Encouraging expertise

I’m interested in ideas or perhaps features for encouraging expert contributions on a forum.

In my field—early Buddhist texts, especially in Pali—I’m an expert. And I enjoy sharing my knowledge on our Discourse instance, where I learn all kinds of things from other users. But it’s sometimes frustrating when a topic goes on, with inexperienced people proposing all kinds of ideas that are just silly. And we’ve had feedback that this is discouraging for users.

Of course this is part of the education process, people should be comfortable to ask about or argue for silly ideas. But on the web, it’s almost impossible to keep the context in mind. I’m sure you’ve all seen the tweets where someone tells the Pope to read the bible, or tells the author to read the paper that they wrote. Even if it’s not so egregious, it still happens that well-meaning questions or comments can easily drag a topic aside.

But it really depends on what kind of topic it is. Sometimes it’s fine to just shoot the breeze and see where it takes you. Other times you want to keep it focused.

And one of the problems is that it can discourage experts from posting. No-one wants to study a subject for decades, only to be told at length how you’re wrong by Random Internet Person #274, who just watched a Youtube on the topic.

So I’m wondering whether there could be something like an Expert Mode :tm:. This would assigned as a badge or something. For example, a doctor on a medical forum, or a qualified mechanic on a car forum. It would grant the holder the right to apply an “Expert Mode” on posts.

Perhaps that would work something like this. By default, all replies would have to be pre-moderated by the Expert. If something is off the point, low quality, or ill-informed, they can reply by PM to the poster, but it’s not part of the topic. The point here isn’t to discourage less-informed users! If they really want to pursue their idea, they can do it in another topic.

Exceptions would be other Experts, who could post as normal. In addition, the Expert could add a pre-approved list of posters.

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It is almost possible to accomplish this now by using category moderators. Category moderators are members of a custom group that are granted moderation rights in a category. The group is added to the category from its Moderation settings section.

The way I was imagining this would would would be that you would add your Experts to a custom Discourse group, then add that group as category moderators, then select the category option to “Require moderator approval of all new replies.” This works very well when non-group-members reply to any topics in the category. The experts category moderators group members receive a notification about the new reply. They can approve or reject the reply from the review queue. They could also chose to message the user who posted the reply.

Where the approach falls apart is that when I test it, when a member of the custom moderator group attempts to reply to the topic, their posts also get added to the review queue. I was not expecting that to happen. What is odd is that the category moderator can actually go to the review queue and approve their own post. Something seems a little off here. I’m going to look at it some more.

Another way to accomplish what you are looking to do would be to use category security permissions to allow everyone (non-experts) to view topics in the category, but only allow members of your experts group to create and reply to topics. I realize that this doesn’t meet the criteria of allowing non-experts to participate in the conversation though.

Edit: the issue with category moderator’s posts needing to be approved has been fixed.

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Yeah that seems like a bug in category moderation cc @eviltrout – wouldn’t the category moderator themselves be able to post in the category they moderate without approval? Since they can approve their own posts anyway. I guess the argument could be that a different category moderator has to approve the post, but that seems off to me, a form of double-review?

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@sujato The real question is: What is it exactly you want to achieve? Not annoy the expert? Not annoy the readers? Hide all the “stupidity” of the world? (who decides what’s “stupid” and what isn’t? Who are the “real experts”, and who aren’t? etc.). You’re putting forward “encouraging expertise” in the title: I’m not convinced any of this will “encourage” anything. Not discourage, maybe. I’m not even really sure of this. From an expert POV, is it better to have more participation, with what comes along with it, or less, because it’s highly curated? (You also raise the potential answering to “lower quality” posts privately. Here, it really feels as some “hiding”, more than anything else).

If you want to remain with only other experts, this seems to be a call for a closed topic or category. With “expertise” checked at the door (with all the potential problems to do it).

Now, from my POV, a really good expert wouldn’t have much problem with being told he’s wrong by anyone. As an expert, you consider what’s told, and if you’re 100% confident you’re right, being told you’re wrong isn’t that big of a deal. Where the real expertise shows (along with some other skills) is to be able to demonstrate clearly and an easy to understand way, why you are right. Not because you’re a labelled “expert”, but because you can demonstrate it, explain it, and make it understand to pretty much anyone (of good faith and intentions. Things which may lack a little from some people these days, that’s true).

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough. -Albert Einstein.

If it’s a “quantity” problem: The solution seems one closed category or topic where only the expert(s) and some “moderators” are allowed. Another category or topic where all the questions/comments are made by anyone. The “moderators” choose and pick the comments and questions to pass to the other category (manual curating). [Note: @simon describes a “one category” system, but you could easily do it on a “2 categories” basis]. It is also some kind of “I, the expert, am so above you all, you can’t address me directly because a lot of you are not clever enough compared to me”. It has some kind of maybe unlikable aspect to it. Maybe the experts should remain between themselves then.
Mixing (experts/non experts), or not mixing, that is the question. Maybe it’s best to decide to do one or the other, and do it all the way.

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Sujato was quite clear in what he wanted to achieve.

Sujato also covered this in his post:

To me, it can all be summarized by this very funny sentence:

Basically, curation of high(er) quality responses in certain categories. A completely reasonable thing to want in a community you are responsible for.

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Communication is a funny thing.
When I refer to “2 categories”, I meant one category open to everybody and one where only “higher quality” posts would potentially land (+the expert’s ones). We would agree Sujato covered it in his post, but we wouldn’t focus on the same part:

It seems to me you refer to a “1 topic or category system” + 1 “normal” topic or category: One where there would be curation activated and one without (according to the part you quote). [*]

In the end, it pretty much always revolves around the same difference of POV in the very first place: The usual “keeping content” vs “it’s perfectly OK to delete”.
Here, it is “everybody should be allowed to post freely” vs “it’s OK to only want higher quality content and basically not allow the rest” (the person can write it, but it won’t appear anywhere). This translates to the “2 category” system where everybody is free to post in one category, and only SELECTED content makes it to the second one (but what people wrote still appear in the first one in a “keep content” spirit) vs a “1 category” model here content is DIRECTLY curated in a “it’s OK to delete” spirit (it’s OK to not show at all what some of the people posted).

To me, “your content hasn’t been selected” is kind of OK. What I tend to take as “your content doesn’t even deserve to be shown/seen” is just on the other side of the line (to me). I get the arguments coming in response to this will be “it’s the same”, “it’s totally OK to do this”, etc. Yes, let’s agree the difference is subtle. To me, I would almost go as far as to say it’s fundamental (more than “important”).

[*] There’s also an argument it’s “the same” here. Except it’s up to the user to decide where he posts in the first place: Take the risk for the comment to not make it (curated), or be sure it won’t be where the expert is (non curated). It’s up to the user to know “his place”: Is he posting “high quality” content enough or not? And if he believes he does but gets his post scraped, maybe he’s not going to like it (he probably won’t). Or he has to know he must post in the category or topic for “lower quality” content. You may argue all this is “nothing”. I find it a little horrible in principle.

We already have all the UX for this per @simon which is great.

I consider it a bug that category moderators are required to get posts approved, they should have an implicit bypass. We should fix it. I think a top level #bug / #feature is in order.

@jamie.wilson do you remember if this was done on purpose or not?

One thing to keep in mind @sujato with moderation queues and constant approval, is that it can get a bit tiring and chronology can get all funny if you get behind. (eg: you post a reply to #234 and 3 days later you get approved, the position in the topic will be last, so a bunch of conversation could be inserted which is unexpected)

Perhaps … as is … category moderation works for you. Instead of pre-approving, give the experts more power in the category and explain to the community that sometimes stuff gets deleted and this category is serious business …

We have the sign “replies on this topic are deleted after 30 days” zero complaints since we made that sign about random person X getting topic deleted.

This topic contains serious discussion with experts, we are regularly reviewing the content and will delete content that does not meet our guidelines

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Thanks everyone for your responses. I didn’t know about the possibilities of “category moderation”. I’ll look into it—Discourse has become a really sophisticated bit of kit!

That’d be one approach, for sure. Except the information should not be locked away in a PM.

But there is certainly a danger in creating a tiered community, with some “experts” and some “non-experts” and no clear way to distinguish the two. We find that there are plenty of people with interesting expertise, sometimes in unexpected areas. So it would be bad to lose their contributions.

Indeed. It can be a burden either way.

Yes, maybe. We’ll look into it.

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It sure shouldn’t. By “closed”, I meant “read-only”. Maybe not the best choice of words. You would only restrict the writing ability and pick from comments and questions from the “open” topic or category. It’s really the “same” as described above by the Discourse team but with comments/questions coming in in another fully open category/topic [where some discussion can also take place, but without the expert(s) - Users could for example discuss between themselves the questions/comments to submit]

Note: It’s in the “1 category/topic system” that some information is “locked way”. Really “tossed away”, because it’s determined it’s not “good enough information”. You decide the way you like best.

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Can’t speak about your field but a lot of ‘expert opinion’ is actually a belief system.

The discipline of medicine is a great example. There’s a tonne of dogma and there’s scarily slim foundations for some sets of beliefs.

A lot of science in medicine covers associations of observations but far too many ‘experts’ draw unfounded conclusions on causality.

If you shut down alternative opinion what you might be doing is shutting down a different belief system. As a result of that you may create a blind spot and miss the fundamental truth.

We need to be very careful around this topic.

Politics is also a factor and that can poison a lot of different subjects.

Take the description ‘climate change denier’ which is arguably a more emotive and politcal than a factual description of an individual?

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On my particular forum we try and recognise members with more authority on a subject by putting them in groups and giving them a custom flair on the avatar. It doesn’t fix the problem that the most knowledgeable voices often aren’t the loudest on the Internet, but it tries to raise some individuals stature just a little and for everyone to see. Encouraging those users to have a good bio page also helps - at least for members that take the time to look.

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On our forum several women were complaining that there is no good place to discuss women’s experiences without some dude chiming in with his super important opinion. The issues brought forward sounded very similar to what you wrote: it’s mostly well-meaning, but still drags a topic aside and, above all, discourages other women to join the discussion.

As moderators we opened a topic to discuss how we could support these conversations better. I think all participants agreed that we wouldn’t want to segment our community to achieve this.

We settled with a plain staff notice, a bit similar to the messaging that @sam recommended. Users could ask staff to add that notice to their topic:

The notice has been picked up once and we haven’t seen the issue brought forward since. It’s a fairly small community though and this is probably more attributed to having discussed the issue and our intentions openly, rather than the notice solution itself.

On another note, I’d also feel “expert opinion” coming across a bit arrogant if you generally want to be inviting to everyone. I’d probably favor: “This topic is aiming at an academic discussion”.

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No, that wasn’t on purpose. I’ll get a fix in for that.

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Oh, okay.

Not everything requires a paradigm shift. If someone on a car forum asks about oil leakage from their Subaru, they just want to stop the leak. And to do that, they’re better off listening to someone who knows what they’re talking about.

Nice, that sounds like a good idea. A little bit like twitter’s “blue check”, although that’s more just for authentication rather than authority.

Nice theme BTW!

Indeed, exactly this! I’ve previously asked here about this issue, and it is an ongoing problem.

Nice, okay, that sounds like a good idea, it could be applied in both the support of women and the encouragement of expertise.

I’m not an academic, I’m afraid. I only have high school education!

I suffer from imposter syndrome as much as the next person, but after studying and practicing for 25 years, I am starting to become comfortable with thinking of myself as an expert.

I don’t know, TBH, I think the so-called “death of expertise” is a real and troubling thing, and I feel that experts shouldn’t be afraid to stand up and be counted. Having said which, I’ve no idea whether it’s the right thing to do in this case.

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how easily men can share the online experience of women: just post an educated thought :smile:

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I think expertise is a fine concept to aspire to …

  • encouraging expert replies

But we could also say it as …

  • encouraging quality replies
  • encouraging thoughtful replies
  • encouraging useful replies

In Discourse, the default ethos is embodied in the “just in time” advice that pops up when you start composing your first post:

So if I were to summarize in different words, just as an exercise… these are the general goals for every Discourse, perhaps?

  • Be kind to others, and yourself.
  • Try to make the conversation better, not worse.
  • Focus on ideas and concepts, instead of individual people.

or

  • Kindness
  • Positivity
  • Construction
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Just an aside, to the several people mentioning that Moderators needing approval is a bug and should be fixed -

In many organizations it is normal to require a second opinion, an approval, a sign-off before publication of something. The current system seems to allow that and it would probably nice to leave it as a possibility.

(of course, no problem if you open up the other possibility, to not require a second moderator)

For categories that have some responsibility (corporate or legal announcements, for example), having the second moderator sign-off built into the system like it is now, encourages people to just “go ahead and post”, knowing that it won’t go public until it’s approved and responsibility is shared. The alternative is more convoluted (share the proposed text in a private forum or PM, get it approved, then post elsewhere).

This is all speculative, I am not using either option currently…

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Has been merged in. This should prevent posts from category group moderators being sent to the review queue.

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