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Great Discussions Do Not Equal Great Numbers

Mike pointed me to this interesting post today by Jake Billo about Internet commenting systems. He creates a “definitive Hierarchy of Internet Commenting” and includes 9rules and our Member sites in the first level. Props to you Jake.

Popular Web standards or technical discussion sites, such as A List Apart or flagship sites in the 9rules network. Sometimes the comments can definitely stray into pretentious quibbling, but for the most part they’re insightful and offer decent advice to Web designers and developers…

This got me thinking of other large sites that generally hold great discussions that don’t leave you frustrated and unfortunately there aren’t very many around. When you start to hit the larger sites the conversation tends to drop, which is understandable as the population involved increases. There is a saying that designers use that goes like this:

Fast, good, or cheap. Pick two.

For community sites there seems to be just two options:

Great or large. Pick one.

Maybe there is a third option that would make the saying a bit cooler, but for now let us run with that. I think every community that grows over time has a point in their lifecycle where they make a sacrifice. Digg didn’t feel the need to implement editors or moderators maybe because they felt it would hinder growth so they sacrificed their quality. Slashdot didn’t feel like they could produce the same great site if the masses dictated the content so they sacrificed the ability to ever catch up with Digg.

Same comparison could be made with Facebook and Myspace. Myspace had an anything goes mentality and grew popular, while Facebook kept things underwraps and maintained the quality. Now Facebook has 100s of applications that fill up your profiles and anyone can join and many people are saying that the quality has dropped.

Great or large. Pick one.

The great mystery is if any site can accomplish Slashdot quality with Digg’s size and actually maintain both. I don’t think it will be easy, but sooner or later it will happen. For now though don’t think that great, intelligent and quality equals large, thriving and popular.