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.