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"Wisdom hath her excesses, and no less need of moderation than folly." Michel Eyquem De Montaigne

A guide to Slashdot's Moderation Scheme...

December 12, 2003

Probably the most significant evolution of moderation schemes over the last half-decade (and the best example of how seriously moderation schemes should be taken) was the emergence of Slashdot - an online community/weblog for the most overtly geeky part of the population. The community itself refers to the system that lies behind the site and keeps it on track as a kind of 'mass moderation' - which if you believed in my previous distinctions would probably be considered a form of distributed moderation.

In a nutshell it works like this - moderators are chosen via algorithm from the body politic. Each moderator's stint lasts for three days and they are given five points to use during this time to either promote or demote a post in importance. The rest of the users of the board, then, can decide at which threshold they wish posts to be hidden from their view. This means nothing is deleted and that the community gradually reaches some kind of equilibrium where posts that are agreed to be generally good or bad are made respectively more of less visible.

The whole process is made more effective by use of a karma system that records data about the posts you make, how you make them and how you use moderation posts (and how they are used upon you) to decide eligibility for moderation (and the like). As such Slashdot is based upon both content-rating models and upon an attempt to create an online version of the kinds of reputation economies that we use (at a much less abstracted and efficient - but more nuanced - fashion) everyday in the offline world.

For me the most interesting aspects of the Slashdot moderation model is that it attempts to create a political structure without overt heirarchy - with a view to creating self-running communities that don't need external intervention to keep them on track. Most online communities are pretty much despotic in structure (with oligarchies or monarchically governed rural fiefdoms being other common models). It's a model which has its benefits (decisions are final, the person who runs the community is also normally the person who must inevitably take responsibility for what's published on the site anyway) but also considerable failings. Communities are hard-work to maintain, prone to spats and arguments, can spiral out of control and don't always want to move in the same direction as the people who consider themselves 'in charge'. Distributing the power rather more creates the opportunity to help the community define itself. Finding good systems that allow this kind of action is very close to my heart (and related to some of the work that I've done with Cal on Barbelith.

But while Slashdot's system has a great many positive aspects, it's not without its short-comings. Firstly, the system seems more than a little arcane to idle users of the site and requires new users to get to grips with the concept of ratings and viewing thresholds immediately. It's hardly self-explanatory as a process and - as such - not particularly ideal for implementation in less technically savvy environments. This suits Slashdot perfectly well, of course, both because that's exactly the audience they're looking for and because the site's traffic is not without financial cost. It's also interesting how overtly it's based upon random judgments and how little control the users actually have in nuancing self-reflexively the system itself. It's also interesting how limited these distributed controls are. Posts cannot be collectively deleted, amended, fixed or moved. And most interesting for me is that its chosen to articulate the concept of reputation and evaluation as a kind of currency - as an economy. I wonder occasionally whether or not that's as a direct result of being American in origin, and whether or not a European developer would have tried to find more overtly political rather than economic models. Any thoughts around this would be very much appreciated of course.

You can read more about Slashdot's moderation scheme in their detailed guide.


Jamie McCarthy said:

"how little control the users actually have in nuancing self-reflexively the system itself"

I don't think I understand your meaning. You lost me at "self-reflexively."

Your criticism regarding the arcane nature of the system is well-taken. I doubt the complex nature of *moderation* is much of a problem in reality. The average Slashdot moderator originally spent n days reading the site anonymously, then created an account and spent several weeks reading before they were first eligible to get moderation points. After that they had to read the site every day or every other day, for at least a week or two, to get their first 5 mod points. So by the time anyone is moderating, they've seen enough of the scoring system to be pretty familiar with what they're expected to do. (Also, when you have mod points, most of the webpages we deliver to you have bullet-point instructions, and links to the moderation guide.)

As for the arcane nature of the scoring system itself, yeah, we know; we'd like to make the reading process easier for visitors from the very first page we deliver them. Ideally, for newbies, scoring will almost melt into the background and they will read more intuitively.

Rob "CmdrTaco" Malda said:

We never intentionally designed karma as a currency... it sort of cropped up as a side affect of the system as it fell into larger use. We designed karma to be a simple reliability indicator for users: a way to decide if a user was trustworthy or not. Over time, users discovered that they could game the system by "earning" and "spending" karma. In hindsight, this is totally obvious. At the time, I never expected it. I don't think that it was "American" or "European", but rather that it was "Easy" to implement... currency requires essentially a sum total, but an "Overtly Political" system requires far more information. In fact, thats part of what Zoo (our friends and foe system) is baby stepping towards. If we ever have time to truly complete the system (and the lofty hardware requirements necessary to power it!) Zoo could provide a much more political model upon which to hang moderation. Someday we'd love to do it. But programming time is in short supply, and our hardware is already quite taxed ;)

Waldo Jaquith said:

As I type this, I'm installing Scoop on one of my systems, experimentally. After years of tinkering with various systems and never, ever, ever managing to install Slash (Lord knows I've tried), I thought I'd try a different system entirely. After over a decade of moderation, I'm fairly convinced that the best moderation system has got to be one that is distributed, but also allows sysops to have ultimate control, when need be. I suspect that Slash is the best model for this.

My most popular site, which has about a quarter million users, has no self-moderation, requiring an increasingly-large army of volunteer moderators. Fine folks though they might be, this is no way to run a community. Although it's possible that I'll find Scoop has some options that I was not previously aware of, I expect that I'll end up coding some sort of a Slashdot-style moderation system for my site, warts and all. Perhaps Slash is Archaic, but nobody ever said that democracy was simple.

Pies said:

I'm a strong believer in "soft" moderation, a sort of merger between the social-net model and a friend/foe model. You mark people as friends/foes, and their friends/foes become yours, and so on, and so on. The weaker the connection, the weaker the impact on your view of other users.

With that, you can visualy warn the user about posts from people who he possibly wouldn't want to read and highlight those, who you, judged by your friends' tastes, might fancy.

(And please excuse my English.)

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