Sunday, 2021-10-10

Proposal for healthy webforums

This archived Kuro5hin post by user ‘anaesthetica’ poses a number of provocative questions, and although dated (posted 2009) still has relevance for today’s fora.

It’s a long read, I’ve reproduced the conclusion below.


Conclusion

There are serious problems with existing web forums’ institutional capacity to sustain constructive interaction over the long term. The foregoing has been an attempt to rethink what constitutes community and society on the web, and what the requirements for sustaining them are in an environment of rapid scaling.

The conclusions reached about the weaknesses of current forums are:

  • Eternal September presents web forums with an inability to avoid the dilemma that scaling creates for socialization.
  • Community and society, as forms of interaction, are not just different in scale but also different in kind.
  • Community doesn’t scale, and society is difficult to enforce.
  • User registration and barriers to participation do not prevent community-destroying behavior.
  • Scale quickly outpaces moderators’ ability to enforce socialization of new users.
  • Current forms of user moderation and trust ratings are vulnerable to gaming and attack.

Recommendations for a hypothetical forum structure are summarized as follows:

  • Forced anonymity fosters society by countering vanity, making users modular, and placing the focus on the content/comments.
  • Moderation can be improved by making it passive, scarce, and focused on comment quality rather than agreement with the substance of the comment.
  • Conversation, not isolated comments or voting scores, must be the central criterion of user interaction.
  • Communal groupings can emerge organically from society based on demonstrated constructive conversation.
  • Forums should discriminate between original content, link-n-blurb content, and personal content.
  • Story promotion and front page position should be determined by quality of conversation not voting.

It should be stressed that none of these are radical innovations. Most are already implemented piecemeal in some form or another in the various web forums, bulletin boards, chat rooms, and newsgroups throughout the internet. But there is no forum providing a coherent combination of these elements. I believe that these factors will provide the institutional foundation for a web forum that can achieve a greater scale-free status than any that we currently possess.