The value of simple solutions and human hands

Xeni Jardin shares her experiences trying to figure out how to handle the influx of stupidity that Boing Boing began to get through their comments.

Finally, this year, we resurrected comments on the blog, with the one thing that did feel natural. Human hands.

We hired a community manager, and equipped our comments system with a secret weapon: the “disemvoweller.” If someone’s misbehaving, she can remove all the vowels from their screed with one click. The dialogue stays, but the misanthrope looks ridiculous, and the emotional sting is neutralized.

Now, once again, the balance mostly works. I still believe that there is no fully automated system capable of managing the complexities of online human interaction — no software fix I know of. But I’d underestimated the power of dedicated human attention.

Plucking one early weed from a bed of germinating seeds changes everything. Small actions by focused participants change the tone of the whole. It is possible to maintain big healthy gardens online. The solution isn’t cheap, or easy, or hands-free. Few things of value are.

Xeni hits several key points here:

  • Community management is best done by humans with the help of tools, not the other way around
  • Small actions can lead to large impact
  • Moderation can be used to great effect when they are as much fun for the community as they are filter of content