technical solutions to improve forum/list discourse

Categoría:petición de característica
Asignado:No asignado

The forum/list often gets off-topic and occasionally escalates to conflict. I think that this is often because different users have different ideas as to what is the correct way to use the forum. Clarification and guidance from a moderator can help get things back on track, but ideally the forum interface should clarify and facilitate correct forum etiquette. Since there is a website redesign in progress, this seems like a good time to propose some changes that I think would address two common problems.

The Voting System

I think that the voting system has the potential to be a useful tool, but in its current form is prone to abuse and conflict escalation. It seems that the voting system currently works as follows:

  • Users can upvote or downvote a comment.
  • A certain number of upvotes causes the comment to turn green.
  • Cancelling a certain number of upvotes causes ungreens a green comment.
  • A certain number of downvotes causes the comment to turn red, and if JavaScript is enabled to be hidden until the user clicks on it.
  • Cancelling out a certain number of downvotes unreds/unhides a red/hidden comment.

Users usually use downvotes and upvotes to express agreement or disagreement with a comment. This does not communicate why the user agrees or disagrees or contribute any new ideas. As a result, both downvotes and upvotes can lead to miscommunications.

When a user is downvoted, it indicates that someone disagrees with them, but since no argument has been presented the user has no way to defend themselves or clarify their opinion. This can be frustrating, and users often get understandably defensive when they are downvoted. In a debate, seeing an opponent receive an upvote can be frustrating for the same reason.

Aggravating the problem is the fact that most users don't actually use the voting system that often. Comments usually don't make it beyond 1-2 up/downvotes. With few people voting, up/downvotes are not representative of the community's overall views, which can lead to miscommunications. 1-2 users can downvote a few comments by another user, and that user might receive the impression that they entire community is ganging up on them. Similarly, an opponent receiving a few upvotes from 1-2 users might create the appearance of groupthink and make it feel like no one is listening to the user's arguments.

In addition to miscommunication, the voting system is also prone to outright abuse. A few users might downvote a comment they don't like in an effort to decrease its visibility. In an extreme case, this was done systematically in a coordinated way.

I would prefer to see the voting system used to express not agreement or disagreement with a comment, but to express that a comment violates the community guidelines. This way, the voting system is a tool for community self-moderation, rather than a source of tension. This is not the obvious way to use the current voting system, but the voting system could be modified to encourage this use. Here's what it might look like.

  • Users can flag a comment as inappropriate, at which point they will be prompted to identify which community guideline(s) have been broken.
  • If the user selects at least one community guideline and confirms, the comment will be labeled "flagged as inappropriate" and hidden by default. Unhiding the comment displays both the content of the comment and the list of community guidelines that have allegedly been broken.
  • Instead of "flag as inappropriate", a flagged comment has a "not inappropriate" or "improperly flagged" options. If a certain number of users (who aren't the author of the comment) do this, then the comment will be displayed again and cannot be reflagged.
  • If flags by a user are frequently overruled by the rest of the community, this indicates an abuse of the mechanism, and that user's flagging privileges may be temporarily suspended.

Staying on Topic

Given the breadth and complexity of many of the issues we discuss, it is common for topics to arise that are worthwhile to discuss but unrelated to the topic of the original post. The problem with discussing these topics in the original thread is that it makes the thread harder to follow and the forum less organized. However, starting a new thread and reintroducing the topic is inconvenient and disrupts the momentum of the conversation, so for users who care more about the discussion they are invested in than the coherence of the overall thread it is preferable to let threads evolve naturally, even if that means drifting off topic.

Another issue is that there is often a grey area between on- or off-topic, depending on how broad the initial post was and how closely related the new topic is, as well as ambiguity as to what is the right moment to branch off to a new thread. Within that grey area, users are likely to tolerate and respond to ideas they want to discuss and to accuse ideas they don't want to discuss as being off-topic. A user might do this intentionally in order to steer the conversation in a particular direction.

This is not a problem mailing list users. In an email thread, a user can simply respond to a message with a new subject line resembling "new subject [was: old subject]". There is no disruption to the new conversation as it branches off from the original thread, but there is a clear distinction between the two topics. However, when the new messages is mirrored to the forum, it appears in the original thread. Here's a case where that discrepancy turned into a mess. A mailing list user changed the subject line, and other mailing list users joined the new discussion. From the mailing list users' end everything looked normal, but for forum users these messages kept appearing in the original thread, making it unreadable.

I think that both of these issues can be addressed by implementing a mechanism for starting new threads that is compatible with changing subject lines on the mailing list:

  • If a mailing list user responds to an email with a new subject line, a new forum thread should be automatically created. This thread will begin with a link to the original comment, followed by the response. In the original thread, the reply to the original comment should say "continued in [link to new thread]"
  • When a forum user replies to a comment, there should be an option to begin a new thread. If this option is selected, a new forum thread will also be automatically created and linked to/from the original. When mirrored to the mailing list, the subject line should be updated accordingly.
Dom, 07/07/2019 - 22:36