Even if you don't enable "community features," SharePoint 2013 Discussion Lists have a much improved user experience over SharePoint 2010. However, if you enable Community features in a team site or start your site with the Community Site template, your site and discussion list get some nice enhancements that create a much more engaging user experience for conversations. (Of course, you can also have conversations in Yammer or the Newsfeed, but that is a topic for another post.) These features include an About page where you can describe the expectations and guidelines for discussion posts, a list of Members (people who have contributed to the discussion or joined the community), and "gamification" features that allow users to accumulate reputation points based on their activities in the discussion. You get these features by default in a Community Site and when you enable Community Features in a "regular" team site. The features actually create the discussion list for you so if you want the "souped up" discussion list on your team site, enable community features and you will automatically get the discussion list. In this post, I'll share some of the experiences we've had with reputation points in discussion forums, and why we've turned them off.
One of the settings available to the community Moderator and the Site Owner is the ability to enable something called "Reputation Settings" in the discussion list. The settings are easily accessed from the Community tools web part.
Reputation settings include two different concepts - Ratings and Reputation. The first concept, the ability to "rate" discussion posts using Likes (the default method) or Star Ratings, has been met with universal enthusiasm by all of my clients. I've done design and training meetings with hundreds of users at several organizations and pretty much everyone loves the idea that you can indicate affinity with a post by liking it. I haven't had a single person tell me they would rather use star ratings in discussion forums.
The second concept, awarding achievement points based on user activity in the discussion list, has been met with universal distrust and "unlike." None of my clients are using discussion forums in a technical support environment. They are all using discussion forums to encourage collaboration and knowledge sharing among people with similar roles but in different locations in the organization (or the same role in different organizations). In these scenarios, the leaders of the communities have strongly objected to the concept of assigning reputation points based on activity in the forums. Some people have expressed their objections as basically rejecting the concept that gamification is necessary or important to getting people to collaborate. Others have suggested that by "rewarding" people who ask a lot of questions, the system could potentially assign the highest reputation to the people who actually have the least amount of knowledge.
Another objection I've heard has to do with the concept of being able to designate just one single "best reply" to a question, which is a feature of the new discussion list. Out of the box, having your post designated the "best reply" gives you 100 points (versus 10 each for other activities). In a technical support forum, it's quite possible that one answer might in fact be the "best." However, in a knowledge sharing environment where the question might be: What are the best approaches you've tried for employee recognition?, there really is no one "right answer" that could possibly be the "best" reply - since each answer was the best for the person who provided it. You could certainly change the point structure for "best replies," but since people are having a hard time wrapping their heads around the "best" concept in the first place, that hasn't been a really good option.
Instead, my clients have basically asked that we disable the points feature. As it turns out, you get all of the advantages of the community site framework and the new discussion list without the controversial points system simply by unchecking a single box in Reputation Settings! Uncheck one default setting and you have much happier users! To disable achievement points, simply un-check the box shown in the image below.
So, what is the experience when you disable points?
- Even though you aren't using points to "rank" discussion members, your site home page will still have a "leaderboard" showing the top contributors. Unfortunately, the Top Contributors web part does not seem to calculate correctly if you don't have points enabled. In the first image below, you see the "Top contributors" web part on a site with achievement points enabled. In the second image, you see the same site without achievement points. The "Top contributors" web part shows the same people in the same order, just without the "reputation bar." However, the only reason this particular screen shot shows the same order, is that points were first enabled - so the web part had a basis for determinig "top." If you start your site with points disabled, Top Contributors seems to show recent contributors. I am doing some research on that and hope to be able post exactly what is going on at a later date. In the mean time, you'll have to decide whether or not you want to leave this web part on your home page if "top" doesn't really mean "top" because you have turned off points.
- You will get a similar experience when you look at the Members view. You will still see a list of all the members of the community, but you will not see the reputation bar and you won't see a summary of your reputation score and how many points you need to move to the next level. You will, however, see a summary of your activity in the community - the number of posts, the number of replies, and the number of "best replies." So, you will be able to tell if someone is dominating the conversation whether or not you have points enabled - by looking at their activities. This, by the way, has been a "fan favorite" feature. On one of my projects, the community discussion lists are replacing old listservs. One of the features that this client really likes is being able to quickly and authoritatively identify people who are dominating the conversation - so that the Moderator can make an appropriate intervention.
- You do not need to enable achievement points to use "gifted badges" to assign reputation to members. For example, you could use a badge to identify someone as a senior member of a community or an expert. Gifted badges are displayed in the same place as achievement points. In the image on the right, you see examples of a Members list for a discussion forum where achievement points are not enabled but where two members have "gifted badges." In one of my projects, we are using gifted badges (but not reputation points) to identify the community moderator and to represent "years in role" so that community members will be able to distinguish questions and answers from new directors from those with many years of experience. They feel that this is far more valuable than the activity based reputation points.
- Whether or not individuals earn achievement points, discussion posts still get a visual indicator that shows how active they are - sort of like achievement points for the post itself. This is a really nice feature and one that is not available in the "out of the box" discussion list if you don't enable community features.
The bottom line for my clients in knowledge sharing scenarios has been: turn on community features, use badges when appropriate, but turn off achievement points if it doesn't fit your business need.
If you are interested in learning pretty much everything you could possibly ever want to know about the Community Site template in SharePoint 2013, I hope you'll join me at SPTechCon in Boston on August 13, 2013 where I will be doing a deep dive session sharing all of the lessons we've learned using the new Community Site framework. There is still time to register using discount code HANLEY.