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shadows of echoes of memories of songs
Construction for the modern idiot
A few people have said (here and elsewhere) that they share my reservations about posting because of the fear of getting flamed. I suspect those who've spoken aren't the only ones who feel it.

I have often thought that I'd like to have some kind of forum for more in-depth discussion of interesting issues where there was a general understanding that the purpose of the discussion was to build, not to destroy; a sort of intellectual version of the 'fix-it sessions' I was envisaging in another recent post, somewhere you can bring your half-formed ideas and see if with the help of others they can be made into something more coherent -- or disassembled into their component parts and reassembled into something else entirely. I love silly conversations and catchphrase-trading as much as the next guy, but there are times when it would be great to discuss something more meaty and/or more meaningful -- but to be able to do so without constantly fearing a metaphorical kick in the teeth.

Rather than wishing for this thing & doing nothing about it, I'm now thinking what the best way to organise such a community would be, with a view to doing something about actually setting it up (probably as an LJ community because that's simple and free, but other suggestions welcomed -- a real-life discussion group would be marvellous but I suspect that availability and geography would conspire against that).

Past experience has made me wary of systems where members have to be approved by n other existing members -- my feeling is that they don't really scale, that trust is not transitive, and that either they create enormous amounts of admin, or procedures end up getting ignored (which is worse than not having them in the first place) because nobody can be bothered to do that admin. At the other extreme, I fear completely open membership would result in an influx of spammers and trolls.

It's difficult to start Interesting Discussions out of nowhere. Personally I'd like something a bit more structured, a "topic for discussion" or perhaps a series of questions for the week/month (a longer period of time would allow for more thought), but constructing topics for discussion that aren't just vague or banal is almost as hard as having the interesting thoughts in the first place.

There are undoubtedly lots of other issues I haven't considered, but I'm basically bringing my half-formed thoughts to the table & asking politely for constructive help with fixing them. Does this sort of thing sound like a good idea? Like the sort of thing you might find interesting? How could it best be made flameproof -- or is that a misguided aim?

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1ngi From: 1ngi Date: November 18th, 2010 06:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
I've battled with this in my professional life for more years that care to remember. I wrote this about 3 years ago:http://ideagarden.co.uk/2007/04/23/how-to-stop-killing-ideas/ (I've a funny feeling I've told you about it at some point so sorry if I am repeating myself).

Playful collaboration in conversation is something I greatly miss.
From: rmc28 Date: November 18th, 2010 07:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
It occurs to me that the one place I don't mind posting is plan_survive, because it has an explicit agenda that flaming and sniping is Not On. There are two moderators; they've only had to intervene a couple of times ever, probably because of the strongly-stated agenda-against-flaming in the profile. It is fairly narrowly-focused on parenting, however.

Right now I could do with a plan_survive for politics, because I'm simultaneously really interested right now and utterly demoralised by the virulence of any political discussion online. It would be nice to have somewhere where polite disagreement was the expectation, not point-scoring and abuse.
vinaigrettegirl From: vinaigrettegirl Date: November 19th, 2010 09:31 am (UTC) (Link)
Brilliant idea.

A name may help: Half-Warmed Fish, perhaps?

You can have a 1-strike-and -you're-out rule. You can have a hugely explicit No Snarks/Flames policy. Also a positive direction: Do behaviours as well as Don't behaviours.

Of course you can expect flamelessness. Flaming is almost always self indulgence. I looked at my trouser suit Howler and it's heartfelt, funny, and immature...
julietk From: julietk Date: November 19th, 2010 03:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think it sounds interesting, definitely.

The places I can think of offhand which are (reasonably) flameproof have both strong statements on what is & isn't OK, moderation which actively enforces that, and a culture in which other participants support the code of conduct and the moderators.

(I also know of one forum which is flame-free pretty much everywhere but on one board, where thus-far-but-no-further is enforced. Works well for those involved, although I always steered clear of that particular board because of it.)

Closed membership without membership approval but with mod approval allows one to keep the spammers (and some very obvious trolls) out; trolls who make it through that & then fail to stick to the code of conduct fetch up out on their ear.

Content: have a place where people can suggest interesting things to discuss? That spreads the 'thinking of stuff' load a bit.

I like the idea!
cartesiandaemon From: cartesiandaemon Date: November 20th, 2010 12:46 am (UTC) (Link)
That's really interesting. I hope you don't mind if I give my various thoughts, even if they're also rather bitty.

I like the idea of having somewhere with more in-depth/productive discussion.

I've often felt the lack of interesting responses to an interesting thought, and realised that most probably many of the responses I'd like just didn't exist in the people I knew; I'd post something about Hume's Fork, and feel like everyone knew all about it except me, but actually most people didn't even know as much as I did, and the few who knew more knew SO MUCH more it was impossible to tell if they actually understood something better, or had just taken a departure into a little world of philosopher's jargon.

Conversely, when I feel like that, I often find I'm more in love with the idea, and actually I would do better to look for somewhere existing which would fulfil what I want. I sort of hope that's not the case, as somewhere interesting, populated by people I already know and like, is more fun.

When I think about something like this, I often think about it in terms of what forum would be appropriate. Email is good for some forms of communication; IRC for others; voice for some; Stack Exchange for questions with finitely many answers[1]. What is best for serious discussion? I imagine something wiki-like, where you can tag responses as being to this paragraph or that one, or to the whole post, and the original post may slowly evolve to present a good summary of the topic. But that's probably overambitious here.

[1] One useful thing about the Stack Overflow model is that it distinguishes between answers and comments.

Building a community is always difficult. cf. Making Light or similar. But having any standards is useful, if you want to say, this post specifically seeks useful comments, not-thought-out stuff (even if funny or correct) goes elsewhere (either elsewhere entirely or in a companion "discussion" post).

You might think in terms of a new medium, a new forum, or even just a tag for posts in existing journals to say "I'm going to moderate this post, only constructive stuff here pls".

I remember a cultural disconnect when Language Log enabled comments. Authors tended to expect only comments of the form "ah, yes, I'm an expert in that and it turns out [explanation] as described in [citations]", but people expected to say things like "that reminds me of something interesting I read" and "I don't know, but I think X, does anyone agree".

One problem I have is never knowing in advance what _will_ be interesting: often my tongue in cheek posts turn out to expose what I really think, whereas my supposedly serious posts meander and don't go anywhere.

I think communities inherently have problems with scaling. (I've toyed with the idea of imposing arbitrary/geographical partitions on groups as they grow, allowing people to mix anywhere, but encouraging a sense of community within smaller groups by default.) But scaling as much as possible is obviously good. But it's a good start to have even a simple policy, preferably enforced by moderation, perhaps by mods or by post authors.
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