The Gamification

When Joel Spolsky and I set out to design the Stack Exchange Q&A engine in 2008 – then known as Stack Overflow – we borrowed liberally and unapologetically from any online system that we felt worked. Some of our notable influences included:

This is a companion discussion topic for the original blog entry at:

I’d love to see a gamified email system. Reputation points for writing clear, concise emails. Negative points for forwards, rambling meaningless emails, accidental reply-alls… what a world it could be.

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I love the forums because of the lack of signatures. One of the reasons I used to use Opera was so that I could turn off the animated GIFs used in forums.

I hope you and the Stack Exchange team are proud of what you have accomplished. I, for one, really dislike when Google gives me a result that isn’t in a Stack Exchange site, because I know I’ll have to wade through loads of cruft (usually ads that I won’t click on) to see if there actually is any useful information beyond the link.

Is it possible to have a new stack exchange engine that isn’t relegated to being ONLY about Q&A?

What if the goal was simply discussion (On topic, or off topic)?

Has it ever been considered?

I get the feeling that StackExchange will never eradicate the 2001-era php BBS until it can gamify online discussion that is not only helpful but interesting to communities.

I believe there are two basic things humans enjoy doing; one is giving and the other is being acknowledged. The StackExchange paradigm certainly makes it easy for anyone to have both of those.

What about outside the Q&A model?

Great idea, Matías. How about one on politics? That encourages civil discourse between people with divergent views? I can see a Nobel Peace Prize there for Jeff if it takes off.

Or if that’s too tricky, how about a StackExchange for general make-the-world-a-better-place problem solving?

I agree with @Matias, if you keep the awesomeness of SE yet have a non-Q&A version for discussions only, you could take the forum world by storm. Especially if you offer a barrier-free way for existing forums to switch (make it free and possibly automate a data migration).

Having said that, it does seem that website forums for the sake of discussion are under attack with so much conversation happening in social networks nowadays.

By the way, I’m not sure if you’re aware but many readers of Scott Adam’s blog (creator of Dilbert) suggested SE when he opted for the idea of an online government. You should be proud of that even if that idea is far fetched. You’re doing extremely well, and I know that you know you’re doing well with SE, it’s just that SE probably has a lot more potential then you perhaps realize or imagine.

One interesting tale of Gamification is in the Daniel Suarez books Daemon and Freedom (part 2 of Daemon). A game designer decides to end the current social, political, and ecomonic system he sees in play and to implement his own based on games. It’s obviously science fiction, but has a very interesting take on how gamification might be applied to society.


An interesting video about Gamification:

The guys who do Extra Credits are generally very knowledgeable about the video game industry and this is one of the topics they talked about.

Hideous, over-complicated forums where content is in such a minority like that are exactly what drove me to try making my own forum software. There’s so much that can be done better, yet all these forums do is add more features that make them slower and more difficult to use.

I wanted to make something that felt fast and lightweight, and I believe I succeeded. Obviously it’s not ready for general use, as it’s been put on the backburner with quite a few essential features missing (an admin section being the most obvious, along with any kind of deployment guide. It also doesn’t work that well on smartphones/iPad).

I really wish I had the time to work on it again, as I’d love to see it used in place of the ugly messes that most places have.

Thanks for the great article. Gamification solves a lot of problems. I’d like to get you thinking of something bigger now: How can we use these same concepts to improve the government?

If you want to see forum chaos in a programmer community, see . I’m been trying to use AutoHotKey for a new project, and it’s maddening how many cool scripts there are that solve bits of my problem, but they are impossible to find in the forum, and you never know whether you’re looking at the latest version. They don’t have libraries, they don’t have a wiki, they just have a forum. It sucks because the platform is extremely powerful, if you can learn its capabilities.

Jeff, thank you for this post, and the new vocabulary. The down side for me (in SO as well as in gaming) is the addiction: in the last few month I’ve became addicted to the StackOverflow game - posting answers at supersonic speed, reloading the page constantly to see my reputation and badges go up (I even started writing my own notifier). I can justify it be saying that I learn new stuff, and my communication skills are getting better and my English (not native) too, and that I can probably stop it when I want (or when I’ll reach 10k reputation). Maybe the next SE site should be something like AA-SO…

Another example of gamification that has turned out really good according to their page.

Thanks for doing an article on gamification. This is something I’m working with on one of my applications. It’s good to hear more about how you designed SE with it in mind.

That web forum example is hopelessly out of date now. It needs giant banner images in signatures. More smileys and image macros inline in the posts, and animated avatar images. Oh, and inserted advertisements as posts within the thread.

God I wish I was joking.

I’m the one percent that’s the exception to this rule. I hate playing games. I hate scores. If I see carrots and sticks I run in the other direction. I liked the old CompuServe forums. Very plain. No games. I just asked and answered questions without competing against anybody for recognition.

I have loved gaming since child. This article of yours is good. I like the way the design is connected to gaming.

I hated web forums when they started becoming popular having been a user of Usenet for many years. In fact, it coincided with me becoming much more of a consumer of information than a contributor. For all it’s flaws, Outlook Express allowed me to skim through and keep track of complex threads and the extra baggage was minimal. A return to the briefness of Usenet and intelligent quoting (e.g. if somebody block quotes, only shown the first line with option to expand all) would be welcomed here.