It is possible that if they have a high standing in the community, we are more likely to find their collections to be of value to us. As such, the numerical reputation allows us another way of finding people who we can benefit from in our education.

To Estimate Contribution to the Brainify Community

Finally – reputation is critical in Brainify because of our desire to reward people who help build the community. As I have said elsewhere, communities like this are of little value to anyone until there is a critical mass of members and content. But that critical mass is difficult to build because there is little reason to come to the site before it is built. This is still true, to a lesser extent, once the site is up and going – we want to give some incentive to people to keep the needs of the community in mind when they are collecting, commenting, answering, etc. As such, we record a numerical reputation value. Although it will certainly be an imperfect approximation, we will do the best we can to be logical and fair. It is this value that we intend to use, if the site is ever sold, to share the proceeds of sale with those community members who have contributed to the community.

But all this begs the question of how we determine the reputation value for a member.

It Isn’t Us, It’s You!

First of all, let me say that it is our intent from the beginning to, as much as possible, let the community decide what a member’s reputation should be. That makes sense – why would we (Brainify management) decide? You know what is of value to you a whole lot better than we do. Therefore, all of the inputs to determining reputation come from the community members - not us. For example, the rating of a comment or some web site will affect the reputation of the member who made that comment or who first collected that web site. If someone recommends that a friend join Brainify, and that friend ends up establishing a high reputation (due to community input), the recommender will benefit since he or she brought something of value to the community. Likewise if someone starts a group, and that group is very active, that will affect the reputation of the group founder. You get the idea.

OK – As Much as I try, it is not Entirely You

Having said that, we (Brainify) still had to make some decisions about how the reputation will be calculated and what contributes to a member's reputation. Unfortunately, this means that we will have some impact on the reputation itself. This is unfortunate – we honestly want no part in determining reputation. I want to leave it entirely to the community. But there needs to be a framework or algorithm that is applied to take the various inputs from the community (ratings, etc) and coalesce them into a single number. We have taken our best stab at such an algorithm and have implemented it. However, there is no doubt in my mind that we will find this algorithm flawed or inconsistent with community goals in many ways. Recognizing this leads to two results.

The Reputation Algorithm Will Change

First – we reserve the right to (in fact, almost guarantee that we will) change the algorithm from time to time. Our intent is that new implementations will not affect past rating points accumulation (except perhaps in cases of gross error), but will affect the calculation of newly acquired points going forward.

Reputation Governance?

Second, because I want to divest the company of influencing reputation, it is my plan to establish a committee of respected educators, ethics experts and community members to take over the governance of the reputation algorithm. In this way, the committee can take into account the desires of the community and make logical decisions where conflicting goals arise. Also – it will remove the company from any potential or apparent conflict. I plan to do this as soon as the size of the community is sufficient to interest high caliber committee members in joining.

The charter for the committee would include the following goals:

  • Fairness to individual members
  • Consistency with the goal of building the most useful and vibrant community possible
  • Consistency with the goal of appealing to the widest range of students in University and College around the world.

Those are the goals that we have been trying to adhere to and would be a part of any governance charter going forward.

For more information, you may want to check out Brainify's Contributos Participation Policy found on the Brainify site with the Terms of Use and other legal documents.

This is one area where input is especially welcome. Please let me know what you think.

Take care - Murray

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