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Cutting down the noise in online situations

Mike Schramm

Technically, the idea that Randall Munroe (author of XKCD, one of the funniest and definitely the geekiest of the comics on the web) had wasn't really about MMOs, but I think there is an application to the communities that we're all gaming in. His problem was that, whenever a community reaches a certain number of people, connections weaken, and it becomes an ever-increasing struggle of signal versus noise. And while his interest in that problem has to do with the IRC channel associated with the comic, it will surely sound familiar to those of us who've spent any amount of time in an online gaming environment.

So what's his plan to fix things? His theory is that a lack of meaningful communication is directly tied to the originality of the statements contained therein-- ie. get rid of the Chuck Norris comments and the older-than-dirt memes and jokes, and you'll have meaningful communication. So he created a script to sit in the channel (#xkcd-signal on with logs of the past two years of chatting, and if you say anything that's already been said, you'll get muted.

Pretty interesting solution. I logged on for a few minutes and didn't get muted (although I did see a few people get punished for "haha," "so what?" and "that's amusing," and I personally added in a few bombs for later this year: "boy is it hot out," "Happy Valentine's Day," and "Happy 2009!"), but it'll be fascinating to see what happens in five or even ten years-- how long will it take people in a virtual environment to say everything to each other that can be said? And could this kind of thing be applied to online games-- if you really could shut people up for saying "Chuck Norris" in the Barrens, or for cursing on Xbox Live, would the channels suddenly be filled with intelligent and interesting conversation?

Of course, gaming environments aren't necessarily the place for "intelligent and interesting conversation" anyway-- even when I sign on to Teamspeak with friends, we're more likely to tell old jokes and laugh at stupid sayings about Chuck Norris than intelligently talk about the news of the day. But in public and General chat channels, it is, many times, repetition that makes them boring or inconsequential to most players. Would a bot or some type of clear moderation in favor of originality push the conversation to a higher level?

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