Dynamically Associated Messaging Forums

by Mr. Cheap

I was originally going to stop after 20 wacky business ideas, but I think some people enjoy them (and they’re easy posts to write), so I’ll keep going with them.  Sorry if you’re sick of the whole category of posts (I’ll forgive our regular readers if they skip THESE POSTS – you MUST read everything else I write however).

Faceless (and potentially anonymous) communication has been an intriguing element of electronic interactions.  When we were teenage punks, a friend and I got on his brother’s CB radio and started moaning and groaning (and slapping our necks ala Christian Slater in “Pump up the Volume”) to disrupt the conversations.  I was a System Operator on a BBS, and the same troll behaviour would happen in the message forums, people would say antagonistic things (usually anonymously) then delight in watching the chaos that emerged.  It has long been known that people say things over the Internet that they would never dream of saying face-to-face.

You get the evolution of communities where they start out being really interesting, engaging forums where like-minded individuals meet up to chat, and if they last any length of time and grow, eventually they attract unpleasant users who drive out the old guard and destroy the place.  I talked about one solution to this in Wacky Business Idea #4, but this is another approach.

Basically users would join a website devoted to chatting (think Usenet, Yahoo Groups or any of the topical message forums such as Canadian Money Forums).  There wouldn’t be any specific topic, just people who want to chat in a group by leaving messages to one another.

When a new user joins, they would be in some general intro chat areas, and could start a new topic, or participate in existing topics.  Every user could give a thumbs up or a thumbs down (think StumbleUpon) to other users, or to a specific comment.  The system would do collaborative filtering to match up users who tend to like interacting with each other (or like the same messages / topics).  These users would then be put into a group with one another and could carry on their discussions privately.  This would be constantly recalculated, so if a user suddenly turned into a jerk (or a user was accidentally added to an inappropriate group), the flurry of thumbs down from other users would quickly eject them.

If good groups kept growing, at a certain point the system would view it as too many people to carry on discussions (or too many conversations occurring for members to follow), and break it into two groups (trying to match users with the sub-group that they’d be best suited for).  Conversely, if a group got too small or conversation died out, the system would merge it with another “quiet” group or add some new users who might be a match.

Groups could evolve to be focused on personal finance, technology, or movies (or just be general discussion that drifts through topics of interest to participants).

One option COULD be that people in groups could “invite” their friends to their private groups, however if the person quickly got “thumbed down” by the other participants, they’d be ejected from the group (and the system would do its best to introduce them to a new group of people they might be better suited to).

Hopefully the “self policing” nature would avoid the need to have moderators or heavy-handed controls in place, while still allowing user the feeling of being in control of who they interact with (and groups being able to protect themselves from users whose goal is to disrupt the community).

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Four Pillars

You know -that’s a pretty good idea. I’d be surprised if something like that hasn’t been tried.

It might be hard to establish the rating system – what if the trolls end up taking over a forum?

2 nobleea

i have to agree with rob. it’s fun for a while to be in a room of yes-men. but eventually it wears off and gets dull. a few people to challenge your ideas are always necessary. think what the world would be like if everyone toed the company line

3 Mr. Cheap

I definitely get the concern of rooms turning into groups of yes men. What matters is the meaning people assign to a thumbs up or a thumbs down.

On StumbleUpon I’ve given a thumbs up to articles I completely disagree with (I watch Michael Moore movies for the same reason – they’re great flicks, even if I disagree with his politics). I don’t give thumbs up for sites that believe the same thing as me, I give them to sites that present information that I find interesting in clear ways, even if I disagree with the content.

As an example, Squawkfox wrote an article Why Good Debt is a Lie which I disagree with, but it’s a GREAT article, which clearly presents her view on debt (and how she believes the ideal situation is to avoid it completely).

Mike gave her article a thumbs up and I *think* his view is similar to mine (great article, even though he doesn’t agree with it).

A group Mike and I are part of isn’t going to be yes men. We’ll happily give “the fox” thumbs up, and if people start trying to shout her down about her opinions, we’d give THEM the thumbs down.

I guess it boils down to the meaning of the thumbs up or thumbs down. If you use them for opinions you agree with, then you’ll end up in a group of yes men. If you use them for people who interact in a civilized manner and are interested in topics you’re interested in (even if you disagree), you’ll get a civilized and interesting discussion group. If you use them on people who are funny and crude, you’ll get a group that resembles a frat party…

4 Mr. Cheap

Mike: If trolls take over a specific forum, then it’s happily given to them (and a new forum is created from the non-trolls to be moved to). Say 4 of us don’t like the new direction a forum we’ve been participating in has been going and we start giving thumbs down to a lot of posts and some of the users we don’t care to interact with. Once the system “sees” this happening, we’ll either be moved to a group we’re better suited to, or a new group will be created for us (and it will try to add other compatible users to enlarge the group).

5 Four Pillars

the fox

Does someone have a Fox crush? 🙂

6 Mr. Cheap

Of course! Remember our exchange on editors. I’m just waiting until she sees the light and leaves her husband for me (along with Telly) 😉

7 Mike

Ah yes – an excellent conversation. I had forgotten about that.

You must have a much better memory than I…or maybe you have a framed copy of that thread up on the wall of your bedroom? 😛

8 Mr. Cheap

I do! It’s right next to framed pictures of her underwear…

9 Shevy

Yeah, my idea was just to create special forums for trolls and funnel them all into the same room, leaving the rest of the space for those who know how to play nicely together.

10 Mr. Cheap

Shevy: Keeping them in the special forum would be the tough part 🙂

11 Melanie Reformed Spender

I like these posts. They’re fun to read.

12 Mr. Cheap

Melanie: Thanks for the feedback!

13 Shevy

You know, I wonder if the trolls would even notice. They like the sound of their own voice and to get others riled up. I bet one troll could get another one frothing at the mouth pretty easily. But the thumbs down aspect of the idea would work well in getting them shunted together. And you could just *turn off* that aspect in their forum. Plus, if they tried to sneak into another forum you could either wait for them to be thumbed out of there or you could automatically keep rerouting an IP address that had been designated as a troll back to where they belong.

14 Squawkfox

You guys are killing me – LOL. Seriously dying over here in B.C. reading this thread. Like Mr.Cheap my husband also uses VI, but he’s not a fan of my underwear. Go figure. So it’s nice to know there’s at least one man in this world who appreciates a women’s bra nestled on a set of melons.

Now onto that “Good Debt is a Lie” post. I’m still waiting for Cheap to post that rebuttal he promised. I have a thing for smart men who disagree with me. 😉

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