Sunday, April 16, 2006

Contrast and Compare: Sharing air space on the Web

I was looking at SlashDot (, a nerd-culture and news website) and Slate, (, a more literary culture and news magazine online). These are both great sites, and interesting for the cultures they spawn as much as for the great interesting stories you can find there. One thing I find fascinating is that Slate does not seem to moderate comments. They have a feature called the Fray. And they seem to maintain comment threads there as long as they have space. They do not have any rules beyond

Certainly. Don't use offensive or obscene language. Don't abuse anyone, including the writers, and don't make threats. Do not deliberately impersonate someone else, especially not other Fray posters. Break these rules and your post may be deleted, and you may be banned from The Fray.

They do recommend that you think hard about posting your real address, phone number, and an e-mail that you use for other purposes. But otherwise, they claim that they do not delete comments or moderate.

On Slashdot, they also do not delete comments, but because they have thousands and thousands of comments per story, they have an interesting moderation feature. Readers rate the comments in usefulness 1-5, with 5 being most useful and 1 being "lamest." They also have ratings for funny, informative, flamebait, troll and interesting. Flamebait is pretty obvious in meaning, but troll had to be explained to me. Flamebait is on subject, but posting a purposely provocative point of view on a controversial topic. They just want to stir folks up and see how much flaming will go on. Pick something where people will have passionate opinions on both sides, so some will defend your point while others will be outraged by your point, starting a flame war. An example on Slashdot would be making a comment supporting the recording industry's point of view (many nerds really hate this, while some others see their point).

Trolling is different. This is just trying to be offensive, make everybody mad. On Slashdot, for instance, they might post a shock site as a Wikipedia article. These are quickly discovered and labeled. There is even a name for this particular ploy a "goatse" after a particularly infamous shock site that was a bane to the Slashdot community. The FAQs are interesting because they reveal the inherent differences in the culture and communities between Slate and Slashdot:

One of the unfortunate side-effects of the increasing popularity of Slashdot is that the number of trolls, flame-warriors and all-around lamers increases as well, and it only takes a relatively small number of them to make a lot of noise. Keeping this noise to a minimum is one of the primary goals of the moderation system (which is explained in detail elsewhere in this FAQ).

Since this system is essentially an experiment in trying to solve the problems inherent in mass communication, one would expect its success to be variable, and indeed, this is the case. Some days it works great, and some days it doesn't. (snip)

As you might have noticed, Slashdot gets a lot of comments. Thousands a day. Tens of thousands a month. At any given time, the database holds 50,000+ comments. A single story might have a thousand replies- and let's be realistic: Not all of the comments are that great. In fact, some are down right terrible, but others are truly gems.

The moderation system is designed to sort the gems and the crap from the steady stream of information that flows through the pipe. And wherever possible, it tries to make the readers of the site take on the responsibility.

The goal is that each reader will be able to read Slashdot at a level that they find appropriate. The impatient can read nothing at all but the original stories. Some will only want to read the highest rated of comments, some will want to eliminate anonymous posts, and others will want to read every last drip of data, from the First Posts! to the spam. The system we've created here will make that happen. Or at least, it sure will try...


* Promote quality, discourage crap.
* Make Slashdot as readable as possible for as many people as possible.
* Do not require a huge amount of time from any single moderator.
* Do not allow a single moderator a "reign of terror."

On the whole, we think the moderation system works really well, but often people disagree. Their disagreement usually stems from different expectations. They see a bunch of moderations countering each other. They see a comment moderated blatantly wrong. A 'Troll' flagged 'Off topic' (or vice versa) and feel that the system is flawed.

Of course it is flawed! It's built upon the efforts of diverse human beings volunteering their time to help! Some humans are selfish and destructive. Others work hard and fair. It's my opinion that the sum of all their efforts is pretty damn good.

Read Slashdot at a threshold of 3 and behold the quality of the comments you read. Certainly you aren't reading a wild and freewheeling discussion anymore, but you are reading many valid points from many intelligent people. I am actually pretty amazed.

I, too, am amazed. This is basically the Wiki ethos at work to moderate the comments. I think it's a fabulous idea, and fascinating. And it meets the needs of this community which has thousands of folks with way too much time and some very brainy and sometimes immature members. Cool.

This beautiful image of planet Earth is from my alma mater, University of Kentucky.

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