Wednesday, April 04, 2007

One-Sided Discussions

I posted this on one of EdNA's Network discussion lists (they're basically closed so there's no point linking).

Without wanting to stir up the old blog-vs-discussions debate (both approaches have their merits, etc...) I do want to point to a phenomenon I've noticed happens a lot in discussion lists.

And it is this: the same few people, through sheer volume of posting, tend to dominate every discussion.

And there's no way around it - you can't blot them out, you can't read around them, you can't compete by adding more posts (not only because you don't have time, but because they'll answer to them as well).

It's not that the people who are posting a lot are saying anything that's bad or wrong, it's just that the board eventually becomes a non-stop advertisement for their point of view (or their favorite arguments among each other).

I've notice that this happens on mailing lists, sometimes even if they're moderated, and on web-based discussions, like this one. And, yes, I've noticed it here (you know who you are).

One of the reasons I have come to favour an environment where each person posts in his or her own space is that I can be selective about my reading. If someone posts just way too much stuff (and yes, there are people like that in the blogosphere) I can tune them out without missing the one post by some very infrequent poster.

I haven't found a solution to the problem in mailing lists and discussion areas. And unlike mailing lists and things like Google Groups, which allow me to sign off, I can't even sign off the discussions (I have actually tried several times when the volume of one-note messages got to me too much for me, but like the fabled cat, it keeps coming back).

I value the discussion - I always value discussion - but I am so tired of hearing the same things from the same voices over and over. And - given the inevitability that someone is now taking this personally - don't take this personally - this is something that has happened in every list I have ever joined. It's always someone, and in this case, it just happens to be you.

Anyhow, I just thought I'd post this. Not because any particular thing got my goat. But because it was irritating - and if it's irritating, that's generally a good sign that there's something lurking there that needs to be discussed.

Over to all of you...

3 comments:

  1. Yeah I definitely agree. I think the same is true for most social software sites and tools (like digg, wikipedia, online forums/bulletin boards, etc.). Other sites even reward such users by posting their stats.

    See for example this post from just yesterday that is in a similar vein, but about digg:
    http://higheredchat.blogspot.com/2007/04/digg-is-broken.html

    If it wasn't for digest versions, I probably wouldn't even subscribe to any mailing lists at all. Some mailing lists even that doesn't improve things. Art Siegel used to dominate the python edu-sig list with his point of view. That only stopped when he recently passed away.

    That's why blogs and (smaller) wikis are nice. Blogs give everyone their own space, and wikis reduce the ownership/soapboxing issue somewhat.

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  2. I like discussions that work. The last time I was in one was probably on the Well, sometime in the early 90's. (Actually that's not true...some highly technical boards I'm on have good, highly technical discussions).

    It seems to me that most online discussions are a race to the bottom, to see who can post the first "zinger" that turns the who thing rancid.

    On just about any public board, the first few posts are on point, but very shortly after that, they either become redundant or abusive, and create a layer of noise that's almost impossible to permeate with quality responses.

    The only discussions not like this are usually moderated by humans, with a strong sense of social purpose, and an ability to apply discipline in a fair and reasonable manner.

    It seems to be a technology/process failure. Online discussion don't provide the immediate human feedback (a wry face, a person turning away and heading for the poo-poo table, a rolling of the eyes) that a human conversation has.

    I keep thinking that developing a "civilization filter" might help the process --- a weighted 5-10 value filter that users could apply to each post so that irrelevant posts go away, and the only way to post a relevant note would be to conform to the norms of that particular civilization. I've always thought the Slashdot moderation process to weak, and the "was this relevant" ranking schemes only useful in a few contexts (mostly technical).

    I'd say there's lots of room for big improvements in computer-mediated communications to better mimic the attributes of human interaction.

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  3. My local professional group, CEGSA, has a space within edna and after Mike Seyfang recently addressed our AGM, two new topics were put up for discussion in the forum. Not wanting to be someone who isn't supportive of what my own organisation wants to achieve, and having a few viewpoints to share, I posted on both topics. The frustrating thing is that it's limited to only members of CEGSA and only those who even visit the edna space will even read what I've written. Even though I am a small fry in the edublogosphere, compare that with my blog, which has about 150 Bloglines subscribers (I know that just because someone subscribes doesn't mean they are reading!) which is open to anyone and will regularly gather responses from a variety of people and places. The reality is that most CEGSA members don't read my blog so if I want to influence that community, I need to participate in discussion in spaces set up for that group. But the CEGSA forum is a closed space, hosted by another closed space, edna and the conversation is contained within those walls. It amuses me that many of the dominating voices in some of the forums (and I've been following the forum you refer to for a while) claim that either blogs aren't their thing or they don't see how they could offer anything better than forums. They really do see the forum as "their space" when it's meant to belong to the group. Maybe they're the people who get a puzzled look on their faces when you mention "networks" - which is ironic considering the forum's title!

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I welcome your comments - I'm really sorry about the moderation, but Google's filters are basically ineffective.