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Voting on messages: a way to resolve the mailing list problems


It is generally perceived that there are currently a couple of 
problems with the way discussions happen on our mailing lists:

* Some people are put off from participating in the discussions 
on important topics because they are not willing to expose themselves 
to offensive behaviour and personal attacks, which, unfortunately, is 
seen more and more often on our lists;


* "Vocal minority" dominates "silent majority" by contributing a 
disproportionate amount of list traffic, not necessarily expressing 
the opinion of the project as a whole and, effectively, blocking other 
active contributors, not willing to engage in flame wars, from voicing 
their opinion.

Existing mechanisms (such as GRs and requesting mailing lists bans for 
certain individuals) are clearly not efficient in dealing with these 
problems, both due to them being considered exceptional measures and 
inadequacy of these tools for solving social problems. I have also 
seen opinions that other "obvious" ways of addressing the issue, 
such as moderation of the lists or a new organizational entity, which 
would act as a list watchdog, is not the way to go, as it adds yet 
another layer of bureacracy and raises the usual questions of choosing 
the "right" people for the privileged position.

So, what can we do about? During a little brainstorming session on IRC 
last night a following idea has emerged: let's have a way to express 
our opinion about the mailing list posts. The proposed implementation 
is straightforward: you can "vote" a particular mailing list message 
up or down by signing it with your key and forwarding it to an email 
address like praise@ or curse@, depending on your personal opinion. 
That will provide a low-threshold way for the "silent minority" to 
express their opinion about a particular message without getting into 
a yet another flame war, and provide a feedback loop for the authors, 
informing them of other's opinions about their posts.

Now, I know that for a bunch of geeks like us it is very tempting to 
start discussing the technical details and how the scoring is  
going to be implemented, and how the results are going to be used, 
and so on. The way I would like to see this idea developing is that it 
starts as an unofficial project, with very simple rules (like, "you 
can vote once for each message ID"), which simply collects the data 
and makes it publicly available in some way. Interested parties and 
individuals can then use the data to provide their own metrics (and 
try to convince others that their way of calculating the mailing list 
"karma" is the right one). Eventually, we should be able to settle on 
one authoritative way of calculating it, which can become "official", 
and used to develop procedures for warning the offensive posters that 
their behaviour is considered disruptive, for example.

I believe that at this point Nick Rusnov, John Goerzen and myself have 
expressed interest in working on the first stage of the project. If 
you have any ideas or comments - please share, we would also welcome 
your contribution if you decide to help out with it.

Jurij Smakov                                           jurij@wooyd.org
Key: http://www.wooyd.org/pgpkey/                      KeyID: C99E03CC

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