Why do Slashdot's forums suck so bad?

greenspun.com : LUSENET : Robot Wisdom : One Thread

This is a two-parter:

Why are the posters to Slashdot's forums overwhelmingly jerks?


How can you set things up there to effectively minimise the noise? (Not theoretically, but what actually works for you.)

-- Jorn (jorn@mcs.com), October 08, 1999


Anita writes: I don't know that there are more jerks there than on a high-traffic, controversial usenet newsgroup." On newsgroups I almost never feel like my comments aren't being read. On Slashdot I always feel like I'm being drowned out by showoffs.

"I've also set the discussion options to list the responses with high scores first" But does this work? From what I've seen, the scoring is useless, at least on the first day which is when I visit.

-- Jorn (jorn@mcs.com), October 08, 1999.

More thoughts:

I don't get any sense of community where people know each other and respect particular posters who establish a degree of calm.

The rating system for the Nervana thread seems skewed strongly against the claims of the Tom B guy (programmer), so it seems to me I'd miss the best messages if I set ratings above 'one'.

I seem to be hypersensitive to what I call 'stotting'-- where a page presents multiple competing voices instead of 'serial monovocality', which makes it very hard for me to focus on any one message. (Multiple columns also do this to me, very severely.) Slashdot's page layout does it for me here (where this PhilG-BBS format doesn't).

('Stotting' comes from animal behavior studies, herds of whitetail deer bewildering predators by flapping their tails making a series of random white flashes.)

-- Jorn (jorn@mcs.com), October 08, 1999.

Danny writes: "I don't get that perception at all (and it smacks a little of Dave Winer's extreme reactions to other people's voices)."

Ow!!! I guess that's the new scale for paranoia-- Winer = 100?

I get accused of being intolerant all the time, and it's very hard to explain why I draw the line where I do. I *am* thin-skinned, and there are styles of stupidity that I have no tolerance for at all, but I also think if people are making a valid point I'm completely open to it.

What I see on Slashdot is a sort of brutal close-mindedness that likes attack above everything else, quite resembling Rush Limbaugh's fans' mentality, very unsuited to the exchange of ideas.

I was traumatised by all the "stupid hippie" comments on Slashdot when that plutonium spacecraft did its recent flyby-- where are these guys getting that from (if not from Rush)?

The current Nervana thread started off with a million comments of the form 'they did this better in 1992' that were based on little more than a glimpse of a screenshot.

There's a clown on the local chi.* newsgroups who specialises in pseudo-knowing techie-putdowns, but when I challenged him to explain a basic question on public key crypto (which he'd been spouting off about, seemingly very knowingly), he fell silent. And Slashdot seems like it's 90% guys like him.

-- Jorn (jorn@mcs.com), October 08, 1999.

Paul writes: "Further, the most ignorant people tend to post the most often..."

This is actually called Barger's Law of Usenet Bandwidth: "The more interesting your life becomes, the less you post... and vice versa."

-- Jorn (jorn@mcs.com), October 08, 1999.

why so many jerks? I don't know that there are more jerks there than on a high-traffic, controversial usenet newsgroup. They allow anonymous posting, which probably increases the noise.

I'm most interested in the threads my sweetie contributes to, so I look at the page that lists his responses fairly often.

I've also set the discussion options to list the responses with high scores first, when I'm reading a general discussion. (but I think this is the default). you can set to hide all anonymous posts, too.

Anita of Anita's BOD and Anita's LOL

-- Anita Rowland (anitar@halcyon.com), October 08, 1999.

I don't get that perception at all (and it smacks a little of Dave Winer's extreme reactions to other people's voices). I have the score setting on my preferences pushed pretty high: if I want to check out the facts, I'll leave it there and find out what floats up through moderation. If I want to get a straw poll of what the slashdotties think, I'll go for a minimum score of 1. So, in answer to your question:

a) Because people (including myself) who feel they have an opinion are almost overwhelmingly jerks.

b) I like Slashdot's methods: the score system works for me, and it's certainly a more sophisticated approach than most.

-- Danny O'Brien (danny@spesh.com), October 08, 1999.

Why are the posters jerks? Well, I imagine that reason number one is that 4 of 10 are college-age or younger (and I especially think that 7% teenage audience is posting way out of proportion).

I don't find it a problem with the present moderation system; I just set Display Mode=Threaded, Highest Scores First, Threshold +2, and Reparent Highly Rated Comments. For the brief periods (15%) when I'm a moderator, I go to see the whole article tree and look especially (as CmdrTaco suggests) for 0 or 1 rated comments to moderate up. These settings have lead to a high-signal Slashdot experience for myself.

Slashdot certainly isn't unique in having a high jerk factor; there are plenty of newsgroups with the same situation, and now web-based fora are finding this out. Aint-It-Cool-News is constantly bemoaning the lowly state of the Talkback Forums there, which are rife with tons more flaming and general pointless mediated experience (i.e. posting to Talkback about Star Wars is more potent and involving than seeing the film Star Wars) than Slashdot ever saw. (Same demographic problem, of course.)

If there were two kinds of Slashdot comments I could just eliminate with a wave of my magic wand, not counting "First Posters", it would be the repeated complaints "this was posted before!" (yeah, but Slashdot, these kids haven't figured out, is about providing a continuous flow of conversation topics, not about "news"), and repeated laments that Linux is becoming "too mainstream" (i.e. too much like Windows, too corporate, too RedHat-dominated, etc.). The other knee-jerk responses are ubiquitous, but expected: those nasty trademark lawyers are at it again [read trademark law and you'll know they almost have to do this], X feature is copied by Y company from an original idea by Z company (not! or who cares), and this isn't news for nerds. Well, if I had five classes I could wave away ... !

Anyway, the sad fact is that "communities" like this have proven far harder to create than most of us think.

-- Dan Hartung (dhartung@wwa.SPAMBLOCK.com), October 08, 1999.

Overall, I find that with the moderation system, Slashdot isn't as bad as it used to be. I remember a long, long time ago when the amount of comments per article were much less, and the quality much higher. When it started going downhill, I found myself just not reading comments anymore.

Usually I set it to whatever threshold (2 or 3, usually) that has roughly the amount of comments that I want to read. Then I get a kind of small general discussion. But I haven't participated in the comments in perhaps a year or so.

In fact, this is the first time in awhile I've posted a comment to a webpage. Huh.

I think it's because it reminds me of my old BBS, which was pretty much all conversations of decent quality.


-- Skrubly (skrubly@yahoo.com), October 08, 1999.

Slashdot posters are jerks because the forums are set up so poorly. With, say, a dozen articles per day, separate forums for each article encourages quick posting. Quick posting = thoughtless posting. All of the people I know who check /. do so daily, or several times per day. This creates a mindset that if you don't post quickly your voice won't be heard. The perceived ephemeral nature of the forums is why /. forums suck worse than usenet.

-- Darrin Chandler (xyzzy@plover.com), October 08, 1999.

/. seems to attract a large number of "posers"; ie people who know a little about a given subject, and therefore conclude that they are experts. Most of these are probably college freshmen, maybe high schoolers (I still have a hard time understanding what it must be like to be in high school and have internet access, it was hard enough to get when I got to college) as they often exhibit high levels of immaturity in addition to their ignorance.

I actually find the continual struggle against "lamers", first with moderation, then with meta-moderation, quite amusing. The fatal flaw in the moderation system is that, as I understand it, you get a better chance of getting "moderator" status if you post often, which can do nothing but encourage quick, badly-thought-out posts. Further, the most ignorant people tend to post the most often (which means they have lots of time on their hands - evidence to support my student theory), which ends up giving you ignorant moderators.

-- Paul Victor Novarese (novarese@novarese.net), October 08, 1999.

I'll agree with some of the above: if you set highest scores first, you get the moderation, and then you're getting the best of, well, at least the first comments.

It's a facinating idea. Slashdot is made, for better or worse, by its own community. Users submit stories and initial comments; users write the entire forum section; users answer the polls; users configure their pages to work as they see fit; and now, users moderate the forums. This is an offshoot of the "open-source" concept, and works in roughly the same way. (If you like Slashdot's skeleton, you can run the same code. It's open source.)

As a result, not including the forums, everything that seems wrong about Slashdot is a product of the folks running it. The design, the story choices, the editorials, the multiple-choice poll selections. The staff writing in the descriptions of the stories is particularly poor.

The current problem is that meta-moderation has initiated an odd rift in the community. Moderators always moderate UP, never DOWN, unless the message being moderated is an obvious troll. Messages that earn the "5", the highest possible score, too closely represent the wishes of the community.

You wouldn't think that's a problem. In a community of nerds, the top-rated messages are quite often those messages that provide important additional information about a story... sometimes even insider information. But there is also a sort of homogenization that occurs. The comments themselves are not necessarily middle-of-the-road, but the editorial choices always are.

The editorial choices also discourage any feeling of community. Messages that are moderated up are not usually short messages, unless the message is an important revelation. A long message is much more likely to be moderated up, and so the instinct when writing a first-level comment is no longer to shoot from the hip and talk naturally, but to write novellas that explore the topic from any number of angles.

Slashdot remains interesting, to me, at least, because it is still a place where you can explore a story to any depth. If you suspect that part of the story is downright wrong, just read the comments; a half a day of intelligent posting and moderation will eke new facts out. If you don't care about a story, just scroll on. If you never care to pay attention to a particular subject, just delete it from your subject selection.

Regardless of how poor the forums might be at any point in time, I know I would love to read /.-style user comments on Jorn's selections.

-- Arthur Alexander (abalone@zerodefect.net), October 09, 1999.

I have to take exception to most Slashdot posters being jerks. A lot are but not all. I find by setting a score of 2 filters out most of the crap and leaves mostly useful material. The scoring system seem to work OK for most things, the exception being scores raised for "funny". I've seen some completely idiotic statements moderated up to a 2 because they were supposedly funny. Guess I don't have a geek's sense of humor.

Another problem is controversial topics: Open Source vs Closed Source, Windows vs. Linux, Apple vs. PC, anything having to do with politics, etc. Post on these topics disintegrate into a shouting match. The many Open Source zealots often moderate down perfectly good posts because they don't agree with their opinions. On purely technical discussions, I've learned a lot by reading comments from people that are very knowledgeable.

My opinion is that the quality of conversation on a discussion group, be it Usenet, mailing lists, or web page forums, is inversely proportional to the number of posters. Slashdot has a hell of a lot of posters. More posters means more trolls/flamers/idiots/zealots. I think the only way to really have an intelligent conversation is via e-mail, but that can be very time consuming. I guess a well moderated list would work, but I've never really seen one. What we need is some sort of filtering proxy that we could set up to filter out all the garbage in an intelligent way. I gave up on the concept of internet "community" a long time ago. Millions of voices chattering, not enough listening! In that sense, the internet has been a great disappointment to me.

A good conversation takes time.

-- Oxnard (astroman@hickory.net), October 10, 1999.

Although this is tangential, I find Slashdot's forums frustrating primarily because I'm locked into using Slashdot's own, weak, server- side "newsreader".

Back in the day, when I was reading more Usenet than was healthy, I managed to work out a very satisfying experience through the use of good client-side newsreaders (trn) with advanced thread management, killfiles, etc, that made it easy to incrementally improve my own filters over time. I have none of this with Slashdot, and "thresholds" have proven a crude substitute.

It just bugs me that Slashdot is reinventing a wheel (article/thread management) that's been refined over the past fifteen years in the world of Usenet newsreaders, and doing so relatively poorly.

That being said, there's lots of good signal on Slashdot, and I slog through the noise to find it, despite the software's limitations.


-- Peter Couvares (couvares@yahoo.com), October 11, 1999.

I set the crap threshold to 3 and it works pretty well. Personally, I haven't read USENET in a long time due to the ever-rising tide of noise, but I find slashdot's comments are a bit more reasonable now with the threshold system. A little visual grepping for a well-known poster's name helps too, if I don't have too much time on my hands.

BTW I agree, the "Rating: Funny" stuff just generally isn't funny. ;)

Regarding USENET's old scoring newsreaders -- why didn't someone just rip out the scoring stuff and provide a decent web front-end? It was inevitable that the rather arcane interfaces to strn etc. were going to cause them to become obsolete IMHO.


-- Justin Mason (jm7@jmason.org), October 11, 1999.

I don't find the Slashdot forums useless. One just needs to remember that when anonymous posting is allowed, there will be abuses.

Slashdot's moderation system isn't perfect (could any system ever be?) but I find that it's method of spreading the moderation ability around helps greatly to make sure too much power doesn't reside in too few hands. Meanwhile, the new meta-moderation check allows for punishing those who would attempt to skew the moderation process.

I typically browse with a threshold of 2, nested, and oldest first. If the conversation turns interesting or it's a subject I'm particularly interested in, I'm willing to set the threshold down to - 1 to see everything. I know what to expect, so I'm not surprised.

As for Slashboxes:

JenniCam (though I'm finally considering turning it off) Slashdot Poll Blue's News (Gotta get that FPS fix) Freshmeat Ask Slashdot (I find that not every entry makes it on the front page) Ars Technica Older Stuff Be News IMDB Themes.org Technocrat.net 10 Hot Comments Security Focus PDA Buzz

I'm overdue for another look through the Slashbox list.

-- Kip DeGraaf (kip@monroe.lib.mi.us), October 19, 1999.

I have all the slashboxes off - too much noise. The forums are usually shouting matches between ignorant bigots (i.e. people who dont share my opinion). I've never bothered to try the moderation system because even the stuff with high ratings is often just noise.

The real problem is that /. is so slooooooooow. It just takes a long time to load a forum and read it. The small ones are more juicy when one does read them though - 500 postings means noise, noise noise.


-- Lindsay Marshall (Lindsay.Marshall@ncl.ac.uk), October 20, 1999.

Jorn: Have you tried the "light" mode, which straightens everything out and avoids the column approach? Your selected slashboxes will still be on the page, just down after the news.

Most of the reasons for the noise ratio have been touched on here, so I won't rework 'em. I have given up on Slashdot as a news portal, and only visit for features that other folks link into or mention; last week's John Carmack interview, for example.

I've never been able to stomach Usenet, so it stands to reason the comments on /. drive me up a wall. It's often best if you put the article on your temporary bookmarks, wait a few days, and check back then. The moderation drops off very swiftly as soon as the article leaves the front page, though.

-- Dan Fitch (dgfitch@hotmail.com), October 22, 1999.

In my opinion the existence of threading does a great deal to kill any forum from a readers point of view. This isn't an original idea, someone expressed it back when Slashdot first became threaded, but I've found myself steadily more agreement with the proposition as time has gone on.

Threading adds value for writers (especially lazy ones, and we're all lazy writers at least some of the time) by allowing you to instantly respond _directly_ to some small particular point someone brings up, rather than forcing you to marshall a whole set of your own ideas and make them into something that can stand on its own.

As a consequence threading subtracts value for readers because discussion now fragments into a hundred little sub-arguments, these inevitably descend to the level of tendentiousness and 'tis! 'tisnt! whilst steadily drifting further and further into irrelevancy complete with lots of pedantry and nit-picking.

Trolling flame-bait across the readerships bows' also becomes far more profitable than in a resolutely non-threaded forum, because it becomes possible to 'keep score' by tracking the number and angryness of responses threaded underneath the flame post.

So the reason then why most posts to Slashdot look like they were written by jerks, is because a threading system makes the opportunities for creating jerk-like and ill-thought-out posts much bigger, whilst simultaneously reducing the subtle restraints against them.

Alas, I haven't found a good way to minimise noise on Slashdot.

On noisy and argumentative Usenet groups, I use a 'guilty until proven innocent' system. I default every post to being scored so I don't see it, and then use additional rules to pop the people who I know to write good stuff back above the threshold.

-- Stefan Kapusniak (stefan.kapus@zetnet.co.uk), November 27, 1999.

they are too slow. cgi.. programmer guys... featuritis. to minimize the noise, i disable the 'flat view' and try to follow threads. the best slashdot effect i get is when someone links to slashdot and not vice versa. i usually read a bit around the hit and loose interest very soon. it smells too much like young men in there.

-- pit (pit@mikro.org), February 10, 2000.


-- sdfajknjah;gnr (watermelony2k@hotmail.com), August 01, 2002.

Forgive the anon but Iv'e been hit too many times. I find the best stuff is in the -1. I wouldn't call the guys on slashdot, some things are meant to be provocative, to destroy victorian illusions. Alot of guys are angry because slashdot has captured a major segment of of the serious audience but exert brutalizing censorship.

On the one hand it is tantalizingly filled with many ideas seen nowhere else but some uneducated child who doesn't grasp the idea drops it into -1.(set your html to -1, flat,oldest first. its blackedout you have to save the html as .txt & change the background color to white(999999). Iv' set up new identities to have them knocked out to -1 on my first post. Evidently the kids that work in offices with 20 computers. They can boot themselves up to a decent Kharma where this kid can extoll to the masses what his HS school teacher just poured into his little head. At the same time theyknock down what they don't understand. There are guys who submit materials given them in secret but they get it out anonimously

Sometimes some will try to turn one topic into something more current. Reading /. one would hardly realize we were living in the middle of a war which we're going to loose because the simplicity of a win isn't sheik..

I noted some of you are moderaters. How many of you ever uped a score to see how the comment was recieved when it could be seen

-- Pyramin Zurbringen (Pauz@mail.Cornell.edu), October 19, 2002.

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