Peer editing features in discussion platforms must be carefully weighed, because of the potential unintended consequences


(Jeff Lunt) #1

Continuing the discussion from Suggested Edits:

I don’t know. My big hesitation can be summed up as:

Past discussions are not intended to evolve, over time, into well edited books and reference manuals. They are intended to be a means of communication between people, first and foremost. It does not necessarily follow, therefore, that said communication is actually less effective if not conducted in a perfected form of a given language.

The idea that the majority of contributors to a forum would like to receive PMs regarding their spelling and grammar seems dubious to me. At least, it seems that way to me because I’ve too often seen it degrade into a kind of trolling, and encouraging suggested edits for this purpose would feed that behavior, which is generally unwelcome on the receiving side unless the OP openly asked for that feedback. On StackExchange suggested edits (or just outright edits) is the kind of thing makes sense because of the utility of the information is the goal, and you want each successive pass on a question/answer to polish it into a fine nugget of useful and clearly communicated knowledge. On a discussion forum…well, not so much. At some point if edits and suggested edits come into play you open the potential to completely edit out a person’s voice from what they originally said, a phenomenon which is antithetical to discussion in any form - whether face-to-face, online, or over through other means.

Regarding obscenities and style enforcement

On the obscenities point (or really, for any forum that would like to strictly enforce a given style), again that seems like a vote for forum software as a polished version of communication as opposed as a conduit for encouraging communication between people. I think when strict or overly detailed discussion styles begin to be enforced it’s inevitable that it’s going to increase moderator load, even if a suggested edits system existed. I think this would happen simply because the more rules you have and more detailed those rules are, the more in-fighting and editing wars you’re going to create, which is going to get fed back to the moderator(s) whenever it gets out of control. In the end suggested edits don’t wind up reducing moderator load at all, and instead create a whole category of meta discussion around what is and isn’t an appropriate edit to make or suggest. How about just not having peer edits in the first place?

So, I don’t see suggested edits as a solution that will actually, successfully achieve the goal of ridding a forum of spelling and grammar issues.

Where’s the line?

I also don’t feel comfortable with the whole idea of feeding the inner censors (even my own inner censor). Nor am I personally in favor of supporting the, “Everyone should communicate online in perfect, well written [insert your language]” crowd. While I realize that many members of a given forum enjoy and would like to participate in what they believe is help to others there is at least an equal (if not greater) number of people on the receiving end of those edits that would prefer to either have their posts passed over by the grammar folks, or more broadly, to be judged not by their specific words, word choices, or whether they are an expert practitioner of the language in question; but instead by the ideas they are trying to convey through that language.


Suggested Edits
(Alex R) #2

My rebuttal can be summarized as

Things, especially on fora, are written to be read, and the aggregate amount of time spent reading them dwarfs the amount of time spent writing them; many fora are repositories of knowledge at least as much as they are vehicles for discussion.

Fora have a dual purpose: discussion and knowledge preservation. In the blog post originally announcing Discourse, Jeff mentioned how he often found a wealth of information on various fora. A large part of the utility of a post on a forum, like on SE is the information contained therein; the main difference is that on SE, we assume there is an objective truth and seek it.

In many contexts, jargon, style, grammar, etc. aid communication, but in specialized contexts, newcomers might not be aware of all the nuance, so more experienced community members can help them get their point across better, both in the current point and in the future; contrariwise, poor grammar and spelling and incorrect jargon hinder communication and understanding. As an example, @bp_'s post was very hard for me to read, and I’m still not sure I understood it.

The goal is not to rid the forum of such issues, but to crowdsource editing (a la a book editor) for the benefit of future readers. I think that if you assume that few users are malicious (and those that are malicious are quickly banned or demoted), you don’t have editing wars, you don’t have edit suggestions that completely destroy the voice.

It’s also entirely reasonable for the feature to be off by default, and only fora that are more interested in longevity or strict style will turn it on.

I don’t think that this feature is ripe for abuse or likely to stifle people’s voices; I think that the best argument against it is that it’s really a low priority (by virtue of being an edge usecase), and has a high developer cost.


(badp) #3

I very much believe this is a cultural problem based on expectations.

People expect no one but mods gets to edit their post, and only for serious issues. This is because that’s the way forums have worked since the dawn of time.

Forums, however, have worked like this since the dawn of time because their objective was replacing mailing lists. Posts in mailing lists can’t be edited at all for obvious technical reasons. This means that what’s sent is received by all parties, even if what’s sent is garbage, or replies to garbage, or appeals to cease the replying to garbage.

Those who are active in mailing lists know that not being able to edit each other’s posts does result in drama over all kinds of technical, stylistic things like:

  • quoting styles
  • signatures
  • typos
  • “Re:” prefixes and other things that break threading
  • “was:” suffixes
  • “[OT]” markers

Forum software evolved on this by introducing native support for threading, signatures, quoting, sections, thread splitting.

That doesn’t mean people won’t still derail discussions over the tiniest things. Has this ever happened to you:

…and that is why you should never comb you’re hair from the back to the front

if you can’t tell “your” and “you’re” apart, I’m not interested in what you have to say

> implying that invalidates his point
god just shut up about other people’s grammar

Spelling errors are not grammar errors

oh yeah, let’s do the crappy 4chan >implying meme thing. god can’t you speak like a normal human being?

why are u getting all worked up about spelling man i only have two fingers and this one is all mangled

I think that a forum that forces you to have this kind of derailing is not a forum built for civilized discourse.

The point about abuse and moderator workload can be addressed through:

  • aggressive rate limiting (say, one suggested edit per calendar week)
  • post-edit peer review (make the pencil glow or something)
  • “teaching resources” for moderators

It’s okay to be different by default. Being different, and not merely through the price tag, is what put SE over EE. If all forum software had to behave exactly the same way what value was there in making new forum software to begin with? If it doesn’t work out, you can always disable it, and put up with the typo derails as they’ve always existed.


(Jeff Atwood) #4

I would argue in this case one user should have PMed the other about the minor grammar gaffe, rather than turning the topic into a public pissing match. So I think you’ve got it a little wrong there.

Users can edit their own posts, no problem, and should be expected to.


(badp) #5

Private messages have been around since the dawn of the internet. They have failed to bring about peace and love in my humble experience.


(Jeff Atwood) #6

I think you’ve got it wrong for other reasons, too.

Maybe I type “ur” instead of your as an expression of my personal style.

Systems of subjective opinion are not amenable to collaborative editing in the way that systems of objective fact, data, and science are. There is no single point of truth in a discussion system, only a rainbow of divergent perspectives. It doesn’t have anything to do with the mailing list connection, it has to do with expressing personal opinions, favorites, feelings. Edit those at your peril – they belong to me.


(Jeff Lunt) #7

This is where I think personal style (e.g. “ur” vs. “your” - even if that style is completely obnoxious to some) is perfectly fine. Discussion, I think, implies a sense of owner ship of the content that you write, and I doubt that peer editing is conducive to that end.

I also don’t agree with the notion that because someone has poor grammar or spelling (especially in the case of an international audience, where a diversity of opinions is often much more valuable than the correctness of the communication) that their argument is somehow less valid, so long as it is logically sound.

By no means am I arguing for, “Hey, let’s just let the quality of communication degrade to zero,” I’m just saying that, for the most part, so long as an idea is generally understood then it is essentially effective communication for the purpose of discussion.

The only place I see peer edits being a big plus is if the topic of the forum is language itself.


(Alex R) #8

I don’t think that poor grammar/spelling makes an argument less valid (and I don’t consider that a reasonable opinion), but it does make the argument harder to follow. It’s analogous to code: idiomatic and indented code is easier to read and understand than equivalently behaving code that is poorly formatted.


(badp) #9

That’s totally the point. It shouldn’t matter, but it does detract or at least distract. Allowing people to remove distractions from posts would help the discussion remain on topic. It would help the discourse remain civilized, if you will.

Worst case scenario, you could simply tell people who are annoyed by it to just shut up and fix it yourself if it does annoy you so much.

The part where choosing “ur” over “your” is a “stylistic choice” is… certainly original.


(Jeff Lunt) #10

Okay, so define a “distraction.” This is a subjective thing.

  • If I’m a copyeditor for a living, the number of grammatical mistakes I’m going to notice will be off the charts
  • If I’m a college graduate who got good grades in my language classes, then I’ll probably see a lot of errors, but fewer than a professional copyeditor
  • If I’m a high school graduate, probably will see fewer errors than the college graduate

…and on down to the lowest experience/education level that contains a user who wants to communicate. Depending on the community and who they accept, there will of course be different standards for communication. But again, this is a cultural thing within the community, not something that necessarily warrants a software patch in the core system. This is where I think plugins can be of assistance, and that it should not be part of the core mission of Discourse, at least not in the next year by any means.

Perhaps I’m overly concerned about prejudice in general based on language issues. I suppose if I joined a community where people were too hard on this issue (from my point of view) then I would just leave. So, to that end I’m in the, “Get over the stuff that annoys you,” crowd because if I came into a community of people I thought were jerks I’d just move along. I think PMs largely address the, “This post is so bad I actually don’t understand what you’re saying,” cases.

So, I still don’t really think that a suggested edits system (which is how this topic started) are necessary in the core of Discourse. I agree with the general notion that PMs are sufficient for the vast majority of cases, and probably for the majority of communities, and that anyone who is excessively grammatically annoyed (by comparison to the community standard within a given forum), well, those folks will just never be happy so that’s sort of their problem.


(Chris Hanel) #11

I find it hilarious that a feature that I would imagine being used much more for curating and refining factual information and support advice for its userbase is being harangued over how it’s going to cause hysteria by enforcing proper usage of the Oxford comma.


(Sam Saffron) #12

There is one area I believe this is core, that @codinghorror has alluded to elsewhere that is even relevant on this humble forum.

We have yet to build the the wiki bits but already have a real need in all the [howto] category topics (first posts only). I would imagine we would like some way of ratifying changes to howto articles.


(Ides) #13

I think the biggest reason behind ownership is due to your avatar and name being posted right next to the content. When someone else (even a moderator or admin) goes and edits that, it feels like someone just altered an essay you wrote for class after you turned it in.

When someone other then the original edits a post, it should be clearly labeled in such a manner. In the case where an admin filters out inappropriate content, they will show an edited by tag with a reason behind it. This is standard for IPB software (I’m not sure about others). However, I think that we could perhaps go a step ahead and implement versioning to include a reason along with the submitted edit. I don’t believe that would be too difficult to implement.

@codinghorror mentioned (let me know if I’m wrong on this) that posters will be able to allow for others to edit. Now, what I’m thinking is that if I make a post on this guide I’m writing, I’ll be able to allow my partner who is helping me write this guide to be able to edit too. (Freely edit.) When this occurs, the association with the content being exclusively mine needs to end and show that while I created this content originally, others are editing this too and may not reflect on my work completely.

How we should do this could be dependent on the restrictions of allowing others to edit your post. We could limit this to first posts and placing the editors list below the post or allow every post to be able to be edited and some up with a way to display the changes on the left side. I believe the first would be simpler to implement but it may not be enough for every community.

Suggestions should also be an option (perhaps restricted to the first post when allowed by OP) where it shows up on the right hand side under reply as new topic. It will show a symbol and the wording like “suggested edits” along with two numbers (one for new and one for total). When you click it you will see the appropriate usernames and the suggestions they are suggesting. The suggestions will be pointing to a specific version of the topic and location. Maybe even allow for highlighting of areas by referencing two points. (I would like to think of this visually like Microsoft Word comments.)

The comment system I see more as plugin but invaluable for any kind of post where a user is asking for help on writing and article better or fixing error. The commenting could also be done currently but not look as pretty or maybe even have a reply able to point and reference specific areas without just doing and old proven method of quoting.


(Jeff Atwood) #14

Actually, if you opt in to editing, anyone with basic trust level 1 can edit your post. There are no plans to provide a limited list of people who may edit. Either everyone, or only moderators as it is now.


(Ides) #15

What is the purpose of allowing “everyone” to edit? It might as well be a wiki page.

Does this also require that someone can view a post to edit as well?