Clay Shirky on the tension between usability and protecting the core community
This weekend, I was rereading this old Clay Shirky talk -- it's from 2003, but I think still very relevant to what the task force here is doing.
There are some quotes below, and the whole talk is available here http://shirky.com/writings/group_enemy.html.
I think what is most interesting here is what Clay says about the tension between usability and protecting the core community. Basically, he's saying that if you make it super-easy for new people to participate across-the-board (if you just rip out all barriers to participation), you risk the existing core community getting overwhelmed and destroyed. Clay argues for graduated layers of participation -- where some things are easy, but other things are inaccessible or hidden from view until the user has gained some experience.
I think this fits neatly with 1) the thinking FT2 and others are doing about creating a "senior editor" role, and 2) the thinking the usability project is doing about hiding advanced functionality from new people.
"It's pretty widely understood that anonymity doesn't work well in group settings, because "who said what when" is the minimum requirement for having a conversation. What's less well understood is that weak pseudonymity doesn't work well, either. Because I need to associate who's saying something to me now with previous conversations."
"[Y]ou have to design a way for there to be members in good standing. Have to design some way in which good works get recognized. The minimal way is, posts appear with identity. You can do more sophisticated things like having formal karma or "member since."
I'm on the fence about whether or not this is a design or accepting. Because in a way I think members in good standing will rise. But more and more of the systems I'm seeing launching these days are having some kind of additional accretion so you can tell how much involvement members have with the system."
"[Y]ou need barriers to participation. This is one of the things that killed Usenet. You have to have some cost to either join or participate, if not at the lowest level, then at higher levels. There needs to be some kind of segmentation of capabilities.
Now, the segmentation can be total -- you're in or you're out, as with the music group I just listed. Or it can be partial -- anyone can read Slashdot, anonymous cowards can post, non-anonymous cowards can post with a higher rating. But to moderate, you really have to have been around for a while.
It has to be hard to do at least some things on the system for some users, or the core group will not have the tools that they need to defend themselves."
I think there's a lot of merit in this idea.
Having totally free entry and exit may be good to grow the appendages of the community, but it can seriously damage the community's backbone. (How's that for a community health metaphor?) I've seen it even in big disputes, where you actually have 20 people locked in a controversial discussion for months, and eventually arrive at an agreement... and just as they're about to implement the changes, 15 more people jump in and say "no compromise!" Meanwhile, they weren't there for months trying to understand all the different issues in the debate, and trying to find a way to reconcile all of it. I'm not sure that we want to exclude people from discussions, but we know that it's impossible to hammer out a tough issue in the current environment.
And I think we can harmonize two goals here. Newbies often have a bad experience because they get into trouble. And the core community is often disrupted by editors who refuse to set aside their personal opinions to work together. A little bit of hierarchy would actually protect new users from misusing relatively advanced concepts, and also give a little more weight to our best volunteers to help them get things done.