Information Architecture for Entrepreneurs 2.5: Incentivizers

Like a cupcake provides a rush of sugar, an incentivizer provides a rush of dopamine.

This blog is part of a larger class called Information Architecture for Entrepreneurs to help entrepreneurs effectively build their ventures.

System designers constantly compete with other systems for people’s effort and attention. To increase the number of key objects created in their system and user loops completed, they often employ tools to shape people’s intentions and increase the energy people want to put into a system.

Incentivizers are elements that plug into people’s short term psychological desires for a notification, achieving a benchmark, getting a match, etc. that incentivizes them to exert more energy within the system. These short term incentives when in line with the larger goals of the system “game-ify” the platform for the individual and generate more high-quality objects and interactions between people on the platform.

Below is a number of incentivizers that you can integrate into your system to increase the energy users will put into your system.

Upvote and Downvote

This interaction is commonly used to incentivize good behavior and punish bad behavior within a community. Someone with a high count of upvotes shows that they have added good content or a good comment.

Upvote and Downvote icon

For example, on Reddit users are incentivized to put up good content to get their objects noticed by more people. This system is tied into a larger system of karma that is partly composed of the sum of the number of upvotes and downvotes a user accumulates across all of their posts. (The full karma system is a Reddit trade secret, but you can read more about it here).

The Reddit upvote and downvote system.


Gold is an award given to creators or commenters that goes above and beyond a simple up-vote to symbolize that this person has done something good for the community. With Gold, users can access secret Reddit groups and have some limited say in the direction of the company. The Gold incentivizer, while given to one singular post or comment, it has longer lasting impacts within the individual since someone spent real money to reward them. Their ability to see a “hidden” part of Reddit ties them closer to the community.

Breakdown of how coins are bought in Reddit:

Outside of Reddit, the idea of Gold is powerful for other entrepreneurs as they create their communities. Gold as a mechanic allows users themselves to self-moderate what a high quality post is, and it offers an alternative funding model than ads. This is a powerful thing when many communities today are dependent on selling user data.


Swipe is both a constraint and an incentivizer. It is a constraint on the system because users can only view one person at a time, and so their attention is fixed entirely on the one option before them, even if only for a second. Their choices are also irreversible. Once swiped left, a user cannot go back (at least not without paying). There is the potential fear that there will be

that forces users to A, look at only one object at a time, and B, decide “yes” or “no” to further interaction with the person. It plugs into a short-term desire for the question of “did the other person like me too?” while creating greater connections between all people on the platform.

Tinder Swipe:


Reputation scores both help users evaluate content added by another person to a network, where users with high reputation scores are seen as more trustworthy or powerful. Reputation scores also encourage people to interact with the community to increase their scores (a short term increase in dopamine), that increases quality output by system participants.

An example of this system is Quora, where user profiles display the accumulation of people who follow and share a user’s work. The more followers, the more it shows others trust what the user says on the site. Reputation can be used to incentivize users to provide long-term high quality content and commitment to a community.

Example profile:


Leaderboards are a specific incentivizer when the desired dynamic between people is competitive instead of collaborative. On Reddit, the community is designed around individuals all putting up high quality content. However, there is little competition in terms of what posts are upvoted across communities. How is a person supposed to compare the content in r/aww versus r/tifu? Leaderboards are meant to be used when the objects that users create in a community are comparable to each other.

A perfect example of this is games such as Call of Duty, where all the users in a community are playing with the same goal. Whether it’s kills, or fastest times, or number of items collected, leaderboards simultaneously force designers to be explicit about the goal of their platforms, and creates a strong incentive to create more cycles of object creation on the platform.

Leaderboard in Call of Duty:

Next Steps

  • For each incentivizer, find another example of a company that is utilizing leaderboards, reputation, swipe, and gold.
  • Find five other incentivizer mechanics in other systems (feel free to share in comments below!). What do these incentivizers look like? What action do they encourage users to take?
  • For your own company, what incentivizers can you incorporate to increase the energy users want to exert in your system?

Interaction Writer and CEO of Adjacent