Selective Benefits and Web Applications

The term “selective benefits” is usually thought of in relation to programs such as welfare as in this definition of selective Benefits:silver and gold - small - by eschipul

Selective benefits are provided on the basis of a claimant’s income and circumstance. An example of a selective benefit is the Child Tax Credit.

We are not all treated alike by the other humans. For example numerous studies have shown “attractive people are more likely to receive altruistic behavior.” Humans being a murderous lot, intelligence is a true selective benefit that may keep you away from being the one “naturally selected.”

Business leaders refer to selective benefits as differentiation.  Reward the high performers! And in business benefits that are transparent, such as hours worked, are usually not the first place you see differentiation. Salary and monetary rewards are the first areas to differentiate as this prevents problems with other employees (This varies by role of course, commissions are typically public info between a sales team to motivate others, but that is a different post).

But what of selective benefits in web applications? The differentiated web app I think of first is slashdot with its famous  meta-moderation system. Karma points are awarded to those who contribute to the community in the slashcode application. Listening to Jeff Bates & Rob Malda speak at MSU in 2007 they commented that “if you put a number on anything it will become a competition between users.”

And we are so obsessed with the number of followers we have, and others have, on social networks that we have sites to measure, manage and rank each other! And we treat these people differently because, well, having 3,686,570 followers as Ashton Kutcher does right now means he has HUGE influence!

From the perspective of the person who enjoys these differentiations, they also receive selective benefits like free admission to conferences, access to other influencers, acceptance into good old boy clubs, etc.

Frequently the alternative to a selective benefit is a monetary expense. You can join an association or buy a house in that exclusive area. If you can’t get a pass to an event, you can usually buy a ticket (but not always). In other words, fame and access in real life and in social media amounts to selective benefits that have a real monetary value to the person who possesses them. So technically speaking, this is more than a game.

I can’t help but notice that flickr, the nicest social network I know of, does NOT show follower counts on your photo pages. Nor do they make it easy to see how many of your photos make it into explore. You need another app for that.

So to improve a blog or social network, should you make “rank” easily visible to everyone knowing the people who rank the highest will enjoy selective benefits that have monetary value? Does this build community? Or does that even matter and the bottom line is monetizing the site?

What about things like recommendations and testimonials? Should you confer additional site access to “verified” accounts?

Should social media do more to extend “selective benefits” to individuals based on rank (followers, explore, interestingness, page views, linkbacks, etc…)? Aren’t we supposed to be “levelling up” as the kids say?