# Let us wear hats

Many of the other stackexchange sites enable a festive wintertime custom every year in late December, the Winter Bash, in which user profiles are accommodated with fanciful hats, earned for various accomplishments on the site, something like badges, except that they are temporary and often whimsical.

I enjoy the hats on mathematics.stackexchange, which are great fun and absurd. You can see various users in hats on the user page over there — here is the hat I am currently wearing:

This is all innocent fun, which doesn't interfere in any way with the functioning of the site, which lasts just a few weeks at the end of the year, and which furthermore helps build community.

Question. Shall we have Winter Bash hats on MathOverflow?

Vote up for yes, down for no, and post an answer with your arguments or comments.

The question was considered years ago here, but I don't see much of an argument given there for why we can't have hats. Let us have hats!

It would be completely optional. Just to be clear, let me also mention that participation with the hats is entirely optional — you certainly don't have to wear any hats yourself and there is a one-click option to make all hats disappear for you, if for whatever reason you don't want to see them.

It can be enabled opt-in only. The hat capability can be enabled as opt-in only, so that by default nobody sees any hats, and those wishing to partake in the absurd fun would specifically opt in to do so. Everyone else would carry on blissfully unaware. [Update. Evidently, the opt-in feature is not actually available at this time, as I had been led to believe in discussions on stackexchange.]

• Meanwhile, I've updated my profile picture (after many years) to include my own personal hat. Dec 28, 2022 at 2:49
• Apart from "Winter Bash on MO?" (2014, linked in the question) there was also this discussion in 2016: How to wear my Winter bash hat. In any case, this is all moot for this season. But it is probably good that the MO users have a place where to discuss how they would view something like this in the future. Dec 28, 2022 at 8:04
• Do you think anyone would quit MO over not being able to participate in the gimmick-hat event? Would anyone join MO because of the additional festivities of the same, or perhaps stay when they would have otherwise left because of the generally more professional atmosphere? Conversely, would someone (i.e. a serious, valuable contributor) leave because of the hat frivolity? I can imagine the last one happening, but not the others. Perhaps it's a failure of imagination on my part.
– David Roberts Mod
Dec 30, 2022 at 0:56
• @DavidRoberts In my view, those are not the right questions. As I see it, the gamification aspects of the site, including reputation score and badges, are vital for encouraging user engagement and participation. Have some users left because of a distaste for the competitive nature of rep? Yes, some quite loudly. But has the system overall motivated and encouraged many thousands of mathematicians to post math questions and answers? Yes, again. Gamification works. I think the moderation team is mistaken to downplay this very important social aspect of MathOverflow. Dec 30, 2022 at 1:25
• @JoelDavidHamkins I can only give my thoughts based on your post. I put it as a comment for a reason, rather than an answer. The effect of having hats might be a very subtle and unmeasurable positive thing. But I'd rather have an answer below from someone that give additional positive support to hats, explaining their reasoning. Voting is a blunt instrument here, at best drive-by support for either side.
– David Roberts Mod
Dec 30, 2022 at 1:34
• Also Christmas parties in Math. Departments are frivolous events, but It would seem strange to me that a "serious, valuable" mathematician leaves their job because of them. People who do not like parties, simply do not participate to them. Dec 30, 2022 at 10:20
• That said, actually I do not really care about hats. But I find bizarre that a discussion about something so frivolous took such a somehow dramatic turn. Dec 30, 2022 at 10:24
• I'd like to note that the moderator team has been in contact with Community Management, and there is no opt-in only possibility as of now, and apparently it wouldn't be simple thing to enable. (But if we had that, I can't see why we wouldn't go that way.)
– Todd Trimble Mod
Jan 1 at 21:05
• Ah, that differs from what I had read on the other discussion threads. That's too bad. Jan 1 at 22:34
• I hope I am not the only one that enjoys the fact that @JoelDavidHamkins 's new profile picture has a hat :-) Jan 2 at 22:31

It is certainly true that a significant part of MathOverflow's success comes from a certain amount of gamification. The main part of this is the point system, which both regulates community moderation (the more experienced a user is, the more ways there are in which they can participate in moderating the site) and provides an incentive to contribute good questions and answers.

The other component of MathOverflow's gamification — the badges — in my opinion already may be seen a bit extra. — The badges neither contribute in a significant way to regulating community moderation, nor do they generally set incentives in the right direction (e.g. people should better edit a post when they feel it improves the post, and rather not to get a badge, etc.). The hats would come on top of this.

In short — some gamification is needed, but too much of it sets the wrong incentives and distracts from the actual topic and content of the site.

Certainly, MathOverflow would survive a "Winter Bash". But my feeling is that the added gamification would be abused by at least some people — and more importantly, that the site would likely loose some (or even more) good contributors who don't feel well any more.

• Some good contributor might decide to leave MO because “they don’t feel well anymore” seeing a Winter Bash? Really? Dec 28, 2022 at 14:20
• Stefan, I think at the end you may mean "lose" some who don't feel "welcome"? Dec 28, 2022 at 14:30
• @FrancescoPolizzi I remember a user posting here that they plan to stop contributing on MO since the site links to twitter: Why do we link to Twitter, Facebook or Google+ below every question? If somebody might see this as sufficient reasons to leave, why not hats? People might have various reasons for their decisions. (At the same time, it is clear that you cannot please everybody.) Dec 28, 2022 at 14:31
• @MartinSleziak: this was the point of my comment. To every action X might correspond a user that decides to leave because they do not like X. Reasoning in this way, everything is impossible. Dec 28, 2022 at 14:37

The first time I saw hats, my reaction was, "What is this? Is this something I'm supposed to do? I don't want to deal with this. I hope I can just ignore it."

I don't have strong feelings about hats, so it's fine with me whatever people decide. I will say, though, that the adjective that comes to my mind is "incongruous." The hats don't seem to fit in with, let alone enhance, how MO works. Instead, they strike me as a way that the "in crowd" can build internal camaraderie, so I see some risk that the hats could foster cliquishness, which would be a slight negative in my mind.

The badges try to goad users into learning and understanding the features of the site (e.g. go through the tour, ask a question, vote, edit, etc.), and these aspects are understandable and somewhat welcomed, they still end up being gamified by some users.

There was an incident a few years ago on the network of a user who tried to get gold badges everywhere on the net and ended up going to one of the small beta sites and editing some nontrivial percentage of the questions ever asked there in chase of these badges.

This gamification is bad. Full stop. Now, we can chase, and we do, users who over-gamify the badges system. And most people do not game the system too much. So it is tolerated.

The winter bash thing is pure game. That's nice and all, but it makes this site feel more like a social network than a Q&A website. I, for one, very strongly dislike this aspect of the SE network. I understand other people do not share my view, and I understand that I can just ignore it, but it's different. Once it's a game, people try and play it. And the amount of traffic on this website is not large enough to conceal these games, when they eventually rise to the surface.

There's no reason to make this into a game more than it already is. Here more than elsewhere, perhaps. I am quite happy that we are not participating.

If you want to post a lot of answers, post a lot of answers. If you want to vote on midnight of the 25th of December, vote on midnight of the 25th of December.

What I love the most about mathematics is that it is usually not about a personal ego, but it is first and foremost about the mathematics and its inherent beauty. Let's keep this website first and foremost about the mathematics.

• In my view, the gamification aspects of MathOverflow are a critically important reason for its success—it would fail without them—and we make a mistake to downplay or sublimate those aspects. The fun gamifying elements of MO are a genious bit of social engineering that have resulted in this remarkable forum. Dec 27, 2022 at 15:46
• Joel, but that's like saying that salt is a critically important reason for pasta being delicious. You're not wrong. But adding too much is an easy way to destroy any recipe.
– Asaf Karagila Mod
Dec 27, 2022 at 15:54
• No offence, Joel, but not everyone is in a festive mood at the end of the year, and not everyone needs to have a reminder about how great everyone else is feeling with their festivities.
– Asaf Karagila Mod
Dec 27, 2022 at 15:59
• The comments took a darker turn than I expected, but I wouldn't want to suggest that not being festive when societally expected makes one a grinch. I think the comments have clearly pointed out that too much and too little gamification can both be bad, and that, without gamification, MO might not have thrived. But MO is thriving, so I think an argument that it has too little gamification is not immediately plausible—and it has got here by blazing its own way, different from the rest of the SE network, and I am happy to continue to believe in its idiosyncratic approach. Dec 27, 2022 at 17:01
• I accidentally downvoted this out of haste, thinking this was the spot to upvote or downvote on hats. Well, now you know where I stand on hats.
– Todd Trimble Mod
Dec 27, 2022 at 18:36
• @ToddTrimble Why would you stand on a hat? Dec 27, 2022 at 18:45
• @Yemon, youtu.be/WtJNo9aQkQ8 Dec 27, 2022 at 19:49
• As someone who initially sided with Joel on reading this post, I think you made some excellent points. We seem to be tending towards a more ‘lighthearted’ MO as of late, which I think behooves the site greatly, but (as someone who has no social media accounts [arguably outside researchgate]) I definitely want to avoid MO taking on a ‘social media’ feel — I’d prefer that we collectively look like a chill, modern, easygoing sisyphus. I would need to know more about exactly how hats would be implemented before being able to render judgement on their appropriateness for MO. Dec 28, 2022 at 6:07
• @AlecRhea "chill, modern, easygoing sisyphus"? I know that trying to answer MO questions can sometimes feel like pushing large boulders up a hill, only for them to roll down again, but ... Dec 28, 2022 at 9:53
• @JeremyRickard The sisyphusian task is mathematics in general, not MO specifically — more importantly, we must imagine sisyphus happy. (all of this is tongue-in-cheek; the only real content to my comment is an inquiry about how hats work) Dec 28, 2022 at 10:10
• Such gloomy comments for a light topic. Dec 28, 2022 at 14:11
• For those who are not in a festive mood, think of hats as a survival kit for the grant report season. Dec 28, 2022 at 15:49
• I deleted my latter comments in this thread, since my lighthearted mocking was not received in the spirit in which it had been intended. The main point I had wanted to make is in my first comment above. (Moderators, perhaps clean up this thread?) Dec 29, 2022 at 18:43
• To add my $2$ cents, for me the reputation points is the "right" quantity of gamification. I don't care about the badges. As for the hats, I am not against the hat feature that Joel is suggesting, and maybe I would even put a hat in my MO profile. I don't see how making hats would make MO a less great site than it is now. On the other hand I think about MO: Don't change a winning recipe. It's such a great site! So, put me down as a "hat agnostic" Dec 30, 2022 at 8:18

Just to add some history...

I was involved in the first time that the decision to forego hats (or whatever it was at the time). I don't remember who actually said "no" but all the decisions at the time were based on a consensus among moderators. After a few of nos, SE folks stopped asking whether we wanted them. I suppose that is still true though they still occasionally go through asking, expecting a "no" answer by default.

At the time, we agreed that such frivolous things would distract from our goal to make sure MO was a useful, reliable and citable tool for working mathematicians.

I'm not advocating either way but nothing lasts forever, including moderator decisions!

I suspect that some top mathematician already feel it's slightly beneath them to get openly involved in MO, not without reason. Adding frivolity would make them even more reluctant to participate, openly at least. MO already has a (useful) light side: allowing a variety of fun low level questions. Adding hats would be too much, besides opening up another potential source of trouble (as user names and profile pictures have already done done occasionally), given that so many people take offense to practically anything nowadays.

• The top mathematicians that feel it's "beneath them to get openly involved in MO" shouldn't be on MO in the first place ;) Dec 30, 2022 at 9:16
• But, in fact, it is not a medical prescription to be involved in MO. If some people feel that MO is “beneath them”, they are free not to participate. It is impossible to please everybody. Dec 30, 2022 at 10:34
• I like the light-hearted community here (though I oppose the particular proposal), and I think it's good to invite like-minded people. But I do not think that this concern is purely hypothetical; we have already had quite valuable contributors express their frustration with the reputation game—as a result of which MO, unlike the rest of the network (right?), does not show reputation by default, and I think is the better for it. Hats are sillier than reputation, but whether that makes them more or less tolerable to the people frustrated by reputation I don't know. Dec 30, 2022 at 20:55

I tend to agree with Joel on this one -- the hats look like innocent fun to me. Here's a list of hats for this year's winter bash.

If the hats are so problematic, could somebody maybe point out which particular hats might tend to invite abuse? Maybe if we do this in the future we could simply ask Stack Exchange to not make the more problematic hats available on MO.

• There might be a middle ground here. Let those who earned hats on other sites wear them on MO too. But disable this feature (i.e granting hats based on one's contributions) on the MO itself. Dec 31, 2022 at 13:29