In an interview at South by Southwest 2012, Anil Dash talked with Nick Denton about comments in the context of blogging (in particular, for large sites that get a lot of traffic). They bemoaned how the initial ideals of civil discourse in comments, of capturing the intelligence of the readership, had become a joke. Comment threads on big blogging sites inevitably devolve into a flurry of snark, diatribes and name-calling (much like they have done on discussion boards and in other online forums over the past two decades). Denton called this the "Tragedy of the comments," a tongue-in-cheek reference to the more well-known Tragedy of the commons (a theory about sharing and the allocation of scarce resources).
In an effort to combat this downward trajectory of civility, Denton announced that Gawker media was going to try an experiment, enlisting the people who start comment threads to police them (more or less – details were scarce). It’s an interesting idea, and it was a provocative discussion on the whole, but it all got me to wondering:
- Does the real-world Tragedy of the commons paradigm apply to "digital commons"? If so, is there anything that’s different?
- Can we leverage proposed solutions to the real-world commons problem in order to remedy some of the bad behavior seen online?