I want to look a little more at the Yahoo! Answers story and add what I’ve learned about gaming a system. When you look back at the history of Epinions, the site made a big bang when it debuted because it offered to pay writers for their product reviews. The idea was the company would make money off of ads (this is when banners were big) and they would share that money with the community of writers.
At the time, your “Income Share,” as it is known, was based on the number of people that looked at your review. At the time, I believe that the going rate was something in the $.30 per-page-view range. You can just imagine how this got gamed.
How it works
Now, given that the site’s raison d’être was product reviews, there is a relatively finite amount of products to review and ideally, from a shopper’s perspective, you would want the “best” review at the top. So to accomplish this, Epinions built a reputation system called the Web of Trust. In theory, Epinions’ “Web of Trust,” or WoT what an early social network where your “friends” were people whose reviews you trusted and respected.
The second component of review ranking was how helpful someone found your review. At the bottom of every review, users are asked to rate the review on a 4 point scale from “Not Helpful” to “Very Helpful.” Review order is determined by a combination of the two criteria, WoT and review ranking. The basic idea is that if you are trusted more than another member and your review received a higher rating, that review would appear higher up in the list.
The story goes that writers on the site formed rating and trust circles to boost their own reviews over others. The stakes for this were high. If you were the top review on a popular product, most shoppers would see your review first. If you collected all the page views, you received considerably more money than anyone else who wrote the review. And while points are nice, money is a lot better.
So, what did Epinions do to thwart gaming?