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The discussion on the Pebble story got me thinking about ways that could promote “better” story submissions without defining what they should be.

As a thought experiment:

What if in order to post a story one had to have a ratio of posted stories to comments, where perhaps the person gets a few submissions for free on joining.

My thoughts:

  • The stories I tend to dislike the most here are those where the person posting does not engage with the community at all. These are people with high submission counts and very low comment counts. Sometimes these are people that just dump a lot of stories on here, sometimes it’s people trying to make a brand for themselves, sometimes it’s automated.
  • This would make it so that someone has to pay the toll in interacting with the community in order to publish things, it forces people to be more engaged and not just dumping stories.
  • Depending on the ratio, it would force people to be more considerate about what content they post and, hopefully, choose the higher quality posts.
  • It’s not clear to me what the right ratio is.
  • Maybe comment count isn’t the right choice but karma?

What do other people think the strengths and weaknesses would be?


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    Starting from 2772:709, I would never be able to submit another story.

    I think this is probably overkill and voting works ok.

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      Perhaps the karma or comment count should be tracked since the time the system is introduced, as it’s a bit unfair to change the rules in mid-flight. Maybe you shouldn’t post so many stories? Maybe that’s ok? It depends on what people want out of the place.

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      Karma sounds like a reasonable gambit, but I’ve always found ratio systems indicative of unpleasant social dynamics, re: admin vs users.

      One problem with any system is that it attracts people suited to gaming that particular system. If you’re not careful you end up farming precisely the behaviors you started out trying to avoid.

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        I’m glad I’m not the only one who sees it this way!

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          Agreed. Determined spammers are just going to post spammy comments to keep themselves over the ratio. I could see limiting the frequency of submissions perhaps, but not some kind of magic ratio.

          Counting absolute karma is also problematic because clickbait submissions often garner significant karma, as do “general interest” submissions which so many people here wish to avoid.

          IMHO math can’t solve these problems because bad actors can do math just as well as good actors. There’s no substitute for moderation (to stop abuse and true “spammers”) and community feedback (voting). And if the community evolves and loses its appeal you just have to find a new community. That’s how many of us ended up here: we got sick of HN and moved on.

          Afterthought: comment karma / submission karma might be interesting since, presumably, it would be difficult to “farm” comment karma. On the other hand, there might be strategies I haven’t thought of.

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            The way to farm comment karma is by making cheap one-line jokes that derail the conversation. Cursory perusal of Reddit will show what this does to a community.

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            Yourself, @sl, and @irene have referenced this idea of incentive systems bad. It’s easy to knockdown any change simply because there are bad examples of change.

            Could (any of) you provide a more constructive response? What sort of outcomes do you think are possible with this and why and could they be mitigated? It’s not like lobste.rs is incentive-free at the moment, the front page is a mix of high score and time, so the implication that any incentive system has unmanageable negative consequences is not a counter argument that I, personally, buy. It could be that they are not worth it, which is fine since I phrased this as a “What if”.

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              This is not going to sound very helpful, but I don’t have a good solution. The only uniformly positive outcome I’ve ever seen from moderation is the dedicated efforts of a tyrannical, single admin in a forum small enough to be managed manually by one person – the person who runs the forum. The reason it worked is because the forum came to reflect the tyrant’s sensibilities, which I judged tasteful. Obviously, a benevolent dictatorship cannot scale, and in any case is only as good as the dictator, who may go off the rails at any time without warning or recourse. What if this guy starts doing things I don’t like?

              I do think it is perfectly valid to observe a given effort is undesirable even if no decent alternative can be provided. This is sort of similar to saying “I don’t like eating turds” without ever giving turd-eating a fair chance, without bothering to cite a replacement menu to prove the point. (Note: I’m not calling OP a turd).

              That said, I do recognize that simply dismissing the idea without elaborating my own claims may be frustrating to the reader. I don’t think my own statement was quite so inflexible as “incentive systems bad,” just that it has been my direct experience that even when carefully applied this sort of thing can (sometimes subtly) backfire. How do we falsify success of a given incentive? Once employed, the culture adapts and integrates the mechanism into its fabric, making it difficult to clearly distinguish cause from effect. Scenario: A pattern of specific behavior becomes part of the definition of the environment – how do we remove the behavior from the environment without materially altering the experience for its constituents? How do you save the village without burning it down?

              I agree, these are tough questions and pithy answers probably won’t solve our problems.

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                Thank you for the thoughtful response. One reason I asked to elaborate on a response is because there are examples where a system has obvious flaws but with some thought those flaws can be managed. An example of this I have seen is money bonuses for work. Those definitely can incentivize negative behaviour but there are companies that have figured out how to make it work and benefit from it.

                To be clear, I am not saying my proposal is a solution to anything, it is explicitly phrased as a “What if”. At the same time, I think the basic response of “people will just post trash comments until they can submit a story” is a bit of an unfair response because these things wouldn’t happen in a vacuum. Someone who does that is likely going to have other problems with the members of the community as that behaviour comes out which might just make that problem go away naturally.

                Anyways, thanks again for the response.

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                  My answer is essentially - yes, those things wouldn’t happen in a vacuum; they’d be accompanied by long threads discussing the problem, and by moderator action as necessary, but ultimately it would be trying to fight against the tide and the sustainable solution would be to reverse the change.

                  Also, I think it sets up an adversarial relationship, when this doesn’t need to be something that puts people on two sides.

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                    You’re such a fatalist about it! I feel so much less sure that the output would be so bad, but I don’t have any evidence or proof behind it either. But you do point out something important: it could just be rolled back. I kind of wish lobste.rs would do more experiments like this and just roll them back if they don’t pan out. I still think that many of the people would just see it as too much effort with not enough reward. But could just as likely be wrong.

                    Also, I think it sets up an adversarial relationship, when this doesn’t need to be something that puts people on two sides.

                    In what way do you mean that? Currently one already needs some amount of karma to downvote someone, is that not an adversarial relationship? Or is it one but of low-enough impact that it’s ok?

                    What if I change the question to: even if you don’t like the idea what do you think you would need to do to give it the biggest chance of success?

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                      I think I do err on the side of being too fatalist, yes. Especially when I’m thinking “how to argue against this”, I tend to forget to say anything else. So, to correct that: If the community did want something like this, I wouldn’t start saying the sky was falling, I’d accept the decision and try to learn whatever could be learned from it. And yes, anything that’s changed can be changed back.

                      I had mixed feelings about the karma threshold, and I would personally have set it at 50 rather than 100, although I doubt it makes a big difference. Looking at karma is one of the ways that I have informally tried to get a sense for whether somebody was new here as well as whether they were engaging in good faith (it’s not the only thing I look at), and that’s where I have gotten my non-data-driven subjective sense of what the threshold should be.

                      I have observed that the pettier types of downvoting often came from people who can’t do that anymore because of the threshold. I think that it’s a good thing that that isn’t happening quite as much.

                      I would be upset at a higher threshold; I think the period that people spend participating before they get full privileges should be relatively short. I think right now it’s low enough for that. I don’t know that I would actually dislike the effects of a higher threshold if it happened, though, this is all speculation.

                      This might be a good time to add that I’m interested in how other people’s observations about the threshold for downvoting fit what I’ve said.

                      To address your revised question. :)

                      1. I would want the technical change to be accompanied by explanation somewhere discoverable, giving the rationale for it and explaining what types of participation are and aren’t okay for this purpose.
                      2. Instead of a ratio of comments to stories, I would implement it as “you must have made at least 10 comments in the past 60 days”. Using a long time period as the denominator is because there have been periods when I haven’t made 5 comments in 30 days! (Being bipolar is like that, but I think it’s reasonable to acknowledge that anyone might drift away for a while, and avoid discouraging them from coming back.) I would also encourage any discussion of that number to be informed by people looking at their own posting histories and checking whether they’ve posted as much as they think they have. :)
                      3. To encourage new users, I would give some sort of a grace period, as you suggest - something like “you are considered to have made 10 comments as of the moment of the first time you post a story”. I note that people normally lurk here for a long time before ever participating, so I wouldn’t tie that to join date.
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                        Thank you for the long, thoughtful, response. I like the idea of doing it over a time period rather than a ratio.

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                Could (any of) you provide a more constructive response?

                You don’t need a constructive response. You need me to spell out for you a short version of the destructive one because you can’t be bothered to read a whole Wikipedia page.

                Here we go: people are sneaky and when you incentivize B to promote A, they find a way to ignore A and just focus on B. When you require 10 comments per submission, people are not going to magically improve the quality of their submissions. They are just going to write 10 quick and shitty comments just to get what they want - access to submit a link.

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                  Your response is unnecessarily condescending. You’re not the only one that has read about incentive systems and is aware of the strengths and weaknesses of them. I’m providing a specific one and asking for feedback on it, not a general argument.

                  They are just going to write 10 quick and shitty comments just to get what they want - access to submit a link.

                  That is a possible outcome. What would be the consequences of that? Perhaps those people who write 10 shitty comments end up getting kicked off the site as has happened to other people that post garbage. So it could be a mechanism for making negative contributors more visible?

                  If you want to have a productive conversation about this idea then please feel free to seriously engage and respond with something with a bit more thought than the 1st-level idea. If not, your contribution isn’t really necessary as others have already brought up your point.

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                    Here, have an upvote so you can feel shitty about downvoting me ;-)

                    If you want to have a productive conversation

                    Not everything is about productivity, you silly fnord.