On Friday we've had our annual alumni meetup of Faculty of Computer and Information Science of University of Ljubljana and great pleasure to listen to a talk by prof. Jure Leskovec on the topic of voting in online forums. In his talk Jure presented his research that shows that up and down voting of comments in online forums only feeds comment trolls and contributes nothing to quality of discussion. On the contrary, by increasing propensity of bad commentators to write even more lousy comments the online community further degrades until all the good commentators leave and forum becomes a playground for miserable people to vent their frustrations. Jure's research has already influenced CNN to disable comments' voting and will hopefully spread to other online forums in dire need of cleaning.
There's one other online forum that grew in a multibillion dollar business called Facebook and which would like to become for the 21st century what television was for the 20th century. Facebook employs an army of artificial intelligence researches working on Facebook's news feed and I'm pretty certain their research is even more advanced than what Jure does. Nowadays most of my social interactions outside work take place on Facebook and even when we get together with friends offline lots of discussions are shaped by what's happening on the Facebook. Realizing that Facebook shapes my social interactions in a way to make me feel good and keep coming to Facebook for increasing amount of positive reinforcement is a scary proposition with potentially enormous consequences. It might very well be that Facebook is the biggest social experiment ever undertaken and we're all just mice playing our parts.