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The Worth of Reader Contributions

By Paul Dunne in News
Fri May 19, 2000 at 10:43:28 AM EST
Tags: Internet (all tags)

I found an interesting article the other evening. It is a thought-provoking look at the current trend towards "user-contributed content" on the Web. Is it worth the bits it's transmitted on? The article is a long read, but worth it. Here's a few things that occured to me after reading it.

Take slashdot as an example. Once upon a time, everything there was "found someplace else." Some NASA news report, the latest Linux kernel, would be the story around which one of the editors would type up a little intro, and then the comments would start. One read slashdot for the interesting stories, sure; but the main point of it was the comments on these stories; in other words, reader-provided content. An article on dynamic DNS for those with dial-up accounts would bring a flood of reader accounts of experiences with various services. I saw it, and I saw that it was good. Then, slashdot decided that they needed to generate their own content. It seems clear now that bringing Katz on board wasn't an abberation, but part of a plan to increase traffic. It was a resounding success, if "success" means "more traffic". Whatever, what does this tell us about the topic at hand? Does this mean that people prefer to have stuff written for them rather than by them? And is it hopeless to expect decent content from weblogs? Must a weblog move towards being a "real" publication?

On one level, this is an open and shut case. Look at Inoshiro's recent piece here, "Auditing Kuro5hin". It's a while since I read anything as good, and the comments make it considerably better. Why? Because the comments by and large are made by clued-up people with something to say. They know the subject, and they have supportable opinions. This, by the way, is one reason why I'm nervous when "soft" subjects make their appearance on kuro5hin. I use "soft" to echo the distinction often made between "soft" and "hard" science, the latter being more-or-less physical scicences eminently amenable to investigation using classic scientific techniques, the former such areas as sociology and psychology, where things are much less cut-and-dried. In the same way, on a weblog discussion about security issues is usually well-focused, and the truth, or a reasonable approximation thereto, attainable. By contrast, debating "Capitalism v Socialism" usually results in a circular discussion, with adversaries stating and re-stating their positions. It can make for tedious reading.

So, a lot depends on the quality of the audience. Another factor is the size of that audience. A weblog will thrive as long as the clueful outnumber the clueless; when the ratio is the other way about, then there's no useful purpose served any more. For example, Usenet is largely useless today. You can post a question, get one right answer and ten wrong ones; but if you need to ask a question, then you probably don't know enough about the subject to distinguish wrong from right.

The major symptom of such rot setting in on a weblog is similar. For example, when people start popping up to denounce the GPL, or make confident assertions about its effect that demonstrate clearly only that they haven't even bothered to read the document they are trashing, then reader-contributed content is clearly not working as it should.

Participants in a weblog are self-selecting. The problem, then, is how to attract good participants -- where good is defined as, people with something interesting and accurate to say -- and repel the bad ones -- where bad is defined as the horde of me-too'ers and hobby-horse riders that a two-way medium seems to attract as a jam-jar wasps.

Of course, generally-speaking, the comments on a weblog, and most of the introductions to articles, where the article is really just a pointer to someplace else, are not going to measure up to professional writing that is paid for. But why should it? The two serve a different need. Reader contribution is an idea with a great future, but only if the readers care enough to make it so.


Voxel dot net
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Related Links
o Kuro5hin
o Slashdot
o an interesting article
o Inoshiro's recent piece here, "Auditing Kuro5hin".
o Also by Paul Dunne

Display: Sort:
The Worth of Reader Contributions | 31 comments (31 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
Would have been nice to hear about ... (none / 0) (#6)
by genehack on Fri May 19, 2000 at 07:14:51 AM EST

genehack voted 1 on this story.

Would have been nice to hear about some potential solutions or work-arounds that could increase the cluon level, but maybe that'll come out in the discussion.

Collaborative Rating (5.00 / 2) (#8)
by Alhazred on Fri May 19, 2000 at 11:02:04 AM EST

My friend Steve Moyer has been working on a large scale distributed collaborative rating system for several years. Such a system, which subsumes all the functionality of something like Kuro5hin, would be one potential answer.

Briefly in his system:

Each user is a registered entity with an account in the system. There is no real "client" software. The client side is provided by a very sophisticated set of javascript modules, allowing users to interface to the system from anywhere they can use a good browser (netscape only right now, but that will change).

Every user maintains a list of "friends" which are other users who's opinions they trust and regard.

ANY web accessible resource can be bookmarked and recommended. You can see the ratings for any rated/recommended resource of your friends at any time.

A sophisticated search system (the Oracle) allows you to sift through bookmarks and ratings of your own, your friends, and your friends friends. This even includes the results of search engine searches made via the system.

"Metabases" can be created which capture the contents of things like newsgroups, weblogs, mailing lists, etc in order to bring these resources within the system also. The metabases can also be accessed by non-members.

The system also can provide other nice features like webmail, ability to maintain a list of bookmarks online, complete history of searches and browsing, and the ability to remember usernames and passwords for other sites (in theory if a site was willing it could even use the system as a user authentication mechanism).

Currently the system has a very limited ability to run in a distributed mode, but work has been ongoing to construct a "broker" which would allow the various "nodes" to talk to each other and create a truely distributed system.

Nodes Network
That is not dead which may eternal lie And with strange aeons death itself may die.
[ Parent ]

Yes, we're all looking for some fil... (none / 0) (#7)
by pacc on Fri May 19, 2000 at 08:25:58 AM EST

pacc voted 1 on this story.

Yes, we're all looking for some filter to stem the information flood. But that sure don't mean my local foodstore should have an editorial content. User contributions is the only way to find some air out of the mainstream, but the spam filter must be good.

Liked the article but think there i... (none / 0) (#3)
by scorpion on Fri May 19, 2000 at 08:39:26 AM EST

scorpion voted 1 on this story.

Liked the article but think there is room for "soft" articles as well. They may need to be in a separate section of the overall weblog so as to distinquish the two and keep the various readers happy. I also think there is value in "learning" and by being part of a weblog such as K5 while not being totally up to speed (so to speak) with all the techno issues, one does get the opportunity to learn if not dumped on "all the time". Nice "soft" article

Re: Liked the article but think there i... (none / 0) (#15)
by Wah on Fri May 19, 2000 at 05:10:29 PM EST

I think by holding to the "hard" stuff only, that's the kind of crowd and discussion you get. While "capitalism vs. socialism" might not reach an eventual conclusion, the discussion itself is the reason for the discussion, if you can follow that. Usually K5 is a bit "hard" for my tastes. Tech and Culture, from the trenches, it ain't. It's more like Tech and Culture, from high above the balcony in a hot air balloon that only a few can see or comprehend.:-)

Fail to Obey?
[ Parent ]
I've enjoyed the small contribution... (none / 0) (#2)
by Demona on Fri May 19, 2000 at 09:15:44 AM EST

Demona voted 1 on this story.

I've enjoyed the small contributions I've made to k5, and I hope to improve my writing and thinking so I can hopefully contribute even better content. Mostly right now I'm focused on personal projects that take nearly all my concentration, but I hope to have a life again soon.

You forget one particular classific... (none / 0) (#1)
by Strange Charmed One on Fri May 19, 2000 at 09:32:07 AM EST

Strange Charmed One voted 1 on this story.

You forget one particular classification of readers- into which I admit to usually fitting- those who are not generally clued up, but will admit to this, and will only post answers when they have them and are generally lurkers or questioners otherwise. What effect does the proportion of those posting questions against those answering them have? Also those who only lurk are another category - are they a symptom of how badly things are going?
Feel the urge to put excessively cute little quotes into your .sig?


If you or one of your friends is frequently plagued by this tendency, Help IS available- Ask me how.

Re: You forget one particular classific... (4.00 / 1) (#12)
by Paul Dunne on Fri May 19, 2000 at 02:31:18 PM EST

I think lurking is an underestimated skill. It takes a degree of maturity to think, "well, you know, I could post here, but I don't really have anything to contribute: I'll wait and see what the others have to say". I think a healthy site must have far more lurkers than posters; if everyone feels constrained to post, we'd end up with a "discussion" that was mainly "yeah, me too!", "MS sucks!", etc.

Also, judging a site like this simply by the amount of comments to each article would be wrong. What matters just as much is the amount of "subsurface" effort that goes on: people bothering to moderate stories, people helping with editing, people writing stuff themselves.
[ Parent ]

Quite a thought-provoking article, ... (none / 0) (#4)
by Pseudonymous Coward on Fri May 19, 2000 at 09:58:00 AM EST

Pseudonymous Coward voted 1 on this story.

Quite a thought-provoking article, definitely a keeper.

Well, I would call THIS piece "soft... (none / 0) (#5)
by Alhazred on Fri May 19, 2000 at 10:43:05 AM EST

Alhazred voted 1 on this story.

Well, I would call THIS piece "soft", and I don't know that the discussion, even on Kuro5hin, will be particularly cluefull, but its worth discussing, and the piece is well written at least. I get so tired of badly spelled articles with 50% incomplete sentences! I suppose part of that is the "Engilsh is my 2nd language" phenomenon, and so some allowances should be made, but when people can't even spell and don't know what a sentence is I tend not to feel very much like taking their ideas seriously... But as I say, this one is well written, so it gets my vote ;o)
That is not dead which may eternal lie And with strange aeons death itself may die.

Re: Well, I would call THIS piece (none / 0) (#11)
by Paul Dunne on Fri May 19, 2000 at 02:26:47 PM EST

Nah, it's not soft, it's meta...

What caught my interest in the original article was the thought that, of all the places giving some space for reader input, the vast majority are apallingly-bad. Kuro5hin is probably the best place to be right now; but slashdot isn't that bad when you compare it with, say, ZDNet Forums.

In a sense, the article is saying that kuro5hin is impossible. I thought it would be good to bring the topic up, and see if we could come to some consensus about whether we exist or not!

P.S. What's this "sentence" thing I keep hearing about?
[ Parent ]

Re: Well, I would call THIS piece (none / 0) (#13)
by Alhazred on Fri May 19, 2000 at 04:04:21 PM EST

hehehe, sentances is where period at end. ;o)

As for soft, I think your right, Meta might be a better way of putting it, its certainly a meta-discussion, but I think in the way the author meant (forgive me if I indulge in mind-reading for a moment) it is also "soft" in that its opinion oriented, not fact oriented. On the other hand I have no problems with opinions, as long as people bother to have a bit of knowledge about what they speak about.

I also agree with you, Kuro5hin is definitely one of the best weblogs around at the present time. I guess we'll see how it goes.

Personally I don't think something like Kuro5hin is "impossible" in the long run, but very difficult to keep it faithful to what it is now over the long term, definitely. I like the way Rusty is going so far though. Certainly it is an experiment WELL worth the making.

Oh, and "Postito ergo sum" ;o)

That is not dead which may eternal lie And with strange aeons death itself may die.
[ Parent ]
Re: Well, I would call THIS piece (none / 0) (#23)
by bobsquatch on Fri May 19, 2000 at 11:26:57 PM EST

slashdot isn't that bad when you compare it with, say, ZDNet Forums.

Well, yes, but ZDNet talkbacks are designed to give the appearance of two-way communication, without actually allowing any opposing arguments to develop. No threading, no descriptive subjects, one comment per page (which is hell on a modem connection), all contribute to their general uselessness. I can't attribute it to stupidity; an interface that diabolically bad could only come about through deliberate intent. "Sure, you have every opportunity to correct our miserable ZD editorial FUD -- as long as you make it through the lion pit, the rotating knives, and the lava. Oh, yes, and anybody who wants to read your stuff will have to deal with at least the knives and lava, as well..."

(semi-topical rant OFF)

[ Parent ]

Re: Well, I would call THIS piece (none / 0) (#28)
by rusty on Sun May 21, 2000 at 06:02:40 PM EST

I wouldn't necessarily agree that an interface that bad can only come about through malice. Did you ever see the inclusion interface to the InfoWorld Electric Forums? They really thought it was going to be an improvement over the original forums (which I never did experience, so I can't say how they were), but it was so bad that it eventually drove all the old regulars to IWETHEY at ezboard. I'm not a big fan of EZBoard's forum stuff, but it's heaven compared to inclusion.

To paraphrase Darth Vader: "You don't know the POWER of stupidity!"

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

User content (1.00 / 1) (#9)
by DJBongHit on Fri May 19, 2000 at 12:30:55 PM EST

I think that user content is definately a positive thing as it creates interesting conversation, but oftentimes an editorial or review written by somebody else helps start interesting discussion. It's still the discussion which should be the main focus of a site like this or Slashdot though, but an interesting or thought-provoking article creates interesting and thought-provoking discussion, while a article which says something to the effect of "Linux Kernel 2.3.42 Released" doesn't create much interesting discussion, but rather a million people saying "Why is this news?"

Jon Katz created such traffic because his articles were thought-provoking (not necessarily interesting though :-) The content of the comments were much more interesting than the content of the article, because they were based on people's life experiences, but the article is what got them talking about this.


GNU GPL: Free as in herpes.

There's good editorial and bad editorial (3.00 / 1) (#10)
by Paul Dunne on Fri May 19, 2000 at 02:22:23 PM EST

Although I don't accept that Katz's articles *are* thought-provoking (I for one find them more thought-stifling; rage-provoking, maybe), let's accept that they are for the sake of argument. Still, "thought-provoking" can't be the be-all and end-all. After all, if that were the sole criterion, extracts from Mein Kampf or the Turner Diaries would fit the bill admirably. On a less, er histrionic level, what about Jesse Berst, or "the fuckwit's fuckwit", John Taschek? I can see the same argument being applied to them. And they certainly do get a response. But that's not good enough.

By the by, yes, an article "Linux Kernel 2.3.42 released" would be out of place here; it's less so on slashdot, which does promote itself as a news site.

The bottom line for any content, reader-contributed or editorial, is that it must be written by somebody who has a clue. JK doesn't, JT doesn't. And that's an unsound basis for any discussion.

I don't want to get onto the whole "history of slashdot" thing; let's just say that I think the kind of discussions JK started were not productive: classic examples of the sort of interminable "merry-go-round" arguments I was complaining about when I mentioned "soft" topics; and also apallingly-parochial, turning slashdot into an American site for Americans.
[ Parent ]

Re: There's good editorial and bad editorial (4.00 / 1) (#19)
by Tr3534 on Fri May 19, 2000 at 08:24:46 PM EST

Although I don't accept that Katz's articles *are* thought-provoking

JK himself actually did put out a response to this (well, to something similar, anyway) . i saved this quote, and i think it fits here.

More than any other greeting, e-mail to me often begins with the phrase: "I don't always agree with you, but..." It's well-meant, but always strikes me as curious because it's so unwittingly revealing of a society raised on corporatist pablum as a subsitute for dialogue and discussion. Why should people always agree with me, or I with them? Isn't that the very point of a columnist and critic: to provoke discussion, disagreement and thought? If people always agreed with me, what possible purpose would I serve? What point would there be in reading my columns at at all?
Get the idea? JK is trying to say that his porpose/goal/whatever is not nessessarily to make something for you to agree with. Or, in this case, even to make you think about that particular idea. He's here to make you think something DIFFERENT for once. It could be rage. It could be confusion. The idea is that you mind changed states.

If your mind just keeps going the way it has without ever switching tracks every now and then, things are not too interesting. Throwing in a little negative emotion and causing a different response is what i find to make life a bit more flavorfull.
Sigmentation Fault: Post Dumped.
[ Parent ]

Re: There's good editorial and bad editorial (none / 0) (#24)
by Paul Dunne on Sat May 20, 2000 at 05:13:33 AM EST

Huh? My issue with Katz is not agreement or disagreement. His writing sucks, period; and so does his attitude. Two links: Definitive Deconstruction and Katzdot, say all that needs to be said.
[ Parent ]
Re: User content (none / 0) (#16)
by FlinkDelDinky on Fri May 19, 2000 at 05:19:36 PM EST

Jon Katz created such traffic because his articles were thought-provoking

I've tried to read Katz's articles a number of times. Unfortunately I never made it to the end of any of them.

One of the fears I have about doing articles for K5 is that I'll go on and on and never really say anything. Which is how I perceive Katz.

[ Parent ]

Re: User content (none / 0) (#22)
by rusty on Fri May 19, 2000 at 10:15:28 PM EST

Note that Paul routinely sends his pieces to editors@kuro5hin.org for editing first, and we almost always change stuff. I encourage anyone who's not sure about their writing to do the same. Good writers aren't born, they're edited into existence. :-)

Second point: Did you mean between 1,000 and 2,000 users, or were you just ordering highest-to-lowest?

Not the real rusty
[ Parent ]

Is it hard? (4.00 / 1) (#14)
by driph on Fri May 19, 2000 at 04:08:18 PM EST

I use "soft" to echo the distinction often made between "soft" and "hard" science, the latter being more-or-less physical scicences eminently amenable to investigation using classic scientific techniques, the former such areas as sociology and psychology, where things are much less cut-and-dried.

I have to admit that I prefer the soft subject for exactly the reasons they make you nervous. The reason that hard subjects don't tend to provoke as much discussion is that they ARE cut-and-dried. If I want to find the answer to 4+4, I can consult a math book, calculator, etc. However, if I'm trying to decide whether 4+4 is better than 6+2, my search is going to be a bit less simple. I love rhetorical discussions. But, you are correct in saying that the audience will make or break the thread, hard or soft.
Everyone spouting, "Of course 6+2 is better, everyone knows that!!" would be just as destructive to a soft topic conversation as "The answer to 4+4 is 9," would be to a hard topic conversation. It is not the the topic that causes the circular & tedious discussions, it is the participants. Unfortuntely, the difficulty in finding reasoning participants increases with the level of emotional gunpowder within a particular topic.

Vegas isn't a liberal stronghold. It's the place where the rich and powerful gamble away their company's pension fund and strangle call girls in their hotel rooms. - Psycho Dave
Re: Is it hard? (none / 0) (#17)
by FlinkDelDinky on Fri May 19, 2000 at 05:31:26 PM EST

I think you hit the nail on the head here. Hard or soft topics doesn't matter to me to much. It's the quality of the posters.

K5 has had a pretty wide variety of articles for both hard and soft subjects and we've done really well them. We don't seem to be pissed off all the time. We aren't doing the mine is better then yours thing. And we've got a good deal of diversity here.

It's the people that make things work. Rusty's created a good structure that allows us to express ourselves as we desire. This is kind of strange but I look at weblogs as being less like a 'news' publication and more like talk radio without busy signals.

[ Parent ]

Flaws in the article itself (5.00 / 1) (#18)
by fluffy grue on Fri May 19, 2000 at 08:06:31 PM EST

I hate to pick nits like this-- nevermind, I love nitpicking, and I'm on vacation right now and so I'm going to nitpick. Ha. :)

In the article (the off-site one), first of all, they ask, "It is time to cut the cheese?" I dunno about where the author is from, but where I'm from, "cut the cheese" means "fart." So I guess the author is arguing that it's time to fart. If we need to fart a lot, I'm sure we could go to Jack in the Box and get an e.coli burger.

Okay, now that that's out of my system (no pun intended), a real gripe I have with the article is it makes it sound as though the Internet is about ecommerce and nothing else. Even its opening paragraph asks, specifically, if user-contributed content has "outlived its usefulness in E-commerce," implying that the Internet is a black-and-white world where you have EITHER user-contributed information OR corporate interest. That's about akin to saying, "Has PBS outlived its usefulness in this age of the Home Shopping Network?"

Then it tries to invent its own terms. "[ecommerce], also known as dotcommerce..." - huh? I've never heard the term "dotcommerce" before. If anyone ever says that to my face, I'm likely to slap them silly. Especially since my own verbal term "sextupleyou" as a replacement for www (see, doubleyou is two yous, and www is 3*2 yous i.e. 6 yous, so sextupleyou - hey, it's a lot easier to say than "doubleyou doubleyou doubleyou" and sounds cooler than "three doubleyous") hasn't caught on yet. :)

I dunno. I'd hate to think that research and development no longer have any place on the Internet simply because it also happens to let people buy toasters and vacuum cleaners and stereo equipment. This article just seems like fluff intended to make the author look a lot more intelligent than "other people." And what's with calling this decade the "aughties?" It's the naughties, damnit!

Okay, so the author thinks it's time to "cut the cheese," to get rid of the useless user-submitted content to make way for useful ecommerce sites.

"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]

Double double cheese cheese... (none / 0) (#27)
by mattm on Sun May 21, 2000 at 04:24:33 AM EST

I suspect the phrase "cut the cheese" was used because what the author obviously means, "cut the crap", would scare off potential ad-clickers and merchandise-buyers. Makes sense, no?

[ Parent ]
kuro5hin is cool but... (1.00 / 1) (#20)
by MrSparkle on Fri May 19, 2000 at 08:31:49 PM EST

Yea, right now this is THE best site on the net. I used to think slashdot was, till I started getting annoyed by all the darned trolls. But if kuro5hin ever gets big (i hope it does) it will have the same problem. You have to remember that slashdot has millions of people going to it, so it i nearly impossable to moderate every single person so they don't do anything bad. Yes kur05hin has a better moderation system, but it will in the long run turn out like slashdot if it ever does get that big. And I like how and hope that kuro5hin keeps this idea of not being news but a talk radio type thing/place..
I'm the guy that has a problem with everything.
You lost me... (none / 0) (#25)
by Rasputin on Sun May 21, 2000 at 01:05:46 AM EST

You had me right up to the comment about the GPL. I don't specifically denounce the GPL, but I recognize it as a specific tool with a specific purpose. It's a fairly big hammer with limited application for a potter ;) To denounce it could imply a well reasoned viewpoint from a differing perspective as easily as a disconnect from the primary clue server.

It is very hard to find a large community of "clueful" people, and in general I find that K5 fits the bill. Having said that, lets not get too impressed with ourselves. All of us have (or will, for the younger crowd ;) experienced that "Blinding Flash of Stupidity"(tm) that makes life fun. It reminds us that we take ourselves seriously only at the expense of our credibility.
Even if you win the rat race, you're still a rat.

Don't retreat to the old model when the new model (none / 0) (#26)
by Ars-Fartsica on Sun May 21, 2000 at 02:15:13 AM EST

The hierarchical, closed system of editors may have suited print media, but it is obvious that there are better methods for determining content quality on the web, such as the type of moderation done on this site, or the "collective ranking" done at Google.

simply put, there is to much information to edit at this point - you're going to have to rely on heuristics to get you to the quality.

Dealing with volume and popularity... (5.00 / 1) (#29)
by Noel on Mon May 22, 2000 at 12:56:06 PM EST

I think the major difficulty with user-contributed content on the web is that we don't have many good ways (yet) to deal with the volume of participation that happens on the web. Things start out fine with a few people, but once the user base gets beyond a thousand or two, it becomes much harder to maintain the sense of community or engage in valuable discussions.

Please excuse the extended references to the Other site, but I think there are lessons to be learned from what's happened to tOs.

I've been on tOs since the early days (I'm user 1451), and it's been interesting to watch the way the site changed as it got popular. In the early days, it was not uncommon to have discussions on a topic that extended over quite a few days and brought out interesting points later on in the discussion. The signal-to-noise ratio was reasonably high, perhaps because people were there because they wanted to be part of the discussion.

As the site became popular, the number of less-informed posts increased, and that made it harder to find the useful posts and engage in discussions. Putting the moderation in place helped for a while, because it made it easier to find some of the valuable posts. Granted, sometimes the moderators make mistakes or introduce bias, but it tended to work anyway. The meta-moderation seems to have dealt with mis-moderation reasonably well.

As tOs grew, the default changed from seeing the full text of every post to only seeing posts rated 2 or above, after the number of posts reaches a certain threshold. Once an article reaches this threshold, you only see the title of the post -- and the titles are rarely indicative of the content. Replies get treated even more harshly: you never get to see the content of a reply unless it's rated 2 or above. While this did help reduce the volume of posts that people had to browse through (and probably reduced the load on the servers), it also made it harder to find the occasional good post that starts at 0 or 1. This also added a burden to the moderators: in order to be effective, they now have to actively examine 0 or 1 posts based only on the title in order to find the underrated good posts. From the moderation that I'm seeing right now, few moderators make the effort to find a couple good posts among the hundreds of posts that start at 0 or 1.

Once the article reaches 100 posts (in an hour or two, usually), anything posted at 0 or 1 is rarely read by anyone else, unless a conscientious moderator seeks it out and moderates it up. This makes it hard to hold extended discussions, and also limits the participation to those who have constant web access. I used to be able to hit tOs once a night and get in on good discussions. Now, it's mostly a read-only forum for me rather than a community that I participate in.

Why spend all this time discussing tOs? Because the lesson is there: unorganized volume is the enemy. Once the volume of user-contributed content reaches a certain point, it's very difficult to find the valuable contributions. Without some kind of method to separate the useful information from the rubble, it's hard to have good discussions.

Interestingly enough, this is the same problem with the web -- too many pages, and hard to find the useful information. We're starting to see useful solutions in this arena, though: Google's search system really helps me find what I'm looking for on the web. Of course, weblogs are a different problem domain, so they need a different solution.

If you haven't figured it out yet, I'm very biased towards anything that promotes discussion. Here's a couple of ideas that might help out as kuro5hin gets more popular -- it'd be sad to see it fall into the Slashdot Morass (TM).

  • Order the articles by amount of recent activity, and perhaps the overall rating of all the posts under that article. This will keep the more interesting discussions near the top of the list, and people will be more likely to join the discussion.

  • If posts are collapsed to show only their title, then randomly expand some of the posts to allow people to read and rate them without having to explicitly choose to follow the link. This will help to bring out the posts that have good content but don't indicate that in the title.

  • Share a post's ratings with its parent by giving the parent a bonus based on the children's ratings. If a reply that's down a level or two gets a higher rating, then it usually means that all of the parents of that post might be worth looking at, also. This will make it so that sorting the top-level posts by their rating will bring interesting threads to the top as well.

  • Share a post's ratings with its children by giving the children a bonus based on the parent's rating. If the parent is worth reading, then it's likely that the children might be worth reading as well. This bonus shouldn't be as much as the previous one, though, because it's more likely that a good reply means a good initial post than the reverse. This will help to bring out responses, perhaps introduce differing opinions, and hopefully provide more fodder for starting interesting discussions.

I think that the best way to attract the good participants is to set up a system that rewards intelligent discussion. We can do this by making it easier to find and participate in. The trick is finding methodologies that will do this, and being ready to implement them as the critical volume is reached.

Posting Anonymously (uses Slashdot as an example) (none / 0) (#30)
by dlc on Fri Jun 02, 2000 at 04:59:52 PM EST

The majority of the posts on Slashdot, and definitely the majority of the junk posts, seem to be posted by anonymous users. I have no hard evidence for this, just 1 1/2 years of reading slashdot. There has been a lot of talk on Slashdot over that time of disallowing Anonymous postings; I think this would greatly reduce the amount of spam. The argument against disallowing anonymous posting has always rung hollow to me.

I think people should be able to read anonymously, but posting should require logging in. If you really have something to say, why wouldn't you log in? Especially when even logged in users are essentially anonymous -- Create an account with a silly name, use a free webmail address (sillyguy@penis.com) and you are effectively anonymous. Yet this will still prevent most users from spamming the site and posting crap.



Re: Posting Anonymously (uses Slashdot as an examp (none / 0) (#31)
by rusty on Fri Jun 02, 2000 at 05:22:12 PM EST

I mostly agree with you, in the case of slashdot. "Anonymous" isn't any more anonymous than having a user account, it's just lazy. It's dirt-easy to make a user account that is totally anonymous, there and here-- I guess "pseudonymous" would be a better term, really.

Interestingly, I find that here, anonymous posts are rarely a problem. I've seen more trolling and flaming from user accounts than from anonymous posters. I think it has to do with size.

On the other hand, the majority of anonymous story submissions here suck. Generally they fall into two categories-- posts from people that don't understand how voting works, and assume their submission goes directly to the admin only, and promotional spam. Occasionally there's a good anonymous submission, and the bad ones get shot down right quick, but the dynamic is interesting to me.

I personally don't have any moral commitment to anonymous posting, considering that pseudonymity is just a privacy-protecting, but forces some level of involvement with the site, so if it ever does become a problem here, I wouldn't hesitate to pull the plug on anonymous hero. But, as I said, it's been remarkably problem-free so far. You can check out recent anonymous comments at Anonymous Hero's user info page if you're curious. :-)

Not the real rusty
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