Helium.com Debate Pages

February 27, 2008 at 10:50 pm Leave a comment

I have a lot to say about Helium.com, a site where user-submitted articles are submitted and moderated by users.  The site has two features that I consider essential for debate; immutable posts and user moderation. Most of the site is dedicated to uncontroversial topics (example). These topics are organized if a fairly straightforward “Best Article at the Top” format.

Things get more interesting with their debate topics (example). On these topics the page is split down the middle with articles arguing for the proposition on one side and articles against the proposition on the other. Each side is moderated independently. The result of this design is as one would expect. The separated user moderation helps with the signal to noise ratio without resulting in noticeable shouting down. The immutable postings prevent the sort of edit warfare that we see on Wikipedia.

Yet despite all the potential I see here I must say that I am not impressed with the quality of the arguments made on this site. Many of the top arguments make outrageous or at least unproven claims as premises to their arguments. I can’t help but think that the absence of a rebuttal feature makes it possible for such claims to stand. Also, the moderation system seems to favor arguments that simply summarize many arguments in sort of a kitchen sink school of debate. These mini-arguments almost never back up their premises.

I also can’t help but think that the financial incentives (writers of top articles get a share of the ad revenue) put into the site has a corrupting effect on the moderation system. This is simply a sinking feeling that I cannot prove. However, credibility is hard to come by on the Internet and I can’t imagine nobody else will get the same impression.


Entry filed under: analysis, kudos. Tags: , , .

Frustrating observation by Lessig Why Forums Suck (for debate) Part Three: Signal to Noise Ratio

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