I would like to propose a new approach to filtering content in online debate forums; a peer-review process. This would be drawing on the same principles as utilized in scientific journals.
When a posting is submitted to a forum it would automatically be sent out to three forum members, they would be asked to judge the quality of the post by a defined set of criteria and be given opportunity to give feedback to the author. Based on the review score the post would be either accepted and posted or declined. The review would be anonymous in the sense that the identity of the reviewers is not revealed.
This peer-review function would be intended for forums with high level of participation. At forums such as those hosted by The Economist and NyTimes one can find debates running into many hundred entries. With huge variations in quality it quickly becomes very hard for the reader to follow. With peer-review you should be able to weed out lower quality content leaving you with a debate that is easy to follow, but at the same time gives everyone the opportunity to participate.
Such a peer-review process would in a sense distribute the moderator work to all forum members. One would probably however like to leave some room for moderator/editor intervention in case something that should not have been accepted has been approved.
Such a debate would run slower than a conventional debate forum since you need time for the peer-review, but I expect many would accept the trade-off for higher quality. It would for example still be much quicker than submitting letters-to-the-editor to a newspaper or magazine.
The review task would be a new task for forum members, but it would not be a very time consuming one. One could link the number of review assignments a member receives with the number of postings that a member has, so that more active members have a higher review load. Again I think this is something I think many would agree to if they perceive that it results in high quality debates. Scientists accept the task of peer-review as something that goes with the process of science.
I can think of a number of variations and refinements to such a peer-review scheme, what I have outlined would be the basic implementation.
I do realize that it implementing this requires some work, but I do think it opens up for debates with higher quality, more participation and greater readership.
Looking forward to hearing what you think about implementing this in Discourse.