Shirky: Group as User: Flaming and the Design of Social Software

An old (2004) article from Clay Shirky, rediscovered serendiptously as I was reviving a long-dead research system I built (CoFIND – a personal instance of which is visible again after many years of absence at, including all my old bookmarks for that instance from 2004 to 2007). In the perceptive article, Shirky explores a range of methods used to deal with flaming, including a few that we have considered for use on the Landing.

His description of Slashdot’s ( approach from way back then reminds me yet again how amazingly intelligently that system was designed. Slashdot is one of the oldest examples of modern social software still going strong, and it knocks spots of the likes of Facebook and Twitter in how it uses the crowd in an egalitarian and open fashion.  It has never been easy to take advantage of its briliantly innovative methods and its usability for beginners, which was never great at the best of times, has suffered a bit more from its ever-increasing sophistication over the years. For those who take the time to learn its ways, though, it is the nearest thing to group intelligence out there today; adaptive, subtle, and hugely creative, a well-tuned personalised SlashDot thread beats single-authored systems for learning almost every time and makes Wikipedia seem almost pitifully rigid and uninformative. Always arcane, always a nerd-only site, never destined to enter the mainstream, steadfastly focused on its mission of offering ‘news for nerds’, it is none-the-less a shining example of how to do things right.

Address of the bookmark:

I am a professional learner, employed as a Full Professor and Associate Dean, Learning & Assessment, at Athabasca University, where I research lots of things broadly in the area of learning and technology, and I teach mainly in the School of Computing & Information Systems. I am a proud Canadian, though I was born in the UK. I am married, with two grown-up children, and three growing-up grandchildren. We all live in beautiful Vancouver.

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