Adding a Little Civility to the Internet
Jun 15, 2011
Since I first started using the Internet (sadly before there was even a WWW), there have always been people who feel territorial to given sites, forums, and areas of expertise etc. As a new or casual user to these sites, you’re popping in during a time of need, seeking answers to questions or issues you’re experiencing—may it be troubleshooting a gadget, building a web site, or pretty much anything else. One of the great powers of the Internet is that few questions end up going unanswered.
But during this answer-seeking process, you’re often at a loss for the exact terms to search to find your solution. And some established users will quickly chime in with rude replies, saying how you should use the site’s search, or how you just asked a really dumb or simple question. The Internet’s relative anonymity makes many feel entitled to act in ways and say things they would never dream of in a real world conversation. Those snarky and simultaneously unhelpful answers took the replier as long to type up as it would have to help a new user, and possibly foster some goodwil, expanding their Internet community in the process.
Enter Stack Exchange, a set of forums/communities that are setup to ask and answer questions, while minimizing the negativity.
The Stack Exchange forums play to the egos by redirecting them with a positive twist. There’s a social element to the question and answer process where users unlock badges/achievements a la Xbox Live for answering, as well as a nice and simple voting system that allows both the asker and the answerers to vote up and down responses. As both a contributor and a person seeking answers, you’re rewarded for quality and quantity. Your status and “rank” on the site ascends and descends based on your contributions to the community by providing answers, as well as feedback on the quality and effectiveness of those answers. While it’s not perfect, it does an amazing job in redirecting egos in a positive and effective way.
Stack Overflow is where I’ve most frequented; getting questions and problems resolved relating to HTML, CSS, jQuery, etc. I’ve tried answering a few HTML and CSS questions as well, as much as anything out of a feeling of obligation to thank the community for helping me in my times of need.
Another Internet community that really seems to get it is Quora, self described as “a continually improving collection of questions and answers created, edited, and organized by everyone who uses it.” Like Wikipedia, users create and curate the content. The responsibility of answering the questions adds a level of ownership that makes its users want to edit, create and refine both questions and answers.
Surely, there are plenty of other sites that have found ways to overcome the negatives that come with Internet communities, but Stackoverflow and Quora are definitely ones that has near perfected making a positive and rewarding experience for everyone involved in the Q&A process. Rewarding users for good behavior and making them part owners in the sites’ content makes it a better experience for everyone involved.