It's amazing that this topic should come up so directly in this story, since I just finished posting about this very issue and one possible solution in It's that darn bell curve ... and "scent" in the discussion about Off the Horizon. (You may want to check it out for more information, including one tidbit that might defend against the dilution of k5.)
The problem that BehTong articulates so well is that a community is represented by a collection of information, and over time the collection tends to be diluted by waves of new contributors, many who do not understand the community's underlying culture. After the Threshold, when the Masses arrive, the culture is flooded to the point where the magic is lost (or more precisely cannot be found), and the community dies.
It's important to realize that the magic part of the community still exists after the initial floods come. It's just too hard to find. The noise hides the signal, and we tune out, we move on. And then the magic really dies.
One solution to this kind of problem is to make use of scent -- tiny pieces of information that you can use to sniff out the information that you consider most valuable -- to rearrange or re-prioritize the information in our community's collection of information. We want to rearrange our collection so that the magic stuff is easy to find and the noisy stuff is hidden away in the corners.
To use k5 as an example, the rating system allows us to provide scent regarding stories and comments. Let's say that you find a comment particularly insightful and rate it a 5. You've just provided scent that will help other community members find that comment. Likewise, if you rate another comment as a 1, you will be providing scent (a stinky one) that will help people avoid the comment. K5, nice site that it is, will kindly average out all the individual scent contributions into a composite scent, and rearrange the site's contents according to it. The sweet smelling comments are first, the stinky ones are last (or hidden).
The system works well as long as the community has a single culture to which most of its members adhere. But that also makes it susceptible to dilution and flooding. When the Masses arrive, they will provide scent based on their culture, not the culture of the "old" community. Because of their large numbers, their scent will overwhelm the old-comminity scent, and the community will lose its magic and die.
K5 is not immune. When the Masses arrive, it will suffer a similar fate unless its rating system is changed.
So, how can we change the system to avoid its untimely death?
One way is to use correlated scent. If Joe and I rate things similarly (we have strongly correlated scent preferences), I'll trust scent left by Joe. If Biff and I disagree on how we rate things, I'll ignore scent left by Biff. It's that simple. (Plus a little math. ;-)
If this system is used consistently, it allows for something amazing: The old community members and the new Masses can peacefully coexist as two independent yet overlapping communities! Where they share interests, they share information. Where their interests diverge, they each see their respectively valued information. (Actually, it's a bit cooler than that. The reality is that every member of the community has a customized version of the community in which information is rearranged based on how valuable he or she is likely to find it.)
Correlated scent has been used by other online communities to great success. For example, Amazon uses it to make sure that books you are likely to want appear in your list of recommendations. They couldn't use a one-size-fits all system because peoples' opinions on books vary greatly.
One great thing about k5, is that it already collects enough scent information to allow for correlated scent. The programming would mostly be straightforward, but it would probably require an extra join here and there.
So, to answer BehTong's original question, "Is there a solution?" Yes. And it's realistic.
My blog | LectroTest
[ Disagree? Reply. ]