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The Illusion of Community-Driven Commentary: The Bubble System

Ah yes, the much talked about bubble system. There seems to be a serious disconnect between what the administrators feel the system accomplishes, and what it's actually doing. This post will attempt to summarize and analyze the problems surrounding the system, while attempting to provide plausible solutions.

The blog post is meant to engage the news-reading N4G'ers rather than just the forum go'ers, and to promote a meaningful discussion towards a better commentary system.

TLDR; Get rid of bubbles, it's a form of censorship. Use a simple agree/disagree where trolls/spam can be buried. Also, a possible 'exp-based' reputation system around rewarding users for good comments but not censoring different opinions.

<<What's the point of it anyway?>>

Essentially, the bubble system is an attempt to allow the community to self-moderate. That is to silence trolls, flamers and spammers meanwhile rewarding posters the community deems proper.

<<What does it really do?>>

It effectively strangles commentary through a number of ways:

a) Opinions by their nature are subjective.

Therefore not everyone will agree. Sure, this is an alternative 'agree/disagree' but we all understand how heated console wars are--how often are people hitting 'disagree' and then de-bubbling too? It's a system that builds fanboyism in itself, since the 'community' feels justified in de-bubbling when there are lots of disagrees.

b) 'Community-driven' is inaccurate.

Bubble votes are counted differently based on the person de-bubbling--the more bubbles the more power. This perpetuates *their views* while marginalizing others. If everyone had an equal say in de-bubbles less griefing would occur. Essentially, the 'community' are actually those that the community itself deems worthy. Therefore the 'community' is a self-perpetuating body made up of members who all share the same opinion.

c) Builds superficial reputation.

A posters comment is only as relevant as their bubbles. Posters are pre-judged based on bubbles, making their comments seem false before some even read them. This also communicates to other posters that whatever this commentator says is not what the community as a whole believes--hence their lack of bubbles. A better reputation system is suggested below, which unlike the current one does not vilify it's own users.

d) 'One-hitter' posts

When a user has one bubble, no conversation can be permitted. This provides incentives for users to post 'one-hitters' or rather, single posts that try to communicate one idea while attempting to pre-empt possible replies (since they themselves cannot reply). This often leads to troll-like flame posts rather than anything meaningful, because after all, why post something meaningful if you cannot even continue the conversation? Creating a new account only get you banned, so essentially, if you do not agree with the 'community' you are permanently reduced to sound bites. Sounds like censorship.

<<So far, what are the results?>>

Fanboys. Yes, the system that is meant to keep them at bay only perpetuates it. The gaming news media knows it, hell even developers know it. This site's full of 'em. Look at the news posts we've seen, tons of sensationalist fanboy titles. What comments are really being de-bubbled, even disagreed? If you take a close look, most aren't trolling, offensive or destructive--they're different points of view often being de-bubbled by fanboys. Sure some are often abrasive, but surely discussion can have tension--it's in the very nature of debate.

When opposing views are be-bubbled it simply justifies the 'community's fanboyism'--whatever side that may be. Posters who are punished for their views leave the site, or return to antagonize others--strengthening the opposing 'community fanboys' and adding to flame wars. Ultimately, the point of debate is to not only prove your own argument, but to provide others with different perspectives. The bubble system prevents that, marginalizing any intelligent conversation into carefully worded sound bites which aim to either piss off fanboys, or are too meek to add anything interesting to the conversation (ie. "cool game bro").

<<What can be done?>>

First, N4G needs to swallow it's pride. It's not the first news aggregator with a large community. Many, many other sites have similarly built communities but do it much better. Part of building a site is not only maturing the features and technology in the backend, but also maturing the community by allowing it to grow through it's own commentary (see NeoGAF).

Reddit is a crucial example of how the internet can self-moderate but not censor itself. There are articles for fanboys, agnostic gamers and casuals. Commentary ranges from outright fanboys to casuals and even developers. Why can't N4G be like that too?


The bubble system is flawed. Period. No other community site uses a system which marginalizes opposing views, stifles intelligent discussion, and reduces commentary to sound bites. It needs to go.

The best method is to continue with agrees/disagrees, but instead when a comment hits a certain ratio (which the user may be able to customize) the comment is 'hidden'. Hidden does not mean gone--it will still allow others to post and continue the dialog whether it's flamebait or not. This just means the rest of the community doesn't have to be subjected to it if they don't want to be. This still allows conversation to flow meanwhile hiding unpleasant troll-like comments or flame wars. While we're at it, deeper comment nesting would be nice too.

But what about reputation? How about this:


This was a concept developed using other CMS-PHP 'points' systems as way to built reputation. This was based of early CRPG's and their 'karma' system using 'posting EXP', essentially it works like this:

Everyone starts off 'neutral'. Let's say a heatscore of 100. Whenever people 'agree' with their posts their score 'cools down', when others disagree their score gets 'hotter'. The more people agree with them, they cooler they get--that is they are labeled as people who's comments appeal to the masses. The more people disagree well, you're a 'hot' commentator. Those who straddle the line are considered neutral--neither fanboy nor crowd favourite (aka community fanboy).

The words 'hot', 'cool', 'neutral', etc. can be called anything to sound appealing. The point is, just as Fallout 3's achievement for being neutral is called 'True Mortal' neutral is where you want to be--you're not ruffling feathers, but you're also not kissing fanboy ass. The 'neutrals' become the coveted position of the community, a poster who can see both sides of the story--a position that can challenge the community to maintain. You can even add awards and 'titles' based the poster's patterns to encourage meaningful participation.

NOTE: Neutral (and other positions) is obtained through an overall ratio (not on just individual posts), that is one post may get 5:1 agrees, another 1:5 disagrees which overall is a 1:1 ratio. These positions would also have a range, that is a 0.9-1.1 agree ratio might still keep you in neutral.

This system can be a good gauge at exactly where the community lies. If most commentators are 'hot' then this place is a battleground. If everyone's 'cool' then no progressive discussion is happening--that is, everyones agreeing with everyone else--hence a 'community' of fanboys.

The important thing to note is 'heatscore' is only for reputation. It should not affect anyone's ability to post.

<<Solution: Final Note>>

I'm not pretending this suggestion is the end-all-be-all, I'm just trying to start some kind of dialog towards solving the problem. There has got to be a better way to nurture intelligent commentary than this current bubble system.

<<Moral of the story>>

Control does not solve problems. Communities solve problems. The bubble system is a flawed form of control masquerading as the 'community's voice'. It's not a voice, it's a hammer. A hammer that punishes different opinions, stifles fluid commentary, incites/creates more fanboys and reduces the beloved N4G community into a veiled fanboy-fest.

I enjoy this site and will continue to participate in it. I have deep respect for the moderators and administrators here. I sincerely hope the administrators are willing to considering alternate ways to manage the comments, especially by looking at great internet communities that do it successfully.

P.S. Yes, my N4G account has only one bubble left--but please, consider this post and judge me not by my bubbles, but my commitment and interest in this community. Thanks for reading.

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if i could i would bubble you up for this. wait... good blog though

NJShadow2326d ago

Fantastic blog post bro, really.

pr0digyZA2326d ago

Like the idea, always ready to try something new.

Odion2326d ago

Your solutions are just as flawed as the bubble system, whats to stop the same people that debubble from hiding ones comment and giving someone a negative rating?

BakedGoods2326d ago (Edited 2326d ago )

In the current system, an eventual 'debubbling' stops all conversation and punishes the original commentator by taking away their bubbles/ability to post.

In the new system if a comment is 'buried' by fanboys, the conversation can still continue in the buried thread (see: Reddit). The original poster moves closer to earning a 'hot' (arguably a fanboy) reputation instead of being de-bubbled and thus marginalized.

EDIT: Aaand my bubbles are gone. Thanks to everyone showing interest in this blog. I'm definitely interested in reading other suggestions/opinions.


Posts incorrectly labelled as trolling cannot be continued form what I've seen. There also seems to be enough checks and balances to prevent spoilers outside of the bubble system. I'm not sure that's an issue. Spamming can easily be downvoted/flag just like they are now/other sites do.

The costs seem to definitely outweigh the benefits, considering almost every other large gaming community has abandoned the bubble-styled approach.

Odion2326d ago

Comments can already be hidden and still comment on but no one is going to, your just switching the ability to comment without restriction.

It also opens up the website to a whole new host of problems, people who want to spam, put up spoilers or otherwise cause havoc would have a much easier time.

Christopher2324d ago (Edited 2324d ago )

***In the new system if a comment is 'buried' by fanboys, the conversation can still continue in the buried thread (see: Reddit).***

Man, before I became a moderator here, you can bet I was so looking for that type of system. I mean, nothing tells me that a site is dedicated to "constructive debate" like a system that encourages hiding the opinions of those from the other side of the coin.

In all honestly, no system is perfect and if we went with your option we'd get someone posting a blog on how to change it from what you propose to something more like the bubble voting system. Why? Because people are adversely affected no matter what system is implemented.

To address your core points, though:

***Get rid of bubbles, it's a form of censorship.***

Being on N4G pretty much guarantees you're going to be censored. It's not a public place.

Having said that, how is hiding the opinions of others by voting them down in your proposed plan not a form of censorship?

***Use a simple agree/disagree where trolls/spam can be buried.***

And perfectly fine opinions that differ from the majority in the topic at hand.

***Also, a possible 'exp-based' reputation system around rewarding users for good comments but not censoring different opinions.***

So, pat the back of people who support the majority/accepted opinion(s)... kind of like how the bubble system works as it is... /confused

***Bubble votes are counted differently based on the person de-bubbling--the more bubbles the more power.***

This is not necessarily true. A person with 9 bubbles could have the same voting power as a person with 1 bubble.

***If everyone had an equal say in de-bubbles less griefing would occur.***

I'm not sure that is correct. If a person who is known for trolling and down voting those to help them lose bubbles has the same power as everyone else, wouldn't that increase griefing?

You see, you seem to think that all people have the same voting power based on bubbles alone, but this isn't true. Those who abuse the system are detected and affected in a manner to ensure they don't adversely affect others unfairly in an attempt to grief them.

***There also seems to be enough checks and balances to prevent spoilers outside of the bubble system. I'm not sure that's an issue. ***

Imagine waking up one morning to someone who has spammed the same spoiler/troll filled comment as many times as they want while there were no mods around to handle it to their hearts desire and without any bubble limitation. Each comment has the same reply, or one very similar to avoid being detected as "the same response already made", and it, for all intents and purposes, ruins the article at hand because of the unlimited ability to comment and get it away with it until a moderator is available to handle it.

JL2324d ago

You're missing a very key element in analyzing the bubble system here. That element is the TrustRank. This is something that only us staff members can see and control.

I wrote out a huge long reply, but the browser messed up, so I'm going to give you the abridged version: Basically, if you have a known history of trolling, you'll get a low TrustRank. Prove a history of intelligent/rational commenting/contribution to the site and you'll get a higher TrustRank. This affects how much weight your actions carry.

By way of example, one "Trusted" member's bubble-up can outweigh like 10 non-trusted/"fanboy" members' votes. This provides a balance of sorts and decreases the effectiveness of these fanboys that just go around de-bubbling any opinion that differs from theirs while bubbling up any "trolling" comment that they like.

Here's where the real problem lies: people are FAR more likely to do de-bubbling than they are to bubble someone up. And those that do bubble up are typically the "fanboys" bubbling up other trolling comments (as mentioned above), which has no effect due to their low Trust.

People just seem much more inclined to punish those they deem are bad, rather than reward those they find are good/valuable members. People complain about "I see people losing bubbles all the time, but I never see anybody gain bubbles". That's because y'all are only bubbling people down and rarely bubble people up.

We'll take you for example, BakedGoods. In the past 90 days you have bubbled down 20 comments. On the flipside, you've only bubbled up 5 comments. There's two problems with this. First, that's a clear indicator of why it's so easy to get bubbled down here and not bubbled up: that unbalanced ratio there (and this is the norm amongst most members). Secondly, 90 days and only 25 votes? That's less than 1 vote every three days. The system is hardly going to vote if there's that little involvement in using it (especially when it is used it's in an unbalanced manner as such).

And looking at the history of some of the others commenting here, there are plenty that have an even more unbalanced ratio of de-bubbles to bubble-ups. Hell, there are several here that I can look at and you have to go back a month to see the last time they actuall bubbled up/down a comment.

So, the problem isn't the system. It's the community's unwillingness to properly use the system to it's fullest. All the mechanisms are there to make it an effective and properly balanced system, just the community doesn't use it as such. They only like to use the "punishment" side of it and not the "reward" side of it. So, the system isn't broken. The community is. Thus, no matter what system you implement, it will experience similar problems due to the broken community.

The best course of action is for members to start actually using the system properly. This means actually taking the time to bubble up those that present intelligent/rational comments rather than just getting trigger happy to bubble-down those that you feel are merely fanboys/trolls.

BakedGoods2324d ago (Edited 2324d ago )

Thanks for the informative post.

I'm no so sure that 'the community is broken' is any kind of justification. If a control system like bubbles is not being used properly I think it's a cop-out to blame the community. It also makes me question how moderators/administration view their own readership.

It is important to ask why the system isn't being used properly:

Is it because of ignorance? Do people not understand it? Or is it because people *do* understand it, and feel it's only purpose is to punish others? If so, why give such a community the power to punish others in the first place? That doesn't make any sense.

TrustRank is interesting, but it doesn't really solve the problem. Someone can still post something meaningful and lose their voice because a high 'TrustRank'ed voter does not agree with them. While they may have earned a high TrustRank, that does not prevent them from de-bubbling a perfectly acceptable post--so unless moderators judge every debubbling individually, you cannot protect people from that.

The problem *is* the system, because it aims to control the community. It's that element of control that causes problems, whether it's because the community does not use it properly or because when used properly it *still* punishes different view points it doesn't matter. Given your response it sounds like the issue is N4G believes a successful community is one with such pervasive control mechanisms to keep it's people in check at the expense of other's freedom to commentate.

Simply 'telling everyone' to use bubbles properly doesn't work. Just like 'telling everyone' not to troll does little. I'm not sure your suggestion is a progressive enough solution to a problem that many other sites have already effectively addressed.

EDIT: I'd urge you to continue the conversation on the forums, since the bubble system will prevent me from continuing this dialog if need be.

EskiJoe2324d ago

Talking from a personal perspective, I rarely touch the +/- bubble vote... The reason being, that I was under the impression, it ultimately depended upon an admin deciding to follow the suggestions of votes to either bubble someone up or down.

So in the end, it really is up to the admins preferences... But I might be wrong?!

+ Show (2) more repliesLast reply 2324d ago
MidnytRain2326d ago (Edited 2326d ago )

I'm sorry, bro, but it's hard to take someone who has ten bubbles seriously on this matter, you've got absolutely nothing to afflict you or worry about. On the subject of the Heatscore, the neutral thing would be nigh impossible to attain. What are the chances anyone will consistently get agrees and disagrees in a fairly even ratio? On this site, you usually get a bunch of agrees for "telling off" another user or disagrees for LITERALLY NO REASON.

I think the best thing to do as a first step would be to chuck the agree/disagree system altogether. That way, users would have to actually reply and discuss rather that mash a button on anyone who doesn't see things their way.

Great blog, bro, but like I said to Odion, the mods have no will to change anything because they permanently have ten bubbles.

Odion2326d ago

I don't make the rules I just enforce them lol, I am a cop you need to shake your fist at the government.

Christopher2324d ago (Edited 2324d ago )

***I'm sorry, bro, but it's hard to take someone who has ten bubbles seriously on this matter, you've got absolutely nothing to afflict you or worry about.***

How many bubbles would we need to deduct from our current amount in order to be taken seriously?

***like I said to Odion, the mods have no will to change anything because they permanently have ten bubbles.***

The mods have every will to make the system work as best as possible, understanding that there are those out there who deserve to have one bubble and claim they don't and there are those out there who have one bubble and don't deserve to have it solely because their opinion differs from others.

The mods are not sitting on some throne, ignoring the plight of others merely because they find themselves to be better. Our task is to operate as the enforcers of what is designated as the rules of N4G and the spirit of the community.

Kon2326d ago

Bubble system sucks, period. If you have a different opinion than the masses, they will de-bubble you even if you're not a troll.

MidnytRain2325d ago (Edited 2325d ago )

I can see you tried to counteract that with a new avatar. ROFL!

SilentNegotiator2325d ago (Edited 2325d ago )

(The following is for demonstrative purposes) That's because you're a bumbling doo-doo head, Kon!

One problem with allowing people to get as low as one bubble is that they can't defend themselves. Which I think is totally unfair.

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