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    proposal to remove barriers to entry meta

When I joined this site there was a form where I asked for an invitation and a kind stranger let me in.

Now it seems we’ve become a silly organization where in order to become one, you need to know one (hints buried somewhere in the middle of the About page and somewhat clearer hints on the Login page, but it boils down to looking at a tree of usernames hoping you recognize one, then somehow find an associated email and ask the user for an invite).

Can we please tone down the madness and facilitate the access of people outside our social circle? This has nothing to do with spam prevention and you know it.

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    I love lobsters as it is now, and I like it even more than when I first joined. The front page has a steady stream of good techie tidbits, articles, and news without having to sort through a torrent of spam and flavor-of-the-year human interest stories. Growth will continue, and I welcome that.

    However, I would argue that controlled growth is not automatically a bad thing. The Tyranny of the Majority makes sites like this difficult to manage. And you can check the moderation log and see that a voting ring has already been squashed (admittedly this was not well concealed, but…).

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      I mean, I suppose I’m no longer really a newcomer and am not qualified to make a statement about whether we’re exclusionary, since I’m sure I’d be perceived as being among the people doing the excluding. I don’t think I am, though! I mean, anyone can send an invitation… even if one person takes a dislike to someone, there are many others who could invite them, and none of us regular users can veto that.

      I see the invitation system as a way to make sure the forum feels like a place with other people on it, not like a videogame with automated opponents. It requires everyone to have at least one human-oriented interaction as they join. As far as its impact on non-abusive users, that’s all it does.

      Social graphs are very highly connected, and I don’t see it as at all a limitation that somebody has to invite you. The only scenario I can conceive of where someone wouldn’t already know other programmers or where to find them is if they were a thirteen-year-old child just discovering an interest in programming. I tend to believe a child would still be able to get an invitation here if they didn’t try to pretend they were an adult and showed a clear understanding of how to behave politely.

      And, actually, when working as a teacher some years ago I had the saddening experience of mentoring an actual teenager who wanted to learn PHP (I was bemused at that particular choice, but wasn’t going to tell him not to), but found that anybody he asked for help would only respond with cursing and invective. He was trying to engage with the comment threads on the official documentation website, which were open to everyone. Lacking prior experience in how horrible people can be, he believed the lie that that meant they tried to include everyone, too.

      So I really don’t feel that completely open membership usually leads to the kind of community we want.

      (If anyone was as upset by that story as I was - I advised him about some other places to look. I don’t think lobste.rs existed at the time, and we’re no longer in touch. But it seemed to have a happy ending.)

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        I rather agree with Irene here–when I invite people here, or make an offer to invite them, I feel like it’s actually a bit more of folks that I know. It feels more intimate.

        Making it trivial for more jokers to setup shop doesn’t really do anything to help discussion, and it tends to invite all the problems of mass communities with no filters.

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          Social graphs are very highly connected, and I don’t see it as at all a limitation that somebody has to invite you.

          I actually found lobsters a bit hard to get an invite to, because my social graph seems not to overlap at all with the people here, even though (some of) my interests do. I’d read it on and off, and pinged two people I know IRL who I thought might be members, but it turned out they weren’t. I eventually got an invitation from someone I don’t know, when I ran across an HN user’s profile that had an open invitation to email for a lobsters invitation. I generally agree with the view that uncontrolled growth is a problem, but I’d be interested in ideas for how to jump across gaps between social-graph clusters.

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            I can see how that prevented you from easily signing up and how it might be off-putting to prospective users, but on the other hand, there are now two more people who probably said “what the hell is lobsters?” because you asked them about it, and who you can now invite. Also, the amount of effort you had to put in to get invited is an amount that some asshole troll or spammer might not put in to get to the site (like a much more thorough CAPTCHA).

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              I agree, I think on the whole the current policy is better than open signup. Was mostly thinking out loud about social graphs rather than criticizing the policy here. I’ve seen invitation-based systems work well elsewhere too, but also with this problem that some people you might actually want on the site aren’t very well connected to the initial social graph. But I don’t have an great solution to that to propose.

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              The general solution for discovering people you didn’t know you needed to know is Twitter. It would be awful for this kind of mutual education conversation, but it’s wonderful for what it’s for. Assuming you enjoy getting to know people through very short slices of life, anyway.

              Concretely, if you have a reasonable request you can say something like “please RT, can anyone invite me to lobste.rs, I’m friendly”. It doesn’t go exponential - it tends to take the shortest path to where it needs to be. Paradoxically, this works because everyone has curated a personal filter bubble.

              I guess my affection for the venue is showing. :) But I don’t know of a better place to ask for any sort of obscure help.

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                True, Twitter is good for that. I’ve built a reasonable network there, maybe 20-30 people I interact with who I didn’t know through personal connections and probably wouldn’t have met in another manner. But none of them overlap with lobsters either, I don’t think! I think the main problem is that it just draws from a different cultural milieu, mostly academia, since my Twitter was first jump-started from people I met at conferences. A lot of Danish people also, since until recently I was a prof in Copenhagen. My non-quantitative read is that the lobsters userbase is heavily American, especially from the U.S. tech industry, and less so made up of Europeans or academics, so having a network heavy on European academics makes overlaps less likely.

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                  Twitter seems to be all centered around whoever is graph-close to you. :) I can say that I have found it to be very geographically diverse. I think I follow one or two academics out of 900 people, heh.

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            Yes please and @jcs I knew no one on this site and was let in. I think the barrier is just high enough. I also sent invites to people I know because I was sure they would add constructively to the site. Exclusivity of this kind is a good thing. If one disagrees, there is Hacker News and Slashdot

            PS. @Sirocco there was a voting ring?!

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              The moderation log is linked from the bottom of every page, and shows a dozen or so bans for that a month ago. It doesn’t look like the users in question were around for very long, so hopefully not much damage done. I have to say that until I started skimming the log, I didn’t understand how hard @jcs worked on moderation!

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                I’m guessing it was more like sockpuppetry than a true voting ring, but yeah. The mod log is an interesting read over the last few days. Spammers are a Real Thing™ here.

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                    The next step is to clone the code and set up your own open site.

                    https://github.com/jcs/lobsters

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                        I don’t know you, so I’m assuming you are not just trolling, though your language makes me think you are. But the comparison here is of a bunch of people who have gotten together in some one’s house (@jcs) over a mutual interest. In this case the mutual interest is computation. They leave the door open because they like to meet new people and get new ideas - in computation. What you are complaining about is that the people in the house object to loud and aggravating people who barge in and throw furniture about and spray paint the walls and then talk loudly so no one else can listen. The people in the house are under no obligation to entertain this behavior. There are other houses (e.g. hackernews or slashdot) where the owners get some kind of benefit from this free for all. The loud people should go there.

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                          I pretty much feel that that’s correct. I’d add that diversity of opinions has been brought up as a possible concern. (It was brought up as part of what seemed like a strategy of complaining vaguely about everything until something stuck, but still.)

                          No community has an obligation to be open to outside ideas, I suppose unless it’s setting law or policy that affects non-members. But, in fact, lobste.rs has chosen to welcome different points of view. I happen to like that, and it’s part of why I come here.

                          I find complaints that it’s a homogenous group to be doubly upsetting: first, because it’s a voluntary gathering as you say and can be homogenous if it wants; and second, because it’s not homogenous anyway. :) I feel like both points are important.

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                              This is not a private house. This is a public forum. We do have mutual interests, but we also have diverging opinions that we gladly put to test every chance we have because we’re either proven right and we get a warm, fuzzy feeling or we’re proven wrong and we get to correct them.

                              Actually you have a street in a town mixed up with the inside of a house. This is actually not public property. (Actually even on a street, you can’t do whatever you want). But I suspect you know this.

                              No, I’m just complaining about a barrier to entry that would stop people like me: people that would not research and email strangers just to be part of an online community.

                              The barrier did not stop you.

                              I’m not sure how emailing a stranger for an invite - which is what I and many people on the side did to join - leads to me only associating with people who agree with me. There a risk the inviter takes because the invite may turn out to be a troll but as someone pointed out before, perhaps starting off with a human interaction increases the barrier to being a dick on the forum. We shall see, I guess. What people on this site (mostly) do have is a common, shared interest in computation. If I wanted a common shared interest in manufactured controversy AKA politics, I would go somewhere that is famous for that.

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                                I only wish politics were synonymous with manufactured controversy! Alas, the latter has a larger scope. :)

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                                No, I’m just complaining about a barrier to entry that would stop people like me: people that would not research and email strangers just to be part of an online community.

                                In the case of this site and this community, I don’t see that as too much work to do if you are interested in joining.

                                Now, you may think that this is a good thing, but ask yourself: what do you have to gain if you only associate with people that usually agree with you?

                                I do not view the “invitation only” state as causing an echo chamber here. Maybe it does in the general case, but I do not feel it has happened here. There are frequently discussions from a range of perspectives on the topics posted here.

                                As numerous people have said, you are already here. You are free to invite whoever you like. They each bring their own perspectives.

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                                    It’s not that it’s too much work, it’s that this is a loud and clear message that you’re not wanted.

                                    Okay, I guess this is the main disagreement.

                                    I did not view it that way before I had an account, and I do not think it sends that message now.

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                          Ich bin mir sicher, dass wir irgendwie zu verwalten.

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                      This has nothing to do with spam prevention and you know it.

                      It has everything to do with spam prevention. The whole reason the public invites were disabled was because of spam. (If it were about exclusivity, why would the public invite system have been implemented and enabled in the first place?)

                      I don’t really expect people to find users they know from the tree anymore, as it’s too big now. I follow a Twitter search for “lobste.rs” and most of the hits are from people posting “is anyone I know on lobste.rs that can send me an invitation”, to which someone that knows them replies and e-mails them an invitation.

                      Can we please tone down the madness

                      Can we please tone down the theatrics?

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                        When I was invited on the site, it was through a request to anyone on the site. Is it what you call public invites ? Maybe it could be enabled to accept such members for anybody having enough karma for some value of karma ?

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                          Yes, those were actually public requests for invitations. Now there’s no longer a way to do that, you have to locate and contact a lobste.rs member directly.

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                            k

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                              When I typed “echo chamber”, all I got back was chamber. I’m really confused now.

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                              You’re not being particularly helpful here.

                              Look, if you want to use the system, tell the 5 people you’ve invited so far (according to the users page) to invite people themselves. Be the change you want to see in the world, instead of being an ass (and as I say this as somebody with an extensive history of being an ass).

                              Also, how exactly does the invite-only thing create an echo chamber? I routinely mention lobste.rs on HN, and send people invites once I get to know them a little better or have a look at their posting history. There’s nothing stopping you from inviting more people that suit your tastes better.

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                                Also, how exactly does the invite-only thing create an echo chamber?

                                You gave a good response in another comment:

                                when I invite people here, or make an offer to invite them, I feel like it’s actually a bit more of folks that I know

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                                  I think @angersock’s “invite the people you know” statement still stands.. Invite people you think are anti-echo chamber!

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                                    “Folks that I know” is not the same as “folks that think the same as me”.

                                    My best friends are those with which I can have “agreeable disagreements”. Lobsters fits that bill. It is the least echo-filled chamber that I have been a part of and I hope it stays that way.

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                                      Folks that I know, often because they’ve reached out to me to invite them.

                                      I’m not claiming to know them well, or to agree with their views.

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                                    I think your existence here disproves your echo chamber statement.. If it was a true echo chamber.. you wouldn’t have a differing opinion. Then again.. maybe the down votes you received are the effects of said echo chamber!

                                    /me freaks out a little

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                                      Like I wrote in the description, I requested an invitation through the now disabled form and a stranger invited me. If I had to get an account now, I would probably give up.

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                                        If I had to get an account now, I would probably give up.

                                        It’s a trade off, pure and simple. Putting up barriers to entry means it’s harder for trolls and spammers to join. It also means it’s harder for legitimate potential contributors to join too. There are costs and benefits to this. Obviously, you disagree with this trade off, but it is a fundamental component of lobsters.

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                                  Hmm. Well, it seems like a concern worth having at least a short conversation about, even if not exactly brought up in a constructive way. I don’t feel like I should downvote this. I have a longer reply deeper in the thread. :)

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                                      While I doubt the sincerity of that remark, that doesn’t mean that its inverse holds, either.

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                                        @Irene Did you ever read the Asterix comic series? There is this character Tortuous Convolvulus http://www.comicvine.com/tortuous-convolvulus/4005-62170/ I’m surprised how often I find his reincarnations online …

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                                          Thank you for this, I love it. At least something good came out of this thread.

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                                            Labeling people instead of reasoning about ideas is a useful, although flawed, shortcut when you don’t have enough time to do it the hard way.

                                            But don’t make the mistake of adopting it for each and every interaction you have.

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                                              I had not. I have now read the Wikipedia summary of that issue. Thank you!

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                                        I am a relative (3 month) active newcomer to this site, and from my perspective getting on was a tougher than I would have hoped. The reason why is awkwardness, if you don’t know personally anyone already on here you have to random beg for invites on twitter or some other means – which feels to some people (myself included) TERRIBLE. Know someone or beg is an ugly set of options.

                                        I was lucky enough to find /u/itistoday post The Underground Lobster Railroad and it convinced me to reach out. The reasons were a few.. the first was that it was private, the second was that they actually wanted to see your comment history on other sites. These two things made me willing to reach out and ask for an invite and here I am.

                                        I feel like there is probably a way to allow positive people into the community with a little less awkwardness, possibly piggybacking off positive history on other sites (reddit, hacker news, etc).

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                                          I upvoted this post in the hope many users read it and come up with their own opinion on what should be considered good vs bad manners in this online community.

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                                            Wanted to say that I would have never joined had it not been for the open invitation system. I don’t really use social media, and none of my work colleagues were on lobsters.