I'm not quite clear on why so many Kossacks are currently upset with the way troll-ratings and discussions are playing out: perhaps I simply avoid the type of diary where the worst vitriol surfaces. But, clearly there are a lot of people, many of whom have histories as valuable contributors, who are very upset.
Part of the cause may be a recent influx of actual trolls intent on disrupting the site. (We should expect that given the recent MSM attention paid to us.) Part of the cause may be the recent compression from 0,1,2,3,4 to 0 or 4 ratings. Part of the cause may be a feedback loop in which disagreements escalate into feuds.
Whatever the cause, perhaps it's time for a time-out of sorts. More below.
The ratings system can serve a valuable purpose in discouraging or even shutting down deliberate attempts to derail discussions. But the system has unintended consequences.
In some respects, ratings are the blog equivalent of a sitcom laugh track. Just as the canned laughter relieves the viewer of the work of deciding whether something was funny, the ratings system tells the reader whether a comment was insightful. It's a little bit easier to chuckle when the laugh track endorses the comedy, and a little bit easier to be the fifth Recommend on a comment.
The ratings system also seduces our ego. A snide remark that plays to the dKos consensus is very likely to get Recommends; a more thoughtful remark that challenges that consensus less so. I'm not really accusing us of groupthink: rather, the ratings system tends to favor the most accessible comment, just as a laugh track works better with slapstick humor than with (for example) Steven Wright.
This makes me wonder: what would the dKos experience be like if we did not receive or give ratings? The only feedback to our comments would be responding comments.
Would it feel eerily quiet? Would our comments become more thoughtful? Would we see races to the margin as indented comments replaced ratings? Would we find that our discontent is not in the ratings but in the discussion? Would we love it or hate it?
It might be a worthwhile experiment.
For the next couple of days I'm on a ratings fast -- neither giving them nor expecting them (no tip jar here). Think about joining me.