An interesting idea, that's stuck around in my thoughts but escaped elaboration until the recent issue of an influx of new users became prominent, is the idea of pseudonymity. 

Pseudonymity is important because although a real-name system works fine for stopping most low-effort or spam-like posts, not every potential participant on LW would want to use their real names.

However, there becomes the problem that the moderators can't review an arbitrary number of new accounts due to practical constraints.

And without this review process, there would be too much low-quality  content (from what I understand) flooding the front page. Which would decrease the credibility of the account that wrote it, but also slightly that of other pseudonymous accounts by association since most readers will have lingering suspicions of the possibility of someone creating multiple accounts.

So a way to resolve multiple issues at once is to charge for new pseudonymous accounts. 

It ensures moderator time spent reviewing will be compensated, greatly increases the bar for attempted spamming or trolling, and increases the credibility of new pseudonymous users. 

As every reader will understand, if sufficient announcements are made beforehand, that whoever behind the account spent real money on establishing it, thus they would be unlikely to behave recklessly or create multiple pseudonym accounts unless they were highly motivated.

The  exact details of implementation will likely have to be more closely examined before it could be practically added.

I'm unsure if this issue has been raised before on LW, but I found the logic compelling enough to write this post anyways to see if anyone has suggestions

New to LessWrong?

New Comment
11 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 8:51 PM

Happy to be thinking about such topics, but I don't think this model of incentives and capabilities of various kinds of posters is all that useful.  Real money is a HUGE barrier to many good posters, and a surprisingly small barrier to many bad ones.  It's a disconnected filter - orthogonal to what you care about.  It DOES have the advantage of revenue, so you can hire moderators, but I don't think that comes close to balancing out the downsides.

Speaking as someone who's used this pseudonym (or variations thereof, as it's gotten popular and often already taken) since before there was an internet, and has done a lot of work on account and identity systems, I don't think your focus on real name vs pseudonym is quite as cut-and-dried as you seem to imply here.  There are always plenty of legitimate reasons to have multiple separate accounts on a site, and the cost/benefit of any given level of verification and enforcement almost NEVER justifies being very strict.  

I don't know how big a problem it is to have new accounts making personal blogposts or comments (they can't get onto frontpage without a mod promoting the post, right?  Obvious spam gets downvoted to oblivion pretty quickly, low-value content less quickly but still doesn't get upvoted).  Isn't voting sufficient here?  Maybe adjust the default threshold for readers, so unless someone has opted in, they only see +3 and above.  This distributes the moderation work among everyone, and if pure spam and puppet-voter-accounts becomes a problem, then further adjustments (like "ignore votes from accounts with less than 50 karma" or whatever) can be made.  

Basically, even though I hate how much voting (especially strong votes) gets into the collective consciousness, I do recognize that there's information there, and it's way better information than real-money willingness/ability to pay.
 

 Real money is a HUGE barrier to many good posters, and a surprisingly small barrier to many bad ones.  It's a disconnected filter - orthogonal to what you care about.  It DOES have the advantage of revenue, so you can hire moderators, but I don't think that comes close to balancing out the downsides.

Upvoted because this is an interesting point about the possible asymmetrical relationship. 

That may be true, but the 'many good posters' could just use their real name instead. I imagine the set of folks who both can't do that, for whatever reason, and are unwilling to spend real money, is a lot smaller.

Basically, even though I hate how much voting (especially strong votes) gets into the collective consciousness, I do recognize that there's information there, and it's way better information than real-money willingness/ability to pay.
 

There's also the issue that folks will naturally be more skeptical of any voting system, and the results, when they know creating multiple accounts, to vote, is almost effortless.

I personally treat everything within 50 votes of zero as giving approximately the same credibility for nearly everyone, with the exception of online celebrities like Eliezer or gwern which would probably be closer to within 100-200 votes of zero (though I haven't thought about what the correct proportion should be).

If I knew it was actually onerous to create multiple accounts my confidence would be increased resulting in a more fine differentiation. I imagine many readers would have similar sentiments.

That may be true, but the 'many good posters' could just use their real name instead.

We should probably separate that into a different subthread (which I guess this now is).  I hadn't responded to it because I thought your concern was mostly about new user filtering, not use of chosen handle to determine initial standing.  

Are you saying "real name", including human verification into government ID, or are you saying "real-sounding name", which mods just guess as to validity?  Or just self-assed checkbox "this is my real name"?  None of them are particularly worthwhile as requirements, IMO.  

"real name" with some amount of proof for moderators to review. It could be a link to a blog with a credible amount of archived history/posts, github profile with real code commits, linkedin, etc.. it just has to be accessible and reasonably difficult to duplicate or fake.

The point is that if the moderators do decide to restrict or ban their account, they can feel confident that the user is actually gone (or paid real money to compensate for their time spent, if that's implemented).

As I say, I have zero idea whether smurfing (multiple accounts or creating new accounts to bypass a ban) is a real problem for LW, nor if it is just how much friction and pain we want to impose on people to make it slightly harder.  

Practically, this is a LOT harder than you think.  First, simple impersonation - it's not difficult to imagine creating as many accounts as I like claiming to be any not-already-on-LW social media or github account.  Unless some sort of auth scheme or posting protocol (put this code on your GH profile so LW knows it's you) is in place, there's no actual verification.  Second, many names are common enough that they will conflict, and it'd be really upsetting to find you were banned due to a DIFFERENT John Doe misbehaving.

Not to mention all of https://www.kalzumeus.com/2010/06/17/falsehoods-programmers-believe-about-names/

Perhaps impersonation or name formatting will be a problem in the future if this site becomes even more popular, but they're not a present day concern. 

Whereas many present day concerns could be addressed by some combination of the aforementioned or other proposals.

Scholarpedia was Wikipedia alternative that required real name verification. Looking back it seems like it was one of the factors that stopped the project from getting users and succeeding. 

That is one of many reasons why there has to be an option for pseudonym accounts.

I don't think people know how to downvote. Your idea is interesting and worth discussing, even if most readers strongly disagree with it. Downvoting means that “this is a waste of time”.

I think you've identified a real and serious problem, or at least gotten near it.

Imagine we have a million accounts posting regularly. Then it'll be near impossible for a new account to get their idea heard. If this forum is supposed to be a place where the best ideas can be considered, and we're honest about the fact that most ideas are either trite or wrong (my own included), then we have a serious issue. Especially when it seems like the majority don't understand what the downvote button is for.

What we've got is a less extreme version of that: Not a million accounts, but still too many. And I don't think this problem is a glaring issue to the admins. They have a lot of karma, so their posts can start at 16 points before anyone votes on them, rocketing to the top of the new posts. So if they're immediately downvoted by someone for some inane reason, it doesn't really affect them. They don't actually experience the issue.

So to solve this issue, yeah I do think we need to be more selective with whom we allow to have voting power and posting rights. That said, I think there are probably better ways than money. There are plenty of people who could pay your fee that you would absolutely not want voting or posting. That may involve some sort of test on logic, rationality, thoughtfulness, and manners.

I honestly think there needs to be a confirmation box for downvotes (e.g. “Are you sure? Downvotes are for worthless discussion, not for something you strongly disagree with.”) And maybe the whole system of priority (i.e. which posts go to the top) needs to be rethought, so that it's something more akin to the YouTube video recommendation system (different recommendations for different people).

Whatever is the case, our current system is not fit for scaling, and is facing similar problems that YouTube faced when subscription count was everything to a video's visibility.

It doesn't bother me since there are several advantages to having posts hover around the zero score mark. In fact it may even be desirable, and a stronger signal then the typical pattern,  in certain scenarios.

Well that's good, but regardless of how you feel, having no points on a post makes almost no one see it. At least for the current recommendation system we have. And as I said, LessWrong should be a place where the best ideas can be considered, not hidden. I don't think it currently lives up to that.