Most /. readers have at least some complaints about the /. moderation system. Hell, if you've been around for any length of time (not that I'm an old-timer), I'd be suspicious if you didn't. Very often in these conversations, K5 comes up as the example of how to solve the moderation problems effectively and fairly. I've spent a lot of time on K5, and have seen how their system works - and doesn't. I'd like to try to deconstruct the myth of perfection which seems to be associated with the K5 moderation system, and point out some aspects of the rather dirty underside of that system.
For those of you who are unaware, the K5 moderation system is completely democratic. Everyone can moderate each other's posts. You can give any comment a score of 1 to 5. The story posting is also completely democratic. Anyone can post a story, which then goes through a series of queues where it is moderated - again by everyone - and then posted, if it gets enough votes.
That's basically it. Sounds good, doesn't it? Any of us who've dealt with some of the moderation and editorial inanity which occaisonally goes on here would love to be able to have a voice in posting and moderation. Unfortunately, the K5 system has some problems. The first and most obvious is the question of just how well the comments are actually moderated. Because any single user can give a comment a score of 5 with a single vote, K5's moderation system does not serve as an effective signal/noise ratio filter. Browsing by score on K5 does not yield higher quality reading. While K5 has erred on the side of fairness in its moderation system, /. has erred on the side of quality. Each sacrifices one aspect to gain more of the other. But is K5's system really more fair? Because the K5 system is open to anyone, vocal emphasis is granted to those who spend the most time moderating comments and stories. This serves as a sort of demographic filter in its moderation system. Those most concerned with how comments are moderated (activists) are the ones who dominate which comments and stories get voted up. Again, this sounds good, but consider the implications. Thousands of people pull up /. every day. Most only read stories. There is a whole spectrum of people, varying in agenda and goals, who participate in the /. community. The /. moderation system recognizes that those most concerned about karma and moderation are probably not representative of the interests of the community as a whole. That's why the /. faq tends to suggest that the obsessive wackos probably won't moderate much (/. surfing habits play a part in moderation chances). On K5, the wackos are running the show.
But probably the most revealing fact about the fairness of the K5 moderation system boils down to a single question: Does the moderation system = censorship? That is to say, do the results of moderation actually cause material to be invisible to other readers? In the /. system, the answer to the question is no. What about the K5 system? When I made "trusted user" status on K5, I gained the ability to rate a comment at "0". This is the rating which is supposed to be reserved for spamming. As part of the new privileges, I got a new button on my navbar - "review hidden comments". This is where you can browse comments scored at 0 to determine if they should be promoted. It seems that when a comment is rated at 0, it becomes invisible to common readers. Worse yet, if a poster makes a certain number of score 0 posts, they become "untrusted". At this point, everything they post is invisible to common readers. The idea is that this group of K5 members must prove themselves to the "trusted" users in order to earn their voice back. In practice, this area is a permanent "troll jail" - the trusted users bloc vote nearly every comment by untrusted users at 0, preventing them from ever re-entering K5 society. In summary, K5 not only censors comments, it censors people.
What's the answer? The /. system is probably the best when it comes to actual content quality, but its abuses are legendary. I suggest the following changes:
- /. editorial control over which stories are posted should remain. K5's stories suck.
- Comment moderation should be fully democratic. Each person can add or subtract one point to or from a comment's score, and comment scores should have no upper limit. This will help to control the activists who mod every single comment, but who are relatively few in number.
- All comment moderation should be public knowledge. Everyone should know how everyone else moderates.
- There should be no karma or mojo. The fact that K5 has both mojo and democratic moderation results in very bizarre alliances and infighting. Neither a group of editors nor an inner circle of trusted users has demonstrated that they can fairly police abuses, so this should be left to the general population. It means we'll have to look at a lot more crap, but I believe it's worth it.