Mark Briggs wrote a post on Journalism 2.0 about how a reputation system could be applied to comments on a newspaper’s website. It got my brain in a party. A reputation economy is something we’re taking very much into consideration as we develop some of the core ideas behind the Connection Engine, the platform CoPress will eventually build to power our community, and I think the concept has tremendous potential as a tool to evaluate the map of expertise within your community.
In Mark’s scenario (borrowed from Stack Overflow), the reputation system would be used to identify the good comments from the cruft. If you post a good comment other people think adds to the conversation, then they might vote you up. You’d earn reputation points from that transaction. If you were trolling to derail the conversation or intentionally trying to provoke, then the community could vote you down and you’d lose reputation points. The author of the post, furthermore, could use his or her super reputation to bestow blessings upon really intelligent feedback. All of this information about the quality of content would be useful to the CMS and webmaster, and editor I suppose, in trying to determine what gets placement where.
The kicker is when you tie this reputation system into the database that’s tracking people in your community. This is where things could get really interesting. By adding semantic information to the reputation system (i.e. recording the topic that the commenter is writing on and saving structured data about the nature of their response), you could build a super useful for finding the diamonds in the rough. For instance, if Marcus Doe (a fake name to protect his identity) commented often on articles about climate change and water access issues, and his fellow commenters rated his insights highly, then Marcus’ profile in the database would indicate that the crowd seems to think he makes fair arguments. The news organization would then invite Marcus to contribute a guest article. If the readers then found that contribution valuable, it would increase Marcus’ profile as a source of knowledge about climate change and water access within the community. This would only work with real, verifiable commenters, of course.
This reputation system would be the engine to empower the community to evaluate information and sources for merit.
The idea is a good one, but would need a refinement to work well in the case of highly polarizing subjects.
Debategraph.org has an interactive, visual system that can show multiple sides of any contentious issue.
A voting system could be set up in the following way — users could nagivate the issues map to see pro and con comments were arrayed. They they could choose a “side” and exercise their voting rights in the way you described. They could also put comments of their own into the issue map, for others to vote on in the same way.
This approach would have the merit of letting top-rated comments on a all sides of an issue rise in visibility based on support from others who hold similar views — rather than have good comments be neutralized by the votes of those who fundamentally disagree with a given position.
Good point about polarizing issues, Mark, and I like the thoughts you’d put towards addressing it. I’m not sure that I would limit the sides of an issue to just “pro” vs. “con”, but there should be a way for the commenter to “propose” a new side to the issue and then see whether fellow community members support it or not.