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Winter Bash 2016 has started, and is in full swing. I love hats as much as the next person, but can't help notice some "soul-selling" for them (which I am also guilty for). By "soul-selling" I mean things such as votes not based on content ("This is Fine" for example, and for badges and thus, hats), answering and immediately deleting after receiving hat, gaming the system, all for the purpose of testing hat criteria and getting them. Testing things such as reviewing or editing are fine, as they do not harm the site (by disproportionally representing content), but things such as unethical voting should be stopped.1

In my honest opinion, and as many others have said, hats seem to encourage this behavior - with many hats implicitly requiring a positive scoring answer, and with many users willing to sell their soul for glorious hats, it becomes bad for the site. My questions are:

  • Is okay to test hat criteria in this fashion? By getting others involved to do certain things?
  • How can we discourage unethical "soul-selling"? Is there even a way, as someone will always find another way?

1 I understand everyone is entitled to their vote, and unless serially upvoted, usually shouldn't be reversed. But with things such as the Winter Bash where users are banding together, voting to test theories or trying to get hats, maybe they should be examined more closely?

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Winter Bash and hats are the fun way that we like to end the year. We very carefully try to come up with triggers based on normal user actions on the sites, like asking questions, answering, commenting, and many others.

Gaming for the hats is always a problem, which is why we try to make sure that actions performed don’t do damage to the sites. In the past, we've made mistakes with some hat triggers and tried to learn from it. But, unfortunately, we always see bad behavior from users attempting to get hats.

It's very discouraging to see some of the behavior that's transpired so far this year. Hats are supposed to be fun. Doing things that you wouldn't do on a regular basis is not appropriate and other users shouldn't be encouraging this behavior. As Monica mentions, the site will continue long after hats are put back in their boxes, and we don't want to clean up after 3 weeks of nonsense actions.

There is nothing wrong with testing theories to get secret hats, but you should still be following the same patterns you did before hats and after hats. If you change your actions to get a hat, then make sure it would still be something you'd be doing outside of Winter Bash.

Final thought to all the hat-fanatics trying to earn all the hats: Winter Bash lasts 3 weeks! There are no prizes for being the first to find all the hats. There is no need to rush to get all the hats in 2-3 days; take your time and enjoy hat season before it ends (until next year).

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    Or - or just throwing this out there - we create a "soul-eater" hat next year, and award it to the first person to get all of the hats. And then at the end, we tie them up in a sack made of their own skin until next year. – Shog9 Dec 21 '16 at 18:28
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    Or we just have only secret hats but we really don't have any hats for people to get. :) – Taryn Dec 21 '16 at 18:29
  • "In the past, we've made mistakes with some hat triggers" evident by the fact your lawyers not liking people incessantly poking SE employees under a post – Memor-X Dec 21 '16 at 21:50
  • Yes @Memor-X our lawyers were vehemently opposed to doing that any longer. – Taryn Dec 21 '16 at 21:51
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    @Shog9 Wait... aren't we already tied up in sacks made of our own skin? – Air Dec 21 '16 at 21:54
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    If the normal hats are based on normal behavior of people I'm impressed what some people do. Some of them seem rather odd. – Seth Dec 22 '16 at 7:05
  • @Shog9 Nice reference. :D – mbomb007 Dec 23 '16 at 14:40
  • ‘Doing things that you wouldn't do on a regular basis is not appropriate and other users shouldn't be encouraging this behavior.’ — Well … I tried out the app this year specifically for the hat in question. I don’t think I’ll be using it again if it’s discouraged like this ;D – Jan Dec 27 '16 at 1:34
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    another hint... I have said that before... make secret hats triggers that aren't related to usual site usage. No comment deletion. No "first answer", "N downvotes", "delete/close" stuff. If the users want to search, make them search thing that won't do damage. Like "send a mail to buyHats@StackExchange.com" , "reach at least N score on the asteroids easter egg", find the hidden link in the site tour page, do the konami code on the winter bash site and so on. As long as the hats will involve voting, edits, view or other similar things... they will be gamed – Νеvеrꭑoꭇе Jan 2 '17 at 16:07
  • users already game the system all years long... hats are only an incentive... or an excuse to try more elaborate tricks. – Νеvеrꭑoꭇе Jan 2 '17 at 16:09
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This makes me uncomfortable, too. Long after the hats are put away, the alterations to the sites remain. Some sites can probably absorb any damage being done (really, who's going to notice a stray bump to the front page on SO, or a few votes on a large site?), but others are more susceptible.

For the "soul-selling", I don't have a solution beyond encouraging people to not aid and abet. I've seen some push-back this year on requests for upvotes on content that doesn't rate them, and that's good -- keep up the good work there. Don't sell your soul, or your site, for hats.

For experimentation, perhaps next year SE would consider setting up one site, maybe a disposable private beta1 that gets shut down immediately after, for experimentation. Want to find out if upvoting 20 posts in 10 minutes gets you that "Speedy Gonzales" hat? Go mess up this site instead of a real one.

I'd hate to see SE stop doing hats. Let's be careful and responsible, ok?

1 Private betas aren't really private; anybody who knows the secret can join them. For hat-testing, that secret could be expedited.

  • Agree with "I'd hate to see SE stop doing hats" and the site seems like a possible idea. – Andrew Li Dec 21 '16 at 4:11
  • Yea, a private beta seems great, maybe one similar to the now-closed docs-beta – Panda Dec 21 '16 at 4:17
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    We need sandhat.stackexchange.com :) – DavidPostill Dec 21 '16 at 12:15
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Is okay to test hat criteria in this fashion? By getting others involved to do certain things?

It is completely okay to test hat criteria any way you want, as long as you do so constructively.
For example:
Randomly rejecting or approving a certain number of edits in an attempt to get a hat is not okay, however, selectively rejecting and approving ones that should be rejected or approved is fine.

How can we discourage unethical "soul-selling"? Is there even a way, as someone will always find another way?

I think the real question here is to ask whether actively going after hats like this is really unethical. True, some users have gone a little overboard. However, I'm sure SE fully expected stuff like this to happen. I mean, after all, they did make this event with such specific criteria for each hat. Probably the best answer I can give is that for the time being, we should just remind users of better ways to test the hat system, and provide methods to get hats that aren't just complete spam.

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I would like to summarize my thoughts on this matter.

Is okay to test hat criteria in this fashion? By getting others involved to do certain things?

It is completely fine, as long as it's not destructive. Doing things that you wouldn't do normally is completely the opposite of what Winterbash is for. Winterbash is for having fun with hats, by doing regular things on the site. If testing entails unconstructive behavior, don't do it, because what you do during Winterbash affects the site after it's done.

How can we discourage unethical "soul-selling"? Is there even a way, as someone will always find another way?

Hats are a great way to end the year. As for unethical behavior, I believe we should not tolerate incidences. Sure, fun is great, but we don't want to degrade the network. Winterbash is an event, and we must not forget what this place is - a network of Q&A sites. Once Winterbash is over, the marks left by destructive behavior will be a stain that won't go away. It may even encourage bad behavior outside of the event, which is not what anyone wants. I propose some ways to stop this in the future:

  • As Monica Cellio mentioned, beta-testing hats. Along with that, some kind of quality assurance to make sure hats don't blatantly encourage bad behavior.
  • Again, making sure hats encourage normal behavior. As this Winterbash ends, we can see that testing for hats (for example, 6 and 8,243,721) was a bad idea. Spamming comments on posts then deleting them polluted the site for no reason. With some testing beforehand, we can fine tune hats so they encourage normal behavior.
  • Continue to listen to the community. Feedback is important to improving every year, and with the community, we can strive to make the event even more fun and engaging. A survey on what the community felt was the best/worst part of the event may help us improve and, in turn, reduce the number of incidents of abusive behavior. This has been done in the past and has made this year better.

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