Let's talk about Beatles Beatles. For the uninitiated he's just some dude who submits a lot of stories. He actually happens to get a lot of them accepted. We have a number of users like this. Looking at the hall of fame shows you a number of the most successful ones. Now the motivation for getting a Slashdot story accepted (besides fame, glory and sexy women who start IMing you naked pictures of themselves mere seconds after a story goes live)is a return link to the website of your choosing. Your creds. Your 'Reward' for sharing a cool URL with a half a million Slashdot readers.
It's not hard to figure out what sorts of stories Slashdot likes. We have a format, and a subject matter. A persistent user can simply start spamming the bin with a submission about everything he finds that comes even close. If he does it enough, he'll get a few through. Especially if he manages to get something reasonable in at 11pm when there's little else to choose from.
Now there is no conspiracy. There is some Roland guy who's last name i can't spell who submits stuff all the time and people thought for awhile he was Timothy. Lately there is a Beatles Beatles user who conspiracy theorists now think is Scuttlemonkey. We don't know these people. They are not aliases for us. They aren't paying us. 3 months from now it will be somebody else.
Now these submitters each have their problems. In Roland's case, he likes to link to his personal blog where he writes mediocre summaries of stories that add nothing to the original. In BBs case, he just cuts and pastes paragraphs from linked pages. Both use their return link to link a web page which is, in my opinion, pretty worthless.
Now technically speaking, we could add a nofollow to their URLs. Or strip them entirely. But that puts me into the position of editing not just the submission, but the submittor, and i really don't think that this is "Right".
Part of the Slashdot Editor's job is to make a submission "Presentable". Usually this means moving a few URLs around. I'd guess a good half of story submissions use the word 'here' or 'article' or something equally stupid as their anchor text. I prefer relevant words to be linked. There are other minor things tho, like taking off extra intros like "Hi guys I read Slashdot every day and thought you would like this". We want the Slashdot story to be mostly distilled down to the essentials. Just the key 3-4 sentences.
Should part of this process be checking the URL of the submitter to make sure that it is legitimate? Does that really matter? Should we add a nofollow tag to those URLs?
My opinion is no. Those URLs are what you get for submitting a story to Slashdot. We selected it. The submission braved the Gauntlet. A hundred submissions died, and this one made the cut. I don't think it's fair that we strip creds from someone just because they choose to squander that URL on something stupid. Who am I to judge that after all?
Now the real problem with this is what it does to the discussion. Last night a nice story was posted. It came from one of our "Problem" users. And dozens of comments were posted about this user. The conspiracy theories. The hostility. Now a lot of this is normal Slashdot Forum Faire. Thats fine. But the problem is that often when this occurs, it swamps out the real discussion. The messenger becomes the story.
I think this sucks.
The story is not about Roland or Beatles Beatles or whatever other random user is submitting a lot of stuff this week. I encourage moderators to use their points to mod these discussions down when they see them. As a moderator, your job ought to be to steer the discussion on-topic. The submitter is almost never the topic!
The catch-22 kills me. I might have a URL in the bin worth sharing. Something a half a million of you might enjoy. But because a user with a "Reputation" submitted it, I know that posting it will spawn a giant forum cesspool. I could strip attribution and take away incentive for a user to submit. Or just throw away the article and forget it. Or I could post the story and watch as half of the discussion is simply about the submitter and not the URL that i wanted to share in the first place.
Damned if I do, damned if I don't, right? I'm seriously looking for feedback here. What should I do with a good submission from a reader with a reputation?
And moderators, use those offtopic mods to steer the discussion towards the subject of the article, not the flavor of the month conspiracy theory about story selection.
As a side note, I'm really going to try to write more articles addressing Slashdot matters on to Slashdot. But please understand that doing so is tremendously time consuming- this article will generate hundreds of pieces of mail and forum posts that I want to read and reply to. But there are only so many hours in the day. I would like to request that the forum try to stay on-topic here. Let's talk specifically about the issues i addressed above. We can talk about digg or moderation or whatever issues are of most interest next week.
Update a dozen or so users have made the same point: Simply wait for the same story to come from another user. If that was possible, I would do so. I'm really talking here about stories that are submitted just by one person. Part of why these users are successful is that they submit enough stories that they get a handful that only THEY submitted. I can't simply wait for someone else. That will never come!
update Allright it's been about 300 hours. I've read every comment posted so far, and replied to many. Even managed to whore myself a couple dozen upmods ;) I think we will add a nofollow to the submittor link. Several users raised good points and they ultimately convinced me that since the focus of the story is the submission, not the submittor, any link that detracts from the focus is less relevant. This will probably reduce some kinds of abuse in the future, but of course not all.
There's a lot of really good discussion in there. Some really good feedback. I haven't touched my inbox yet, but I see a lot of messages in there as well that I'll try to get to. I'll try to post again in another week or 2 on some other subject matter. If you have ideas on what that should be, you're welcome to email and suggest topics. We'll try to make it, if not regular, a frequent thing on Slashdot.