I’m Planning a New Project

I’ve written and currently maintain several websites, each of which has a different following and a different size readership. But lately, I’ve been thinking about a new project I have in mind. Of the big “tech” websites that I visit each day, chiefly amongst them Reddit, Digg, OSNews, and Slashdot, I feel each is flawed in its design.

Digg and Reddit are completely community controlled. While this is a great idea in general, it rarely works out the way intended. Like so many user generated content sites, Digg and Reddit are filled with nonsense comments, inside jokes, and are completely overrun by groupthink. So, on any given day, lately at least, you’ll find the same tone: pro-Apple, pro-Ron Paul and Mike Gravel, pro-Atheist, pro-Ubuntu, anti-Republican, anti-Religion, anti-Microsoft, and lately, anti-Israel. And as these topics continue to appear, the opposers leave as new members are encouraged and recruited creating a vicious circle. The groupthink becomes worse and it becomes a community massively stroking itself. I’m not even saying I disagree with those stances, but I don’t think there is any point whatsoever to a group of like-minded nimrods modding each other up over and over for comments like “Happy cat says ‘Teh intarweb is a sereis(sic) of tubes!’

OSNews and Slashdot, on the other hand, are both editor controlled sites. And while there is some degree of democracy in both via peer moderation, both are heavily admin influenced and frankly, filtered and ultimately biased, although less so than the above. Both OSNews and Slashdot, as a result, are slower in posting news (Slashdot is much worse at timely news) and offer significantly less content rotation, however, they both feature original content as well.

I think the features introduced in the OSNews beta show where I’d ultimately like to go: community building. K5 was a good example, except it was almost all original content and ended up with too many snobby users who voted things down based on English grammar alone, which is tough when you cater to the internet, which is a world beyond just the US. I’d like to see links and original content, and a community that lets people post their own articles, their own blog/diary/journal/whatever, and group the content in a way that makes sense for presentation. The site will have to focus on two very different goals: persistent and ultimate respect for the user and his contribution, as well as a captain who can keep the site from leaning too far left or right. I don’t know how this can be accomplished, but it’s clear to me that to achieve this goal, I will almost certainly need to start from scratch.

So I’m in the “plotting” stages of a new project, a new website to incorporate the best of both worlds. I don’t have a lot of answers yet, but I’m trying to sketch something up: How can a site let admins filter news without affecting it? How can we allow the community as much control as possible without allowing so much abuse and juvenile junk? How can groupthink be combated in EARLY stages? How can content be rapidly replaced without repeating the same stuff over and over?

On the design side: How can a site be pretty and modern without being heavy? Reddit is awesome and fast, but ugly. Digg is gorgeous but ridiculously slow on page loads. I’d like to land in the middle, with emphasis on lightweight and fast and pretty.

I’m open to the concept of partners on this project as well. I’m really looking for something that isn’t run with an iron fist and something that doesn’t degenerate into the mess you see in YouTube comments.

One Reply to “I’m Planning a New Project”

  1. Hello,

    I’ve already badgered you on OSNews conversations about the moderation there. Now you’ve asked for it!

    My theory for approaching this problem is to introduce consequences to the act of moderation. Specifically, make the content you see be based on the way you moderate. I.e. you see content that’s been voted up by people who voted up the same stuff as you did in the past. This way, you can effectively end up with many different communities on the same site, partly interacting, partly segregated. Those who tend to vote down comments with bad grammar will tend not to see such comments, but everyone else will. The degree to which people are protected from stuff they won’t like can be varied by the sysadmin, so democrats may still see the odd right-wing comment or story, for example. Just to liven things up. Equally, you can calm things down by increasing segregation between groups.

    The trick here is in implementing it of course. Basically you have to have the server create it’s own nameless groups, and automatically add users to them, optimising for the number of groups each user belongs to, and the size of the groups. You could let users create their own groups but this can be easily broken, by communists joining the facist group to intentionally undermine it, for example. Personally, I’d quite fancy the combined mathemaical and programming challenge. So if you want some help, feel free to get in touch.

    The alternative, which evryone uses at the moment, is to have one moderation system for all. If you had a well behaved user base, you could provide seperate moderation for “I agree with this.” and “This is of high quality.”, which might encourage an environment where people respect those they disagree with.

    The only other thing I would suggest, is enabling users to easily reference other content within their own content. That way, I could create a page summarising what I think are the best of recent debates and articles. Such a system would take the idea of threaded conversations to a whole new level, turning the traditional hierarchical system into an unlimited directed graph, except that loops would not be possible (unless people are able to edit their content, though if loops are a problem it’s controllable). I’m sure there’s a name for this type of graph but I can’t be bothered to lok it up right now.

    That’s enough isn’t it.

    Well, you did ask.


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