Why should we care?
The answer is quite simple: A well-run weblog is a surprisingly powerful thing. It has the potential to drive news in the media, organize social, political, and technological efforts, and reach an enormous audience besides. A look at the Daily Kos confirms this: Daily Kos articles are now listed on Google News. Though you might call this a marginal source of news, it is very widely read. The Daily Kos serves as a rallying point for political activists. Recently, readers there took mass action to call out the Secretary of the State of Ohio for his illegal attempt to disenfranchise eligible voters in his state (and were successful). And of course, the Daily Kos is now second only to Slashdot in readership amongst weblogs getting over 32,000 hits per hour.
There is no reason Kuro5hin could not meet or exceed the success of the Daily Kos, given its position midway between technology and political blogs, by far the two most popular kinds of blogs out there, and its nominally nonpartisan stance. Such a success would be especially noteworthy given the democratic nature of this particular site (i.e. "YOU choose the stories," as opposed to the situation at the Daily Kos in which the stories choose YOU). But before we can make this happen, we need to know why the Daily Kos is so successful and how we can learn from that success.
Why is the Daily Kos so popular?
First, one has to admit that a great deal of it is the interest in the elections, especially from Democrats, but there are many liberal blogs out there and only Atrios's readership seriously rivals that of the Daily Kos. Why the Daily Kos?
For one, he has a better site than most of the other guys. It's a scoop site. It has threaded comments and user diaries, in sharp contrast to Atrios's blogspot setup. Posters have coherent identities via user accounts, which creates a sense of community, but Kuro5hin already has these things. Kos hand selects diaries and promotes them to the front page, thereby involving the users in the creation of content, and allows users to vote up diaries so they hang around for more prominent display. But Kuro5hin already has more powerful facilities for involving the userbase than this (though the ability to vote diaries into a "recommended diary list" or even to the front page would be a good thing to have).
The key difference one sees at the Daily Kos is not technological. It's the atmosphere. It's not hostile or adversarial. The Daily Kos doesn't cover your screen with text you'd get fired if your boss noticed you reading. It's safe for work, in contrast to Kuro5hin, where at any given time, you're likely to have a comment or diary on your screen about farts or something equally puerile. At the Daily Kos, you can be pretty sure you won't have to worry about that, and if it happens, the situation will be rectified in short order.
How? Very simple. At the Daily Kos, if you get modded down too many times (enough to get what used to be called "untrusted user status" here, i.e. when a certain weighted average of your recent comment ratings is less than 1), your account is no longer able to moderate, post diaries, post comments, or, due to one of my recent escapades, recommend diaries. In this way, the users regulate themselves very effectively. People who are there just to be obnoxious are quickly eliminated.
Further, to prevent people from just getting a new account and coming right back, there is a waiting period of 24 hours before one can post a comment and one week before one can post diaries.
So how can this be applied to Kuro5hin?
It's pretty clear where this is going: Given the ability to eliminate obnoxious users, the userbase will purge itself pretty quickly. A trivial change to the moderation system, the code for which already exists at the Daily Kos, would compensate for the relative lack of editorial oversight this site has.
Additionally, in order to prevent people from just coming back, a waiting period for diaries would make sense, though one for comments would probably not be necessary. This waiting period would have the advantage of eliminating the "One of my accounts just got banned and I demand to know why" genre of diary. Temporary subnet bans on new user registration and posting would probably also help prevent this sort of thing.
Answers to obvious objections:
But wait, as so many Slashdot editorialists say, "the potential for abuse is staggering!"
True. Editors would need to be receptive to complaints about moderation abuse and act on them quickly. Maybe a complaint system like the one discussed in the infamous "Managed Growth" article could be instituted. (Though private email should be adequate.) It would be prudent to revive the old "Trusted User" system to cut out some of that kind of abuse as well.
But wait, the Daily Kos is a den of groupthink and liberal nuttery, and it's because they ban everyone who disagrees with them!
It's just an example, so Kos's politics are irrelevant. It's essentially true that there is a lot of groupthink and not much room for diversity of opinion, but that is because Kos and the community at large do not particularly value free speech in the context of discussion on their site. Instead, they value an environment in which they don't have to deal with "freepers." This site is different in that respect. It would fall to the editors to see that action is taken against users who moderate people down purely for disagreeing with them (for example, by revoking moderation privileges). This would require a written policy on how moderation is supposed to be used and what, broadly, constitutes obnoxious behavior. This is something the site has needed for a long time anyway. As long as dissent is protected (except where it is purely obnoxious), there should be no problem of groupthink or ideological homogeneity.
But what about the example of Slashdot? Harsher moderation has always led to groupthink, dogmatism, and suppression.
There is an important difference between Rob "CmdrTaco" Malda (and moreso Markos Zuniga) and Rusty: CmdrTaco wants anti-Linux commentary suppressed. He wants people who claim that Microsoft products, for example, are more mature or useful or whatever than their Linux counterparts to be silenced. The editors at Slashdot have a particular set of ideas they want to give air and another set they do not want on their site and the way their moderation system is used reflects that. If they wanted people to get a fair shake regardless of their ideas about Linux, they could act on complaints of suppression and specifically state their policy on it, but they conspicuously do not. Rusty is very different. He does not want Kuro5hin to be "just Rusty's site." He says he wants free speech and diversity of opinion, the very opposite of what the Slashdot editors are trying to accomplish. If he makes clear (via a written set of guidelines) what sort of moderation will and will not be tolerated and enforces those guidelines, there should not be a problem.
It will be boring without all those wonderful trolls!
Someone always says this, so if this strikes you as an odd objection, just skip over it. First, in my view, all the entertaining trolls are gone. Tex is gone, the Adequacy crew is gone, and the few others that were amusing have left as well. There is very little interesting trolling going on here. Most everything people might consider trolling is done by self-professed crapflooders whom no one would miss. Presumably, there would be enough patrons for entertaining trolls that they could stay around anyway. Finally, I manage to do alright on the Daily Kos with more draconian measures in place than I recommend here, so it's not like all trolls will be eliminated regardless of their merits.
You'll be the first one they ban!
Yeah, that's probably true. I expect circletimessquare and I would get the proverbial boot pretty promptly. That doesn't particularly bother me. The rest of the nameless crapflooders would be gone too. Spilt milk. Next.
Why, after all this time when the problems of this site have been so clear to everyone, do you think Rusty will act on these suggestions now?
Presumably, Rusty wants Kuro5hin to be successful (or at least relevant), but he doesn't want to babysit it or otherwise spend all his time on it. Well, this plan meets those criteria in that it only requires trivial changes, available to him from the Daily Kos codebase to which he has access, and requires minimal involvement from him in terms of upkeep and will significantly clean up the site, thereby making it more likely new people will become interested in it and make existing users more willing to contribute in a positive manner. Hence success.
The problem is there isn't enough signal, not that there's too much noise.
This is another piece of fairly bizarre common wisdom. What you have to remember is that there is a relationship between "signal" and "noise" in the context of online discussion. Noise tends to be distracting, drawing people into offtopic flamefights, which themselves have a self-sustaining character. It also tends to be a turn off to people who are interested in "signal." These people tend to be the same ones who contribute to that signal. Similarly, forums with a large amount of signal tend to attract more readers, as we see at the Daily Kos.
The original goal of Kuro5hin to democratize the internet has been accomplished already by blogs. There's no need to pursue it further.
The Daily Kos has become a focal point for liberal blogs. Liberal bloggers converge on the site and exchange news and links and all the rest of the things bloggers do in a community setting, along with regular bored-at-work internet surfing types. Given the breadth of topics here, Kuro5hin could become a similar focal point for all blogs, but not in its current form. The Daily Kos works because there is a civil community. It is not a place where someone will call you a fag for posting a link to your blog. Unfortunately, that's exactly what Kuro5hin is like and that has to change.