(More) Growing Pains at the Daily Paul...Or, A Group Is Its Own Worst EnemySubmitted by Michael Nystrom on Tue, 10/30/2007 - 14:36
The Daily Paul is growing fast! Several weeks ago, the site ran into some technical difficulties: the amount of traffic was simply overwhelming the servers. Thanks to the expertise our friend John, this turned out to be a relatively minor speed bump along the way - we moved the site to a new server.
The new issue we are either facing, or about to face, is a social issue. This site is now drawing in excess of 30,000 visitors per day, and has close to 4,000 registered users. The potential problem is that anyone who is a registered user can post comments on any story, as well as start new topics in the Forum. I set it up this way because I found that as the site grew, the major bottleneck in the dissemination of information about the campaign was me. In the beginning, when there wasn't much info, I could cover everything in my blog in about an hour!
Soon there was so much information coming from so many different angles that I invited other bloggers to post as well. For a variety of reasons, these postings remained relatively few. Since there is no way one person can manage all of the information out there, I simply opened it up to everyone. I made that decision with some trepidation, but to the credit of you wonderful Ron Paul supporters, this has worked out really great. Give yourselves a big round of applause! You are bright, intelligent, thoughtful, and generally have good spelling and grammar. 99% of the comments/posts have not been a problem.
What started out as my little blog has morphed into a real community for the exchange of ideas.
But as the election comes closer, we may run into the larger issue of spammers, plants, trolls and turncoats. In thinking about this issue, I pulled up a great article by Clay Shirky called A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy. I hadn't read it for a few years, so it was a real refresher and eye opener. It is extremely interesting, but might be a little long for some people. As such, I am excerpting this short, very entertaining vignette to illustrate what the DP is facing:
In the Seventies, a BBS [electronic bulletin board system] called Communitree launched, one of the very early dial-up BBSes. This was launched when people didn't own computers -- institutions owned computers.
Communitree was founded on the principles of open access and free dialogue. "Communitree" -- the name just says "California in the Seventies." And the notion was, effectively, throw off structure and new and beautiful patterns will arise.
And, indeed, as anyone who has put discussion software into groups that were previously disconnected has seen, that does happen. Incredible things happen. The early days of Echo, the early days of usenet, the early days of Lucasfilms Habitat, over and over again, you see all this incredible upwelling of people who suddenly are connected in ways they weren't before.
And then, as time sets in, difficulties emerge. In this case, one of the difficulties was occasioned by the fact that one of the institutions that got hold of some modems was a high school. And who, in 1978, was hanging out in the room with the computer and the modems in it, but the boys of that high school. And the boys weren't terribly interested in sophisticated adult conversation. They were interested in fart jokes. They were interested in salacious talk. They were interested in running amok and posting four-letter words and nyah-nyah-nyah, all over the bulletin board.
And the adults who had set up Communitree were horrified, and overrun by these students. The place that was founded on open access had too much open access, too much openness. They couldn't defend themselves against their own users. [emphasis mine] The place that was founded on free speech had too much freedom. They had no way of saying "No, that's not the kind of free speech we meant."
But that was a requirement. In order to defend themselves against being overrun, that was something that they needed to have that they didn't have, and as a result, they simply shut the site down.
Now you could ask whether or not the founders' inability to defend themselves from this onslaught, from being overrun, was a technical or a social problem. Did the software not allow the problem to be solved? Or was it the social configuration of the group that founded it, where they simply couldn't stomach the idea of adding censorship to protect their system. But in a way, it doesn't matter, because technical and social issues are deeply intertwined. There's no way to completely separate them.
What matters is, a group designed this and then was unable, in the context they'd set up, partly a technical and partly a social context, to save it from this attack from within. And attack from within is what matters. Communitree wasn't shut down by people trying to crash or syn-flood the server. It was shut down by people logging in and posting, which is what the system was designed to allow. [emphasis mine]
The technological pattern of normal use and attack were identical at the machine level, so there was no way to specify technologically what should and shouldn't happen. Some of the users wanted the system to continue to exist and to provide a forum for discussion. And other of the users, the high school boys, either didn't care or were actively inimical. And the system provided no way for the former group to defend itself from the latter.
If you read Shirky's entire article, you will discover that all such communities eventually reach this point - whether in the online world or in the physical world. We're too big, so either the system breaks down, or it requires some new rules. Another way of putting it is that we need a sort of government, and a Constitution! Ironic in a way, isn't it?
Up until this point, I've been very reluctant to ban users and/or delete comments and posts unless they are very clearly disruptive. I have done it and I will continue to do it. This is not "censorship" as some have claimed when I kicked them out. They are free to speak their mind, in the physical world and online - just not here.
I appreciate everyone's help in pointing out the disruptive members. Please continue emailing me with the alerts!
I've run other forums in the past, and have seen how quickly disruptive users can take the whole thing down! I don't want that to happen with the DP. To this end, I need your help in establishing some clear cut rules. I don't want to be an arbitrary dictator.
I would appreciate your input as to (in no particular order):
- what kind of communication is acceptable, and what kind is not?
- what kind of communication should always be deleted?
- are issues tangential to the campaign acceptable topics of discussion, or should we only talk about Ron Paul and the campaign?
- under what circumstances should a user be banned?
- have you seen certain technologies on other sites that you'd like to see implemented here? e.g. the ability to rate comments; the ability to rate users, etc. If so, can you provide me a link to the site?
This is just the beginning of a brainstorming session. I appreciate your help and any other general comments about the site you might have.
Thank you all!