Competing on moderation

In Google+, internet celebrities are again competing based on the size of their follower count. But I wonder whether there’s going to be a different criterion by which posters compete for attention on G+ as people get used to the service.

Recently, Anil Dash wrote an excellent post about the responsibility of site owners to moderate the comments on their sites – If your website’s full of assholes , it’s your fault. Anil takes to task publishers of online news sites who allow their comments sections to fill with hostility and abuse. A year ago, Robert Niles made a similar point – sites need to take responsibility for their comments, and those that don’t want to invest in their comments should turn them off. The Tummelvision crew have been evangelizing the need and value of “tummelling, a word adapted from a Yiddish word for someone hired to MC a party, applied to facilitating conversation and engagement online.

In Google+, like blogs and unlike Twitter, each post becomes the anchor for a comment stream. A poster’s followers can chime in and discuss. Currently, G+ posters have a few basic tools to moderate their stream – they can remove comments, and report users who are adding spam or abuse.

Some high-profile posters have the hang of facilitating a conversation. They participate, interact with others, respond to points in the discussion, and to the tone of contributions. The participants in some threads are good conversationalists – they respond to each other. When they disagree, they’re polite. In other posters’ discussions, participants race to state their own opinion, and don’t interact with each other. Comments aren’t a conversation but a serial monolog. In some posters’ discussions, hostile comments such as personal attacks and sexist remarks are met with disapproval and warning, in other discussions they go by unremarked and continue.

Many have observed that one of the distinctive aspects of Google+ compared to other social media is engagement – participants share, +1, and comment more actively than on other sites. Will the quality of moderation and community become one of the factors that distinguishes posters to Google+? Will posters with better discussions gather more and better engagement over time?

The quality of engagement certainly makes a difference to my online choices. I love Ta Nehisi Coates blog partly because of his fantastic writing and engagement with the topics he takes on, and in part because he’s attracted maybe the best comments section I’ve seen on the internet. As a moderator, he is not shy about using the ban hammer, and also holds high standards for posters on the site to respond to each other, not to straw man arguments, and to interact with respect. On Google+, I make choices about which threads to enter because of the style of the community I expect from the poster.

Will the quality of discussion become a more important factor for posters in Google+?

2 thoughts on “Competing on moderation”

  1. Adina –

    I think that Google+ will eventually be self-limiting in part due to the limitations that people have on adequately monitoring the quality of the comments on their threads. In the absence of tools to manage spammers and trolls, comment threads tend towards chaos. I think you’ll find that as the population of Google+ enlarges towards the size of the entire net, that it will start to attract opportunists who will be parasitic on the largest voices and start to clobber the quality of the “engagement” that they have.

    Broadcast media like Twitter already have part of this problem with spammers hijacking threads and at-replies, and there’s no reason to believe that the same population won’t take every opportunity to colonize Google+ with the same set of techniques.

  2. The thing is, it is easier for trolls to affect a celebrity’s community than an ordinary or micro-famous person. I wonder whether some celebrities will learn to handle the crowds and thrive, while others will lose following because they can’t handle the crowds. The question is will problems with celebrities chase away the rest of us, or whether we’ll be fine without their noise. I actually feel pretty confident with Google’s ability to handle spammers (as opposed to trolls). They do a great job with gmail and I expect they’ll extend those chops in G+.

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