Collaboration on Slashdot

On: November 22, 2007
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About Carolien van der Vorst


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“Sometimes, the complex human-machine constructions are intentional. Often they are the emergent result of aggregating a large number of individual interactions. And occasionally they are both.” [Rheingold: 32]

Online cooperation has become one of the fastest developping areas of the web 2.0. Many of the ways in which we can currently cooperate online have not been foreseen by it’s developpers. According to Rheingold the protocol designers built an architectural freedom into the Internet, because they suspected the users would think of uses that they couldn’t imagine yet. [Rheingold: 32]

This architectural freedom gives the users the opportunity to find solutions for their own problems. Ironically, it oftentimes solves problems that have arisen due to the fact that everyone is now able to contribute to the web.

Take for example Slashdot. Slashdot has ‘invented’ a system that specifically solves a problem that has arisen due to the fact that everybody is now able to publish. As described earlier, a system had to be developped to make sure the good comments weren’t lost in a sea of average or bad comments. Not very new anymore, but still going strong, Slashdots moderation system is still exemplary to online cooperation.

Slashdot needed to be able to create a reputation for it’s users. In our day-to-day lives, we have a sense of who to trust and whose remarks to ignore. After years of experience in dealing with people, we are able to rely on our instincts in judging people. If we meet new people, very often his or her reputation plays part in our judgement. It hardly ever happens that we have to cooperate with someone we don’t have any background information on.

In the online world however, we meet people who seem to be completely without background all the time. Due to the fact that anyone can take on an unlimited number of aliases, it is very difficult to establish a sense of who we are dealing with and how reliable their contributions are.

The problem that Slashdot had to solve was how to give it’s users a way to rebuild this reputation in the virtual world. It does so by giving the users ‘karma’. Each comment is rated and the better your comments are rated, the better your reputation gets. This way we are able to get a sense of a persons reputation and reliability. This is important because:

Trust increases the value of a market. [Rheingold: 55]

Howard Rheingold. Technologies of Cooperation. In: Geert Lovink & Trebor Scholz, eds. The Art Of Free Cooperation. Institute of Network Cultures, 2007.

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