About JayJayWords

A little background

A few years ago the word 'gamification' started appearing in relation to websites which used badges, stars, high scores, streaks, social competition, unlockable achievements, or any sort of points-based reward system traditionally more familiar to gamers than website users. Remember that? Duolingo, the language-learning supersite, even coined its own 'tokens', called lingots.


A lingot [ling-guht] is the Duolingo virtual currency. The more you learn on Duolingo, the more lingots you'll receive and be able to use in the store!

You get lingots for answering questions correctly or for using the app every day. When Duolingo came out, being interested in languages I hit it hard and racked up a good score. When the mobile app came out in 2013 I was one of the beta testers. Before long I'd completed the Spanish and French trees, accumulating lots of lingots along the way. When I looked at Duolingo's store I found I could spend them on ... giving Duo, my pet owl, a tracksuit. Seriously. Or buying a streak freeze. What do I care about my streak (successive days using the app)? If I feel like practising French today, I will. If not, I won't. VoilĂ . And anyway, the very idea of paying to atone for a missed day of language practice smacks of the indulgences racket run by the Catholic Church in the middle ages. The only other items in the Duolingo shop, 'Double or Nothing' and 'Weekend Amulet', also relate to artificially restoring one's streak. There was absolutely no reason for me to care about lingots. Their currency was, and still is, worthless.

StackOverflow (SO), the developers' Q&A uber-site, was another one of the first (even earlier than Duolingo, in fact) to make a big thing of gamification. Its two-dimensional system of both points (reputation) and gold, silver, and bronze badges made the site addictive to developers. A certain type of dev, at least.

The SO rewards exist more to encourage people to adapt to the particular system Atwood and Spolsky, the site's creators, came up with, which may not always be obvious, and so an incentive system, no matter how nebulous, makes sense. And as a developer, I can tell you that status matters. IT types respect expertise. The site's creators cleverly tapped into that by creating a currency with a credible meaning attached to it. Furthermore, unlike many a website's virtual currency, Stack Overflow repution sometimes transcends the site itself. If you have a good SO reputation in a particlar area of expertise you'll want to draw recruiters' or interviewers' attention to that, as it probably betokens hard work and knowledge in that area.

Of course social media sites like Facebook and Twitter are gamified too - what else to call the follower count, or the like/retweet/heart count of an individual post or tweet? When you level up you get a blue check mark. If you go to any of the newer social media-type sites, like Instagram or Bitclout, you'll observe that variations on the iconic 'like' and 'retweet' buttons, and authenticity (blue, or otherwise) checkmark are just part of the grammar of those sites. They're a standard, like the icon of a house, to denote 'Home', was for an early generation of websites.

3,290,877 points!

Done right, tokens and points can serve to motivate people to carry out the actions the site wants them to take, such as create engaging (enraging!) content. Stack Overflow wants you to tag your questions, so after tagging a couple it rewards you with a 'tagger' badge. You're being trained to use the site like you'd train a horse or a dog - with a pat on the head and a treat. Don't underestimate the power of doling out meaningless tokens, though. When in the clutches of Foursquare I would go out of my way - in real life, mind - to claim mayorship of some wretched, long-since-disappeared café, just to get a Barista or Swarm badge.

The problem

Tokens, lingots, and rep can only get a site so far. For instance, at the moment I have over 60000 XP (experience points), 226 crowns, and 655 lingots on Duolingo. The only reason I can see for me to get any more of any of these is if I want to a) dress up my owl, b) leapfrog one of my friends in the scoreboard, or c) buy a streak freeze. That's a solid a) no, b) no thanks, and c) hard pass. If you're interested in learning Italian, for instance, unless you're in school you most likely don't need childish inducements to make you practice everyday. Maybe that's why the gamification layer in Duolingo feels so weak.

And despite Stack Overflow's clever incentive scheme, most devs I've seen seem not to feel bound by it. They just hit it and quit it. Let others do the hard work and get the badge or the occasional ten points - they couldn't care less.

So, if owls' tracksuits and spurious notions of 'reputation' wouldn't motivate someone to use a site, what would?

Take it to the bank

How about money? That has a tried and tested tendency to motivate people, doesn't it? Now cryptocurrencies can be plugged into websites it's possible to reward users with native internet money. And I'm not talking about some native token I've come up with, I'm talking ether, the native currency of Ethereum.

If had a website and I wanted someone to do some work on my site, say help translate foreign-language articles, shouldn't I offer to pay them? Or at least create the chance they might get paid? So how would that work?

Game mechanics

JayJayWords (JJ) takes articles from foreign-language sites, for example Le Monde, the French news site, and presents them individually, parsing them so that each individual word in the article functions as a button that can be clicked on and tagged. Tagged means the user supplies some or all of:

  • the word's translation (into English)
  • the word's part of speech (e.g. 'noun')
  • whether the word is shown in singular or plural form, is feminine or masculine (where appropriate), etc.

This tagging of a word is the basic unit of work that JJ is asking the user for. It's the value a user who knows Russian, Italian, or Chinese brings to the site.

Why would a user tag a word? Well, under normal circumstances they might well do it just to engage with the site and support it. Earlier incarnations of JJ relied on this. But in the case of this site, tagging a word will entitle a user to rent on that word. When tagging a word you have to invest in it. This is an anti-spam measure, basically. People are incentivised to tag correctly since they can see that there is real money on the line. Spammy, meaningless tags will likely lose the user that investment (in the future).

Rent is collected when the word's tags are seen by another (connected) user, either by them clicking on it in text, or looking it up in the dictionary. Tagging is doing something of value, and should be rewarded. The rent comes out of a common pool, the Total Value Locked (see below) which is topped up by other users buying words. The reason rent collection is restricted to scenarios where a user is logged in, as opposed to a casual, non-connected user browsing the site, is because a crafty user could invest in a word, then disconnect and browse that word ad infinitum, which would break JJ.

What if a user makes a mistake in tagging a word, such as translating la as 'teh' instead of 'the'? Or worse, enters complete nonsense, such as translating la as 'sffsjfsdfs'? This is a tricky one. If the game mechanics are designed well, other players will be motivated to change this, and if at least two (number to be decided) users do so for the same tag (meaning/part of speech/flexions, etc.) then the last user is rewarded. It can't be the first user: it has to come about by majority consensus - at least two users have to think something's an error, and the same error, for it to be eligible to be rectified. There are no 'right' answers, only those that people have deemed worth their while to tag, given the incentives. It's the same principle Wikipedia abides by: anyone with an account can make a malicious edit to any page, but those same spurious edits are bound to be corrected by the next user who comes along and sees the mistake/vandailisation. File under 'wisdom of the crowd'.

There is no privileged 'admin' user, someone charged with fixing mistakes or vandalisation. Consensus dictates what tags a word gets.


Ownership, then, is a large part of the game. The words are minted as NFTs, each one being a unique combination of a word, its language, and its part of speech. So the French article la, is not the same as the Spanish article la. They can be owned by different people since they're different languages, despite being the same word and part of speech. However, once someone owns the French la, no-one else can, except if it gets transferred to them (see below).

As stated earlier, rent accrues to owners of word NFTs when the word appears in text and a (different) user opts to see a translation of that text or looks the word up in the dictionary. Because of the way the blockchain works, the rent (in the form of ether) isn't transferred automatically (i.e directly to the owner's wallet) since that would be an awful user experience: the user, simply by browsing the app, would be liable for Ethereum gas fees every time they translated some text, punishing them for using JJ. Rather, JJ keeps track of which words have earned rent and credits those words' owners. N.b. this is done in a 'centralised' way: stored on the JJ database, off-chain.

Owners redeem their accrued rent by 'cashing in' their words, in which case they have to pay:

  • the transaction gas fee
  • a 2.5% fee to JJ

At this stage the word is 'back on the market' and can be bought by another player, who will then in turn gather rent on it. N.b. the word's meaning and other tags are still preserved in the JJ database, so even as ownership passes from user to user and ether is spent and earned, the app's database of words, and their parts/meanings/flexions, etc. grows all the while. (In the future: work out how users should tag words that have already been tagged and sold.)

Total value

When someone invests in a word, the ether they spend is allocated to the JJ smart contract and as such the Total Value Locked (TVL) accumulates. On selling a word, a small fee (2.5%) is deducted, which also goes into the TVL. When a user sells an NFT, they are paid from the TVL.

The success of JJ will ultimately be due to it being a game/experience that motivates people interested in languages to spend some ether in the expectation of earning a return on that ether, but not immediately. The app has to encourage them to let the NFT/word accumulate rent for long enough that the TVL isn't constantly depleted.

Benefits of NFTs

Since the words are minted as ERC721 tokens, they could in theory be traded independently of JJ itself. At the moment, they do not have any image metadata attached so, unlike the current crop of artistic(!) NFTs on Rarible and Opensea, they have no visual appeal. They would function more as utility tokens, where ownership entitles users to the rent on that word. Common words, such as French or Spanish la should be worth more. (In the future I intend to allow users to embellish NFTs with images, giving them more of an artistic value, and contributing more to a sense of ownership of that NFT).

By the way, in order to see prove your JJ NFTs are really yours, in Metamask:

  • Click on the 'Add Token' button in the main Assets tab and enter:
  • Token Contract Address: ??
  • Token Symbol: JJ
  • Token Decimal: 0

As well as whatever Ethereum or other crypto assets you have, the assets tab will now show the number of JJ tokens you own.

Challenging a word

In the future players can challenge other players' words and win them.