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posted by NCommander on Wednesday April 02 2014, @12:35PM   Printer-friendly
from the understanding-the-community dept.
We've gotten some incredible feedback regards to the moderation system and the karma system, and trust me, its not going into /dev/null; I'll have a writeup done by the weekend. However, I've noticed something today that made me sit back, and think for awhile. Our community is healthy and vibrant, and we're far more cohesive as a group than we ever were on the other site. Furthermore, our users are significantly more active here than the other site. Almost all of us are from the other site, but there's a huge difference between us and them.

I can sum up the difference in four words: We ARE a community.

While many of us decried the other site calling us an audience, I'm not sure I can say I was a part of the Slashdot community. I read articles, and comments, but I hadn't moderated (or even logged in) on the other site for years. This wasn't always true; I'm UID 700139 on the other site (registered sometime in 2003), and I was fairly active until 2009. Then I stopped. I didn't even post on the Audience Responses post. I've talked to others on IRC, and it turns out I'm not alone; a LOT of people who are active here were permanent lurkers on the other site.

I need to understand why to keep us a community, and to prevent us from just becoming a passive audience. If you're going to post on any story, let it be this one, and tell me your story. We need to know.For this request to make sense, I need to make a distinction between not commenting, and lurking. Lurking is people who have user accounts, but don't sign in, never moderate and never post, even on topics that interest them. They are someone who is completely passive on the other site. Its fine that people comment on every single article; even at my most active on the other site, I posted at best one a month. A lot of people just like to read the comments, and perhaps moderate.

There is nothing wrong with that; those people are still part of the community even if they don't speak often. We've had two stories yesterday that broke 100 comments: Moderation: Discussing !(post^moderate) and OK Cupid Protests Against Mozilla CEO. Looking back at the history, nearly every single article we've run discussing the site broke the hundred comment mark. This is incredible because as of writing, we only have 4007 user accounts total, and slashcode reports seeing 54,620 unique IPIDs* for yesterday.

By chance, Slashdot ran the same article at roughly the same time as we did: OKCupid Warns Off Mozilla Firefox Users Over Gay Rights. This is what made me sit up and take notice. Slashdot does not post their stats publicly, but when DICE acquired Freenet, they posted some rough numbers in the official press release. From that article:

Slashdot, a user-generated news, analysis, peer question and professional insight community. Tech professionals moderate the site which averages more than 5,300 comments daily and 3.7 million unique visitors each month.

As I said before, we don't have a really good idea on the number of unique IPIDs visiting the site, but we do have solid numbers for our daily comment counts. Here's the graph as generated by slashcode for a biweekly period:

Biweekly Comment Count Graph

(due to a quirk in slashcode, the graphs don't update until 48 hours later; our comment count for 04/01 was 712 comments total).

Taking in account averages, we're roughly getting a little less than 10% of Slashdot's comment counts, with a considerably smaller user base. As I said, the OkCupid story made me take notice. Here's the comment counts at various scores between the two sites

         | SoylentNews | Slashdot.org |
---------------------------------------
Score -1 |         130 |         1017 |
Score  0 |         130 |         1005 |
Score  1 |         109 |          696 |
Score  2 |          74 |          586 |
Score  3 |          12 |           96 |
Score  4 |           4 |           64 |
Score  5 |           1 |           46 |
---------------------------------------
Furthermore, I took a look at UIDs on the other site, the vast majority of comments came from 6/7 digit UID posters. Looking at CmdrTaco's Retirement Post as well as posts detailing the history of the other site most of the low UIDs are still around, and are simply in perma-lurk mode.

Here's the rub. If Slashdot is really getting 3.7 million unique visitors per month, and there most popular articles only get to 1000-2000 comments (Taco's retirement, and the Audience Responses post both reached 2k), then Slashdot's readership is passive. Like, insanely passive. Let's assume that the average poster posts 5 comments a month (which is an extremely conservative estimate in my opinion). then out of those 3.7M unique visitors, only one person out of a thousand (1060 to be specific) is posting a comment. That's a horrendous ratio, especially for a site that allows anonymous postings.

I don't think this is inherent to the site itself; if we are getting 100-250k unique users (and I don't think its anywhere close to that high), then our numbers are still drastically better than Slashdot's. I suspect for every 100 users, one is posting, and if not, they're at least moderating or using the site. On average, we float 200-300 logged in users at a time, spiking up to 800-1000 in the evenings. On April 1st, we saw 3842 unique users logged in every day (out of 4007!).

I don't want this site to become a passive audience, I want people to be involved, and active in the site. This doesn't mean posting, but moderating, or at the very least, browsing while logged in. I suspect the vast majority of us were in the perma-lurk mode on the other site before coming here, and I want to know why. Tell me your stories so we can be a community, and not just a website with an audience. Let me hear them loud and clear, and tell me if I'm wrong; let me know if you were one of the most active posters on the other site, and if so, what sense of community did you feel over there.

* - due to the way we use varnish for ACs, the number of unqiue IPID per day is likely far higher it is in actuality. Due to our setup, the backend only sees one AC every five minutes + all logged in users.

 
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  • (Score: 1) by LordFrito on Wednesday April 02 2014, @03:52PM

    by LordFrito (3821) on Wednesday April 02 2014, @03:52PM (#24930)

    Long time /. lurker. By the time I actually read the post, it's already full of comments, and anything I would want to say has already been said. And here I am again late to the game, saying the same thing everyone else is saying.

    That said, I didn't mind being a lurker *that* much. As a 40+ career engineer/techno-geek who's seen it all, I can talk competently about "technology and stuff that matters". I find tremendous value in listening in on conversations of other like minded people having intelligent discussions about the modern technological state. Lately there seem to be fewer and fewer places online that appeal to me, fewer sites that have anything to say, fewer sites I check regularly. So even though I'd love to be an active contributor, I am happy being a lurker as long as the site stays relevant to me.

    The point I think that is worth making, however, is that, if this site becomes successful, it runs a real risk of inviting in what I'd call "the worst of slashdot" and the rest of the internet. When a site reaches a critical mass it tends to draw in trolls and "pedantic, condescending turd sandwiches" as someone here put it. I'd really hate to see that happen here.

    Online communities are started by a passionate group of people who contribute more to the site than they take, making the whole much greater than the sum of its parts. With enough hard work and a little luck the site grows and draws in others. But once a site reaches a critical mass, the profiteers (hello DICE) and non-contributors begin to arrive, and the site becomes filled with corporate propaganda and group-think, to the point where the people who built/loved the site give up and leave. We've seen it happen to Digg. It's happening to Reddit. Will it happen here?

    I don't know what you call it: monetization, lowest common denominator, the race to the bottom, what have you, but it seems to me that with every year that goes by it seems the content on the internet gets worse and worse. The promise of the internet seems to have been co-opted by powerful forces that do not share the goals or sentiments of the people that built the network in the first place. I can't help but feel that the internet has just become a platform for corporations and the ruling class to disseminate their lies/propaganda/double speak to keep the masses in check. It's a post-modern version of "bread can circuses". I find this trend greatly troubling -- which again is why I value the discussion and perspectives found on sites like Soylent/Slashdot. These sites keep me informed as to what is *really* going on behind the scenes. Communities like this are a very important part of keeping the powers that be "in-check".

    I do know that part of the problem is that the lurkers tend to stand by idly while the bad seeds slowly take over. I also know that those who do take action (overzealous moderators, the most passionate users) may in fact be the biggest contributors to the group-think problem, forcing everyone to toe the line. If any site is going to overcome these obstacles, it needs to address the above two points.

    I don't have the answers. How do we leverage the power of the lurking class to keep this site healthy and relevant? I'm starting to feel that "free discussion" with a low barrier of entry may be part of the problem -- I don't *want* to listen to most people, they have very little to say, so why give them a low barrier of entry? Maybe a subscription based model is the solution, building an environment where most trolls and PR shills find it's not worth their time to pay to play. But how do you do this and still keep it cheap enough not to be a burden on the actual contributors? Maybe some form of meritocracy is the solution -- but who gets to make that decision?

    I believe in the premise that "information wants to be free". But it's gotten to the point where I'd be more than happy to pay if I could find a healthy site that can continually foster these kinds of discussions. And I never thought I'd say that.

  • (Score: 1) by http on Wednesday April 02 2014, @04:30PM

    by http (1920) on Wednesday April 02 2014, @04:30PM (#24969)

    If any site supported by advertising becomes more broadcast oriented instead of participation oriented, it MUST become a race to the bottom. Cf. "Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television", J. Mander.

    --
    I browse at -1 when I have mod points. It's unsettling.
    • (Score: 2) by NCommander on Wednesday April 02 2014, @05:08PM

      by NCommander (2) Subscriber Badge <michael@casadevall.pro> on Wednesday April 02 2014, @05:08PM (#25022) Homepage Journal

      We will only run adversing on this site as an absolute last resort, after requests for donations and such have all failed, and there is no other way to keep us up. I still owe the community a manifesto. Please bear with me, I've got a million things to do, and a million obligations to fulfil.

      --
      Still always moving
      • (Score: 1) by LordFrito on Wednesday April 02 2014, @06:25PM

        by LordFrito (3821) on Wednesday April 02 2014, @06:25PM (#25068)

        Well as I said I'd be willing to pay a small fee for a subscription. I think it's the only real way to avoid the advertising model. That or find some "benevolent benefactors" -- which of course you are ultimately beholden to.

        • (Score: 2) by fliptop on Wednesday April 02 2014, @08:34PM

          by fliptop (1666) on Wednesday April 02 2014, @08:34PM (#25149) Journal

          Well as I said I'd be willing to pay a small fee for a subscription

          This thread got me thinking about voting and how politics has become a race to the bottom. Take property taxes, for example. All property owners pay them. In my county, most of the money goes to the school system.

          However, those that run for school board are elected by all voters, whether they're property owners or not. Those that vote but don't own property don't care if taxes go up because they don't pay them (well, they do, if their landlord raises their rent, but most don't make the connection). As a consequence my county's schools are well funded, in fact they practically have money to burn, but the education quality is poor. The kids are catered to in a way that doesn't encourage them to actually learn but instead teaches them to do the bare minimum to "get by."

          My point being that, maybe the subscription model would work if only subscribers were given mod points. Since they have skin in the game, and want a high quality SN website, it would be akin to just the property owners voting for school board members. Just my $0.02.

          --
          Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.
          • (Score: 1) by LordFrito on Wednesday April 02 2014, @11:48PM

            by LordFrito (3821) on Wednesday April 02 2014, @11:48PM (#25252)

            maybe the subscription model would work if only subscribers were given mod points. Since they have skin in the game...

            Exactly! Skin in the game is exactly what I'm talking about.

            Totally free discussion with no barrier to entry leads to lowest common denominator discussion - think writing on bar bathroom walls. The trolls ruin it for everyone. Unfortunately it's in our nature, check out this link http://www.slate.com/articles/health_and_science/c limate_desk/2014/02/internet_troll_personality_stu dy_machiavellianism_narcissism_psychopathy.html [slate.com]

            Now if I owned (or was part owner of) those walls, I'd have a lot more motivation to make sure the walls stayed clean and useful. Not having skin in the game is one post-modern societies biggest problems.

            Like all things in life, going to far in the opposite direction doesn't help either. Hopefully we get it together before too long.

  • (Score: 1) by Serial_Priest on Wednesday April 02 2014, @04:31PM

    by Serial_Priest (2493) <{accusingangel} {at} {autistici.org}> on Wednesday April 02 2014, @04:31PM (#24972)

    Further to the idea of the Internet amplifying existing power structures, you might be interested in Bruce Schneier's essay on the subject: http://en.collaboratory.de/w/Power_in_the_Age_of_t he_Feudal_Internet [collaboratory.de]

    • (Score: 1) by LordFrito on Wednesday April 02 2014, @04:55PM

      by LordFrito (3821) on Wednesday April 02 2014, @04:55PM (#25001)

      Great article thanks for the link

  • (Score: 1) by kevinl on Wednesday April 02 2014, @04:57PM

    by kevinl (3951) on Wednesday April 02 2014, @04:57PM (#25007)

    The promise of the internet seems to have been co-opted by powerful forces that do not share the goals or sentiments of the people that built the network in the first place. I can't help but feel that the internet has just become a platform for corporations and the ruling class to disseminate their lies/propaganda/double speak to keep the masses in check.

    Absolutely yes. I'm 37 myself and was first online in the BBS era, then migrated to the 'Net when it was still NSFnet. I remember Canter and Spiegel's first Usenet spam.

    I think the only long-term solution will be user-controlled Internet. I wrote a rather lengthy piece [launchpad.net] about it a while ago, but have yet to find time to seriously implement anything. Perhaps Reddit's Meshnet will get there for the physical nodes, with RetroShare-over-I2P for the software stack.

    • (Score: 1) by LordFrito on Wednesday April 02 2014, @06:23PM

      by LordFrito (3821) on Wednesday April 02 2014, @06:23PM (#25067)

      I think the only long-term solution will be user-controlled Internet. I wrote a rather lengthy piece about it a while ago

      Read your article. I absolutely love the promise of encrypted darknets combined with radio meshnets to circumvent centralized control structures and return the network to what it was in the first place. However I'm quite skeptical this will ever happen.

      The #1 question: will the powers that be allow it? Until the darknets reach a magic "critical mass" where the general public see benefit and supports it, they may remain a marginalized tech experiment at best. I think they will be tolerated only until they get large enough to pose a significant threat to the existing power structures. The mainstream press surrounding darknets isn't exactly positive (silk road, etc), so it won't take a tremendous political effort ("save the puppies" act) to shut them down by any means available (outlaw encryption, outlaw use of radio space in this way).

      The surveillance state we've built is extremely effective, to the point where we have to question whether commonly used encryption methods are themselves compromised -- the cat's out of the bag and I'm not sure it's going back in -- so I don't think it'll be as easy to bootstrap a new secure / encrypted network and have it tolerated for long. The nerds were ignored for a long time, but we aren't any longer, and what we build belongs to them.

      I think the following is much more likely: http://boingboing.net/2012/01/10/lockdown.html [boingboing.net]. The walled garden taken to it's logical extreme.

      A few years ago when I dabbled in iPhone programming I was suprised to find the serial port was blocked and I needed permission from Apple (via a security chip and corporate agreement) to use it! We were developing some sales demos that ran on the phone (give the app to potential customers and have them plug it into our product). Apple basically said no to us getting access to the security chips (app was not a product = no volume sales = they aren't interested in playing with us). Now I've been using serial ports for decades -- it's primitive low speed tech -- I couldn't believe that I needed their permission to use it! So I tried building a software modem (using the phones microphone jack) to circumvent -- only to find they had locked this down as well. Bluetooth was designed as a wireless UART -- except that Apple blocked the generic bluetooth UART protocol as well). The only way in was via a WiFi socket, as they have to support TCP/IP. I'm convinced apple would have blocked that as well if they could have and still had a viable product.

      There may not be many tinkerers in the future -- I can see a day where you'll need some sort of government license to actually be able to play with a general purpose computer. It's their network, built for their surveillance, we access it with their permission, using their protocols, and can only run software they approve. Try bootstrapping something on top of that.

      • (Score: 1) by kevinl on Wednesday April 02 2014, @08:26PM

        by kevinl (3951) on Wednesday April 02 2014, @08:26PM (#25144)

        I'm pretty skeptical too, honestly. I originally started NIB as a way to say "there were some awesome components of the BBS world that would rock hard if they existed on modern networks", but more recently I'm seeing lockdown as the likely future too. Really what did it was seeing Reddit go all jingo bananas regarding both the NSA and Crimea. If it had been 1994 on Usenet, I think there would have been a lot more people arguing for Snowden as a hero ala Phil Zimmerman, and also for less recycled Cold War narrative on Putin. If something like Meshnet/RetroShare/NIB really took off using only end-user hardware, I'm sure it would be outlawed.

        I used to be interested in picking up iPhone or Android programming, but over time I'm back to a dumbphone and might even lose that. I'm now turning my cell phone off over the weekends just to have some real private time as it was 20 years ago.

        • (Score: 1) by LordFrito on Thursday April 03 2014, @12:18AM

          by LordFrito (3821) on Thursday April 03 2014, @12:18AM (#25262)

          Really what did it was seeing Reddit go all jingo bananas

          Yeah I think the writing is on the wall with Reddit. I think the slide will be slow, but in a few years it will be just another wasted opportunity like Facebook. Shame too cause for a while I really held out hope for that site.

          I'm now turning my cell phone off over the weekends just to have some real private time as it was 20 years ago

          Hey I'm with you there. The funny thing is that seriously miss the days of usenet, geocities, and ugly as hell websites. The internet back then was an exciting adventure -- you never knew where the next link would take you.

          I'm tired of Facebook. I'm tired of shiny touchscreens. I'm tired of apps. It's all form and no substance. I feast on information daily, only to find out that I'm starving. The Zero Theorem anyone? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RyMSRRNHRos [youtube.com]

  • (Score: 2) by NCommander on Wednesday April 02 2014, @05:00PM

    by NCommander (2) Subscriber Badge <michael@casadevall.pro> on Wednesday April 02 2014, @05:00PM (#25013) Homepage Journal

    I'd like to think this fate is avoidable. Debian is a massive project with 10k+ developers, and yet shit moves well. Now if we got to 100k/1M/10M, then maybe our S/N ratio will take a shit, but I'd like for us to develop something relatively similiar to subreddits, so that if the main index collapsing under its own weight, users won't leave the site entirely. More in a future story.

    --
    Still always moving
    • (Score: 1) by LordFrito on Wednesday April 02 2014, @06:30PM

      by LordFrito (3821) on Wednesday April 02 2014, @06:30PM (#25069)

      I'd like to think this fate is avoidable.

      I'm glad you see it that way, otherwise you'd be the wrong guy for the job! Not saying it's impossible, just that we need to stay one step ahead of what the short history of the internet has shown us. It's far far easier to plan head than to react too late.
      I'm glad you guys are taking such a proactive stance on this stuff. I love this site and what you guys are trying to do with it and I hope it suceeds in the areas where Slashdot failed.