As predicted earlier, real life has consumed 100% of my energy for the last month or so, so I haven't made any progress on RefineScript/The Straightstone System/curingbarn.com/ManuscriptForge. I have, however, listened to some podcasts that I think are relevant to anyone else in my situation*, so I think I'll start a series of reviews.
"When Communities Attack!" was presented at SXSWi07 by Chris Tolles, marketing director for Topix.net. You can download the MP3 at the SXSW Podcast website.
The talk covered the lessons learned about online communities through running a large-scale current-events message board system. Topix.net really seemed like it had been a crucible for user-created content, as Danish users argued with Yemenis about the Mohamed cartoons, or neighbors bickered with each other about cleaning up the local trailer park.
These were the points I thought relevant to my comment feature:
- Give your site a purpose and encourage good behavior. Rather than discourage bad behavior, if your site has a purpose (like wikipedia) users have a metric to use to police themselves. Even debatable behavior can be tested against whether it helps transcribe the manuscript. This also prevents administrators from only acting as nags.
- Geo-tag posts. Display the physical location where the comment comes from: "The commentary now autotags where the commenter is from. . . . The tone of the entire forum got a little more friendly once you start putting someone's town name next to [a post], because it turns out that no-one wants to bring shame to their town.
- Anonymity breeds bad behavior. If people think their mother will read what they're writing, they're less likely to fly off the handle.
- Don't erect time-consuming barriers to posting. It turns out that malevolent users have more free time than constructive users, and are actually more likely to register on the site and jump through hoops.
- Management needs a presence. Like a beat cop, just making yourself visible encourages good behavior.
- Expose user information like IP address. This can help the community police itself through shaming posters who use sock-puppet accounts.
[*] that is, any other micro-ISV building on collaboration software for the digital humanities.