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    • Over the past weeks, whenever I read longer conversations on Cake, I regularly had this little critter at the back of my mind. I want to bring up the problem and see if there's anything that can be done to solve it - both in terms of "Cake feedback" specifically, but also regarding the general problem with online discussion.

      The problem is topic drift. What that means in a nutshell is that a conversation started about some topic (in the general sense of the word, not necessarily a "Cake topic") eventually ends up as a conversation about something completely different.

      This is something that I believe has happened with all sorts of online forum or board systems, and which of course also happens in the offline world. I think it is currently a bigger than average problem on Cake, for a variety of reasons:

      1. Cake is still relatively small, so the active users tend to flock to whatever new conversation appears, even if they don't have something to say about the exact starting topic of the conversation. I'm sure that this is often done for completely benign reasons - like thinking that it is better to foster a conversation with something slightly off-topic than eventually losing the conversation starter due to lack of responses - but it leads to topic drift anyway.

      2. Conversations on Cake appear to be single-threaded. They technically are not, because a new post can be written as a reply to any of the posts before it (making these conversations a multi-threaded tree) - but conversations are still presented to users as a single, chronologically sorted list. Someone joining the discussion is probably more likely to read through and then reply to one of the latter posts than to one of the earlier ones. Taking into account topic drift, this means that a reply is more likely to be written about the drifted than about the original topic.

      3. Conversations on Cake are supposed to be "long-term". On other platforms, a conversation is started, active for maybe a day or two, and then forgotten in the avalanche of new conversations started in the meantime. On Cake, the idea instead seems to be that people can search for a conversation topic even after weeks or months, and are invited to "resurrect" a conversation after a long time. If the topic of a conversation has drifted in the meantime, that makes it harder to do.

      4. Perhaps the Cake feature of being able to add a new conversation to several "Cake topics" even adds to that. If person A sees this conversation because I added it to the "forums" Cake topic, they might have a vastly different background and experience than person B who sees it because they are into "problem solving".

      Do you agree that this is a problem?

      What can be done to solve this?

    • Personally, I do not see this as a problem. When people engage in conversation, they often segue from topic to topic and may end up discussing several topics in the course of their conversation.

      It may be that a problem could develop if someone deliberately sets out to hijack a cake conversation. In which case, it might be useful if the person who started the conversation had the ability to "cut the thread" which joined the original post to the new subject thereby causing the new post to be on its own but whether or not that would be a beneficial feature or a detrimental one, I could not say.

    • 19th century Salons would have a host responsible for guiding the conversation. If a tangent went on too long, they would bring the conversation back on track. If a tangent was more interesting than the original conversation, however, then the host would intentionally keep it going. On panels, I try to moderate in a way that allows interesting tangents to occur for a bit before bringing the focus back to the main discussion. I think right now, we want to encourage as many voices as possible to join in conversations, even if an off-topic response derails some of them. The second phase of forum development, which we are entering into, is where the best moderating conversation hosts will attract the most engagement from active users and lurkers. This may mean a well-crafted response that brings up new points of discussion for the main discussion. Or it may mean hiding a response that isn’t helpful (sigh). Or it may mean taking the initiative as host to start a new conversation on an interesting tangent BEFORE it takes over the main discussion.

      For now, I would suggest participating in as many conversations here as possible in order to model to others what an outstanding response looks like.

      🙏

    • Personally, I do not see this as a problem. When people engage in conversation, they often segue from topic to topic and may end up discussing several topics in the course of their conversation.

      The thing is that Cake specifically positions itself to be something else than, to paraphrase, "yet another platform for socializing" - and that is actually something that I very much like.

      Perhaps this works better with examples. I fear that doing so might alienate one or another participant, but please know that this is not my intention.

      Example 1 is the longest Cake conversation I participated in so far. It started with the question "If you were Facebook, what would you do about anti vaccination groups?" - but ended up being more about the pros and cons of vaccinations in general.

      @Chris embraced this tangential discussion - and I don't mean to criticize that. As the conversation starter, he has every right to do that. The problem here is not that I eventually ended up talking about vaccines although I entered the conversation to talk about Facebook. The problem is that the original topic of Facebook's responsibility wasn't really discussed that much at all. In my opinion, it would have been better for both the users who wanted to talk about Facebook and the users who wanted to talk about vaccination if these two conversations had been held separately.

      Example 2 is a conversation I just started myself. I really want to talk about this strange video game I once played - and eventually how something like it is missing from the current gaming scene and should be created - but after my initial post to set the scene and gauge interest, I got three replies that are somewhat unrelated:

      I repeat that I don't want to alienate the people who did reply or react early. In fact, their take on the whole "past video game experiences" sub-theme is very interesting and something I can see would make a great conversation on Cake. I'm just faced with the dilemma of either pushing through with "my" conversation (killing "theirs"), adopting "theirs" instead of my own - or trying to make both work at the same time although they should exist in separate spaces.

      If I could just elevate the first reply into its own conversation, wouldn't that be the best of both worlds?

    • I'm just faced with the dilemma of either pushing through with "my" conversation (killing "theirs"), adopting "theirs" instead of my own - or trying to make both work at the same time although they should exist in separate spaces.

      ...in your opinion.

      There are others (the ones that replied) who believe they are part of the same discussion.

      Perhaps, this is where the convention of inviting the person that replied in that way to begin their own conversation with that slant illuminated (and referenced back to the original thread) for a continued , focused, discussion.

    • ...in your opinion.

      There are others (the ones that replied) who believe they are part of the same discussion.

      Of course in my opinion... I feel that this really isn't a helpful comment to make, because it does nothing to change the facts. If one side believes that they are part of the same conversation but the other side does not, this confusion needs to be solved one way or another.

      Perhaps, this is where the convention of inviting the person that replied in that way to begin their own conversation with that slant illuminated (and referenced back to the original thread) for a continued , focused, discussion.

      Yes, basically telling people to go away is always an option. There might be more advanced ones in this digital space, though. :)

    • I really want to talk about this strange video game I once played - and eventually how something like it is missing from the current gaming scene and should be created

      When I read your conversation starter, I thought you were going to do more of a walkthrough of the game like @xorius did last month.

      If you had done that, I think everyone would’ve known not to talk about another game. Or if you had ended your conversation starter with the discussion you wanted, everyone would have the boundaries of what’s on- and off-topic.

      Ultimately there’s a level of taking control required for successful conversations. @Chris is a master at guiding multiple 50+ thread conversations on Cake. Chris took one of my responses to a 50+ thread and created a new conversation with it that was also successful. There’s nothing wrong with your posting to your video game thread something like,

      “Hey guys! Great responses on your favorite game genres from the past. I actually started this conversation to discuss the Mankind game, if anyone’s played it, and it’s multi-player genre that for reasons I don’t quite understand is no longer in favor. What are your thoughts on this, apm, Cade and anyone else reading this?”

      Perhaps the above could be written better, but no one would be offended over what was a case of miscommunication.

    • I am probably one who tends to drag conversations briefly off topic at times, as I find it difficult to not be aware of the person I am conversing with, and perhaps their previous history of other posts here on Cake that I might have seen, or read, or interacted with.

      Cake does not offer me a way to IM or email other participants that I read here (and may know), or have interacted with here earlier on Cake. I am not saying that I am in major disagreement with this choice, but that it does mean from time to time I post questions or answers that are not precisely within the threads title because I know one of the posters has previously mentioned an interest in those subjects. If IM were avalilable I probably would do it that way to keep the thread cleaner.

      While conversations are interesting, they are rarely interesting solely aside from the posters who are presenting on the thread. We "meet" new people here and want to interact/explore new areas of interest appropriately with them. This interaction may be in the form of questions, statements of what we believe to be facts along with references, or just jocular interactions, puns, funny stuff. Or other hobbies, etc.

      I think natural social conversations are the same - rarely does a conversation stay precisely on one topic and not branch off based on the interests and responces of the participants. JMHO

      I am aware that these side discussions may not seem that helpful to someone who comes along months or years later and wants to read the conversation, but they also might find the brief discursions interesting in their own light too. I do try to return the conversations to the original purpose usually, or simply pull back and let other posters do that too.

      I think @Shewmaker makes this case for me with his post - Personally, I do not see this as a problem. When people engage in conversation, they often segue from topic to topic and may end up discussing several topics in the course of their conversation. --

      Otherwise each thread is going to need a moderator/supervisor to keep the children in line... which means all of us will lose just a bit more freedom to interact responsibly here

    • I think it's a very fair question, especially with regard to the vaccination thread. I could feel that conversation covering an ever-broader topic as the debate rolled on: is the debate on vaccines legit? What about somewhat related topics like flat earth groups on Facebook?

      In the end I decided the debate on the legitimacy of vaccination concerns was relevant to the original question because what Facebook should do depends on whether they are just spreading harmful misinformation or whether there are legit concerns about vaccinations that should be debated.

      People who know me know that it's in my personality to follow an interesting conversation wherever it may lead only to wake up and ask "what was the original question again?" And yet I struggled about whether to even mention flat earthers in the conversation. Isn't it relevant in the sense that whatever Facebook does for vaccinations it should do for 9/11, moon landing and flat earth conspiracies? Or should they have different conversations? Or are they so different it's just conversation drift?

      In the end I decided not to pursue YouTube in the conversation or other conspiracies beyond a passing mention (even though I'm now fascinated by the rise of flat earthers and the role of social media).

      So you're right, that conversation did drift into vaccines in general. I'm wondering how many people thought that turned out to be a good thing versus bad.

    • Cake does not offer me a way to IM or email other participants that I read here (and may know), or have interacted with here earlier on Cake.

      We need that. Our little engineering team has just been tied up in the Q&A for panels feature.

      Otherwise each thread is going to need a moderator/supervisor to keep the children in line... 

      Each conversation starter has the ability to hide posts in their conversations and to note reasons like off topic. I actually did that with a post this morning before I saw this conversation. It's been a topic of some debate in the past on Cake but conversation starters seem to really want it and they get it on places like Instagram, but not on Twitter.

    • I actually thought the absence of IM was a deliberate decision for Cake, from some earlier posts here on Cake. Apparently I misunderstood. My comment was not a criticism, but a simple statement of fact, devoid of any unspoken implications. If I want to ask a question of a current thread responder, I must then ask them in the thread, even if it is a bit off the central topic of the thread which is what @Factotum was discussing in this specific thread.

      I fully respect, and support, the right of the thread originator to monitor its content, and to hide posts they feel are not pertinent, relevant, appropriate, etc including my posts too.. If I was opening a conversation I would want that ability as well. Good manners ( or fences to paraphrase Robert Frost) make good neighbors.

      I think the availability of IM will help diminish the off topic questions a bit and this should make @Factotum a bit happier. And me too...

    • Chris,

      While I am pro-vaccine and believe that the planet is a spheroid traveling through space as part of a star system which is in turn part of a galaxy, I am emphatically opposed to the idea that people who have views which I consider ludicrous should be silenced or viewed as not having the freedom to state their beliefs.

      However, if Cake allowed me to "snip" the connection between my original post and their "ludicrous" reply, that would please me (regardless of whether it caused their reply to lack contextual coherency).

      This fits into my view that people should have the freedom to communicate their beliefs without the fear of prosecution or imprisonment or bodily harm. However, I do not believe that Cake.co is obligated to publish the beliefs of those with whom its principals disagree. In recent years there has been a movement towards forcing businesses to engage in things which are offensive to the principals of the business, I think that this will lead to consequences which are not currently foreseen by the advocates of this form of coercion.

    • It would be helpful to be able to DM a group of users to plan out a workshop, decide on which particular launch day works best for the panelists, etc. If panels are to reach their full potential, I think this is a must have, imho.

    • I think this response is an example of topic drift.

      What does the conversation host want to do about it, @Factotum ?

      🤣

      PS: I meant no ill will in pointing it out @Shewmaker and I think you made some good points. I just found it amusing that the conversation had already started to drift.

    • I totally get what @Factotum is talking about here. I have inadvertently torpedoed conversations by tangential comments that made sense to me at the time, but in retrospect I can see they shut down a good conversation. I have even done this inadvertently to my own conversation. 🥴 Arg.

      If a new thread can’t be branched off, is there any way to tag posts (as opposed to threads) with topics/categories after they’ve been posted? Then, just simply adding a tag might re-assert the original topic without offending the tangent-taker and still preserve the tangential content? Just a thought...

      There are a few mega-threads on advrider that meander all over the place for literally thousands of pages. I hopped into one of those threads once because the initial topic was interesting to me. I was told I should read all the thousands of pages before I dare contribute a comment or ask questions. Basically, there was a group of people on that thread that felt it was their “campfire,” and visitors were not welcome. The initial topic was far from anyone’s mind by then. I carefully withdrew from that corner of the forum. Do we want that to happen here...?

    • If a new thread can’t be branched off, is there any way to tag posts (as opposed to threads) with topics/categories after they’ve been posted? Then, just simply adding a tag might re-assert the original topic without offending the tangent-taker and still preserve the tangential content? Just a thought...

      I think if I was new here and someone tagged my post I would have no clue as to what it meant. I might think I had offended the “regulars.” And I’d be more likely to end up finding a friendlier forum rather than feeling shunned here.

      I personally think a human solution is best. If you hide someone’s post, you have the option of providing them a private explanation: it’s literally the one way to DM someone on Cake. 😎

      You can also bring a conversation back on topic even if you’re not the conversation starter: I’ve done that with conversations when the “host” was AWOL.

      I guess I think about it from a classroom discussion. If your students are going on a tangent, you reel them back in with a polite and respectful comment.

      I’m trying to picture how any proposed solution would work when there are a hundred new conversations a day and thousands of new users per week.

      Is the approach scalable?

      What I would hate to have happen is for a new user to feel unwelcome if they shared a response that was unintentionally off-topic.

      I think we’re on the same page as far as wanting better conversations, @lidja but I guess I disagree on more technology being the solution.

    • @apm, I will defer to your tagging expertise, but I’m not sure I agree that tagging a post with the appropriate category would be at all offensive.

      If someone had tagged my off-topic posts in the “eating while camping” thread with the category “bicycling,” I would have been reminded that my post was off-topic, but also would have felt someone was reading my post and determining that it was worthy of categorization...

    • If someone had tagged my off-topic posts in the “eating while camping” thread with the category “bicycling,” I would have been reminded that my post was off-topic, but also would have felt someone was reading my post and determining that it was worthy of categorization...

      I need a humongous “THINKING” emoji to express how I’m processing this. It’s an intriguing idea 💡 and I guess I hadn’t fully comprehended where you were going with this.

      A few months back, I hid a post with an “off-topic” remark. And it got me thinking on how often I am guilty of “off topic” remarks. But for me, I don’t see them as offenses if my remarks lead to more engagement. I’ve read responses that were completely on topic but there was nothing there to respond to and the conversation ended. Is that really preferable to an interesting tangent that leads to a dozen responses?

      I now have more questions than answers.

      **************

      Off-topic, maybe?

    • 🕊

      Cake doesn't have a "Hey, no problem. No offense taken" emoji, so here is a dove with an olive branch.

      <grin>

    • This has been a fascinating conversation so far, thanks for starting it @Factotum.

      Topic Drift

      One of the big motivations for Panels was to reduce noise and prevent this kind of drift. If you can organize just a few people who have contextual knowledge of a subject, then it is much easier to keep things on track.

      This is also a reason why we wanted to give conversation starters full moderation privileges so that they can moderate their own conversations.

      Something we have talked about internally is allowing Topics to be fully Folksonomic, which would mean something similar to what @lidja is suggesting where anyone can come and "tag" a post or conversation with topics that they think are appropriate. This would mean that people who come to a conversation later can get a better idea of what it is actually about. This could be especially useful in a case where the conversation owner bails or picks the wrong topics.

      Private messaging

      We are starting to think is necessary. We've wanted to keep everything public, but sometimes having backchannels can keep the noise down.

      Panel Q&A

      Something that I'm hoping will help a lot with keeping things on topic is the introduction of Panel Q&A. It will introduce a nice middle ground between allowing everyone to participate but keep the focus on the people in the panel and their particular expertise.

    • After I posted my suggestion, I started to wonder if it just asks for problems. Folksonomy tagging can get out of hand fast—instead of “bicycling,” someone could come along and tag my post with a “idiot doesn’t think she needs a helmet” tag (which totally misconstrues the content). Well, THAT would certainly not feel like a welcome mat! 🥴

    • Haha totally. I think there are probably ways to solve that problem, like having a moderation scheme to approve topics like we do now. But yea, there are certainly a lot of things to consider.

    • I actually thought the absence of IM was a deliberate decision for Cake, from some earlier posts here on Cake. Apparently I misunderstood.

      You didn't misunderstand. We were having energized internal debates about it and some of the team was expressing their concerns about what could go wrong.

      My original hope was you'd be able to choose between Open, Panel, and Private conversations (although I had more confusing terms). One fear the team had was how would we make sure private conversations weren't used to plan genocides as happened on Facebook, WhatsApp and Signal.

      I wasn't as worried about it as some other members of the team, I think because of my 17 years of hosting private messages on Adventure Rider. Over there, they really help help create friendships, keep threads more on topic and less noisy, ADVrider doesn't seem to be on the list of go-to apps for planning genocide.

      At Cake it wasn't an urgent decision to make at the time because we had too much other engineering to complete before we could build it. But now I think we're all unified that we need to. We haven't decided what the priority is but it will probably be influenced by what we need to build, meaning how much engineering will it take?

      What we need to build seems worthy of its own conversation.

    • While I am pro-vaccine and believe that the planet is a spheroid traveling through space as part of a star system which is in turn part of a galaxy, I am emphatically opposed to the idea that people who have views which I consider ludicrous should be silenced or viewed as not having the freedom to state their beliefs.

      Ideologically, I am with you. That's why I tried to draw out our vaccine-hesitant friend in the vaccination friend and treat them with respect.

      If someone were to promote their love of nude photos of underaged children, however, that would be a bridge too far for me and against the law for us to host.

    • This illustrates one of the fallacies of the argument that "abridging the freedom of speech" includes the freedom of all forms of "expression".

      A photograph of anything other than words is not "speech" regardless of what the courts have stated.

      However, I also do not believe that you are obligated as a private company to provide me a platform for the espousal of my beliefs. Congress is prohibited from making laws which prevent me from saying what I may choose to say or printing at my own expense and distributing by my own labor that which I desire to say. But no printing company is obligated to print what I desire to say. No publisher is obligated to distribute what I desire to communicate. And no internet platform should be forced to allow me to post articles which they do not choose to "host."