Quality Control

Quality Control---Moderation --- ?RonGoldman 14 Feb 2002

. . . in GroupDiscussions involving many participants it takes effort to keep the discussion on track and focused.

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Even in a small group where people share a common agenda, keeping a discussion on topic is difficult. In a large group, particularly one composed of strangers where everyone has different interests and their own idea of what is relevant, it can become impossible.

An online group may have thousands of members and a each new topic might result in thousands of replies, many of which may not be very interesting---in fact most will be pretty awful---but some will truly be gems. With such a large signal-to-noise ratio only the most dedicated readers will ever see the insightful or wonderful messages, the sheer torrent of garbage will drive away everyone else.

Online discussions have additional problems as participants do not get any nonverbal cues from the other group members and the asynchronous nature of newsgroups and mailing lists further fractures the conversation. Also online social norms are less in effect and normally polite individuals are apt to flame or interrupt. The online world also suffers from electronic junk mail, known as "spam."

In real life when people hold a meeting they often have one person act as a moderator to facilitate it. The moderator decides who gets to speak, and makes sure that each speaker stays on the current topic and does not digress. The moderator can cut off anyone who starts to go off topic.

For an online discussion having a moderator can also help. Early on in the history of Usenet some newsgroups chose to have a moderator. In such groups all messages first go to the moderator who must approve them before they are posted for all to see. Those messages deemed inappropriate, for whatever reason, will never be seen by the rest of the group.

Most moderators just act as a gate, filtering out the "noise". Some take on the role of editor, taking all the messages from one day, grouping them by topic, eliminating redundant sections, and posting the resulting digest of approved messages. Needless to say being a moderator can be very time consuming, especially for an active discussion with many posts per day.

Rather than a single moderator some groups have several in order to share the work involved. Indeed some weblogs, such as Slashdot, have a system where all registered members can vote on the quality of each post: those posts deemed good receive a high score, while the flames and spam get negative scores. Readers can then have the system automatically filter out any posts beneath a specified threshold.

Software can also be used to automatically filter out some of the spam. Such systems should send filtered messages for the review of a person though since automatic filters can easily make mistakes and suppress valid posts. This filtering can also be done by each reader according to their personal preferences. For example in the early days of Usenet newsgroups people defined "killfiles" that made their newsreader application ignore any postings on a given topic or from a particularly annoying individual.

Moderation in Instant Messaging systems takes the form of letting each participant block chat requests from anyone they do not wish to chat with. Some IM systems let users send a warning to anyone who sends them a rude or nasty message. Anyone who receives too many warnings is prevented from posting for a while.


Realize that not every message sent to a discussion will be appropriate and build in tools to allow the group, or some chosen representatives, to moderate the messages. Also allow individuals to set their own preferences on how they would like to filter the moderated messages.

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Moderation information can be attached to each message as MetaInformation. Individuals can sometimes use MailFiltering to eliminate unwanted messages.


Last edited December 24, 2002
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