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Poll

Does The test server work for you? Are you willing to sped time helping me test it?

It works for me.
- 6 (31.6%)
It does not work for me.
- 1 (5.3%)
I'd be willing to help test it.
- 6 (31.6%)
I'm not interested in testing it.
- 1 (5.3%)
I might be willing to help test it.
- 5 (26.3%)

Total Members Voted: 14


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Author Topic: Agora, A better forum (Open Source Project): Now with Github and test site.  (Read 48089 times)

Draxis

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Re: A more effective internet forum
« Reply #15 on: September 24, 2013, 11:27:11 pm »

You shouldn't really have one post equalling one node. The reason is simple: one post can make a LOT of points.

What we've proposed is having each point, or argument, be one of those nodes. If one argument undermines another, you draw an arrow between the two, showing an "attack".

For a forum, I imagine that you'd easily highlight what piece of text you consider to be arguments in your post, and then possibly drag them onto other arguments to specify attacks between arguments.
I don't see the conflict there; as long as users only make one argument (here meaning an idea trying to be communicated) - which could be based on multiple points (bases of that argument) - per post, the same linking system between posts could be used.

The zoom levels would be a neat way to help the clutter; the idea also made me realize that this forum could be a good form for all the touchscreens and such that are being used today - something to keep in mind if it ever does come to a kickstarter.

The forum will need a very robust threading system; posts should be able to be linked between threads, or even whole chains copied over if relevant.  A good splitting mechanism will also be important, to keep the threads from getting too bloated like a lot of the GD ones do.  Whether this is done by thread starters, moderators, or the participants, will be an important decision to make.  I lean towards the participants being able to manipulate threads, based on some sort of concensus system, but that may turn out to be to slow or manipulable.
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Anvilfolk

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Re: A more effective internet forum
« Reply #16 on: September 24, 2013, 11:38:36 pm »

Absolutely, to both of your posts! That's exactly how it happens in argumentation theory! Basically it doesn't matter how stuff is inputted into the computer, it is ultimately all "compiled" into a directed graph. Unless you explicitly keep track of it of forums/subforums/threads/posts, it's a pretty flat structure, meaning any argument can attack any argument - across threads, forums, heck, with the right tech behind it, across the Internet.

Visualisation and the interface is going to be a HUGE part of it. For instance, how do you represent threads of conversation? A flat structure isn't interesting at all for a forum like Bay12. You need to keep track of that. How do you visualise time? Posts are linear, for instance... meaning there's a nice flow. How is that represented when everything is now nodes?

The forum will need a very robust threading system; posts should be able to be linked between threads, or even whole chains copied over if relevant.  A good splitting mechanism will also be important, to keep the threads from getting too bloated like a lot of the GD ones do.  Whether this is done by thread starters, moderators, or the participants, will be an important decision to make.  I lean towards the participants being able to manipulate threads, based on some sort of concensus system, but that may turn out to be to slow or manipulable.

That's part of the beauty of what we've proposed, for two reasons:
1) Because everything is flat (there's "just" nodes/arguments), you can reference everything from everything. You can keep track of which arguments belong to which thread, and restrict the view to that, like a more traditional forum. Of course, you might have incoming and outgoing attacks from the thread, but they'll be temporarily greyed out so you can follow the thread itself. It should be easier to get a temporal visualisation of arguments within a single thread as well. Because the underlying structure is a simple directed graph, the UI is also not overly complicated to implement and play with. I'm sure there's already tons of graph-based algorithms and stuff that can be used.
2) By allowing people to vote on arguments and attacks, dumb posts or attacks that people specified for some reason but don't really make sense are easy to handle. You just downvote them, and they essentially become irrelevant.

Draxis

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Re: A more effective internet forum
« Reply #17 on: September 24, 2013, 11:54:13 pm »

Wait, what do you mean by 'flat' and 'thread'?  I don't know much about argumentation theory, but it seems like threads (an organizational structure) can't mesh with a flat structure by definition.

I was imagining the structure to be stored in the server as a list of posts, chronologically, and that the graph program would interpret them into a graph using information in the stored posts like links (attacks, but also supports or references) to others, and maybe a list of threads - each containing any posts put into this thread during the posting process.  The graph would draw a thread as all the posts in it, with their references to one another shown, and the references to posts not in this thread shown in a different color or something.  The threads would be only an organizational tool used to help follow a given topic.  Is something like that what you are talking about?
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Urist McScoopbeard

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Re: A more effective internet forum
« Reply #18 on: September 24, 2013, 11:56:48 pm »

Up/downvoting is a bad system on the internet, entirely too easy to troll it and abuse it. Especially where a post might only get a few votes.

Especially in this system, just because one person is in the minority puts them at a disadvantage because their post can be downvoted because the majority thinks its stupid, not everyone is loving and open-minded on the internet after all.
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lue

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Re: A more effective internet forum
« Reply #19 on: September 25, 2013, 12:02:40 am »

Sounds like an interesting idea. Seems to me like a traditional threaded forum (as opposed to a flat one, like this one), except for the many-to-many instead of one-to-many way of connecting posts.

I was thinking, one thing that would improve both classic forums (like this one) and your idea would be some sort of special summary page thing, that summarizes the content of the thread. It would, naturally, have to be maintained by a human or a group of them. You could already do this with a first or second post in a thread reserved for updates, but that relies on the thread creator to stick around until the thread is utterly forgotten.

Wait, what do you mean by 'flat' and 'thread'?

I think some usages of the word "flat" here refer to the way the data is stored; putting all the posts into one or many text files would be a flat data structure, while putting them in a database structure (things like MySQL) would not be "flat". I could be wrong though, so perhaps those talking can correct me if I'm wrong.
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Angle

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Re: A more effective internet forum
« Reply #20 on: September 25, 2013, 12:06:59 am »

I think it refers to how posts can be linked- In a flat structure, any post can be linked to any post, while in a non flat structure, like we have right here right now, posts can only be linked in very specific ways.

In terms of a summary page, I was thinking that some kind of overview that only shows the title's of the posts could be used.
« Last Edit: September 25, 2013, 12:08:58 am by Angle »
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Anvilfolk

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Re: A more effective internet forum
« Reply #21 on: September 25, 2013, 12:12:08 am »

I was imagining the structure to be stored in the server as a list of posts, chronologically, and that the graph program would interpret them into a graph using information in the stored posts like links (attacks, but also supports or references) to others, and maybe a list of threads - each containing any posts put into this thread during the posting process.  The graph would draw a thread as all the posts in it, with their references to one another shown, and the references to posts not in this thread shown in a different color or something.  The threads would be only an organizational tool used to help follow a given topic.  Is something like that what you are talking about?

Yeah, that's what I mean. Sorry, it's getting late here :)

I was still imagining a post to be longer, like the ones we are writing here, though that is perhaps counter-productive for proper debates. Either way, eventually, it all becomes nodes in a graph. That's what we ultimately use to compute an output. What you can do is keep meta-data about which thread the post was added to, and so still maintain a forum-structure for organisational purposes.

Up/downvoting is a bad system on the internet, entirely too easy to troll it and abuse it. Especially where a post might only get a few votes.

Especially in this system, just because one person is in the minority puts them at a disadvantage because their post can be downvoted because the majority thinks its stupid, not everyone is loving and open-minded on the internet after all.

Think of it this way. The outcome of a debate is the result of two things: 1) popular opinion and 2) debate structure. As a result of 1), a post in Bay12 might be super upvoted, whereas the same post, say, in Reddit, would get downvoted. It's a matter of context. This is taken into account. As a result of 2), even if a post has lots of crowd support (more upvotes, less downvotes), if it is logically attacked by another post with a similar crowd support, it will be logically weaker.

In your example of a debate between a minority and the majority, the outcome will necessarily be skewed towards the opinion of the majority. Heck, that's how democracy and elections work, just at a larger scale. Having only registered accounts add votes makes it so bots and so forth can't troll it too hard. Also seems to work nicely on reddit, slashdot, etc.

I think some usages of the word "flat" here refer to the way the data is stored; putting all the posts into one or many text files would be a flat data structure, while putting them in a database structure (things like MySQL) would not be "flat". I could be wrong though, so perhaps those talking can correct me if I'm wrong.

Forums typically don't have as much flatness since there's a forum->subforum->thread-post hierarchy. Databases do a good job of representing this. For computing a solution to a debate, we use a flat structure in the sense that there's only arguments. There's no threads or forums or anything. But like I said before, that should definitely exist as metadata. It makes it easier to browse and search and visualise.

But Angle ninja'd me and explained it better! I really should get to bed ;)

Angle

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Re: A more effective internet forum
« Reply #22 on: September 25, 2013, 12:15:08 am »

Yeah, me too. Good night, everyone.
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Urist McScoopbeard

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Re: A more effective internet forum
« Reply #23 on: September 25, 2013, 01:58:21 am »

Well since im having some pretty bad insomnia right now let me try and contribute another idea, in keeping with the democracy example, you describe a majoritarian system, where obviously the majority rules, but if you could think of some way to keep track of issues, not just posts, then you could turn it into a pluralist system where at least the minority views are held to the light.


Also, in keeping with this debate-centred discussion, I think we need actual different posts, i.e. topic posts = you bring up an issue, no arguement yet only pros and cons listed. Then discussion posts, where you might argue for either side of the topic. Finally 'attacking' posts, basically your responding to other posts, you should be able to 'attack' any post whether it be a topic directly, a discussion post of a topic or any othef 'attacking' post.

Its too late for the pc, but im tempted to design a layout of this, i figure tht each topic post appears as a green dot, which when moused over will display a tree of attacking posts in red and discussion posts in blue as well as the actual post itself. When you click the dot, this information stays on the screen instead of disappearing after your mouse leaves the dot as if you moused over it. Now you can read a post, and see a tree of posts 'attacking' or 'discussing' it. Again, if you mouse over a dot in this tree it expands to show you a post and list of posts 'attacking' it. Etc. ever onwards.

To be clear all of this is contained in one 'thread' that theoretically covers on broad topic, the topic posts are more specific aspects of the thread topic. Large issues might have several dozen topic posts, while smaller ones might only have 2-3, etc.

Furthermore, the OP should be able to control topics, lest things get out of hand or inappropiate, he/she should be able to lock any topic post, as in its still viewable but can long longer be contributed to. I think that the OP should not have too much, if any, control over discussion and 'attacking posts'.
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Eagleon

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Re: A more effective internet forum
« Reply #24 on: September 25, 2013, 02:22:32 am »

Just posting to say that I've been trying to figure out a better sort of forum for education/collaboration, and new ideas like this are awesome to see. Will be watching this closely - I don't have the background to contribute much, but if there were a concise specification I could, at the very least, hash out an object-based representation in Java and JGraphT. Probably not as fast or bug-free or even complete as you'd like, but I haven't seen anyone offer, so there =P
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Draxis

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Re: A more effective internet forum
« Reply #25 on: September 25, 2013, 06:00:29 am »

Think of it this way. The outcome of a debate is the result of two things: 1) popular opinion and 2) debate structure. As a result of 1), a post in Bay12 might be super upvoted, whereas the same post, say, in Reddit, would get downvoted. It's a matter of context. This is taken into account. As a result of 2), even if a post has lots of crowd support (more upvotes, less downvotes), if it is logically attacked by another post with a similar crowd support, it will be logically weaker.

In your example of a debate between a minority and the majority, the outcome will necessarily be skewed towards the opinion of the majority. Heck, that's how democracy and elections work, just at a larger scale. Having only registered accounts add votes makes it so bots and so forth can't troll it too hard. Also seems to work nicely on reddit, slashdot, etc.
I'm not comfortable with an up/down voting system, because it will lead to people pursuing votes rather than effective arguments, and groups who share an opinion downvoting anyone who opposes them.  You can see it in places like Youtube or Reddit, although those are extreme examples - the community is a large factor here, but it just opens the possibility for abuse.

A system with a number of different 'ratings' you could use, such as "Agree","Disagree", "Good points", "Spam", "Need Source" and so forth would be better, as people who have problems with the post could be more specific about them without just attacking the whole post, and people could just vote if they agree or disagree in general - which, while just about useless, is far better than them making "+1" posts, or downvoting the whole post because it makes different points than them.

Also, in keeping with this debate-centred discussion, I think we need actual different posts, i.e. topic posts = you bring up an issue, no arguement yet only pros and cons listed. Then discussion posts, where you might argue for either side of the topic. Finally 'attacking' posts, basically your responding to other posts, you should be able to 'attack' any post whether it be a topic directly, a discussion post of a topic or any othef 'attacking' post.
...
Furthermore, the OP should be able to control topics, lest things get out of hand or inappropiate, he/she should be able to lock any topic post, as in its still viewable but can long longer be contributed to. I think that the OP should not have too much, if any, control over discussion and 'attacking posts'.
The idea about multiple post types seems promising, but that could just end up like a less structured version of a normal forum, if everyone used only discussion posts - any they would, because it would be easier that argument posts, unless the community was strongly against it.  Since the whole point of the model is to facilitate proper arguments, that is undesirable; discussion posts will need to be implemented carefully.  Similarly, topic posts are a hazard: unless they can only start threads, people will just post their points in them and wander off, without bothering to really participate in the arguments.  I would say that having them would cause more trouble than they would be worth, and it woud be better to just let people use argument posts for that.
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Angle

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Re: A more effective internet forum
« Reply #26 on: September 25, 2013, 10:13:09 am »

I was thinking that arguments could be flagged as "Non-sequitur", "Ad Hominem", "Strawman", and the like. If enough people flag an argument, then it is brought to the attention of the mods, and they can mark it as invalid.

The idea about multiple post types seems promising, but that could just end up like a less structured version of a normal forum, if everyone used only discussion posts - any they would, because it would be easier that argument posts, unless the community was strongly against it.  Since the whole point of the model is to facilitate proper arguments, that is undesirable; discussion posts will need to be implemented carefully.  Similarly, topic posts are a hazard: unless they can only start threads, people will just post their points in them and wander off, without bothering to really participate in the arguments.  I would say that having them would cause more trouble than they would be worth, and it woud be better to just let people use argument posts for that.

Again, this is why I'm putting a lot of effort into thinking up a good set of rules for said forum. If it's against the rules to have your arguments in a discussion post, and the mods go and delete them when you do that, then people will make goo and proper use of arguments. This does leave the moderators with a lot of power - for that purpose, I was considering making a system that would log anything the moderators do, so that people could keep track of them and point out if they did anything wrong.
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Anvilfolk

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Re: A more effective internet forum
« Reply #27 on: September 25, 2013, 10:18:23 am »

There's a whole lot of literature on what constitutes an argument. Some are based on an underlying mathematical logic, some are based on the principles of argumentation that have been studied since as far back as Ancient Greece, so there's no need to reinvent the wheel :)

If you guys don't mind I'll just start mentioning about Social Abstract Argumentation (SAA), which is what we developed in my research group. Makes it easier to point out what I'm referring to :) The theory behind SAA can very easily be changed so that we accept slightly more complex crowd voting. What does need to happen is that all the votes eventually get you a value in [0, 1]. For instance, an "agree" vote could be value 1, "disagree" could be value 0, "spam" could be value 0, "need source" could be value 0.5, and then you'd average all those votes out.

How you go from plain text to a formal argumentation context (as a directed graph) is still very much an open question. I don't think we will ever be at a point where you can automatically mine that information, since natural language is so hard to make sense of with computers. This means that ultimately it'll be some form of user that has to say what is an argument and what is an attack.

The Abstract in SAA refers to the fact that we distance ourselves from that problem. We work exclusively with nodes and arrows (and votes). It is not clear to us that you should have different argument types at all - what would be their purpose? How do they differ? SAA is nice because it is super simple and to the point. An argument is some sort of statement that may or may not undermine other statements, and that may or may not be undermined by other statements. This notion of "undermining" induces the attack relation.

The Social part of SAA means that the community can self-regulate. In other words, if someone goes into a nice, mature community and starts spewing nonsense as arguments, the community has the power to downvote that opinion into irrelevance.

I think it's also important to realise that outcomes to all debates are ultimately always dependent on the context, whether in "real-life" or online. I mean, talk about gay marriage in a southern US state or in a metropolitan area, and the result will be reversed. Talk about it in a US wide context, and it might be 50/50. An atheist in a religious forum and a believer in an atheist forum WOULD likely be downvoted simply because people don't agree with their opinions. That's the way the world works.

If you accept that the formal outcome of a debate depends on its context and participating community, your complaints aren't really bugs of the system, they're features ;)


To respond to Angle's more recent post. You *could* simply create an argument that states another argument is Non-sequitur, ad hominem, or strawman, and have that attack the original flawed argument. If people agree with that, using !!LOGIC!!, SAA would reduce the strength of the flawed argument until it became too weak to have any real impact. Heck, if people realise that the argument is flawed, they can simply downvote it.

Overly complicated systems restrict usage. We'd really like to have as many people as possible using this, right? Arguments, attacks and voting can pretty much represent any situation that we've been able to think of for quite a while now. That doesn't mean extensions aren't possible, but before making the system more complex and less usable, those changes should be strongly justified.

Eagleon

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Re: A more effective internet forum
« Reply #28 on: September 25, 2013, 01:07:27 pm »

How you go from plain text to a formal argumentation context (as a directed graph) is still very much an open question. I don't think we will ever be at a point where you can automatically mine that information, since natural language is so hard to make sense of with computers. This means that ultimately it'll be some form of user that has to say what is an argument and what is an attack.
This is actually why I'm very interested in this concept - it pushes the user to formalize the relations between what they're talking about and what it is in response to, and allows a much nicer picture of who is talking to who and why than you can get with a conventional forum, while still allowing as many people to participate as possible. It would highlight redundancy nicely if you did include some machine learning techniques into the mix, if you made the relationships inferred visible to the user.

More broadly for my purposes, I'd like to combine it with a research/citation database to also allow someone to visualize the relations between a conversation and the technical details it might be relying on, based on some sort of learned confidence rating, so that you can generate new links to conversation outside what the user is expecting to see. All to maybe spark some interesting insights outside their comfort zone as they use the system.
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Killjoy

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Re: A more effective internet forum
« Reply #29 on: September 25, 2013, 02:05:36 pm »

What you are proposing is arranging the discussion into a directed graph. Instead of a tree, much like what the reddit discussion model.

It is actually not that difficult to set up something like this.

However, presenting it in a way that facilitates these digraph discussion features is much harder.

You could show the parent threads appended on top. But I don't really see any reason not just to use quoting, unless you want to preserve context, which is not an issue on modern boards anyway since you can simple link the post where the quote comes from.

This does however give me an idea. Why not make sort of a discussion graph or web. You can't start a new discussion topic per se, but you can always derive discussions from other discussions. Meaning any topic discussion thread could be traversed back to the origin. The origin would be sort of a hello world, opting to discuss this type of fora or something.

What would be even more valuable would be if any new topic had to actually discuss the parent topics in some way or form. I doubt however that it is really possible to moderate and enforce such rules, even if a dataset with this rule would be extremely valuable.

Farming this graph would make for some very interesting data.

I don't mind setting up a little web service like this if anyone is interested. If anything it gives me something to do today.
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