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posted by NCommander on Wednesday April 02 2014, @08:35AM   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 | |
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: 4, Interesting) by Phoenix666 on Wednesday April 02 2014, @12:36PM

    by Phoenix666 (552) on Wednesday April 02 2014, @12:36PM (#24979)

    Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid [] had a great and compelling idea wherein it said that somewhere in the replication and elaboration of simple patterns a sort of entanglement occurs and magic happens. That's a bit how this online community thing works. The simple elements of a forum, the ability to comment, moderate, etc., are ubiquitous, but those that become communities are rarer. Slashdot had it once, and then they broke it. They messed with it and messed with it until it collapsed, almost in the way you might mess with a network by randomly removing nodes until you cross a threshold and the network decoheres into disconnected sub-networks. For me, Beta was the final straw. Low UIDs came out of the woodwork with me to protest loudly that it would be the final straw if they persisted, but persist they did. They simply stopped listening to the community and forgot that the community was the value in the site.

    I read Slashdot almost from the beginning. I was fresh out of grad school and had a low 3-digit UID, but the job market back then (as now) sucked and I moved around a lot looking for a break and lost the credentials. By the time I found some stability and re-engaged I had a low 5-digit UID. I always logged in, commented frequently, moderated when I got mod points, and submitted a lot of stories in the early going that were never accepted. The last did not bother me that much because I always learned more from other people's comments than I'm sure anyone ever learned from mine. And that made me feel more loyal to that community than I've ever felt toward any other community in my life, including my church and my masonic lodge. I felt that being part of that community made me a better person than I could ever be on my own. The discussion after Columbine there was a real watershed--all the rage that had bottled up inside me through the years of being a bullied kid in public school and which remained under the surface so many years later came out and seeing so many others there do the same sealed my affection for my peers on the site. It was more powerful than the discussion after 9/11, and I live in Brooklyn and witnessed that happen first hand. When CmdrTaco resigned, I felt like I had lost a brother. Isn't that funny? I never met the guy, but he felt like a member of my family.

    A lot of the other folks commenting on this topic have covered the mechanical aspects, the technical aspects of what made the other site work or not work, and what should be done or not done on Soylent, but I thought I'd speak to the emotional dimension for me that makes all that stuff turn into something that matters and that endures. There is the rational, pragmatic value of what we learn intellectually from each other in a group like this, and then there are the affective ties of shared experience, and the complex dynamic of sameness/otherness/huh?-ness that embroiders that. The former is formed by our individual efforts, collectively experienced here and consists of each of us taking time to comment, moderate, submit stories, contribute to development, or even come to the financial rescue as that blessed anonymous member did. It requires some sacrifice of something--time, effort, money, etc to come true. The latter happens organically along the way and is already happening in the best way it could.

    And in that respect Soylent is already for me four times the community that Slashdot ever was in its heyday. I asked Soylent a question about mass linux installations for my daughter's school in Brooklyn last week and not only did it make the front page, (which would never have happened on Slashdot), but got such amazing feedback that I'm still working through the various recommendations (FOG Server, Foreman/Puppet, DRBL, OEM installation + Pre-Seeding) to see which will work best in the situation. (As an aside, NCommander, thank you for the gracious offer to help while you're in New York. I would hate to suck you into the slippery slope of helping somebody out, but would still like to buy you a beer for all the hard work you've done on Soylent--lemme know when/where). I mean, I'm hooked. Since I first registered on the site, I deleted all my Slashdot bookmarks and have never once looked back.

    That leads me to a thought of how Soylent can extend and preserve that community quality as it grows. Slashdot's submission queue devolved into a republishing machine gamed by PR firms and marketers trying to get as much viral lift for their press releases as possible. There was almost nothing on it that was not originally sourced from a newspaper or said PR/market droids. But submissions like mine I mentioned above not only have a real effect on real people, but have extensibility because maybe somebody in Billings, MT, might be trying to do the same thing at their kid's school. More than that, I think about the DIY/Maker movement I also participate in and know there is a vast ocean of innovation happening right now all around us, all of which is flying under the media/PR radar. I know this community comprises those same tinkerers and creators too, and if we can get posts from even 5% of those of us who are working on projects like that then we'll have more bleeding edge tech talk and innovation and community happening here than anywhere else on the Intertubes.

    Starting Score:    1  point
    Moderation   +2  
       Interesting=2, Total=2
    Extra 'Interesting' Modifier   0  
    Karma-Bonus Modifier   +1  

    Total Score:   4  
  • (Score: 2) by NCommander on Wednesday April 02 2014, @12:56PM

    by NCommander (2) <> on Wednesday April 02 2014, @12:56PM (#25002) Homepage Journal

    You know, its funny. I got involved with SN with one line in ##altslashdot: "Hey guys, I've run slash before, need some help?". I probably should be more careful :-).

    The more I dig into slashdot and slashcode, the more I realize the decline and fall of the other site. I don't like to shit on other people, but having really dug into the history of both /. and /code, I'm somewhat disturbed on how it came. DICE might have done us a huge favor, it was the breaking point to split. I wasn't around in the true hayday of the other site, but I lurked for a fair bit before I signed up (I vaguely remember Jon Katz), and I suspect Slashdot could be used as an example on how NOT to build a website. It was really "right time, right place". We've actually had a bit of contact with one of the original slash guys, and got an apology (plus some amazement) that we got the monster to dance.

    For instance, I've always hated the interview format on the other site; it reads like fucking press releases (and has since 2003), so I plan to experiment with it, make it more interesting. I'm mentally getting to the point that if it comes to it, I'm willing to throw moderation entirely and rebuild it from the ground up to have a good S/N ratio. The thing is that most websites just have a discussion system, but don't seem to care much about it (at best you get a reddit like +/-). Sites like ars, with small communities can manage just fine. The trick is, can you have a large community and still have an outstanding S/N ratio?

    Still always moving ...
    • (Score: 2) by Phoenix666 on Wednesday April 02 2014, @11:54PM

      by Phoenix666 (552) on Wednesday April 02 2014, @11:54PM (#25325)

      The trick is, can you have a large community and still have an outstanding S/N ratio?

      On a technical level in a discussion forum you need defenses against trolls and deliberate sabotage. The /. moderation system and meta-moderation systems do a pretty good job at that, I feel. There's the other aspect of the S/N ratio, though, that comes down to how many lame/insulting/poorly thought-out comments vs. high quality ones. Without affective ties, shared experience, shared values, and all the other components of human socialization that work to keep us civil and engaged in the real world it's difficult to get a handle on it. For example in the early days of Usenet flamewars would rage and rage for months; the vi vs. emacs holy war is legendary. Slashdot's culture grew organically--it was not planned--but once it had achieved critical mass it became reasonably good at resisting shills and even learned how to incorporate the occasional silliness and missteps into memes and inside jokes that made it stronger. We all know many of them here, such as goatse or hot grits, or the Soviet Russia jokes and the "you insensitive clod!" punchlines. So the efforts we all make now, early on, to encourage the development of such a culture by helping each other out and encouraging good behavior will pay massive dividends on a practical level for years.

      So, I think what you're considering with revamping interviews could be a really excellent plank in that platform. I would be particularly interested in interviews of other members of the site, because I know many of them work in areas that are fascinating. For example in one of the stories today about the best first programming language one guy self-identified as a neuroscientist; Last September at the NY Maker's Faire I heard a lecture by a DARPA team that's working on neural interfaces and since then I've been fascinated by its applications and the potential for neural augmentation, and it would be great to put questions to somebody with subject matter expertise about it. Perhaps a good starting point would be to survey the community, bubble up a half-dozen topics/areas people are curious about, and see if there are any takers who can speak to them. I think that sets the process up for more success than the way Slashdot would do it, which was to randomly materialize someone on the home page that people weren't prepared to put questions to.

      And it seems like doing this stuff is not about re-coding the moderation system, but about putting a slightly different English on the ball.

      Anyway, from what I've seen so far, we're in good shape on all these fronts.