Making Slugger more ‘Eavesdroppable’…

The first law of technology (according to Irish tech prof John Naughton) “we invariably overestimate the short-term impact of new technologies while underestimating their longer-term effects”. I would add to that that most bloggers probably overestimate the effects their work (however shiningly brilliant) can have on the body politic, wherever they are. But in the long run, there is little doubt that the read/write revolution is going to have profound implications for the engagement of citizens with their established (and not so established) democratic institutions. Slugger’s been running pretty much in the same format for the last 6 and nearly seven years. It has a reputation for culturing fairly consistently high quality engaged conversations, that from informal and anecdotal evidence have often been useful to members of the media and politicians alike (including explaining a particularly complex piece of Westminster legislation to the grateful satisfaction of one junior minister).

Now we are talking to a number of interested sponsors that will enable us to develop (and share) a ‘reputation management system’ for commenters, that no only provides them with their own home pages, but allows others to rate the quality of their contributions on an ongoing basis.

The idea is shift the emphasis away from constantly reinforcing the sanction bar to entry with red and yellow cards; or threats of banning and towards an incentive led heightening of the quality bar at the top end of the debate. The site would retain its general principle of openness; but seek to reward quality inputs from across the political divide.

Paul Evans of the Local Democracy blog, and who was crucial to organising the Slugger Awards, has this to say about it:

…if the online conversation does become more worth tuning in to, we may be in a position where we can say that there is no need for any constitutional change in the way that voters relate to politicians. If we can start generating high quality content that politicians can trust and use, we – the public – are beginning to shoulder our half of the burden.

It’s a two way mirror. As Matt Wardman noted in his summing up of the Slugger Awards themselves:

NI is streets ahead of any other part of the UK in this respect, helped by the fact that politicians in Northern Ireland perhaps haven’t realised yet that they are supposed to be an Elite living in a bubble. Long may this ignorance continue.

The lesson? Citizens do get listened to, if their contributions are relevant and contentful… Our ideas for a new reputation management system are predicated on helping raise the quality bar for online debate for ordinary citizens (here on Slugger but they’d be available to anyother site who opted to use them) and help give them a direct and reliable root to those who hold the keys of public trust on our behalf…

We’ll keep you posted of any urgent developments…

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  • Alan

    Any live examples of this working elsewhere?

  • Mack

    I presume this would be something like the system on Reddit? Or would it be moderator led (or a combination)?

  • Mick Fealty

    Very much Mack. But with several twists. The idea is to facilitate those who wish to remain anonymous, but for them to accrue a social (and political) ‘character’ which allows their ‘atavars’ to develop both hinterland and substance.

    I don’t want to say much more than that about the detail since we are still just talking to potential sponsors at this stage and the beast which emerges from the development stage may necessarily look very different to what we imagine how it will be now.

    The problem with (some) anonymous commenters is the sense that they are hitting from the dark. There is little sense of ‘who’ they are and where they are coming from. Or any sense that they adopt robust positions against which their past and future contributions might be judged.

    It goes without saying that (many) others, like yourself for instance, treat their contributions with care and consistency; and as a result make substantial contributions to any debate they chose to engage with.

    The aim is not out bad commenters, but to find ways in which people can develop a reputation for reliability and expertise even, without having disclose their identity. That in turn should help drive up the general character of the debate.

  • kensei

    Avatars? Can we have a little picture? I dearly want a little picture of Batman beside me.

    I am unsure it mattters “who” someone is compared to the quality of their points. And “Recommend this post” hasn’t particularly helped the disaster that is Have Your Say on the BBC.

    I look forward to totally trashing my online reputation. Are engative scores possible, or is zero the best I can aim for?

  • GGN

    Mick,

    I would love to be able to jump to the final set of comments rather than starting at the first page, maybe I’m an eejit but and ye can do this already?

  • Mick Fealty

    GGN,

    Threaded comments are also something we are thinking about. That way people can go on the inevitable tangents without disrupting the general flow.

    ken,

    At this stage we’re not thinking about a numerical scale…

  • Alan

    Widgets, widgets!

    On a similar theme, but in a different medium, there is some fascinating detail on fan access and viral developments in music publishing at http://www.emediawire.com/releases/2007/1/emw495431.htm .

    The political parties still have a lot to learn, but it looks like the future is already here.

  • RepublicanStones

    Sounds like a bit of a meritocracy to me, which would be no bad thing (even if it will result with me in the virtual corner wearing a ‘hat’).

    Oh btw, if kensei’s gettin Batman, I want Jeffery Lebowski.

  • kensei

    RS

    I disagree. It is a deviation from the one true path. It leads weight to opinion beyond what is actually said, it acts as a barrier to entry, and even morons can come up with something brilliant on occassion. Moreover, my good is not necessarily your good, and political opinions are not like selling stuff on eBay. There are serious limitations to consensus opinion.

    Moreover, the technobabble and psychobabble Mick continually comes off with bugs the life out of me. He’d be far better off considering what would make the site better for his users, rather than some vague social good or what politicians think or how Sugger is Important if he wants to improve debate. This might get a pass on that scale, but with the underlying thinking it will be accident rather than design.

    I will be racing straight to the bottom, as fast as I can. A downclick should not be too hard to script.