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February 12, 2004

Two Pieces on Moderating Community Spaces

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Posted by Clay Shirky

Cliff Lampe and Paul Resnick have a paper out called Slash(dot) and Burn: Distributed Moderation in a Large Online Conversation Space (note colon, for extra academic juju). Although much of it is background for people not familiar with slashdot's system, the section on design implications is quite interesting
Slashdot’s design, and the usage patterns that have emerged, highlight tensions among four design goals for distributed moderation systems. First, comments should be moderated quickly. Second, they should be moderated accurately according to the community norms. Third, each individual moderator should have limited impact on any particular comment. Fourth, the burden on moderators should be minimized, to encourage their continued participation. Consider the tension among timeliness, accuracy, and minimizing the influence of individual moderators. In the Slashdot system, two to five people (depending on a comment’s initial score) must provide positive moderations before a comment reaches a score of +4. This limits the impact of any individual moderator. But more than 40% of comments that reached +4 took longer than three hours to reach it; in three hours, the typical conversation was already half over. An alternative design would give more weight to early moderators, which would lead to earlier identification of treasures (and trash) but would give more power to those early moderators and lead to more errors caused by items having inappropriately high or low scores that would have to be corrected by future moderators.
And, over on Kuro5hin, there is an old post (Oct 2003) by localroger, Notes Towards a Moderation Economy, which notes the same aspects of the slashdot moderation system, and goes on to propose a long list of alternative techniques:
An economy, like an ecosystem, is more stable if it has multiple feedback pathways. Any single feedback pathway is prone to catastrophe; the cockroaches eat all the bamboo and subsequently starve, or the one company with all the money fires all its own employees to save money, but they're also its customers and as a result the economy goes bankrupt. But if there are many species with interlocking relationships, or many participants in the economy, a catastrophic turn in any single path does not ruin the system. With this in mind, let's consider some additional reward systems that could be automated in an electronic community: Equity should be worth something, so that one has an incentive to use a single account and keep it in good standing. [...] Leaving highly rated posts should grow one's equity, and leaving poorly rated posts should shrink it. Rating itself should cost some equity, so that one thinks before doing it. Extreme rating might cost extra, so that it is meaningful. For example, the old 5-point rating system was eliminated because most people rated 1 or 5; this could be fixed as follows: This was so awful I was willing to spend 2 points kicking it. This was pretty bad. Cost me a point to say so. Read it, nothing special. Costs nothing to say so. This was pretty good, worth a point to say so. This was so good I was willing to spend 2 points saying so. [...]
The comments on the Kur05hin piece are also well worth reading (paging Tom Coates...)

Comments (3) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: social software


1. Lucas on February 13, 2004 1:34 AM writes...

Two points:

1) You can add all the tweaks and complexity you want to a moderation system but it will necessarily be inferior to collaborative filtering. Let me address each of the points of Notes Toward a Moderation Economy in relation to CF:

Equity should be worth something, so that one has an incentive to use a single account and keep it in good standing.

Built-in. The more you rate and the more you post the better your recommendations.

Leaving highly rated posts should grow one’s equity, and leaving poorly rated posts should shrink it.

Built-in. (defining equity in this context as the number of people who read your posts.)

Rating itself should cost some equity, so that one thinks before doing it.

Built-in. If you rate without thinking you get bad recommendations.

The main benefit of CF however is of course that it gives better recommendations for users. For developers, it is actually easier to develop in the long run than a cascadingly complex set of moderation rules and meta rules. However, as with the distinction between popularity-based and personalized search, CF mitigates the social control of the a-listers. Speaking realistically, this is probably why it is not implemented on sites like Slashdot. (Either that or simple lack of will. It is impossible to believe that the readership of Slashdot must be saddled with its overall horrible design for lack of talent.)

Additionally: CF has O(N^2) feedback pathways, making it far more stable than moderation.

2) Timeliness issues. The main shortcoming of blogs and other forums is the short shelf-life of a given post. Comment or rate an old post and most people will never see it. (This blog is an exception since it shows recent comments along the left, a nifty feature.) A superior alternative to tweaking the moderation system as described here is to simply implement notification based commenting. If Atom becomes push-based then blogs will have this feature, since comments are slated to be a type of entry. Do not underestimate the sea-change that would come about if this happened. Threads could literaly never die. Ex: I often get personal replies to old newsgroup posts. With notification the replies would be to the newsgroup and everyone could read it, adding to the value of the commons.

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2. Seb on February 13, 2004 8:37 AM writes...

Re: notification, Andrew Chen has implemented two nifty "subscribe to comments" features on his blog. The most interesting is the "RSS feed for all posts I have ever commented on". I wrote about it here:

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3. Zack Lynch on February 13, 2004 1:18 PM writes...

Check out this book:

Bionomics: Economy As Ecosystem by Michael Rothschild, Henry Holt 1990.

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