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Case Study | Power to the People: The Slashdot Moderator System

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Case Study | Power to the People: The Slashdot Moderator System

excerpted from Chapter 5 of Community Building on the Web, by Amy Jo Kim

(Click image for a more detailed view.)

ROB MALDA (A.K.A. CmdrTaco, FOUNDER AND HEAD honcho of Slashdot) had a dilemma. His homegrown Web site, Slashdot, was taking off fast. Every day brought more posts, more page hits, more press coverage, more enthusiastic members signing up.

Everything was going great--except that Rob was being lobbied by two distinct special interest groups, with diametrically opposed needs. Many loyal Slashdot readers were longtime Usenet geeks who considered the comments associated with each Slashdot story to be a newsgroup and thus felt obligated to read every post. But Slashdot was also attracting an increasing number of busy and influential people who wanted to skim the cream and read only the best comments. And Slashdot was growing bigger and busier, so the good stuff was becoming increasingly hard to find.

Rob needed a fair and impartial way to weed out the dross and highlight the best posts, and he wanted a system that could grow along with the site. He’d already hand-picked a few loyal Slashdot members to mark the best and worst comments, but the volume of activity was fast outstripping the abilities of his volunteer editorial team. And he didn’t want to get into the endless cycle of finding, training, and managing new moderators for a rapidly growing site.

So Rob wrote a program that gave moderator access to 400 Slashdot members who’d posted good comments. Some people ignored their new duties, but about half of the newly minted moderators began rating posts. When people (inevitably) abused the system, Rob removed them from the pool of potential moderators. Today, Slashdot’s moderator system is still being tweaked, but it’s settled into a groove. Here’s how it works:

  • After a thousand posts, a program randomly selects a group of moderators from the set of qualified members that represents a broad cross-section of Slashdot readers and posters, excluding newbies and known troublemakers.

  • Moderators see a special view of the message boards on their screen when they log on (see screenshot, above). Each newly-minted moderator is allotted five “tokens,” each of which represents the chance to rate one post. The ratings are accumulated by the system database, which attaches an evolving score to each comment within the system. After five ratings (or three days), their moderator shift is over; but if they didn’t abuse their powers, the system can choose them again from the pool. So a regular reader might be a moderator every few months, while for a regular poster it might be every few weeks.

  • Slashdot members can set their preferences to view only those posts that rise above a certain score. So using this system, the Usenet geeks can set their preference to -1, which allows them to read every post, flames and all; people who want only the top quality can set their cutoff level at 5, which will show them only the best posts.

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