March 29, 2000
Structuring Meaningful Discourse

Structuring Meaningful Discourse

Here's an idea/area that more internet publishing sites should experiment with: meaningful questions.

Thus far, all of the 'interactive' features of publishing, such as ZDnet's talkback, and the NYTimes' Buzz are limited to general discussion forums, which are fine for getting a certain number of people to be eyeballs for ads. It can also be fun, but such forums are generally ineffective at generating any meaningful conclusions. Even when there are interesting conclusions, the signal to noise ratio is just too high.

Sites like Slashdot work within this 'everyone gets an equal voice' paradigm by adding moderation features, which works to a point.

Here's a slightly different model that could be effective: Make each article a dialogue, with the author at the center. How to do it: make a comment space at the end of each article, but instead of letting anyone throw out an argument, let people ask concisely stated questions which might render a meaningful response from the author.

Add some light moderation and a willingness to respond to the few best-rated questions, and you might just have a way to generate real discourse, and use the web to its potential.

addendum: Another way to make discussion of an article more meaningful is to bring the discussion structure closer to the intuitive structure of the document itself, as outlined in fip. Recent interest in fip makes me hopeful that this idea will spread in the near future.

update: David Grenier pointed to a few sites that do something like I described.

Seems like these (and many others) rely on 'the community' not misbehaving. I'm interested in making the small-community effectiveness work on high-traffic sites - so that interaction is mediated in such a way that it is effective, despite being between lots of anonymous strangers.

(I find it interesting that the two people who have so far been the most active on the discussion group here have been the proprietors of Leftwatch and Retrogression; conservative and anarchist weblogs, respectively. I don't know if Brian Carnell still visits misnomer, though..?)

deep linking is legal. I'm so relieved.

posted by dru in blog