To Offer Discussion Groups Or Not

One of my favorite weblogs, Boing! Boing! was rendered significantly less useful recently when the powers-that-be removed the discussion group feature which used QuickTopic.

There was no announcement that the discussion system would disappear, nor any explanation as to why, though there is a thread over at CoolTool.Com that speculates two of the problems that plague most discussion systems finally became too much to deal with for the Boing! Boing! folks — identity impersonators and idiot flamers.

When it comes to the identity impersonators, QuickTopic would put a star graphic next to administrators, so someone theoretically couldn’t post as Cory Doctorow — if it didn’t have the star next to his name, then it wasn’t Cory. But apparently someone figured out a way to spoof the star and posted some entries posting as Xeni Jardin. Establishing identity is still a major problem in most discussion systems.

As far as flaming goes, much of that was directed at Jardin, especially after the over-the-top coverage of SARS-related art. I though the SARS-related stuff was stupid, but hey, it’s their blog. But some posters acted as if Xeni’s stuff was the advent of the apocalypse.

The key to flamers, of course, is to simply ignore them. Life’s too short to waste time trying to moderate an active discussion system (except for the truly vile stuff). A distributed Slashdot-style moderation system with trusted users (rather than wide open as in Slashdot) might work, but when you’re stuck with something like QuickTopic, best to develop a thick skin and move on.

But the real problem is that even with the flames and the impersonators, the QuickTopic discussions were often as interesting and valuable as the weblog posts were. The site before and after the discussion group is like the difference between sitting through a lecture and participating in a small group discussion.

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