One of the most interesting discussions at today's NewsMorphosis event
centered around the difficultly of keeping online discussions productive or, at the very least, civil. Sarah Lacy described her frustration with the abusive comments that often show up on tech blogs such as TechCrunch
and, given the volume of responses, the difficultly in managing them. John Temple and David Shapiro expressed similar frustration with abusive comments on their online newspaper articles. In fact, Temple said Peer News articles won't have traditional commenting functionality and hinted at some sort of new system for supporting true "civic square" style discussion . I assume Peer News is implementing a reputation system, similar to what Pierre did with eBay for establishing trust in online auctions.
One of the things I really like about local grassroots sites like TechHui and Kanu Hawaii
is that our discussions tend to be very civil. Obviously its much easier for us because we have smaller communities and many of us know each other in Real World 1.0. For larger communities civil discussion is still possible but it requires the ability to identify participants (i.e. associate posts with actual people), active community monitoring and, ideally, a reliable reputation management system. Just removing the ability to do anonymous posts makes a huge
difference. People tend to show a lot more aloha if they know their real name is attached and their neighbor or mother might be listening. The next step is knowing a person's general reputation (i.e. are they a random nutter) and, if relevant, their areas of expertise. If Peer News has developed a simple system for handling this, then they really have something special. As always, the devil will be in the details. It must be simple, unobtrusive and reliable.
During a brief discussion after the panels, Sarah Lacy suggested the solution may be to only allow comments via Facebook connect. I like this idea. People tend to be nicer when they know all their friends are listening, and I have no doubt this would greatly reduce abusive comments, but highly motivated jerks could always create faux Facebook accounts to use for trolling and mud slinging purposes.
Google's search is a reputation system of sorts. As we all know, their intuitive leap was realizing that no content analyzing algorithm could really determine the relevance or importance of a web page. Only people know what pages are relevant, and they indicate this by linking to them. Important sites tend to link to other important sites, so link "votes" need to be weighted. The web badly needs an equally sophisticated reputation system for people.
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