For background on this issue I will refer people to the following discussion:
The team is on record several times as having said that this is not how Area 51 is supposed to work, that the only people who commit to a proposal should be people who actually intend to participate in the site.
Needless to say that many people (in fact, the vast majority) either missed all of the memos or simply don't care. My objective isn't to single people out, but I just saw this comment in a random proposal I looked at the other day:
Now maybe I misinterpreted this comment, but it certainly reads as though this person has no actual interest and certainly no expertise in the area, he just wants to push it one step further toward beta.
I like to call these people well-wishers. I don't think they're necessarily committing out of sympathy - they probably genuinely want the community to do well - but unlike, say, friends or family or even associates, a well-wisher takes a completely passive role, celebrating your victories but doing absolutely nothing to help achieve them, then drinking all the champagne.
These are not isolated incidents. The statistics speak for themselves:
- Geographic Information Systems: 38.4% signed up, 10.4% fulfilled
- User Interface: 80.7% signed up but only 13.7% fulfilled after 6 months!
- Physics: 22.9% signed up, 16.5% fulfilled
- Graphic Design: 16.5% signed up, 11% fulfilled
- IT Security: 15.2% signed up, 9.8% fulfilled
These stats are dismal. Less than 1 out of 5 people are even trying to pay their dues, and when they do try, they're usually not passionate or knowledgeable enough to go all the way.
Now for the sake of thoroughness, not all proposals are like this; many of the proposals that you would expect to be popular with computer geeks, like Gaming and Apple, have excellent participation rates and reasonably good fulfillment rates. But for the most part, the message is clear: Most proposals that aren't either fun or closely related to programming seem to be inundated with well-wishers who don't fulfill their commitments and often don't even bother to sign up. That's a horrible reflection on the overall Area 51 community and culture.
The team could simply use a fudge factor and encode this assumption into the system, but that's not fair to the proposals that have legitimate support. And I know the team vets proposals before they go to public beta, but looking at the number of proposals in the system, I don't see how that's going to scale over the long haul.
Supposedly the "commitment tokens" (max commit to 3 proposals) is supposed to discourage well-wishing behaviour, but it doesn't seem to be working very effectively. Bottom line is that there are millions of users in the Stack Exchange community and at least several thousand of them with enough rep to make a difference, and most of these people just don't care. So let's make them care.
I think we should give commitments an up-front cost. Instead of being empty promises with no teeth, make them like investments. An investor has to take on some degree of risk, and if the decision was a good one, there will be an even greater reward. Also, investors who really care will actually get involved and attend shareholder meetings, not just sit passively and wait for a return.
Here is how my hypothetical system would work:
- Investors pay reputation for their commitments, like bounties.
- Investors receive a 100% refund for fulfilling their commitment.
- Investors receive an additional 50% bonus if the site goes live.
- Investors can also choose how much reputation they wish to stake, possibly up to some predefined limit (again, like bounties).
- Committing can be done for free, but the value of a 0-rep commitment from a high-rep user is identical to the value of a commitment from a 1-rep user (i.e. virtually nothing).
- Users with no reputation on Area 51 itself can siphon reputation from one of their other linked accounts, but this would be one-way and non-refundable.
- If a proposal gets closed or merged during commitment phase or mid-way through the beta then all "fees" are refunded.
The (positive) consequences of this are manifold:
- Fulfilling commitments becomes the most effective means to gain Area 51 reputation over time.
- Area 51 reputation actually measures trust, like it is supposed to.
- Members who undermine the system with empty promises must work to earn back that trust.
- Members have a strong positive incentive for participating (to earn their rep back).
- Members have a strong positive incentive for committing/investing before participating (rep gain).
- Members who help to spawn successful sites still get something back, even if they didn't/couldn't participate directly - but they still end up "out of pocket".
I really believe that this is how reputation on Area 51 should work. Creating and helping to define proposals is still valuable and should of course confer some rep, but the only thing that's really worth a damn in the long haul is actual participation, because if people don't participate, then the sites will either fail or take forever to reach half-decent traffic levels. Anyone can come up with an idea; the real value is in its execution.
Right now all you get for doing the most important thing is a few worthless badges, while folks spamming junk proposals and questions rack up the points and members who seem to be actively working to undermine the system suffer no consequences whatsoever. So instead of basing the progress simply on how much reputation people have, base it on how much they're willing to spend, and give them something (semi) tangible for following through.
Anyway, that's the proposal. Question and comments are welcome of course.