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Pseudonyms drive communities
January 10, 2012 9:33 AM   Subscribe

"Pseudonyms are the most valuable contributors to communities because they contribute the highest quantity and quality of comments." As anonymous and pseudonymic online contributors struggle to remain non-identifiable, Disqus data show pseudonymous commenters are the best. (most recently previously)
posted by mrgrimm (46 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
It says pseudonymous comments are the most liked and the least disliked. That does not make them "the best."
posted by Ironmouth at 9:39 AM on January 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


/me trolls the discussion, burns all his pseudonym whufffie.
posted by clvrmnky at 9:42 AM on January 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Say what you will about their argument, the graphic at the bottom certainly makes me proud to be pseudonymous.
posted by 256 at 9:44 AM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]



I'm sick of having to ask the pharmacist for pseudonymous, and showing my driver's license.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 9:46 AM on January 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


>It says pseudonymous comments are the most liked and the least disliked. That does not make them "the best."

Agreed, but it's not an awful measure. As long as their sample included a diverse array of communities, we can at least say that, across the board, users prefer the kinds of comments pseudonymous users leave. At least, pseudonymity increases the value of the community to the users. I do wish their wording had been more precise.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 9:46 AM on January 10, 2012


It says pseudonymous comments are the most liked and the least disliked. That does not make them "the best."

Sure it does, according to some metric.
posted by DU at 9:47 AM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


The outing of Epiren comes as an object lesson in the downsides of pseudonyms.
posted by bonehead at 9:48 AM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yikes, I wish I had taken a moment to edit that. Allow me to say "at least" again and add several comma-delimited qualifiers.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 9:49 AM on January 10, 2012


Pseudonymous is the name of my new "hacktivist" group to compete with Anonymous.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:50 AM on January 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


I refute thee thus
posted by iotic at 9:50 AM on January 10, 2012 [10 favorites]


Saw this and thought it was an ill-judged attempt to start offering insight a la OKCupid. The way I read it is, "Disqus serves comments on sites where most people use pseudonyms. Therefore, pseudonyms drive conversation." The fact people resist using their own names in Disqus basically means they resist tying it to their Facebook account, which isn't the same thing as desiring anonymity. You could be doing that just as much because you're only on Facebook because your friends & relatives are or you don't want friends & relatives to be able to see where you visit on the Internet. What are the other major sources of real-name commenting? It's never been common on the 'net, but that doesn't mean it couldn't or shouldn't be. It just means there's a place for both approaches and horses for courses in terms of sites that need pseudonyms v. those which do not.
posted by yerfatma at 9:51 AM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Pseudonyms are the most valuable contributors to communities

Thanks!
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 9:52 AM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you're going to equate best quality (I'm not even going to bother with the quantity aspect of this) with five signals, you better have some pretty compelling evidence as to their validity and relevance. That doesn't happen but cute graphics yay!

I think what happened here was that some intern ran spell-check on this piece and replaced 'Complete And Utter Horseshit' with 'research' because he read the Pico Iyer’s essay from the other day and decided that long sentences are total alien or sutin thank you very much.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 9:52 AM on January 10, 2012


There is similarly no cgs unit measurement for the quality of a meal, but despite such objective criteria, it's not hard to make the argument that one which the majority find tasty is superior to one that makes the majority vaguely ill.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 9:54 AM on January 10, 2012


You think Pseudonyms are good, you should see my Quasinyms! Quasinyms rule the multiverse!
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 9:57 AM on January 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


Stats like this are pretty much meaningless unless they control for differences between the groups of people who use pseudonyms versus the people who don't. The people using real names on Discus seem to be using the "Connect with Facebook" option for commenting rather than signing up for a Discus account directly, and that's going to affect the level of participation you would expect from that group. Plus there are probably significant demographic differences between the groups of people who are accustomed to being identified with handles online versus the ones who are more comfortable signing things with their real name.
posted by burnmp3s at 9:58 AM on January 10, 2012


Saw this and thought it was an ill-judged attempt to start offering insight a la OKCupid.

Exactly. Ill judged and ill presented. But still interesting!

Disqus seems pretty identity neutral. Do they have a horse in the race?
posted by mrgrimm at 10:00 AM on January 10, 2012


The outing of Epiren comes as an object lesson in the downsides of pseudonyms.

Doesn't that say the exact opposite? He used a pseudonym but also had his real info there. It's the having real info part that made him vulnerable to assholes, not the pseudonym.
posted by kmz at 10:08 AM on January 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


Disqus seems pretty identity neutral. Do they have a horse in the race?

Sure. Disqus is competing against a future Google+ and a current Facebook commenting system, both of which are (nominally) real name based.
posted by jaduncan at 10:11 AM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Disqus seems pretty identity neutral. Do they have a horse in the race?

Yes, it's The Horse With No Name.
posted by chavenet at 10:12 AM on January 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


Neigh, it'd be The Horse With A Fake Name.
posted by kmz at 10:26 AM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I support this FPP and so do my sock puppets.
posted by Joey Michaels at 10:30 AM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have no association with Disqus. Equus, however...
posted by horsewithnoname at 10:37 AM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


John Hatcher on Poytner Let's End Anonymous Comments.

Jeffrey Weiss on ending anonymous comments.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:40 AM on January 10, 2012


There seem to me to be several problems here, some of which have already been identified. But the most glaring of which is, to me, that being replied to is considered a "positive signal," which is patently ridiculous unless the entire purpose of your site is quantity of comments, irrespective of quality. You literally get points under this system for starting big angry fights, which is stupid.

Being "liked" is similarly meaningless out of context -- liking is exactly like commenting, in that most people don't do it at all, and those who do can be motivated by thinking the comment is intelligent, or simply by thinking the comment is a great slam at that other guy, depending on the discussion, the community, and the person. It's completely inaccurate to say that having the most likes means that most people liked what you had to say. The vast majority of people who see a comment neither like it nor flag it; they read it and move on. If every comment is read a thousand times and your comment is liked 20 times while someone else's comment is liked 10 times, that actually says very, very little about how the community as a whole feels about your comment or theirs.

Having more likes than another person doesn't mean the majority finds you tasty. It most likely means the tiny minority that decides to say "Hey, TASTY!" is bigger than the tiny minority that decides to say "Hey, TASTY!" to somebody else, and if your comment is outsized and obnoxious and the other comment is small-scale and rational, that's to be expected, quite frankly, so there's really no way to line that up with actual quality. Many things cause people to pound on the keys of their computers, and rational analysis of the quality of the discourse is -- if you are lucky -- one of them.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 10:51 AM on January 10, 2012


Their definitions of pseudonymity and anonymity lack conceptual sophistication, that's for sure. Identity/anonymity is not an on/off, or in their case, a 3-part state ("real name", pseudonym, anonymous). It's a continuum, from fully identified to fully anonymous, and pseudonyms can fall anywhere on the spectrum, depending on context. Where is community context in their discussion?

Take MetaFilter, for example. We are nominally pseudonymous, in that when you sign up you are prompted to choose a username, which can be essentially any character string that's not already in use. This username is attached to a profile, but some profiles can be highly anonymous - the default is just the username, date joined, and the person's posting history (which is itself a type of identity knowledge, if not one that is necessarily tied to a locatable, offline person). On the other hand you have people who fill out every section of the profile page, and add links to various social applications, making them very, very identifiable and locatable. So pseudonyms are only part of the picture, because in order to say anything of value about their role in online communication, you have to know how pseudonyms are deployed in specific contexts. Also - are they persistent or temporary? You can build up a base of knowledge about someone based on their interaction style, but that doesn't work if pseudonyms do not have any history attached to them.

Similarly, depending on context, knowing somebody's "real name" doesn't necessarily tell me anything about that person, or always even how to find them offline, particularly if the name is a common one. Anyway, I could go on and on, but yeah, this feels a lot like the OKCupid "Here's some stats without any conceptual grounding" kind of thing.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 10:58 AM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


John Hatcher on Poytner Let's End Anonymous Comments.

My local paper went to Facebook commenting a few months ago which meant that my Shut Up extension stopped working blocking comments. So I got to read some of the new powered by Facebook comments. It seemed in the beginning, the volume of the racist/xenophic/homophobic/hateful comments dropped right off (overall comments seemed down) but over time the hateful comments are back. They're just tied to real names now. Because a shitload of people are fuckwads and don't care if they get identified.

The disqus data proves nothing since they're using this as ammo to stop more sites from just going to Facebook commenting. It is like asking Ford truck owners their opinion of Chevy trucks. Facebook could probably do similar analysis to prove that real name commenting is superior in quality to pseudonyms.

I have a handful of pseudonyms I use as I navigate the web. None are used as sock puppets or for trolling, but I enjoy the relative freedom of not worrying about an employer/love interest/law enforcement thinking drawing conclusions based on what they've found with Google searches. In a world without pseudonyms I'd not comment nearly as much. But more importantly it will shut down voices of people who really must keep their true identities secret.
posted by birdherder at 11:09 AM on January 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


There needs to be a name for the methodological LOLfest of using replies as a metric of comment quality. The Fallacy of the Troll?
posted by RogerB at 11:18 AM on January 10, 2012


I think some of the best conversations in history have been among pseudonyms (the federalists and the anti-federalists come to mind).

That said, yeah, whatever, Disqus. Also, I am JupiterPluvius on Disqus because someone else has Sidhedevil.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:37 AM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Dammit! I should've picked a pseudonym when I joined MetaFilter.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 11:40 AM on January 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


Their definitions of pseudonymity and anonymity lack conceptual sophistication, that's for sure.

Yeah. Every time some pundit declares that comments on sites will be more civil if people are forced to post under their real names, they reveal the depth of their ignorance. Facebook, for example, is packed with people posting appallingly uncivil stuff under their names, often with their addresses and whatnot in full view. Not just dumb teenagers, but people who theoretically should know better, like cops in New York.
posted by rtha at 11:46 AM on January 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


(Mefi's own) Anil Dash covered this a while ago. Pseudonyms are better than anonymous commenting, because there is a persistent identity attached, and hence some measure of accountability.

There are many things I would not have said on Mefi if I thought they could be linked to my meatspace identity. Because my identity has facets, and I don't want my employer, for example, knowing what my opinions on non-employment related topics are.

Real world identities associated with comments will not create civil discourse. We should know this, because many people in meatspace are arseholes all the time, and identification be damned. What creates civil discourse is moderation, and the establishment of a community culture which posters are encouraged to adhere to. Again, we should know this, because in the real world, many people would break the law, burn stuff and steal shit if they thought that they wouldn't get caught.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 2:37 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


@johnnygunn

anti pseudonym bingo for the 4,122,991,110th time

re: the second article, i really do not like the simplistic "path of history"/"historical inevitability" thinking that equates the internet to american time periods, the internet is not just america and that is wrongheaded and dumb

also
I really liked the guideline proposed by Politics Daily's Joann M. Weiner a few months ago: "Would you post this comment if your mother knew you were posting it?"
hahaha holy shit

@his thoughts were red thoughts

what if the community culture is terrible though

i mean ifyoudontlikeitleave/IYDLIL etc etc but that just insures that people with crappy opinions will be able to find places where those opinions are never challenged

plus i dont get this whole thing about 'user reputations', on metafilter you arent really allowed to bring up users post histories and it doesnt seem to be a problem here
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 2:52 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


There are many things I would not have said on Mefi if I thought they could be linked to my meatspace identity.

But they could! I didn't look at your profile, but I'm willing to bet someone in this world could figure out your IRL ID from your user profile and comments.

plus i dont get this whole thing about 'user reputations', on metafilter you arent really allowed to bring up users post histories and it doesnt seem to be a problem here

But users' reputations certainly affect the reception of their opinions here. You can't deny that past contributions affect users' current experience.

on metafilter you arent really allowed to bring up users post histories

also lol.
posted by mrgrimm at 3:40 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


i mean ifyoudontlikeitleave/IYDLIL etc etc but that just insures that people with crappy opinions will be able to find places where those opinions are never challenged

So what? If tools want to have a big tool echo chamber, that's fine. See: 4Chan.

A problem only arises when people are trying to have a real, productive discussion, and someone blows through with a "U R ALL FAGS LOL ROFL".

plus i dont get this whole thing about 'user reputations', on metafilter you arent really allowed to bring up users post histories and it doesnt seem to be a problem here

Did you read the Dash link? Here's the tl;dr: You spend a lot of time developing an online identity. You build up a reputation, contacts, associates, friends. People respect your opinion (i.e., your pseudonym) on certain topics (see, i.e., languagehat). There is, thus, something to lose if you get banned. In the same way that if you would not want to lose your facebook profile for bad behavior - all those posts, photos, friends lists would be gone. Having actual stakes motivates you to abide by site rules.

Mefi also has a barrier to entry, i.e., the $5 joining fee. Many people who are only interested in being offensive, disruptive tools are not willing to shell out 5 bucks to scrawl "LOLFAGS" - they would get banned immediately, and then it's another $5 if you want to be a jerk again. As a consequence, most trolls put Mefi in the 'too hard' basket and move on to other sites. That's why it's less of a problem here.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:47 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


But they could! I didn't look at your profile, but I'm willing to bet someone in this world could figure out your IRL ID from your user profile and comments.

It's possible, certainly. But I am quite careful. They would have to have a lot of time, and already have fairly detailed personal knowledge of me. You can give it a go, if you like. Memail me with any guesses.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:49 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


mrgrimm i have not seen what you are talking about, and it doesnt seem to, to me

and lol away but if one were to do half the shit they could with post histories one would be banned several times over

i think that names can be useful but they can also encourage party-line/small-c conservative thinking, stagnation of opinion, and act as a lightning rod for ugly bullshit drama.
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 3:53 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


also stuff like
Again, we should know this, because in the real world, many people would break the law, burn stuff and steal shit if they thought that they wouldn't get caught.
is just straight up Hobbsean
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 3:56 PM on January 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Again, we should know this, because in the real world, many people would break the law, burn stuff and steal shit if they thought that they wouldn't get caught.

is just straight up Hobbsean


Not my intent. I'm not claiming that everyone would do that. But I have met more than a few people that would, and do.

My point is more that arseholes will be arseholes, not matter what the forum. The techniques used to keep them in line in meatspace, i.e. rules and enforcement, can also serve to control them online. But that doesn't need to be done at the cost of privacy (which in this case is provided by pseudonymity).
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:02 PM on January 10, 2012


The identities here tend to grow a consistency over time. And it's useful to know that the guy posting is, say, ColdChef, our awesome and extremely helpful undertaker, and not some random onetime signup pretending to be an awesome undertaker.

Maybe you're a longtime lurker, This, of course, but hang around long enough and I think you'll see that the system here works pretty well for this place.

Posting history is definitely useful for askme. Not to throw someone's history in their face, but (for me, and for lots of other people, it seems) to get a sense of the person asking, and maybe they've asked a bunch of similar questions, and seeing that patterns can change the answers you offer.
posted by rtha at 4:09 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


in the real world, many people would break the law, burn stuff and steal shit

As a person who routinely breaks the law[1], burns stuff[2], and steals shit[3], I'd like to point out the fact that there are a great many laws which are absurd, obsolete, unjustified, or just plain immoral. We may differ on which laws those are, but in my view it is a good thing when people break bad laws. The laws should exist serve the people, not the people to serve the laws.

[1] mostly the speed limit
[2] I burn my own stuff, thank you very much
[3] but only if you subscribe to the hilariously overbroad redefinition of "stealing" promoted by the RIAA and MPAA

posted by Mars Saxman at 4:09 PM on January 10, 2012


I'd like to point out the fact that there are a great many laws which are absurd, obsolete, unjustified, or just plain immoral. We may differ on which laws those are, but in my view it is a good thing when people break bad laws. The laws should exist serve the people, not the people to serve the laws.

Agreed (I hate speed cameras in particular), but I think that's not really on topic in this instance.

The point is, IRL, there are laws, or some other rule base including societal customs or norms, that are aimed at discouraging anti-social behaviour. Screaming abuse in a public meeting generally results in the screamer being ejected from the premises. As a consequence, people tend not to scream abuse in public meetings, as much as they might want to, because they are aware of the consequences and don't want to incur them.

That same techniques can and do work online to moderate anti-social behaviour. I would argue that much of the culture of this site has been created through a long process of patient moderation, the mods helping to establish what is and is not acceptable behaviour, having regard to the clear site policies. Real names weren't required to create a culture of civil discourse here - pseudonyms provided sufficent accountability.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:03 PM on January 10, 2012


I would argue that much of the culture of this site has been created through a long process of patient moderation, the mods helping to establish what is and is not acceptable behaviour, having regard to the clear site policies.

I agree. I also think that that would be necessary in a legal-name commenting environment. A lot of sites seem to labor under the delusion that people will not post toxic bullshit under their legal names, and thus moderation will no longer be necessary. This is constantly demonstrated to be utter nonsense, as many people will and do post toxic bullshit under their legal names.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:41 PM on January 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I agree. I also think that that would be necessary in a legal-name commenting environment. A lot of sites seem to labor under the delusion that people will not post toxic bullshit under their legal names, and thus moderation will no longer be necessary. This is constantly demonstrated to be utter nonsense, as many people will and do post toxic bullshit under their legal names.

Yes. It is not the legal name requirement that improves civility - it is accountability to facilitate moderation. That doesn't necessarily require a legal name, although legal names are one way of doing it.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:07 PM on January 10, 2012


I have come to really dislike Facebook. I actually find more trolling behavior and insult and drama on Facebook than even wading into the horrible flame-wars I saw in some Balkans websites.
I have relatives who have friends who stabbed me in the back years ago. There's one branch of the family who are so non-stop drama that I can't take it, but they are family so I can't unfriend them.
Here I feel o.k. saying what I want and posting what I want.
I don't feel that way on Facebook.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:05 PM on January 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Not too surprising. If people use a pseudonym, they do end up with some investment in their comments. On the other hand, when I post with my real name I never want to say anything that might piss someone off if they google me. It's probably not impossible to link this pseudonym to my real name
Saw this and thought it was an ill-judged attempt to start offering insight a la OKCupid. The way I read it is, "Disqus serves comments on sites where most people use pseudonyms. Therefore, pseudonyms drive conversation." The fact people resist using their own names in Disqus basically means they resist tying it to their Facebook account, which isn't the same thing as desiring anonymity. You could be doing that just as much because you're only on Facebook because your friends & relatives are or you don't want friends & relatives to be able to see where you visit on the Internet.
Yeah, but that's the thing. With google, unless you're name is "John Smith" or "Ann Hill" or something your real name is enough of a key that anyone can find you with google. So using your real name is linking to your real identity.
I think there's probably a difference in how people think about the anonymity (or not) of their name based on how common it is. Someone like Anil Dash (I'm guessing his name isn't that common online, especially 10 or 15 years ago) would probably think about pseudonymity different then, I don't know, Larry Page.
I have come to really dislike Facebook. I actually find more trolling behavior and insult and drama on Facebook than even wading into the horrible flame-wars I saw in some Balkans websites.
I have relatives who have friends who stabbed me in the back years ago. There's one branch of the family who are so non-stop drama that I can't take it, but they are family so I can't unfriend them.
The interesting thing about FB is how different it is for different people based on who they friended and how they use it. All I have on my facebook are a bunch of random people from highschool. Most of them are not that interesting, and I almost never post anything there -- so I'm guessing FB's filters probably filter out everything I say anyway. G+ is a lot more fun because most of the people I added were mefites when everyone was rushing to get invites, before everyone decided they didn't like it due to the pseudonyms policy, which they've since gotten rid of (you can have pseudonymous 'pages')
posted by delmoi at 2:21 PM on January 11, 2012


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