The Why Of Quote Posts

This is a post for nerds who are interested in the mechanics of communities. If anybody gets anything else out of it, that’s just a bonus.

Suppose you have an old-style pressure cooker, not a modern electronic one, but one where you have it on the stove and control the incoming heat yourself. One day, steam starts shooting out the top. You decide you don’t like that, because why would you? So when you’re done cooking, you epoxy it shut, nice and firm. Problem solved. Now steam will not shoot out the top.

Obviously I’m making a metaphor about defeating a safety feature and now the pressure cooker is at risk of exploding. But it can seem to work for a while; there’s a substantial range between where the pressure relief valve triggered and the cooker will actually explode.

Still, it’s a virtual inevitability that it will explode at some point.

You can model communities in your head in a similar way. There are pressures that build up; fundamental disagreements, personality clashes, mismatched ideas about what the goals of the community are, all sorts of forces that work in the direction of being unpleasant or tearing the community apart. It is tempting as a moderator to just squash them down flat whenever they arise. But while that works in the short term, in the long term these things are all building up pressures. You didn’t make the problems go away, you’re just locking them up with you in your community.

What you actually want is controlled release of these things. Unfortunately, the release can still be a bit unpleasant. In this fallen world there are no perfect solutions and we can not build perfect communities that have no negatives. It is better to think of it as a process of managing the imperfections rather than eliminating them as a practical matter.

In the grand scheme of things, quote posts are at best a medium-priority feature for keeping the peace, and even that may be a stretch. But they happen to be a topical lens through which to view these sorts of issues in the micro.

As was observed, they serve a very practical use in just threads naturally spin off off-topic conversations. Given SG’s non-threaded nature, this is a virtual necessity. The alternative is the off-topic stuff just gets interleaved into one conversation, and that becomes rapidly useless. You can still see it happening sometimes. This would actually destroy some otherwise useful threads, and this builds annoyance.

Out of the SG context, it also provides a great way for jerks to shut down any conversation they don’t like. You’ve all seen the monomaniac who simply shouts his dominance into some online conversation. One must remember that even if you consider the idea that there are actively hostile enemies infiltrating communities and trying to steer them a baseless conspiracy theory, organic free-range gammas are still numerous enough to make this a huge problem. You need some mechanism to be able to tell them “Hey, you need to take this to a different thread and I as a moderator am going to enforce that.” or you create an incentive for an escalating arms race within the community to derail each other’s threads.

Within the SG context, we have other mechanisms to remove jerks that seem to work pretty well. So this applies less. Still, it is prudent to avoid creating those incentive structures within the mechanics of the community in the first place if possible.

Even quote posts being used excessively by Smart Boys can be a net positive thing for the community. It may annoy you, but in conjunction with the Mute and Block mechanisms people can self-select right out of your personal view of the community. If my read on Vox is right, the clever clog who quote-posted Vox’s post that explicitly warned against doing that earned a swift one-way trip to Vox’s mute or block list. Conflict managed, pressure released, and the community chugs along.

(The “solution” to the proximal problem is to gently discourage it and let itself burn out. These fads don’t go forever and it’s a mistake to try to react to them by reengineering the community mechanics. These things just happen periodically.)

This isn’t advocacy either way, but I will say that if quote posts were removed, they’d need to be replaced with something else (like threaded conversations, but that has its own extensive set of pathologies), and regardless of what that “something else” is, it would still manifest some problem some how.

KoMoL Book 1, Chapter 25 and 26 Binary Thinking