My Contribution to the "Voting on Comments" Discussion
In a recent post, Anarchospiritualist proposed the idea of adding the ability to vote for comments, just as we can now do for posts. His thread can be found here: https://www.yours.org/content/i-want-to-vote-on-comments--too-27308cebd231
I’m creating a new post on this subject, in part to bump the old post and to continue the discussion. The original discussion is getting a bit buried, and so I thought responding there would not get very much attention from anyone new.
But I have another reason for proceeding this way, instead of by commenting there directly, which I will explain later.
Let me start by saying that I passionately believe in what Ryan is doing. Also, I always try to think very deeply about issues involving social interaction, as well as interface design. These two subjects are intensely interesting to me. So when I speak on these matters, I come from a position of truly wanting the best ideas to flourish, regardless of where they may come from.
I think most of us are probably here, at least in part, because we appreciate the reasoning behind the pay-to-vote model. I know I do. Ryan is trying to create a space in which the quality of content on the internet has been improved, as well as a space where civility among participants on the internet has been improved. And I believe he has succeeded, not just in that mission, but in a greater and more general one: Demonstrating the workability of market principles.
So, since it is so clear that this pay-to-vote model is so effective at improving the engagement of users, perhaps it is only natural to suppose that the system should be expanded. And so, possibly with this reasoning in mind, Anarchospiritualist has advanced the idea of voting for comments, with a kind of ranking system applying to them in much the way that such a system applies to every post made to all the main categories.
A conversation emerged in response to Anarchospiritualist’s idea about voting for comments, which led to another idea: Adding the ability to reply to comments. This is a common feature in other platforms, such as Facebook.
Then the idea was advanced that perhaps replies to comments could be charged for, with the prices set by the person who made the initial comment.
I simply want to voice some possible issues with the above ideas, ones which may or may not have been considered so far.
First, the voting for comments concept itself. I have one main concern. Because of the way the curation model already works currently, we are encouraged to vote for things we believe will be popular. Not necessarily important. But popular. It probably wasn’t intended to work this way, but it is the way it works. We are extrinsically rewarded with crypto for voting for posts WE BELIEVE WILL BE VOTED ON BY OTHERS LATER, instead of on posts WE BELIEVE ARE IMPORTANT. This is a flaw. I don’t know how to fix it. But we all know that this is how we are encouraged to vote. If we add the voting feature to comments, we will expand this incentive problem to a realm in which it does not exist currently. I would like to see the problem of perverse voting incentives addressed BEFORE expanding the voting feature to another aspect of the platform.
Secondly, the replies to comments idea. I like it, as long as it is simple, easy to read and understand visually, and doesn’t bring any more incentive problems. The Facebook model would probably work just fine.
Finally, the idea of commenters to other people’s posts charging for their own replies: There is much to be said on the subject of this idea alone. I’ll try to be clear. And brief.
One thing that comes to my mind is that comment traffic to any one post is not likely to be as intense, as a rule, as post traffic on the main category feeds in general. So even if there were no other problems with this idea, it probably wouldn’t have much impact. That’s one thought on the subject, though admittedly, this is a small issue.
Another issue, though, is that all of this charging and voting, all this wheeling and dealing, all this stake claiming, is happening ON SOMEBODY ELSE’S post. It’s kind of odd, if you think about it, that we might have all of this mavericky stake claiming going on under the nose of someone who wanted to add value with their own original content. From an ethical standpoint, it just sounds kind of, well, disconnecting or disrespectful for the incentive model to be designed to encourage this kind of behavior, even if no major harm were to come from the practice.
Yet perhaps the biggest issue, though, is that commenters who charge for replies would be too easy to circumvent. All a would-be respondent needs to do if he doesn’t like the commenter’s reply price, is respond directly to the original poster instead. This would be especially likely to happen in the case where the original poster was charging less for comments than the commenter in question was charging for replies. All the would-be respondent would need to do, is tag the commenter in question in the respondent's own comment to the original post, in order to ensure that the circumvented party was notified.
This workaround can, interestingly enough, be used also to avoid paying for the comments of original posters as well. After all, I have written an entirely new post right here, right now, rather than comment on an old one (to his credit, anarchospiritualist did not charge for comments, which I appreciate. This is only intended to illustrate how such a circumvention COULD work, if one wanted to avoid a comment price). Admittedly, Yours users, by and large seem not to be using this workaround in order to avoid paying comment prices. More commonly, they just don’t respond at all. But I don’t see a lot of evidence that users are creating new posts in order to circumvent other posters’ comment prices. So if this isn’t really happening in the case of the existing model, why do I suggest that it might happen with the proposed model?
I believe the situation is different with comments which are to be circumvented than it is with posts which are to be circumvented, and for one main reason: The context of the original conversation cannot be as easily preserved if one creates a whole new post to circumvent a comment price as it can be if one creates a whole new comment to circumvent a reply price. This is because the context of the conversation would still all be on the same screen for the circumventer of a comment, while this is not the case for the circumventer of a post.
So I expect this workaround to happen, and to render the idea of commenters charging for replies, in practice, kind of useless.
The initial idea sounded like a good one because the current system seems to be working. It’s easy to get the idea that a working system can be translated to another context with little or no issue. But we have to think about all the new factors which could create problems for that system once transferred.
I have great respect for everyone who contributed to the other conversation, and I sincerely hope that my contribution here will not be taken as an attack on anyone, as it was merely an effort to extend and revitalize the original conversation, to demonstrate, in the process, the problem of payment circumvention strategies, and to hopefully add value, by critically examining a seemingly well-intended proposal.
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