(2010-11-08) Social Software Cooling Legibility And Warrens Vs Plazas

Back in 2007 Eliezer Yudkowsky wrote a post about groups becoming more fanatical over time via Evaporative Cooling - where some event triggers the more reasonable/skeptical people into leaving a group, so that those left behind have discussions that have less skepticism to drawn on. My own theory of Internet moderation is that you have to be willing to exclude trolls and spam to get a conversation going. You must even be willing to exclude kindly but technically uninformed folks from technical mailing lists if you want to get any work done. A genuinely open conversation on the Internet degenerates fast. It's the articulate trolls that you should be wary of ejecting, on this theory - they serve the hidden function of legitimizing less extreme disagreements. But you should not have so many articulate trolls that they begin arguing with each other, or begin to dominate conversations. If you have one person around who is the famous Guy Who Disagrees With Everything, anyone with a more reasonable, more moderate disagreement won't look like the sole nail sticking out. This theory of Internet moderation may not have served me too well in practice, so take it with a grain of salt.

Hang Zhang recently re-framed this in terms of changes in the quality of a Social Media environment, leading to a Death Spiral of exits. There are two fundamental patterns of social organization which I term “plaza” and “warrens”. In the plaza design, there is a central plaza which is one contiguous space and every person’s interaction is seen by every other person. In the warren design, the space is broken up into a series of smaller warrens and you can only see the warren you are currently in. There is the possibility of moving into adjacent warrens but it’s difficult to explore far outside of your zone. Plazas grow by becoming larger, warrens grow by adding more warrens.... Warrens are notoriously difficult to get started... But the one absolute killer feature of warrens is that they allow your community to become almost perfectly scale free and grow like mad without ever sacrificing quality... Since I’ve gotten to the Valley, I’ve heard probably close to 100 pitches for social products in random conversation. About half of them involved a meeting place dynamic of one kind or another and about 80% of those, as they were conceived, would be killed dead by Evaporative Cooling.

Venkatesh Rao sees Zhang's warrens-vs-plaza design choices as designing around Legibility. Social System-s that thrive and grow are on the edge of legibility. (kinda like the Edge Of Chaos)


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