The Social Puzzle Network

I have been thinking about the Puzzle Portal some more (and also about puzzle publications and the community on a broader scope). You see, this is a topic that keeps me occupied, and somehow it does not feel as if the matter will be concluded to everybody’s satisfaction soon. Anyway, here are a couple of thoughts; I may have said some of what follows before.

As I see it, the issue is not so much the Sudoku flood (or any other flood). Instead, the issue is growth and change in general. In what one might euphemistically call the “good old days” of the Portal, our community had a rather small inner circle, and everyone knew everyone. In those days, it was relatively easy to stay on top of things, to follow all the relevant developments and in particular the interesting puzzle publications. That is no longer the case.

Consider some social network – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or whatever else comes to mind. If the circle of people you want to keep in touch with stays small, you have a chance of picking up on everything of interest that happens, without too much delay, and in particular without falling behind. However, if the number of people you wish to follow increases, at some point the amount of news will exceed your ability to absorb them.

This is essentially no different from what we are seeing in the Puzzle Portal. The current Sudoku flood may accelerate things, but the development is, in my humble opinion, inevitable. Even if we had only puzzle authors of the “old spirit”, their output would grow in time until it can no longer be handled by any single Portal user. The only way to prevent that from happening would be to put a stop to the growth of our community entirely, but that would violate the self-proclaimed goals of Logic Masters Germany.

The conclusion is that we must accept the change in the role of the Puzzle Portal. It used to be a place where one could trace the evolution of logical puzzles in its entirety. Now it has become a platform with too many parallel developments to study them all, and the only thing one can do is snoop around every now and then, trying to keep an eye on a limited number of subjects. The idea of visiting the Portal with some frequency and staying up-to-date simply no longer works.

Compare the Portal with a platform like YouTube. In modern times it is impossible to watch every video of one’s interest; far too many clips are uploaded each and every day. And, to my knowledge, YouTube users do not complain about it; it is just the nature of things. In a similar spirit, we should now view the Portal as the puzzle equivalent of YouTube and accept that we can only see a small part of the immense treasure which the platform offers.

By the way, this is just another reason why puzzle rating make little sense (not just the general evaluation, but difficulty as well): The ratings are not comparable because the people who assign them are different; they have different expectations, standards, etc. In fact, the number of people who have worked on a puzzle – corresponding to “clicks” on social media – can already be viewed as a basic rating, although it is not really indicative of the puzzle quality either.

It is thus advisable to abandon the rating system entirely. No more competition, no more pressure. Portal users can upload puzzles as they please, solve them, ignore them or stand on their heads; none of this comes with any obligation. Puzzle publications will explode, but that does not matter if we make no attempt to keep things boxed up in the first place.

As said before, this will lead to a totally different perception of the Puzzle Portal. In order for this to work out, two things must happen: puzzle authors must observe a few basic publication rules, and the platform itself needs some technical adjustments. Neither of the two is infeasible in my book.

As far as the authors are concerned, there are barely any restrictions, but the platform tools should not be abused. For example, I have noticed that some authors regularly post in a forum whenever they are publishing a puzzle. I strongly disapprove of such practices to generate additional attention. As a general guideline, one should always try to picture what happens when everyone does it.

On the solvers’ side, I guess better filter mechanisms would be a good idea, ideally some kind of “personalized user experience” (this has already been suggested by other community members). Users must be able to properly navigate in the future ocean of puzzles, and the current Portal implementation is not sufficient for that. Let me repeat, though: Even the best tools cannot change the fact that the Puzzle Portal will be something different from what it used to be. We have to live with that.

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