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 is a 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).
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.