Social filtering for online forums

Yayhooray re-launched with new features and functions, and what looks like a rich environment for writing, browsing and discussion. As far as I know it’s the first forum built to use the buddy list as a form of content filtering: to increase the signal to noise ratio in the content.

Here’s a bit of Yayhooray history:

Built by skinnyCorp in 2001 as an experiment in online community. Along with o8 it soaked up some of the users from Dreamless, the ‘design forum’ that reached critical mass and became its own worst enemy at the end of 2000.

Originally it was built to manage itself through a levels system; allowing users to earn administration responsibilities (similar to implicit moderation systems employed by other forums like metafilter). It worked well at a small scale but led to cliques forming around the early adopter’s own social networks.

The levels system evolved into a points system, allowing anyone to award points to anyone, on a limited (one a day, one person a week) basis, similar to karma systems adopted at slashdot and kuro5hin. This briefly led to multiple account scams, and ended up in the ‘point orgy’ where ‘points were swapped rather than STDs’.

In the end, both systems were abused, subverted and widely discussed, often taking over from normal discussions and swamping the site with controversy. Many regulars left to other places, some seeing closed, invite only communities (like humhum) as the only option left for humane, creative discussion.

Yayhooray, in this latest version, is setting itself up to deal with these problems by globally filtering the content through a buddy system, rather than explicitly administering the content and user reputations. This applies to the entire site including the categorised discussions, blogging interface, links database, buddy lists and search.

The most obvious feature is a meter on the left hand side, which allows 4 different filtering settings:

  • you and only you
  • you and your buddies
  • you, your buddies, and their buddies
  • every user on Yay Hooray!

    This applies a filter to the entire site, including user lists and search, which took me a little by suprise. The site is effectively meshing off into small, interlinked communities of interest, based on individual social networks and collaborative filtering.

    In my case, buddies are mostly people that I have met, talked to, or seen invest time into making things: initiating photographic threads, dealing with social issues, administering creative collaborations, giving good design critique…

    Logging in now (using ‘you, your buddies, and their buddies’) I see a small subset of the overall forum, focused on these parts of the discussion. Given that the filter is so prominent and usable, it is also possible to jump out into the chaos of the full site.

    There is also a useful, if somewhat harsh, system that censors posts and links based on a list of people that you class as ‘enemies’! Being based on proper XHTML, CSS and DOM technologies means that censored posts are easily toggled on and off.

    On the downside there will most likely be confusion and clashes when different groups that don’t mesh with each other, but have completely different experiences of the place, come together in a single thread. There will also be more repetition, or double posts of content gets repeated amongst different groups that are out of sync by virtue of the filters.

    To fully appreciate this you need to invest time in it, and to build up a network of trusted buddies. YH can be hyperactive and annoying, it must be difficult for a new user to become engaged. The filters are perhaps most useful for long-time users looking for relief from ‘worst enemy’ problems.

    Because it has become an adaptive social platform, and has the potential to be subverted and shaped into many different kinds of system, I will reserve judgement for now, and make a new report soon.