Sunday, 9 May 2010

6 Steps to Kill Your Community

Perhaps CiF should try listening to Matt Mullenweg, founder and boss of WordPress, the software which runs millions of blogs across the internet.

You know, someone who actually stands a chance of knowing what he is talking about, as opposed to an unknown cyclist from nowhere.

About a year ago, Mullenweg wrote a blog post about how to kill your online community. Again, it has to be pointed out that blogging - of which technology WordPress has always been a leader - is what made the internet social and interactive and predicated sites like CiF.

In terms of moderation, Mullenweg certainly advises against allowing a free-for-all, with its legal implications and tendency to annoy everyone into leaving. However, most arguments about CiF have never been to allow unmoderated commenting. They have simply been for the moderation to achieve both consistent and acceptable standards. Of course, according to Seaton (is he still there, by the way, or has his sideways slide taken him to wreak havoc in pastures new?) there is nothing wrong with moderation at CiF. He is right and hundreds and hundreds of people who comment are wrong.

Anyway, here are a couple of points from Matt Mullenweg, which should have such a familiar ring to the CiFerati that, when they read them, they will think they have become the clappers on the bells into which a puzzled Quasimodo is staring.

Be Famous! You’ll get thousands of comments on almost everything you post and make sure only to let through the most sycophantic and saccharine, don’t tolerate real conversation or debate. To spice it up every now and then opine on a known controversial subject like abortion and let your audience loose on each other like gladiators while you watch from the stands.

Make People Click Click Click. Ideally do 1-comment-per-page CNET-style and your pageviews will go through the roof, but if you can’t stomach that just make comments-per-page setting low or have some sort of complicated nesting scheme.

Treat Everyone the Same. If I’ve left hundreds of great comments over many years on your site, please make me wait in the moderation queue like some random stranger off Digg. Don’t let anyone know I’m a regular, or talk to me, or invite me to test out beta stuff, or pretty much anything that acknowledges my existence or shows any degree of trust.

Remember, though, if anyone from CiF Towers should catch sight of this: it is a list of what not to do!

You have to make this plain because otherwise, like New Labour thinking Nineteen Eighty-Four was a political instruction manual, the halfwits in charge of CiF will simply obey mindlessly, like they would follow whatever fashion or domestic advice is the article of faith du jour.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

Everyone's A Critic: Everyone Can Be A Moderator, Too

There have been occasional claims made by various people on CiF that anyone can make comments disappear simply by using the Report Abuse button.

The claim from the staff has always been that if a comment is reported, it still has to go through the scrutiny process of the highly-skilled moderators and pass the various tests under their gimlet-eyed gaze and the stifling heat of their red-hot intellectual rigour before it is eventually jettisoned into the virtual dustbin of history.

Yeah, or just, you know, disappear without trace within seconds.

Of course, if it was true that anyone and everyone, idle passers-by and addicted CiF-junkies alike, could just depopulate the threads of comments simply because they felt like it or for malicious reasons or just because they clicked the wrong button, it would not so much dent the credibility of the whole lurching CiF charabanc as smash it to pieces and write it off completely.

So, having spent a few scattered moments of boredom, head resting on fist and eyes vacantly staring into the middle distance and randomly pressing the Report Abuse button - sometimes giving a curt reason, sometimes a snipped quote, sometimes a contrived turn of phrase and sometimes just leaving the forlorn little form blank (but always on comments which had no reason whatsoever to be deleted, given their almost offensively perfect innocence) - it can now be confirmed to the world that anyone can zap anyone's comment off the face of CiF without any training or special skills and, more importantly, with no reason whatsoever and with no intervention from the moderation team.

Of course, if you have written a good post and it then gets deleted, you might think it is both acceptable and morally justified to make a principled stand and enquire about what happened and why.

Yes, the problem, though, would be that we already know that emailing the moderators may only prompt an automatic, useless and actually provocative reply. We have been told that they are too grand to be bothered replying to mere contributors of free content.

You could try posting a question on the thread from which your poor little comment has been whisked away and murdered. Oh, except for the fact that we have also been told that all questions about moderation are off-topic and will be deleted.

Welcome to the Catch-22 world of CiF, where it is madness to complain because you have to be mad to post there in the first place.

Here are some words of wisdom from Matt Seaton from the thread which was supposed to celebrate four years of CiF censorship but ended up as a howl of protest and outrage over CiF's idiotic and useless moderbation techniques and proved Seaton (who accused JayReilly of being the "polemicists' polemicist") to be the luvvies' luvvie - and, incidentally, never actually answered JayReilly's question when evidence was brought proving that CiF moderation is an ongoing online catastrophe.

@ Triffid100:

Nobody's going to stop you talking about moderation, and maybe it feels good to share gripes, but my response is going to be the same all day and every day: moderators follow our Talk Policy and transparent procedures when making decisions about infractions of that policy. The rules are not hard for users to follow. 

Yes, moderation is a human system which involves making judgment calls in a very fast-moving and dynamic environment, and users who feel hard-done-by are able to appeal their decisions. But our moderation staff are highly experienced and well-trained, and we have great confidence in them. 

The bottom line is follow the Talk Policy, stay within the rules and you will never even know the moderators exist. How hard is that?


I accept that many of you wanted to air dissatisfactions with moderation, and I'm aware that I've not been able to say much that will have altered critical perceptions of how we do modding. I wouldn't say that we've exhausted the topic for all time, but I hope at least you feel that whereas complaints about modding in other threads will usually be treated as off-topic and deleted, here we have given full rein to the issue and you have had your say. As with everything, moderation remains a work in progress, and nothing is going to change overnight, but we do understand its importance and we know it needs all the investment of skills and people we can get. But we also see it as only one dimension of our community interface, and we'd love to move to a point where the issue just didn't loom so large as it does for some of you.


No contradiction intended certainly. I do think our moderation in its general operation is as transparent as resources permit: the rules are clear and stated and mods interpret and apply them as fairly as possible. The limits of transparency arise in specific instances: judgments about banning being one, correspondence between a user and moderators over an appeal being another.


Putting that aside, the general point is that I'm not willing to debate alleged political bias on the part of moderators, because their political impartiality is simply a given. It would be a disciplinary matter if a moderator was acting on a partisan ideological basis. And that would be incredibly stupid, too, because it would be rankly obvious within the first 15 minutes.

As for individual complaints, I assume you mean over deleted posts. This is where we all have to be realistic: this site generates thousands of comments every day. Moderators are having to make hundreds of judgments about deletions every shift. They are under considerable pressure. Is their judgment flawless in every case? It can't be. But neither will it be grossly wrong; and looked at in aggregate, over time, it will be fair and reasonable. We invite appeals by email, and guarantee that all are read, but the sheer scale of the enterprise means that there cannot be a judicial process for every deleted comment as of right for users. My general advice is if you get a comment deleted, you probably have a good idea why, so move on.

You make a good point. I don't think our columnists should have to put up with mere ad hominem abuse and it is against the guidelines, as you observe. Sometimes, bad posts don't go fast enough (moderation resourcing being inevitably limited), and sometimes, perhaps, too much presumption is made in favour of free speech, with Gdn columnists just expected to be as tough as old boots and able to put up with some heckling. But you can help us by using the 'report abuse' button.

As for rightwing trolls: well, I think we have to accept that Cif is open for business to anyone who wants to visit and we're not charging the price of admission that is the £1 people pay for the newspaper. On the other hand, I think it is salutary for all us Gdn types to be exposed to views outside our comfort zone and to realise that there is a battle of ideas out there and we have to take the world as we find it, not as we might wish it to be.

So, trolls should get modded out of sight. But rightwingers? Bring 'em on: let's have the debate.


There endeth the lesson.

This is interesting, though:

"...there is a battle of ideas out there and we have to take the world as we find it, not as we might wish it to be."

Isn't this the very thing which The Guardian, CiF and the Matt Seaton All Stars have continuously and deliberately tried to achieve - peddling their ideology and clearing the ground of dissent in order to push it without impediment or hindrance from the filthy scum who (used to) make CiF worth reading?