Caucus: The Next-Generation Community-Discussion Forum

Regular readers have probably noticed my extremely low posting frequency lately. I would usually explain this with some excuse about being busy, but this time, I actually have a good reason behind it. I’ve been spending the past couple of months building a site of my own.

For years, I’ve been frustrated by the state of online discussions, and the platforms that host them. For years, I just sat back and complained, but this time, I thought I should take a stab at it myself, and try to build something better. I’m now proud to say that the site’s version-1 is now complete!

For those of you wondering why you should visit this site, and what makes it unique, here’s a summary of the guiding principles behind the site. I’m sure you’ll agree that this is indeed an ambitious project, never been attempted before, and I’m very curious to see how it shapes out.

Why Caucus

How often have you seen content that is highly rated online, despite being inaccurate, misleading or inflammatory?

How often have you seen an online discussion resembling an echo chamber, with dissenting views being systematically silenced and suppressed?

How often have you seen a great online community crumble because its very success attracts swarms of new members who do not share the community’s values?

These are the problems that caucus was specifically designed to solve. By applying sophisticated Reputation-System based algorithms to rank crowd-sourced content, we aim to develop healthy online communities, and foster truly constructive and thought provoking dialogue.

Our Principles

Reputation Matters

The success of real world communities derives ultimately from reputation, and reputation-enhanced speech. The advice given by the wise is awarded greater reverence and prominence, than that of an angsty troublemaker. The converse of this, in the reputation-free internet, is vitriol and lowest-common-denominator mob rule. We believe that in order to effectively build online communities, and foster constructive discussion, we need digital reputations as well, and reputation-enhanced online speech.

Discussion Matters

Constructive discussion keeps the world spinning. Both the spreading of verified knowledge, as well as the discussion and synthesis of new ideas. Announcing to the world that you love Vanilla, is a very safe and popular thing to say. But there has to be more to life than simply discussing how awesome Vanilla is. The most important things in life can also be contentious. And that is exactly why they need to be discussed. Popular content is worth highlighting, but so too is controversial content. Only with a mix of both, can we engage in true dialogue.

Community Matters

In our increasingly anonymous online world, communities still matter as much as ever. Systems work best when people are allowed to self-organize into communities. Communities that have their own distinct principles, personalities, values and reputations. Communities composed of regulars, who embody the character of the community itself. Communities that are free to welcome outsiders who are a good cultural fit, and safeguard themselves against outsiders who are not. Communities that socially compete with one another, in order to provide its members with the best experience. And out of this competition, the greatest benefit for individuals: The freedom to pick and choose a community that best reflects her values and needs.

Site Features

Crowd-sourced Content Ranking

Through voting, you decide which content is worth being on the front page, and which content should be buried in the archives.

Earned Reputation

By posting content, and getting votes from others in the community, you can over time, build up your own reputation.

Reputation Enhanced Speech

The extent to which content is highlighted will depend on the reputation of the people posting and voting for it. We trust those, who are trusted by their community.

Fair Airtime

Some people post every thought that comes into their head, and others are more deliberate about posting things that are well thought out. Some people have an opinion on everything, and others only vote on things that they feel strongly about. We account for such posting/voting patterns to ensure that every person gets a fair voice in the community.

Merit Based Scoring

Some content may have accumulated more votes simply because it was posted at a better time, and thus, seen by more people. We normalize for such biases and ensure that every content is judged fairly on its own merit.

Promoting Controversy

Popular content has its place, but so too does controversial content. Only with a mix of both, can we engage in true, informative dialogue.

Community Specific Reputation

A person’s reputation is specific to each community. Together with reputation-enhanced-speech, this ensures that communities can retain their own unique culture, and not be deluged by outsiders.

If you’ve read this far, you must be curious to see the above ideas put into practice. Take a look for yourself!