Forums and levels

18 March 2010

I regularly participate in online forums, and I definitely spend way too much time in Google Help Forums. These are questions-and-answers forums for all Google services, so plenty of new questions are posted every day.

Across the forums, the participating members are given a certain level in recognition of their participation. This level is determined mostly by the number of replies one posts, and how much others find the answers helpful. It used to be the case that there were 4 levels, but recently Google introduced a change to the forum members’ levels, and there are now 20. Google probably felt that a greater differentiation of members’ contribution was required and desirable.

Unfortunately, this has led some forum participants to engage in a scramble for more posts, thereby securing higher levels. The quality of answers deteriorated in a number of cases, and even completely irrelevant in some. Why do people do that? Why do they want to achieve higher levels?

It’s impossible to examine and explain why someone does something completely, however it’s probably safe to say that we all want recognition, and be higher up in the social ranks. We live in a society in which individuals are constantly ranked. It can be, for example, marital status. For some people, being married confers a higher social rank than unmarried people. Or, to give another example, it can be a profession. Middle managers may not be ranked as highly as doctors. There are numerous measurements and ranks in most societies, we all are at different levels depending on what the scales are.

While it’s probably in human nature to crave for a higher status everywhere, in this case in forums, but it seems very odd that people can it so seriously. It is a type of social recognition limited to the peculiar context of forums. The levels probably mean nothing to most people. Saying I’m Level 8 in Blogger Help Forum is highly unlikely to mean anything to most people, and boasting about it will make me look sad and weird. It’s similar to people telling me that they have achieved a certain level in some sort of video or online game, which I have no idea about.

Recognition should be due to those who help, but does it have to be a numerical level? I wonder.