PART 2 - MODERATING THE BIOSCI/bionet NEWSGROUPS

Dan Zabetakis dan at cubsps.bio.columbia.edu
Wed Mar 1 19:05:54 EST 1995


In article <3itihe$pmr at net.bio.net>,
David Kristofferson <kristoff at net.bio.net> wrote:
>
>The main thing that we have to remember with USENET news is that it is
>"free" to end users and thus there is always going to be a certain
>level of inconvience that people have to put up with in exchange for
>this access.


    Besides being free, the usenet-like mechanism is by far the best
_proven_ mechanism of it's kind. If the goal is to allow biologists to
communicate rapidly and efficiently, then the current bionet structure is
it.
   I'm not sure that it is the goal, though. You seem to have other things in
mind:

> To make something that more closely approaches a
>journal would require an investment and subscriptions that are alien
>to the old Internet model of conduct.

   I don't think people who use bionet think of it as in any way like a 
journal. And I don't think that would be a good mental model under which to
consider changes to bionet. Anything that impedes a persons ability to 
commincate (in both directions) will spell trouble for the net. Groups
that go moderated are often moderated to death. The bias of the moderator
inevitably sneaks in, and many moderators are not objective or have hidden
agendas.


>  This is changing though and it
>remains to be seen how services like BIOSCI will fare in this
>transition.  I, for one, would like to see it survive as not everyone
>will have the ability to pay for commercial services who may also not
>be interested in carrying their posts.

   Unless you do something to stop it, bionet (the news version) is perfectly
capable of self-perpetuation forever as long as NNTP can still run. And 
even if it does go down, we can always start up sci.bio.* groups. But bionet
is already running, is working, and is getting better known. That's why
I'm alarmed by suggestions to make global changes.

>
>>3) RE: "Having to sign up first will represent an excessive barrier to 
>>new users".  I absolutely agree that this is a big problem.  However, I 
>>think that the current low signal to noise ratio is an even bigger 
>>barrier to both new and experienced users.  
>
>Several people addressed this issue.  BIOSCI/bionet usage is already
>at the level where I am more concerned about losing current users on
>some of the more popular newsgroups than attracting scores of new
>ones.

  This is a mistake. If there is too much noise and not enough signal, it is
because not enough people post. Are people really bothered so much by the
occasional student question? Spam can be delt with by other means, as is 
being done for the rest of the net. (And bionet too, the cancelbots kill
bionet spam as well). 
  Only a very small percentage of biologists use bionet at all. And few of
the groups could be considered high volume by any measure. Yes, bionet.plants
has a bunch of gardening questions. But the real solution is to fill it with
more relevant questions (or create a different group for that purpose). That
way new users will see even after a feew seconds that it isn't the right
group. But even considering that, only a few of the bionet.plant posts
seemed to be clearly out of topic.
  On the other hand, if you consider bionet a sort of club that one has to
gain admission to, you should say so outright. Is the problem that a few
oldtimers feel they are loosing control of groups that has changed in it's
focus? That happens in any forum.

>  I am trying to find out how others feel about this.  Once
>again, the auto-moderation would *not* apply to all groups, just those
>that want it, so students, etc., could still get access to pros on
>unmoderated forums.

  What group is it that is clamoring for more control? We need to see what
the problem is before we know how to view the issues. None of the groups
I read are in any way in need of control. Maybe you should propose a test
group. Take some group that has a problem, and see if the members will accept
the idea. Then install the plan in that group only and see what happens over
the next few months. See how many new _posters_ you get. If the group is
alive, it should be getting new ones every week. If the group has been
controlled to death, new posters will be scared away.

>Reverse moderation mentioned in a couple of posts (please no holy wars
>on that item here) requires people to do work.  We have not succeeded
>in getting sufficient volunteers in the past for regular moderation
>and there is no reason to believe that we will change this in the
>future *unless* we can start paying people.

   Here's a rule of thumb that relieves a lot of worry. If there aren't
enough people upset about the hapennings on a group to find a single person
to moderate it, then the group does not _need_ to be moderated.
   Thinking of paying people to modearate a group is insane, you know. If
you pay someone to run a group, I want to know how I can get my check for
writing the very interesting and informative articles I post. We users are
our own service providers.


>While I know that some sites such as EBI are trying to solve the
>problem with keyword filtering schemes via e-mail, (1) I think e-mail
>is not the right solution, and (2) any automatic scheme without a
>rather detailed set of rules is going to miss a lot of material, break
>of discussion threads, etc., etc.

   These sorts of think are only useful as _parasites_. They use the news
flow, but don't contribute to it. (Or else make contributing to it hard
of confusing for thier users). I know that lurkers outnumber posters 10:1,
but a system based on lurking can't work.

>
>Finally, if everyone was moving away from mail to news then there
>would be less of a need for some of these issues; unfortunately both
>kinds of usage continue to increase although the percentage seems to
>be gradually shifting towards news.

   This a decision that has to be made first. Mailing lists have many
inherent flaws, and are inevitably less efficient than news. But people
will always want them since not everyone can get a good news feed. You
should divide the problems up into mail-problems and news-problems (I
think they are all mail problems). If mail is to be officially disadvantaged
(and I think it should be), thenwe should only deal with mail problems if
they are severe. 

DanZ

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