The Future of User-contributed Web Content

Or Fear-mongering by Pessimists

created Mar 30, 2017

Odd tweet, found via the mediagazer list of related posts.

One implication of a less civil internet is that people may not mourn the loss of an open internet

I can't determine if she thinks that's a positive. If she's advocating for a closed internet or a severely regulated and restricted internet, like what exists in countries with oppressive regimes, then that's worst than what currently exists.

Don't engage on Twitter or use Twitter differently. Adopt the Indieweb concepts and own your own content on your own domain name and syndicate to social media. But that doesn't mean that you have to hold discussions on social media. Use Twitter like an RSS feed. If trolls respond to you on Twitter, ignore them. Write on your blog, drop permalinks into your Twitter feed, and that's it.

If you want to host discussions, then do that on your own domain name too. Either enable a highly moderated comment system on your blog or use a message board at a subdomain on your site. The moderation requires more work. But barriers to entry are required too, such as creating an account with a valid email address, account is not activated until the user clicks the link, contained in the email sent by your system, and the user must wait 24 hours or a week before being allowed to post comments. That last barrier annoys the drive-by, one-off flamers. another barrier, charge $1 to create an account. It's not a moneymaker. It's a barrier to slow down the trolls.

The internet is not the problem. The web is not the problem. The concept of comments or user-contributed content is not the problem.

The blame belongs to website owners who allow trolls to run wild. Software design gets the blame for enabling trolls to have more freedom than civil users. And the users complaining get the blame too for whining about using a FREE service.

Don't use Twitter. Pay some other service. But that won't happen because too many people use Twitter. But so do the trolls. Either accept the software design and management practices of Twitter and the trolls that exist, or do something different and accept fewer views and feedback. Maybe the quality of the latter technique will exceed the quantity that exists on twitter.

This somewhat applies to Facebook too, but Facebook is engineered much differently by providing tools that limit who can access a user's content.

Also in March 2017:

HN comment:

I think this article missed a huge reason for the race to the bottom, and that's internet advertising. Articles are not written for "engagement" (per se), they're written to make the publishers money. I think nobody is actually expecting anyone to click an advertisement (at least not on purpose), but getting people to view the article, and therefore view the ad, is likely the website's primary source of income.

And as more and more ads are viewed and not clicked, (there's probably some adtech term for this) the price per view is going to go down, which will encourage more clickbait, which will drive the value of an impression down, etc.

The article struck me as a bit weird, it complains about yellow journalism, but it doesn't really dig into why it's happening. It just declares that shitty articles are written for the metrics, and leaves it at that. As if "metrics" had any intrinsic value. The mapping of metrics to money, as done by internet advertisements, is the actual problem.

While engagement is certainly a way to get more people to view more ads, it's but a tool and symptom of the system it's a part of, not the genesis of it.

Another HN comment:

I am doing my part to combat this trend by writing very dull and unpopular blog entries. No likes for me thank you very much.

Good one. That might be my favorite quote for the first quarter of 2017, and it occurred on March 31.

HN comment with a good observation about the media org that published the engagement article:

This is a rather interesting stance to take for a publication whose article quality has degraded and ad size has increased.

If you take a look at the homepage through the Wayback archive as it used to appear in 2005[1], 2011[2], and today, you'll see how content disappears and click-baity headlines rise over time.

The Atlantic is very much a part of the problem of "the race towards the bottom" the author describes, and instead of having a discussion about how to fix it and maybe trying different revenue models, it continues to un-ironically have share and tweet buttons at the top of this article.

HN comment about Slashdot's strategy to tackle trolls:

The Slashdot moderation system didn't start out great, of course; it was actually pretty simple in the site's early days: no cap on karma, karma scores displayed prominently everywhere, no meta-moderation, etc. Much more Reddit-like than the system in place today. Which turned out to be a disaster, as this kind of naïve scoring system is catnip for trolls. Over many years they slowly improved the system, with each improvement leading to a new wave of attacks by trolls looking for ways to defeat it, until it finally got good enough to make trolling unrewarding and the attacks died down.

All of which is to say that the current design of Slashdot's system contains an enormous amount of valuable information about how to defeat trolls. You could write an entire book on all the lessons Slashdot had to learn the hard way along the road to making it what it is.

And what about MetaFilter's barrier to entry, which requires new users to pay either a $1 or a $5 fee to create accounts?

Another HN comment:

Here's the magic of the Slashdot system: not everyone has all day to click voting buttons, but some people do. So what you'll end up with your proposition is voting dominated by people that make a career out of hanging out on one web forum, with the conversation consequentially dominated by them.

The Slashdot system is more like jury duty: go in, do your civic duty by casting your five or ten votes, then go on about your day. I don't want a justice system dominated by people with nothing better to do than sit on juries every day.

Tactics and strategies to limit the flamers have been tried and honed over the past 20 years.

From The Atlantic story:

And since “people tend to be extremely similar in their vulgar and prurient and dumb interests and wildly different in their refined and aesthetic and noble interests,” the stuff you publish will start looking a lot like the stuff that everybody else publishes, because everybody sort of likes the same thing and everybody is fishing for Likes.

The Atlantic article is good. I don't remember exactly when I added the like "button" (plus sign) to Toledo Talk comments. It was probably early this decade. I regretted doing it. I think that it encouraged people to agree by clicking the plus sign, instead of taking a little more time to craft a worthwhile response. The plus-sign-like link encouraged the withering attention span, and it discouraged the desire to write. My gut feeling.

In the fall of 2015, I removed the plus-sign-like link, and users revolted. After about a month or so without it, I added it back.

In 2013 when I created my Junco community site app that has the ability to follow users and to follow tags, I decided to hide the following count info from users. Users would be unaware of who was following them and how many people followed them. I think this was the strategy adopted by Snapchat, and maybe that encouraged Snapchat's adoption.

Not everyone is interested in narcissistic stats. I think that social media encourages people to produce content that will hopefully please others. In my opinion, authors should produce content that pleases themselves. That's more original and honest.

You don’t have to spend more than 10 minutes talking to a purveyor of content on the web to realize that the question keeping them up at night is how to improve the performance of their stories against some engagement metric.

Yep. Media orgs publish to metrics instead of to readers.

The more you let engagement metrics drive editorial, the more your site will look like a Taboola widget. That’s the drain it all circles toward.

And yet we keep designing software to give publishers better feedback about how their content is performing so that they can give people exactly what they want.

... when media is unbundled, which means each article has to justify its own existence in the content-o-sphere, more pressure than most individual stories can bear is put on those individual stories. That’s why so much of what you read today online has an irresistible claim or question in the title that the body never manages to cash in. Articles have to be their own advertisements—they can’t rely on the bundle to bring in readers—and the best advertising is salacious and exaggerated.

Etc. :