A little while ago, it was announced that Achievements was being deprecated. Achievements will still be supported, but it will require intervention from Staff to install or uninstall, and development on it has stopped. We do not know for how long this extension will still be supported.
Reading between the lines, I think achievements will become officially unsupported at some point within a few years. This is a major issue. Many smaller wikis rely on achievements as an incentive to get new users and maintain them. That got me thinking: "if achievements is officially abandoned, what other means do we have to maintain a user population and gain new users?". Here are some ideas I've had to maintain a user population with achievements on its last legs.
Many communities keep an eye on Special:Leaderboard to look for new leadership. It's a semi-reliable indicator of quantity of decent contributions. On many wikis, people become chatmods, admins, bureaucrats, and other roles by merit. People earn these roles by being good editors and making contributions to the wiki.
But you don't need the leaderboard to do this. If you have a published policy on promoting worthy users, people will think "if I make this many productive edits, I can become an admin!". You can verify these with their user activity. This is just a slower and less effective version of using the leaderboard.
Be welcoming to new users
Right now, the MediaWiki instance sends an automated welcome message whenever a user makes an initial contribution to a wiki. Similarly, on wikis where achievements are enabled, when a user makes an initial contribution, they get some achievements. This gives users a reason to stay after their initial contribution. You can replace this part, by leaving messages to new users, introducing them to the regular people who can help, thanking them for their work, pointing out what needs help, etc.
Bottom line, people seek acceptance and community. This is the premise of gay bars, the entire city of San Francisco, churches, hippie communes, and specialized forums. If you provide acceptance and community, people will stay.
The strongest thing achievements provides is an element of competition. While it is more difficult than just installing an extension, you can still get this without achievements. Here's some ways you can maintain competition:
- Use the wiki's chat system to run a trivia contest.
- Use the wiki's chat system to play a specialized version of Taboo to your wiki's topic.
- Have a competition to see who can find the most information about an obscure topic within your wiki's focus. This encourages competition, and means research gets done.
Relevance and Scandals
This is sort of beyond your control, but it's still effective. Sometimes, there's a major event in a fandom, such as a new season, a movie coming out, you dig up something shocking about a person involved with the series, or a scandal emerging about a noteworthy person in the focus of the wiki. Capitalize on this. If you focus on having the most reliable and most information about something a lot of people want to know about, people will come to your wiki. If they come to your wiki, some will stay.
There's a lot of success stories on this. For example, on the Code Lyoko wiki, I found out that one of the writers of the show's 5th season worked on an erotic batman parody. I put this information on the wiki, and now that page is extremely popular. I imagine the Hetalia wiki got a major spike in views when Scott Freeman got arrested. The Rupaul's Drag Race wiki gets a spike every time there's a new season announced. You can reproduce these successes with preparation for new content, having patience, and doing research.
The golden rule is that if something is actually true, and it's shocking enough to put in a tabloid or major enough to make TV news, put it in the wiki. People will want to read about it, and this brings in new users. This is actually more reliable than achievements, because this brings in people with information that already exists, rather than trying to get people to find said information.
Norwegian Prison Model
Prisons in scandinavia are very different from prisons in the US, because they run on shorter sentences and minimize sentencing for non-dangerous offenders. The idea is that this gives people chances to become better members of society overall. You can copy this with wikis.
Often, users get banned for simple mistakes, and the bans are for very long periods of time, such as multiple years. If the user didn't do something extremely horrible, such as uploading child porn or attempting to inject malware, you should be lenient with sentencing. This way, a user is more likely to return to the wiki, and contribute it a more useful way. If you perma-ban a user, they won't come back. If you ban them for a shorter period of time, they are more likely to return, and are equally as likely to learn from their mistakes.
This has been a success on the Code Lyoko Wiki. We used to ban people for years at a time, and now we generally ban on a scale of months. Users generally are more likely to return, and the ones who do generally contribute better. Repeat offenders get progressively longer bans. This is important because achievements gives people a reason to stay, and the Norwegian prison model reduces the number of users you loose.
Comment if you have any other tactics for gaining and maintaining users that can be used in tandem with, or as a replacement for achievements.