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Brett Stevens
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There's two aspects to what you're doing here. The first is the software itself. Discussion software may have peaked in the 1980s with dial-up BBS forums, which had many useful features and even more importantly integration of those features into a discernible process, and much of this was lost in the 1990s transition to web software. Remember Matt's Scripts? The second is community management. Having watched Facebook, Digg, Reddit and Hacker News, my conclusion is that most people imitate the successful acts of others from the outside-in. That is, someone has a reason to make a post; others see this post is liked, and so they imitate its form and do not take into account its content and the choices made based on that content that determine its form. Thus you get threads where 5% of the responses are significant, and the rest are people behaving like monkeys yammering out repeated memes, conventions, stylistic flourishes, demands for attention, etc. I guess my golden rule is that anything I can script should not be included in the forum. That is, if we all must repeat some line from Seinfeld every time someone makes a grammar correction, I can probably code up a Perl script to watch for grammar-correction-style language and have it post the appropriate gag in response. People shouldn't be doing that for me; it's inefficient. :) I hope "Discourse" succeeds. I am skeptical of the voting element however. What makes Stack Overflow succeed, and this seems unacknowledged in your post, is that it is based on a technical topic and on finding a clear answer. That separates it from, say, Slashdot, where the goal is "discussion" (a means, now serving as a goal) on that topic. By putting the clear answer requirement into discussion, you impose a goal, and thus discussion again becomes a means and not an end in itself. Finding out how to impose that requirement on discussion will lead you to a better form of computer-mediated communication (CMC). I used to think voting systems were the answer, but having watched Reddit turn into a self-censorship circle based on community self-imitation, I don't trust that. I'm even skeptical of Hacker News upvoting because crowd "knowledge" is bad with low-commitment activities like voting, and it encourages imitative behavior as well. In the case of Stack Overflow, I think the success is not the voting but the fact that the answers can be verified by whether they work or not.
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Feb 6, 2013