PART 2 - MODERATING THE BIOSCI/bionet NEWSGROUPS

Iain Wilson wilson at edv1.boku.ac.at
Mon Mar 6 13:51:31 EST 1995


I have skimmed a number of the responses to the current debate on 
moderation and will make comments as someone who 1) has experiments
to do and cannot read all the posts in every newsgroup that may be
of conceivable interest and 2) is co-discussion leader of a new
newsgroup (bionet.glycosci). My comments are without a clear 
conclusion, but I hope they present feedback from a user.

I find that adverts and subscribe/unsubscribe messages are a 
nuisance. Adverts for some Tape and Mixer or whatever it was in
Portugese that was posted in our group last week will make new
users (glyco people are not heavily 'networked') wonder what is
going on. However the main problem is when a whole lot of people
reply to such 'chaff' as I have seen happen in some groups - this
adds to the noise considerably. Subscribe/Unsubscribe messages are
due to lack of knowledge on the part of the poster - due to the
low volume of such posts, I answer them myself. Presumably they
are all from people using e-mail - which leads to the question of 
the future of e-mail and newsgroups. I think that they have a place.

It seems that news, gopher and e-mail work at different speeds at
different times - normally the gopher-accessible archives are most
up-to-date - sometimes news lags e-mail and vice versa. I use all 
three for bionet.glycosci because of being co-discussion leader - 
just to see how things are going. I think we have an average of a post
or two per day - so there is no overload. However an e-mail 
subscription to the methods-reagents newsgroup must be a nightmare -
and moderation of any kind could not change that, only minimally 
affect the load, unless censorship was applied - or the moderator
was sufficiently knowledgeable to deal with repeat questions.

Auto-moderation - based on registration - may have some benefits. 
Time-dependent purging-of-list/notification-of-need-to-reregister 
may be possible and may be advantageous - but, unless its effect is 
to cut the number of legitimate posts, it does not get round the 
e-mail problem for large newsgroups. It was ironic that when 
bionet.glycosci started, e-mail was the only way to get posts - 
there were NNTP problems! These problems do seem now to have been 
solved - but software can always create its own problems.

What bothers me most about this thread are hysterical responses from
various busybodies that seem to inhabit various parts of the net -
I believe that Dave Kristofferson does a good job, gets unnecessary
flaming and has opened up an important debate. What is important is
not to raise spectres of censorship (because that is not implied
by the proposal) or preventing access (refining access for the
benefit of the target audience of the newsgroups is what is proposed),
but to calmly discuss the future of these newsgroups. The free-to-
person-at-the-average-university-computer (I can make no comments 
about the cost to universities corporately) nature of the Internet is
virtually (!) too good to be true. When does the paying start? Who
should pay? What do they pay for? How are they charged? Perhaps I am
being naive as to the funding politics, but I guess the Internet
freebies-to-actual-academic-user will end by act of some parliament 
or congrees at some point - but this is another thread entirely.

Also raised in this thread is the idea of manual moderation - for 
bionet.glycosci it could be done, due to the at present relatively
low traffic - but who would do it for methods-reagents? What if 
presently lowish-traffic groups become busier? Regardless of my
good intentions for the scientific community and belief that bionet
is good, I would not (due to time and boredom) volunteer - does this
make me antisocial. Perhaps those who suggest manual moderation
should do it - but very often they will, inevitably, be remote from
the concerns of those at the bench - for whom these newsgroups are 
designed. Asking people to elect respected people as moderators would 
probably acheive no clear result. Having multiple moderators would 
presumably involve special software for them to get x% randomly of the
posts to be moderated. Retro-moderation does not get away from the
overload problem - although adverts or offensive posts could be 
removed, perhaps, at discussion-leaders' request by bionet - but 
retroactive removal does not solve our problem!

In conclusion, I think there are many aspects to this debate - 
we cannot say "Crisis, what crisis?" - since some newsgroups are
overloaded and we cannot have infinite subdivision. I presume that
there are many people who have complained to Dave Kristofferson of
overload and his proposal is probably about as objective as one
could have. The question is whether such a registration system will
slow down posting for all and whether it will acheive any significant
reduction in chaff. If the answers are yes and no respectively, then 
we still have a problem. If the answers are no and yes - we should go
ahead. If the answers are yes and yes we probably should still go
ahead. The final possibility (no and no) will make the whole thing is
neutral in end-user effect. I don't know which of these possibilities
is closest to reality!! 

---------------------------------------------------------------
Iain Wilson                        Institut fuer Chemie           
Tel: 43-1-47654-6065               Universitaet fuer Bodenkultur   
Fax: 43-1-310-5176                 Gregor-Mendel-Straße 33
E-mail: wilson at edv1.boku.ac.at     A-1180, WIEN, Austria

http://www-bprc.mps.ohio-state.edu/cgi-bin/hpp/iain_wilson.html




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