Friday, June 24, 2005

“First post!”: gaming the system

Here’s something that I’ve occasionally noticed on This Is Broken: some people revel in claiming the position of first to comment. Here’s one today; some older examples; a failed attempt.

These are mildly irritating: the vapid “first!” comments provide a lot more entertainment to their posters than to the rest of their readers. But it would seem that first-posters present a bigger problem on high-traffic blogs. Engadget temporarily turned off comments today, saying:

[W]e’ve all gotten a little tired of spending so much time deleting comment spam and dealing with trolls and all that “first post!” crap, so we’re switching off comments on new posts for the next day or two while we think about what we’re going to do to try and make the comment boards not completely sucky.
The Second Rule of the Internet: wherever there’s a system, some people will try to game it. (The First Rule is, of course: wherever there’s a system, some people will try to spam it.)

The Motley Fool UK takes an interesting slant on managing gaming of its discussion boards. The Fool boards invite gaming in various ways: posters get progressively-bigger stars for making certain numbers of posts, and get trophies for becoming most-recommended or most-favourite posters. Posts to boards are numbered making round and palindromic numbers attractive to “landmark” hunters. And some posters subvert the Fool message-boards, using them for real-time chat.

The Fool’s unofficial policy is that such gaming is tolerated only on a few “fringe” boards. For example, here’s a cluster of posts chasing the recent 600,000-posts landmark on the Land of Off Topic Posts board. Irrelevant posts on mainstream boards are removed, under the Fool’s self-policing moderation scheme: a “Report This Post” button on each post allows readers to bring inappropriate posts to the moderators’ attention.

The result has been an (occasionally uneasy) truce between gamers and non-gamers. “Frivolous” posting still happens, but out of sight of more seriously-minded readers.

Of course, this then invites the next level of gaming: is it possible for gamers to sneak in undetected, with an ostensibly on-topic post, and claim a landmark on a mainstream board? Probably yes; I’ve seen a few posts that were just a little too convenient. But almost-imperceptible gaming is also almost-harmless gaming. The policy works.