Monday, February 22, 2010

A free speech experiment

Klepsacovic believes that comment moderation makes blogs worse, because "Supposedly blogs are about conversation." I'm not even sure whether that starting statement is valid, my first blog entries probably had zero readers at the time, and at that time Blogger didn't even have a commenting functionality. A blog *can* be about conversation, but it also can be a monologue, a diary, a showcase, or one of many other things. A blog is never as much a conversation as lets say a forum, where other people than the blogger can start a thread.

But even if we just look at blogs for conversation, we are still left with two widely diverging theories. One is the idealistic theory of Klepsacovic, that conversation is best served if there are no restrictions to it whatsoever. Free speech absolute! The second theory is that the potential for anonymity and lack of repercussion will cause antisocial behavior, a theory best known as John Gabriel's Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory.

The truth is probably somewhere in the middle: Completely free conversation is bad because it gets disrupted by trolls, but too strongly moderated conversation is bad because some people who would have a valid input are excluded by barriers like having to sign up somewhere for an identity, or captchas not working properly on their machine. So how can we find the truth? As a scientist, my obvious answer is to set up an experiment:

Starting from now, all comment moderation is removed from this blog, except for posts that are older than 14 days. You can now post anonymously, your comment will appear on the blog immediately, and I will not delete anything, even if it is personal attacks or gold farming spam. Note that in the spirit of fairness I will not even "moderate" my own responses, it would be kind of a one-sided fight if I let people insult me here while remaining polite myself. So don't be surprised if my comment responses are somewhat harsher than usual.

I'll let the blog run for some time like that to monitor the outcome. And then I'll ask you again for your opinion: Was the conversation better *with* or *without* comment moderation? And I'll be happy to listen to your input on what level of moderation you find ideal.

What do you think about this experiment? And what are your predictions on how it will go? Will we get a higher volume of intelligent discussion, or will the conversation quickly become unreadable?

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