Reimagining Popularity

In their recent post on Imagining new Discord Props Experiences , @blueridger writes:

Emphasis mine, because I have observed—both within SourceCred and outside it when people talk about SourceCred and similar solutions—a sort of staunch dislike of popularity systems, and I’d like to address that.

Certainly, in the world at large and historically, popularity contests have played their share of vapid and meaningless roles in cultural shaping, with many a contest being about drivel, with contestants competing on shallow proclamations, and influence (and/or wealth and/or power) subsequently awarded for little to no significant contribution. “Winning a popularity contest” is treated with disdain, seen as a gaming of the system that is not aligned with the values of meritocracy (ignoring, for the time being, the completely askew proclamations of what meritocracy is and the inaccuracy of any claims of its existence somewhere, anywhere).

But is this understanding of popularity an accurate representation within the SourceCred community?

I argue it is not.

First, let’s be honest here: popularity in society routinely does come from genuinely valued contributions of some kind. The more discerning we are as individuals and as peoples, the more we are able to accurately and effectively distinguish between vapid <> and deserved popularity.

Second, raise your hand if you were at any point in your childhood (let’s say, until age 21) the unpopular kid with the better ideas, or doing the better work, and getting less of the credit and recognition than some popular kid(s). I know this is true for me at intervals in my early life, and which has biased me against the very idea of popularity contests altogether ever since. (This is me, working on overcoming that bias.)

Third, the North Star of SourceCred is not to eliminate popularity contests, or the notion of popularity altogether, and “replace it with meritocracy” — the very idea is unrealistic, since greater merit will inherit greater popularity, because they are deeply interwoven.

To bring this into a more tangible perspective, I argue that some of the most popular people in the SourceCred community today, whether long-term contributors or brand new bees, are popular by virtue of their contributions almost entirely.

Kindness is a contribution.
Support is a contribution.
Articulating ideas beautifully is a contribution.
Holding space to facilitate others is a contribution.
Being funny at the right times is a contribution.
Respecting and listening to others and adapting to their needs :clap: is :clap: a :clap: contribution.

The “popular people” in our community are legitimately popular due to their contributions, many of which are of the intangible, invisible, hard-or-impossible-to-quantify kind. You know, precisely the kind that SourceCred aims to reward appropriately, and here, in terms of community popularities that is, appears to do quite successfully.

What I don’t see in our community is people being popular and given Cred and Grain, but not actually making accordingly-valued contributions.

That’s not to say that other communities, especially larger and lower-trust ones, do not have this exact problem with popularity contests taking over from valuing people appropriately.

My point is this: within SC, “popularity” the word is treated the way we treat it in the outside world, but within our community and in many significant cases in the outside world, popularity is in fact tied fairly closely to meaningful contributions. Far from all, of course, especially once you look at politics and corporate business culture, but even there the measure often becomes skewed into subjectivity more than it is about shallow popularity.

The key concern I continue to have is when “popularity” leads to “not popular” people feeling left out, undervalued, under-appreciated, or even ignored. But again, I would argue that this is not strongly applicable in the SourceCred community—many of our most popular individuals are popular precisely because of how well they include, welcome, and openly value everyone no matter what their contributions have been (provided they didn’t come into our server solely to body-police people).

Takeaway

If we are to redefine “value” to be more accurately representative of the true meaning of the word, as opposed to a capitalist notion of transferrable wealth, I encourage us to reimagine “popularity” similarly.

We do a truly fantastic job as a community in liking and supporting people no matter their level of “popularity”—outsiders routinely show up in our Discord to tell us so—and make popular those who engage in the kind of intangible labor that contributes meaningfully to our members, to our community, to our culture, and to the product itself.

By the time I was in high school, I had learned not to aim for being popular, but to be on good terms with the various groups (or cliques) of people. The result was that I was always welcomed into each little group even if I was never quite “one of them” in that vein. The quality of my relationships won handily against any pursuits of popularity, and consequently, I became popular because of my interpersonal relationships.

Popularity should never be the goal, but, like money, it is not an ill unto itself.

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As someone who’s been shouting from the hills about the dangers of sliding into a popularity contest, touché. You really illustrate well how popularity is earned and does correspond to value, even if it’s not a clear first-order contribution.

There’s no question in my mind (well I guess there’s always some) that communities can thrive with popularity biases. I think they’ll shine through any rigid technological system anyways. I think a good metaphor is weeds growing around a building. The natural was always primary. Trying to suppress the natural wisdom embedded in popularity allocations seems like a mistake to me.

At the same time, my spidey senses are still on alert. Popularity also gives power to people for the wrong reasons.

Most importantly, as the power of popularity in a system rises, it makes it more costly to go against the grain (pun half-intended), an extremely valuable and potentially existentially important public good.

At the end of the day, we’re looking for a credibly neutral or credibly unbiased decision making process about who deserves how much cred. My question to all is how can popularity be a credibly unbiased means of establishing credit?

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I don’t have the attention span to get fancy and C&P Faruk’s points but there are so many good ones.

The purpose of SourceCred is for everyone to be popular. For everyone to contribute. And for everyone to be noticed for their contributions.

People are worried about “introverts” which i think means people are worried about anyone who feels uncomfortable posting about what they’re doing or have done. That, is, VALID. It’s scary to be witnessed or seen and that’s why we’re diving into Emergent Strategy.

This is why we need to actively work on both straight-forward *Crediquette trainings and more touchy-feely value trainings as a part of our onboarding experience (piloted and written with veterans of the community) to engage Contributors with the explicit differences between value of Contribution vs value of a Person (see @LB’s response to my post Snapshot of a Newbie here) with the purpose of de-programming folks around 1) emoji reacting like they do on social media platforms (part of Crediquette training) and 2) not see themselves as a whole the sum of their contributions alone. this is where our mental health experts in the community will shine.

And how to do value their contribution for running these trainings? If we have weekly workshops how do we didathing and props those trianings without feelings bogged down or bored with the grind of writing about our accomplishments?

Well, maybe we can have people who like writing what others have done fill the role of writing props for people who have dedicated weekly tasks - like running a training or having a one-on-one - if that thing is not or can’t be on Discord.

Okay I’ll stop here. But these are a few of the upcoming projects I’m generating, some of which will address the beautiful points made above, with the hopes of operationalizing this knowledge and value system within our community as we expand.

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This sounds a lot like “participation trophy culture”, which I don’t really agree with. The purpose of SC is to create a fair system where people get rewarded for the value they’ve contributed. Some people are not going to make valuable contributions, or will make contributions that are actively unhelpful. Those folks are not going to be popular, and that’s OK.

I think a better thing to orient around is “equipotentiality” as discussed by @KuraFire here: What Is (The Product Of) SourceCred?

Everyone has the potential to make valuable contributions, so everyone has the potential to be popular. Not everyone will realize that potential, and that’s OK.

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When I say everyone I mean everyone who is an active Contributor that contributes valuably, or rather, is potentiated. I don’t agree or understand your participation trophy culture and I agree that everyone has the potential to be popular - or that at least that is the goal.

And 100%, “Not everyone will realize that potential, and that’s OK.” - @decentralion Great life lesson.

I may read @KuraFire’s post but honestly I feel ill when I spend too long in long-form text spaces. Discourse is a really unhealthy space for me and unfortunately every time I come on I’m directed to more and more and it’s not a good look on me.

(Which doesn’t mean I don’t value the contributions here to be clear)

Great nuancing post :]

Ultimately I do think a lot can be achieved with social systems. But with anything I think there’s also caveats that can go spectacularly wrong.

Just two off the top of my head.

Comparisons when the audience isn’t comparable.

This is pretty much the features vs niche-internals from: Cred Rebalancing: A Props-Oriented "CredSpective" - #32 by Beanow.

Take Signal for Android. Looks like 6 maintainers, >200 contributors (as defined by GitHub) and around 50-100M downloads.

A discussion on whether the Giphy integration should be removed, vs whether the right elliptic curve is being used… it’s not even remotely fair to compare.

It’s said this is why we’re inclined to believe authorities. Because we can’t all be experts, we’re at least reasonable at deciding who might be, and boosting whatever they say.

(Delegated voting? :thinking:)

Overly normalized contributions.

Plenty of contributions seem obvious and easy on the outside, but in reality are hard to pull off. They might be dismissed as trivial or long overdue, rather than valued for what they are.

:scream: Imagine paying for Wikipedia! Imagine browsers with a subscription! :scream:

Things that are often overlooked as just there and normal now, kids these days might even age-shame me for such dated examples. It’s easy to forget how much you use them, or what it took to create (and still takes to maintain).

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Your question assumes that popularity is by definition not credibly unbiased; my general point for this topic is that popularity is not an inherent factor (for or against) in the credibility and fairness of people’s Cred deservedness.

That said, I like where (I think) your question is going, so I want to build on it and propose this question instead:

How can we as a community ensure that newcomers understand the ways we cultivate popularity?

(That includes how we define or understand it, not just the principles and practices we have.)

Agreed. The benefits of hierarchy include the distinction between subject-matter experts and others, and intersectionality helps us understand that we all fall on both sides of that distinction under different circumstances. I do think a social system designating those experts in their relevant domains at SourceCred is beneficial for us to have, even if perhaps orthogonal to the matter of popularity.

The question I posted above in my reply to @eeli is perhaps how we get to the the answer for our social system needs.

Possibly! I like the idea of expertise and/or role-based voting at least, with delegation being a good scaling system when the need arises.

I agree that popularity can do a good job of tracking cred deservedness, but along with that are all of our own biases—racist ones, sexist ones, ageist ones to point at the tip of the iceberg.

We can do our best to recognize our biases and adjust our behavior, but that’s an uphill battle against human nature.

A simple counterexample is an unpopular contribution that ends up providing immense value in the long run and eventually becomes popular. Was that contribution only valuable once it became popular, or was it valuable the whole time?

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You nailed it there I think @eeli :]

On the one hand, personal biases are expected. I think SourceCred would ideally pick out common trends and insulate somewhat from individual biases.

On the other hand, calling it a bias is a “glass half empty” way of looking at it. A “glass half full” take could be, saying it’s a unique perspective that can be just as important :upside_down_face:. Like the niche experts, like whistleblowers, like a keen observer who had a realization well before everyone else.

If SourceCred can dampen the drawbacks of bias. It would also be great to boost the benefits of minority views!

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