The storytelling site, Cowbird, rewards authors who have large audiences and high number of ‘likes’ for their stories with front-page features and greater visibility in topic searches.
On the face of it, this makes sense. Contributors with a large following are probably creating content that resonates with the majority of the site’s users. But one downside to this mechanic is that it can devolve into popularity contests, similar to those seen in school elections where students are elected more for the number of favorable contacts rather than the quality of their platforms.
In Cowbird, I’ve noticed that authors who may soon become ‘rising stars’ sometimes tend to ‘like’ stories indiscriminately and add many users as contacts. This is probably done in the hopes that their new friends will then reciprocate which in turn will elevate the rising star’s status.
This is great for the site developers as it brings more traffic and users, but the downside is that the quality of the content becomes irrelevant with users focused more on amassing likes and contacts rather than writing good stories.
All this reminds me of Chris Hecker’s GDC talk on how extrinsic motivators (e.g., status) can extinguish intrinsic motivators (e.g., writing good stories).
Overall, though, Cowbird does a great job of providing a tool for content creation and includes some features that can counteract the class president syndrome (e.g., editor’s feature and random search). It would be nice if they could provide more methods to reward creating good content than creating a reciprocal network.