Invite Moderation

When a discussion turns into an argument ask for help.

Many Wiki pages are written about very emotional topics. Disagreements arise, and sometimes the participants find themselves unable to communicate with each other effectively. Tempers flare and we lose our perspective, we attack even when we don't mean to and we take offense even when none is intended. When this happens the value of our contributions drops dramatically.

The primary cause of this is the level of emotion in the conversation. This emotion can be associated directly with the topic of conversation or it can come from personal conflicts between the participants, the manner in which the conversation is pursued, or even from forces completely outside of the conversation arising from issues in peoples personal lives. Clearly only those who have some emotional investment in a conversation are likely to participate in it. Furthermore, those individuals are most likely to have good information about the topic. We do not want to lose the valuable input of those individuals. But we also want the input to actually be of value nobody wants to witness the public venting of spleens. The participants themselves often find themselves stuck. They don't want to continue the fight, but they are unwilling to let the conversation go either. They feel that they have something of value to contribute but are frustrated in their attempts to make their positions clear.


Ask someone to intervene. Prefer to use a neutral party that is trusted by all the participants. Give the person who plays this ModeratorRole? some amount of editorial control over the conversation including the ability to remove offensive language, restate a point in different language, and to ask clarifying questions. It is critical that the moderator be trusted by any participant whose behavior is to be influenced through moderation.

The combatants will have an opportunity to rid themselves of the effects of their own clouded judgement. They will receive valuable feed back on the effectiveness of their arguments and they will get acknowledgement of the points that they are trying to make. If the participants are acting in good faith there is a very good chance that the conversation will return to a constructive course.

The person in the ModeratorRole? runs the risk of getting drawn in to the fray and may sometimes feel that they are not being of use. If this happens they should feel obliged to recuse themselves of the position.

This pattern is of most use when the participants are acting in good faith but are still having difficulties. In particular there must be a certain amount of respect and willingness to listen in order for moderation to be of use. It is also important that the issue itself be of broad interest. Otherwise there is little reason to pursue it in a public forum and it may be more appropriate to ask the participants to TakeItToEmail.

See also: TakeItToEmail

this pattern has been edited to make fuller use of PortlandForm.


From HowToWriteAndEditThreadMode:

These threads are only marginally self-moderating at best. The notion of moderators seems somehow unWiki-like, but I suspect that something in that direction is the ticket. I'd offer myself modestly in that role as an experiment, but modesty's not in my bag of tricks ;->. -- WaldenMathews

The Wiki community has vigorously rejected virtually every attempt at governance. We have no shortage of volunteers to be governors but we seem to be a bit low on volunteers to be the governed. -- PhilGoodwin

I wasn't talking about governors, just helping hands. For instance, if I thought you and I were about to break into fisticuffs here, I might invite Richard to help guide me, you might invite someone to help you (or you might not feel the need), and/or we both might agree on one third party to help us both. It would be for the duration of the current topic only, then we'd all part friends. Of course, "people on Wiki" will never do this...until someone does. Never say never. Also see WhatIsThread -- WaldenMathews

Moderators on Wiki would be a signpost telling us the Wiki has truly turned into NewsGroup software over a tool for learning, collaboration, and dissertation. -- RobertDiFalco [also see other comments later in this document]

The lessons from Emotional Intelligence seem to say otherwise, though. Raising collaboration to a higher level includes bringing in emotions and trusting others with them, even collaborating on emotional moderation (literally not too much and not too little) as the need arises. Wiki is, among other things, a social experiment, and emotions are the age-old language of social interaction. Emotions may seem like pests at times, but borrow from Organic principles and realize that there's a complex system at work here, and annihilating even a 'pest' species can have devastating impact on the system as a whole. -- WaldenMathews

Besides this is not a suggestion that all of Wiki be subject to moderation. It is just a suggestion that some exchanges could use a third party as an overseer. This is an experiment that anyone can try. Perhaps one of its most appealing features is that it is collaborative in nature. Wiki has always been meant to be a collaborative forum. -- PhilGoodwin

Phil, good clarification. An overseer acceptable to the parties in conflict, or even just a behind the scenes buddy to help me keep some perspective. One tricky part is that the more I need moderation, the less likely I am to ask for it, although there is part of me that "knows". In some cases, moderation could invite itself: "Seems like you've gotten into another flame war, want some feedback on it, or are you okay?".

A key point is this. Extreme behavior (exempting XP) is survival stuff, and the worst thing for escalating flame war is the feeling that you're alone. That's why identities are important on Wiki, especially in its conversation mode. I won't trust you to intervene on my behalf if I don't know you, and I won't know you if you never sign your name (I'm talking to "you" in general now, Wiki). But if I do trust you, then I'll let you tell me to cool it in a way that would never work otherwise.

So, yes the polarization dynamic tends to produce positive feedback effects when survival emotions enter. And the antidote to (bi-)polarization is...a number greater than two. It's pretty damned natural when you think about it, but there are a few details to look after. Oh dern, it's midnight again already...

-- WaldenMathews

So if someone jumped in to the middle of a dispute and posted something designed to mollify both sides, focus on the light, extinguish the heat, and then signed it ModeratorRole? you think you'd object? Or the average person would? My guess is that it would depend on the expectations of the combatant and how well the intervention was executed.

I think that a lot of what happens on Wiki could be improved if the skills of the people involved improved: how to intervene, how to edit, even determining how and what to write in the first place. -- PhilGoodwin

I'm not in favor of an intervention signed ModeratorRole?, because it's impersonal, and in my best intuition, an impersonal nudge is not what's needed right at that moment. About a year ago I invited a senior peer to run a meeting for me in which I wanted to take an intensely technical focus. One of the participants got nasty because I didn't understand his domain instantaneously, and I reacted sarcastically, calling myself "stupid". I was disappointed in the moderator's decision to reprimand us, as it was not done supportively. I still feel that way, even though I admit that neither me nor Mr. Domain was using the best judgment. As I said above, trust and familiarity are the keys. If the moderator's message is "emotion bad", it's not going to work. I agree completely with your second paragraph, and I'm grateful for the education Wiki is affording me as we speak! (I like the beckoning double dashes, by the way.) --WaldenMathews
If I may add a few words, I would say that the HasWikiTurnedIntoSomeSortOFNewsgroup issue underlines Wiki's capability to favor personal responsibility and sharing capacity - in other words a certain degree of consciousness.

This is far removed from the autistic vision of web discussions quite a few companies would like us Internauts to adopt. Official moderators, with their special privilege, are often a pain, because most can't resist the entropic tendency to rule, exclude and divide. Some people believe this is necessary. Giving everyone the possibility to create and rule personal newsgroups just make things worse.

I believe Wiki brings a valuable answer to the need for naturally balanced online collaboration environments. Dare I say it has a civilizing virtue?

-- Gilbert Cattoire

When did Wiki change from an InformalHistoryOfProgrammingIdeas and into a social experiment?

When was something like Wiki ever not a social experiment ?

From the April 5, 2000 version of FrontPage:

Welcome to the Front Page of the PortlandPatternRepository WikiWikiWeb.

Wiki is a composition system; it's a news server; it's a repository; it's a mail system. Really, we don't know quite what it is, but it's a fun way of communicating asynchronously across the network.

From September 7, 1999:

Welcome to the WikiWikiWeb

Wiki is a composition system; it's a news server; it's a repository; it's a mail system. Really, we don't know quite what it is, but it's a fun way of communicating asynchronously across the network.

This site is set up for friends collecting and sharing ideas for our peers and posterity. It is administered by WardCunningham, Watch the pages grow and refine here; watch the discussions that surround the process.

Do you have earlier versions that this?


I definitely like the phrase "collecting and sharing ideas". This does not imply a lot of debate to me. -- RobertDiFalco

What about: "watch the discussions that surround the process."? That sounds suspiciously like debate to me. -- PhilGoodwin


I think the need for a moderator or helping hand should be taken as a pretty strong indication that two people are having a conversation that should be held in email. This is like setting up a Web-Cam in your bathroom and thinking it has public relevance. In other words, the participants reluctance to TakeItToEmail is a pretty good sign of solipsism. Moderators on Wiki would be a signpost telling us the Wiki has truly turned into NewsGroup software over a tool for learning, collaboration, and dissertation. Basically, SlashDot with hyperlinks. -- RobertDiFalco

I think that Robert has a point: a move to email should at least be considered along side a request for a moderator. However, some discussions really are suited for public consumption if they can be kept civil and this suggestion seems like a great way to do just that. -- PhilGoodwin

Wiki as a newsgroup

It's no surprise that [some people would prefer moderation over TakeItToEmail]. However, I wonder why [they] so badly want Wiki to become like SlashDot, a NewsGroup, listserver, or FidoNet? Why must it be an everything place? It truly is a wonder to me. Personally, I use hammers for nails and screwdrivers for screws. If the hammer isn't as good with nails as it is with screws I do not say the screw is bad, just that it is not meant for a hammer. Saying we prefer dissertation on Wiki doesn't mean there is anything wrong with discourse. Life is too big to make one tool do everything. The attempt usually results in a tool that is Jack of all trades and a master of none. -- RobertDiFalco

As I said, the argument was a transient state to the result. It is not the deliberation that should be saved for posterity but the final outcome.

I don't think that's true. It may be that the deliberation may be "reduced" (and I mean that in the best sense of the word) but in many instances there is no way to eliminate it without losing something valuable. -- PhilGoodwin

Well, I would say that in editing something of value is always lost. Anyone whose written a book, a complex piece of music, or a very large-scale program refactoring knows this. The important idea is that while, yes, value was lost, the end result has a greater impact that makes it worth the little bits of value that were lost. Consider programs. I've greatly reduced code and designs on large-scale systems. A lot of it hurt because there were some really great things that got the axe. However, the end result was still better off. Let me just leave you with one of my favorite quotes to think about:
We're drowning in information and starving for knowledge. - Rutherford D. Rogers
Sometimes trying to retain every piece of good information obscures the knowledge that can be taken from the presentation of that information. -- RobertDiFalco

This is exactly why those who favor keeping the "extra" information are very willing to move it around. Put the "extra" below double lines, or even toss it onto another page. The "Thread/Document battle" has been ongoing for years (see WikiConversation for a 1998 version), and the same compromise (moving content) has been reached almost every time. Could you give some examples of pages where this compromise is no longer acceptable?

In the cases above where systems were reduced, presumably there was a person or group of people who had authority over the final product. Wiki doesn't have clearly authoritative people (unless Ward decides to rule otherwise). There are several editors who want to keep more than you do. These editors are extremely willing to work with others to clarify content without deletion--they have done this several times before. -- CliffordAdams

You're right, that's fine. -- RobertDiFalco
See Also: VolunteerWikiModerators

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