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The a2k world is changing 1: more microcosms

 
 
Reply Sat 9 Aug, 2008 03:08 pm
This thread is the beginning in a series of threads I will be starting about community culture and the thinking that is going into my efforts to build technology to support it.

The first thing I want to talk about is community evolution. Many of you have been here a long time and like or dislike things about the community that will inevitably change. I want to outline what I'm doing to try to make the changes work well for the community as it endures growing pains.

When the site started it has a much more narrow demographic of members whose interests were not as diverse as it now is. As the site continues to grow this will change the community, we already have members further outside of our mainstream that push the community's limits but on a basic level growth will do this more an more.

With growth, things will change. Right now it's primarily mature adults who primarily discuss politics and lean left. No matter what direction the community takes this demographic can't be ensured and will drift. I for one welcome diversity, I'd love to see more topics covered outside of politics for example. But with the diversity comes a shift in the community dynamics that the current site can't handle very well.

Right now it's a microcosm trying to be all things to everyone. This is something that is not tenable on a fundamental level. If we try to be one homogeneous neighborhood we are going to have to practice ethnic cleansing within our gated community. If we want one culture we have to be intolerant of all others.

That's not the way to go. Like in real life we need more than one neighborhood. We need our own microcosms. And technology to support that has been being built for years.

We are close to launching it now, and while we won't nail this on the first pass what I am announcing in this thread is the fundamental difference of trying to maintain one culture versus trying to support multiple cultures in an ecosystem.

Neither path is easy. Artificially maintaining a single culture usually means you serve either end of your spectrum poorly and the majority of the members will fall slightly out of the mainstream you serve. Supporting multiple cultures comes with technical and social challenges that come from trying to reconcile the differences. In short, we need to build great tools to minimize culture war.

In practice, here are some planned changes:

1) No longer is there a top-down defined topic structure. In the past, admins made forums and that was that. Now users will tag topics and the tags serve as a dynamic user-driven folksonomy.

So here's a practical difference in use cases: let's say you want to talk about fashion. We have no great place to do that so you can either stuff it into a forum we have where it doesn't fit well or wait for the admins to grow the forum coverage. In practice this means a lot of things just go uncovered now. On the new site tags can be created by users on the fly, and it's a structure where you can essentially make any forum you want.

2) Censorship is going to be less top-down. We are legally required to perform certain censorship (such as removing copyright violations when ordered to) and others make sense due to the volume of abuse we will see (namely spam and porn). A fundamental culture difference we already have is between the various degrees of censorship each person wants on the site. Some want us to clean up nasty personal disputes, others want us to butt out.

Ultimately, the greatest difficulty we've had in running the site is striking the balance, and again most of the community would fall on either side of our mainstream and many of the current members are not well served by our attempt to be all things to all people.

So we need to find ways to let people control their own experiences. Right now we try to enforce a difficult subjective notion of civility and we simply can't do so.

We are already at the point where the top-down censorship can't read everything and can't maintain such tight control over the members that this tightrope requires.

So in practice the first change is that moderators and official employees of this company will have a reduced mandate of the core censorship that is needed: illegal content (defined as illegal for us to have on our site by US law), spam (in a less strict definition than we currently do) and porn (same as we always have, because if this changes the site will be destroyed by porn).

Now this doesn't mean we no longer care about civility, it just means the tools to foster civility will change. Here are the tools we are making:

- Ignoring users: You can ignore a user. Now we ban people when a certain threshold is reached and until we do so a significant number of the members are displeased with the inaction, then when we do others are displeased with the censorship. No more, now the ability for each user to ban another user from their experience on the site means we will use banning very sparingly and expect the users to be more responsible for their own experience.

This won't come without it's cost. We will serve users very well in controlling their own experiences, but users who want to control the experience of others (and just about everyone here does actually want this in some ways) won't be as well served. An example is that if you find a certain individual obnoxious you can ban them from your a2k in a click, but if you want them banned from contact with others it is not going to happen except in very rare circumstances (mostly when dealing with automated robots).

- Ignoring posts and topics: beyond the ability to ignore users, we also made the ability to ignore specific topics and posts. So whenever you vote a topic or post down, that topic or post no longer shows up for you. Right now, if there is a post or topic you don't like, you can ignore it but you have no expression of your disapproval except to post your disapproval. Because of the current topic lists are primarily driven by last posts that means the most controversial stuff is usually the most visible. With the ability to censure through voting the community can drive content out of visibility without feeding the train wreck.

- Harnessing the collective wisdom: We aren't going to make a stupid rating system that just changes a number on the screen. We are going to harness this collective data for the community. In short, posts and topics that many people vote down will have less visibility (more on the details another day) and posts that many people vote up will have more.

The big difference is that instead of top-down censoring we are going to have community-up censure. The content will be more or less visible based on the community's collective take on it.

Now I know that many will rush to concern over voting abuse, but in another post or topic I will address these concerns. In short I will do so by saying we'll put a lot of work into eliminating sock puppetry and bad fraud detection that make this a character assassination feature on other sites.

And lastly I want to talk about the biggest change toward more microcosms: user groups. We tried it before but this software doesn't do it well. We won't have this feature when we launch (and it will take a bit to build) but we intend to allow users to create their own groups on this site where they can control the membership, rules and moderation.

So give us a chance and the odds are we'll nail the user experience you want. There will be some rough transitions but if you accept more control over your own experience in exchange for less control over the experience of others you are going to be happy if we get it right.

And if you don't you will eventually be able to roll your own community and microcosms on a2k will exist as separate entities.
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Type: Discussion • Score: 4 • Views: 3,347 • Replies: 41
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loony
 
  0  
Reply Sat 9 Aug, 2008 03:26 pm
cool
0 Replies
 
Bi-Polar Bear
 
  1  
Reply Sat 9 Aug, 2008 03:58 pm
so slappy can have his own midget forum? kewl....
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Sat 9 Aug, 2008 04:05 pm
Sorry Craven, I know you hate "bookmark" posts, but ... bookmark.
0 Replies
 
gustavratzenhofer
 
  1  
Reply Sat 9 Aug, 2008 04:32 pm
Does anyone read this ****?
0 Replies
 
OCCOM BILL
 
  1  
Reply Sat 9 Aug, 2008 04:38 pm
Sounds pretty cool Craven, thanks for the preview... now get rid of the rapist. Razz

Hey, Gus is back!
0 Replies
 
dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Sat 9 Aug, 2008 05:21 pm
Holding breath.....nervous...but ready to jump in.

Sounds pretty amazing.
0 Replies
 
OGIONIK
 
  1  
Reply Sat 9 Aug, 2008 05:23 pm
DAMNIT! now i cant have any more fun pestering the politics forum...


NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
0 Replies
 
dlowan
 
  1  
Reply Sat 9 Aug, 2008 05:31 pm
OGIONIK wrote:
DAMNIT! now i cant have any more fun pestering the politics forum...


NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


You may have as much fun as you like it, as I understand...it is simply POSSIBLE that you will have it with a smaller audience to witness it.

:wink:
0 Replies
 
ehBeth
 
  1  
Reply Sat 9 Aug, 2008 05:35 pm
I am on the wow! side of thrilled.
0 Replies
 
OGIONIK
 
  1  
Reply Sat 9 Aug, 2008 05:37 pm
dlowan wrote:
OGIONIK wrote:
DAMNIT! now i cant have any more fun pestering the politics forum...


NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


You may have as much fun as you like it, as I understand...it is simply POSSIBLE that you will have it with a smaller audience to witness it.

:wink:


haha, or i can create my own forum?

AH HAH, all is not lost. i shall reign supreme in my politics forum.
0 Replies
 
Craven de Kere
 
  1  
Reply Sat 9 Aug, 2008 05:49 pm
nimh wrote:
Sorry Craven, I know you hate "bookmark" posts, but ... bookmark.


Another thing I'm building technology for instead of trying to make rules about. The new site's tag feature is also primarily designed to bookmark threads. You can tag a topic and it will show up on your tagged topics list (organized by tag). We then harness the collective categorization that the members provide through tagging and use that to categorize topics (instead of moving things around and pissing people off by picking the wrong forums).

That way, people can save threads without the one word comment that clutters the use pattern of others (e.g. checking out an email update to see "bookmark").
0 Replies
 
Craven de Kere
 
  1  
Reply Sat 9 Aug, 2008 05:58 pm
From the other thread:

hawkeye10 wrote:

it will be interesting to see if Craven is right that the new technology + non moderation = multible self made communities. I tend to think that lack of policing has as the end result of the criminals terrorizing all, that any new people who happen this way will get a whiff of the rampant personal attack that now goes on here and decide that this is not a good place to spend time.


That is really in the hands of the members. You are equating the lack of moderation with total anarchy, when in reality I merely expect more populism (e.g. I don't think you are going to get a fair shake) and less objectivity.

We aren't eliminating the censorship, we are putting it in the collective member's hands. I think the real danger we face is that members exhibit poor judgment in the collective.

Quote:
I thought that we (Americans) all wised up a few years back and realized that the price of no competent oversight of institutions is always disaster.


Why do you always speak for society so blithely? That's a greatly polarizing topic (regulation vs deregulation) and no, the whole country never "wised up" to any one side of it.

The debate rages on and those who pretend that there's a simple "right" side to "wise up" to simply demonstrate an inordinate degree of conviction in their own opinion.

Quote:
... the protectors of the net are never more than a few steps ahead of those who are trying to destroy it.


Sounds great to me.

Quote:
the concept of "Self moderation" seems so archaic....like it belongs in the 1990's.


Nah, you however seem to be stuck in 90's implementations of communities in how you envision it. What we have planned is actually very 2000's and even has a stupid buzz word ("Web 2.0").
0 Replies
 
littlek
 
  1  
Reply Sat 9 Aug, 2008 06:08 pm
Wow! Can you ignore a thread and then change your mind and read it again? Can you undo an ignore?

<good to see Gus>
0 Replies
 
DrewDad
 
  1  
Reply Sat 9 Aug, 2008 06:56 pm
Craven de Kere wrote:
DrewDad wrote:
Nor did I indicate that I believe the downfall of the site/community is imminent.


If you didn't I apologize. Here's where I'm coming from: I know there is going to be a lot of unhappy folk when we launch the new site. Whether or not we actually changed the moderation it would be so and a bunch of people are going to claim that the new site sucks no matter whether it does or doesn't.

Now that I totally agree with. Try informing tellers that they're going to have to use a new program....

Craven de Kere wrote:
DrewDad wrote:
Jespah publicly reprimanded cjhsa and me recently. I'm not bothered by the reprimand per se, but by what I perceive to be a double standard.


I think I saw that, and I think you may be wrong about not being bothered by it. Thing is, you need to take that up with her. We have a policy against official public reprimands so that's a personal issue between you guys. I know that personal anything from jespah or myself is a bit complex but it is what it is.
/quote]
Please don't try to tell me what my feelings are. Rolling Eyes

If I get out of line, then by all means let me know.
0 Replies
 
McGentrix
 
  1  
Reply Sat 9 Aug, 2008 07:02 pm
Change is good, but scary. Sounds like I will have to spend more time trolling for interesting threads while avoiding the chaff.
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Sat 9 Aug, 2008 07:08 pm
Craven de Kere wrote:
Another thing I'm building technology for instead of trying to make rules about. The new site's tag feature is also primarily designed to bookmark threads. You can tag a topic and it will show up on your tagged topics list (organized by tag). We then harness the collective categorization that the members provide through tagging and use that to categorize topics

Great! That's how the Intranet at my work works too, and Last.fm for that matter. Very good.

ADD: Mind you, prepare for a troublesome transition on the users' part... re our Intranet, it's amazing how difficult it is to get people to start using (and get used to) tagging. When it's really super-handy.
0 Replies
 
ossobuco
 
  1  
Reply Sat 9 Aug, 2008 07:15 pm
I'd be surprised if we can't change our minds with a click in the new system, re not wanting to read whomever. I'm thinking I'm unlikely to click off people, but I like the potential to do that, aaaaand, the potential to undo it, if that isn't too hard to work out.
0 Replies
 
Craven de Kere
 
  1  
Reply Sat 9 Aug, 2008 07:15 pm
McGentrix wrote:
Change is good, but scary. Sounds like I will have to spend more time trolling for interesting threads while avoiding the chaff.


It depends. As the site grows that will happen no matter what (unless you are interested in everything). We are making changes so that what the community deems most interesting is most prominent but depending on how well you match the community in this regard that can make it more or less useful.

Either way, you are getting to a fundamental part of the philosophy: instead of trying to keep all the content above a certain standard we are trying to make it easier to find the good stuff amidst it all. That way, we don't have to perform all the quality control through censorship.
0 Replies
 
Craven de Kere
 
  1  
Reply Sat 9 Aug, 2008 07:19 pm
nimh wrote:

ADD: Mind you, prepare for a troublesome transition on the users' part... re our Intranet, it's amazing how difficult it is to get people to start using (and get used to) tagging. When it's really super-handy.


Yes, the folders versus tags problem is a big one. Even people who recognize the superiority of tags have a hard time not having the hierarchical organization of folders if they are used to them.

It's more powerful but sometimes people miss the hierarchy of information and there will be cases where that's a legitimate downside.

For example, the tags will be more specific, so in effect there's less grouping. So maybe instead of having to just follow a "politics" forum you'll have to follow the "obama" tag and the "mccain" tag and so on.

With enough data we'll do algorithms to provide some contextual mapping (e.g. with enough tags to observe we'll be good at showing you that Obama and McCain are related subjects) but in the beginning it will seem more disjointed than it will with scale.
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