2018-07-05 Preventing Dog Piling

@freakazoid recently said “the Internet can’t just be a wide open mesh where everyone is broadcasting to everyone and can see everything all the time.” This inspired the following blog post.

I think we could write a list of design patterns to make harassment and dog piling on the Internet much harder and most people growing up on today’s Internet would be shocked and say that this is not what they wanted. We’ve been raised to expect the kind of features that make the negative interactions possible.

Everything we post must be non-public. This prevents random strangers from discovering it and thus it works like talking in meatspace. You cannot shout and the whole world will hear it, let alone look it up long after you’ve said it.

We need to bring back introductions because the lack of public interaction also means that you cannot step into a timeline of strangers and join the conversation. You need to be introduced to strangers. The situation is very similar in meatspace: it is hard to talk to strangers unless you are introduced, or the situation is highly scripted by cultural expectations: it’s easy to talk to hair dressers or shop keepers because the topics and the nodes of interaction are highly constrained.

We will call people you have been introduced to your acquaintances. This works better than “friends” because we’re not friends, yet; it also works better than “followers” because it’s a mutual relationship.

Next, we need constrained conversation starts with strangers. All your posts are shown to your acquaintances and a very small number of strangers. We want to prevent dog piling of strangers, right? One possible implementation would shown your “public” post to all your acquaintances and one other person. If they don’t interact with it, they lose access to your post. They didn’t care and so the opportunity to interact went away. Another person is shown the post and the cycle repeats until somebody picks it up or enough time has passed.

If the post is picked up by a stranger, the conversation is no longer shown to strangers but with every interaction, participants can invite one of their acquaintances. This automatically introduces them to the existing participants, if they aren’t acquainted already.

A participant is a person that said something in a conversation. If none of your acquaintances spoke up or your don’t have any, then you are the only participant in the conversation. The stranger reacting is another participant.

We could implement this by saying that you cannot add (“mention”) more than one acquaintance per response of all the participants that joined before you. The later you joined the harder it is to add new friends of yours.

Example: If Alice makes a public post and Beatrice is the stranger making a reply, then Alice doesn’t need to add another participant because all her acquaintances can already see the conversation. If Alice replies to Beatrice, the Beatrice can mention her acquaintance Claudia, thus introducing her to Alice. Both Claudia and Alice are now acquainted by default unless they choose to undo this.

If the conversation goes sour, people can leave and cancel their introductions. If they do, they will not get reacquainted by future introductions. This would require an explicit action on both parts.

This service doesn’t do celebrity accounts and news bots. Use blogs for this.

This setup doesn’t solve people working their way into your inner circles and then turning on you. It doesn’t solve ostracizing by your supposed friends. It doesn’t solve gossip and rumors and slander. And yet, it already feels very different from Twitter and Mastodon.

I guess one could make Facebook behave like this by avoiding public posts and groups?

This service would need lists and mass introductions: it was called “circle sharing” in the old Google+ user interface. Sadly, it is no more.



A good thread on Mastodon by @freakazoid, @ajroach42 and @ishara starts here: Sean argues for organic growth, like I do in my doomed proposal. Andrew says we need to keep the possibility of meeting strangers alive. Barry adds that hashtags facilitate community finding. It’s interesting food for thought!

– Alex Schroeder 2018-07-06 20:41 UTC

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