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Alias (5735)

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Journal of Alias (5735)

Sunday September 09, 2007
11:28 PM

It's not about the beer...

[ #34400 ]

Since the next Vertical Metre of Beer Challenge is approaching (I'm working on the documentation) I thought I'd write a quick note on my experiences with it (and related awards).

Ross Gittins from the Sydney Morning Herald, in a recent article on "intrinsic motivation" starts from the same daycare centre example I used in my "Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong" talk (which both of us took from the awesome book "Freakonomics") and goes on to elaborate on the subtleties of situations in which people are volunteering for a task because of motivations which are non-financial.

The subtleties of behaviour he addresses can also be applied to the open source currency of choice, beer. The reason I think that a number of previous attempts to pay "beer rewards" to people for contributing bug fixes (1 beer for this bug, 3 beers for that bug, 5 beers for the other feature) is simply that they made the process feel too much like payment for services rendered.

Most people aren't into open source volunteerism for the money.

Most are in it for intrinsic motivations. The respect of their peers, making the world a better place, solving a nasty problem, scratching their own itches, war stories to tell their colleagues, the joy of giving.

Of course, the truth is often a combination of both financial and intrinsic reasons.

I for one highly value the efficiencies from it (being able to effectively take work from client to client and "recycle" value), the quality improvements (CPAN gives you a LOT of QA for free, and forces certain standards) and the reputation effects (CPAN modules make it trivial for employers to come to an assessment of your skills) of Open Source work.

"Well before we get started, there's obviously no question of your ability to do the work" is just a fantastic way to kick off a job interview.

However, these financial advantages are in addition to the enjoyment of making life easier for many thousands of people (I get a particular kick from feedback emails people using the ::Tiny modules) or the opportunities to meet new people, or the pure intellectual challenges of helping evolve the CPAN (flamewars included).

All this is important to take into account when you look at INTENTIONALLY crafting a reward for some effort. When I'm looking for help on something, the last thing I would ever want to do is unintentionally make people feel like they are somehow being used. It would make me feel dirty.

I had to force Stennie to accept his "vertical metre of beer", he protested he was never in it for the beer, just to see if it could be done. I had to push him a couple of times to accept it.

I insisted mainly because I figured he could never actually drink that much beer on his own, and as I'd hoped he reported back later he quite enjoyed the process of giving much of it away to friends and work colleagues.

Likewise, I'm not sure if Chris Williams has seen the footage of everyonetoasting his health throughout the somewhat drunken trivia quiz, but it's quite funny and I hope a suitable thanks for his efforts finishing the last bit of the PITA core loop.

A prize should never make someone feel used. It's about drawing attention to a problem, making the problem into something that stirs people's competative juices, and making the whole situation FUN.

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  • I didn't think football was much fun, but was told, It's fun if you win. I wonder how much that's due to having a metric. Would it be as much fun if no one was keeping score?

    Is that equivalent to the question, Can there be winners if there is no score?

    The same issue comes up in Kwalitee points for modules, perhaps.

    What about the caucus race, where everyone is a winner and everyone must have prizes?
    • This is getting off topic, but perhaps it is not off-topic if the definition of a game is something that is fun. That is, if writing CPAN modules is a game.

      I think the competition motivator can increase the fun of a game, but there must be some fun in the activity independent of that competition factor for the game to succeed.

      Hitting balls with a stick is fun because it feels good to connect with the stick and see the ball fly a long way away. It also feels good to catch a ball thrown at you.

      Kicking balls g
      • > This is getting off topic

        I understood what you meant. And I can confirm that physical team sports is indeed fun when you win.

        > That is, if writing CPAN modules is a game.

        I call it "CPAN: The Gathering"

        • Does that mean the modules will all fight it out and eventually there will be only one?

          I think that premise is going in the wrong direction. :-)
          • > Does that mean the modules will all fight it out and eventually there will be only one?

            You must be thinking of "CPAN: The Highlander" :)
  • Just how much is a metre of beer in normal measurements: volume/weight of fluid? In other words: it may be a metre high, but what size is it in horizontal directions?

    If it is just loose bottles or cans, stacked a metre high, then that's not much... ;-)
    • It's my beer equivalent of "linear feet of books", it will vary a little depending on WHICH books and how big they are.

      As for a vertical metre of beer, it is a pile of creates/cartons/slabs of beer, of your choice, to a total height of a metre. The exact amount will vary depending on the specific beer (more expensive beers generally come in taller bottles) :)

      In practice, it looks roughly like this []

      That's the reward (courtesy of Chris Williams' efforts) for the Sydn