Let me preface this post with the following caveat: I am in no position to make anything even remotely close to what I am proposing here happen. I don't have the time, or the PERL skills to put a system like this in placeâ€¦ This is really just me riffing, I have no answers, only questions...
Rusty has made an interesting move over at K5. It's almost like he's going to combine Orkut, and K5. He's going to mandate all new users be sponsored in some way by other, current members. I wonder if that kind of thing could be used in the Slashcode? Would it be worth it to shut of the AP account, and make LISNews invite only?
First, let's look at the numbers:
LISNews has 2808 user accounts, of those accounts, 345 were active this month in some fashion, that is to say, at least 345 were logged in this month. So let's say that means we have about 345 active members.
Anonymous Patron left 112 comments, and my guess would be that's about 80 distinct people (and that's a very educated guess).
So, let's round things off, 350 active users, and 2500 others who could invite others to become a member. Is that enough people to keep LISNews interesting? Metafilter has been in "slow growth" mode for years now, and I'm not sure it's been hurt at all. I still make frequent visits. But with signups closed, there's not much of a chance of any big changes in what gets posted, the same people post the same things most of the time. I've seen some changes in LISNews over the years, some turnover, and that makes things more interesting. What do we lose if things are no longer Anonymous? Does locking people out make those on the inside more important? Does locking people out make an LISNews account more desirable?
What I've always hoped to gain with the AP account is the occasional user who doesn't have the time or inclination to bother with getting an account, but who has something to contribute once a month, or maybe just twice a year. It's those folks we'd be locking out by turning the Anonymous account off. Would we just be losing noise, and leaving the signal?
So how would the site grow, how would we manage new accounts, and who would control this? We could do it like Okrut, all current users can invite friends to join. We can sell new accounts. We can limit AP to one post a day. We can allow one new account a day. We can have us authors decide who gets an account. A random lottery? Accounts as a reward for submitting a story? Maybe only add new accounts when the number of comments falls below a certain level? Could active members be rewarded with accounts they can sell?
So far I don't see the need to shut off the anonymous account, or limit new accounts in any way, but it's worth thinking about as we go forward, because we may have the same problems K5 has. I don't think we appeal to such a wide audience, but I do think our audience can grow a little more. I keep thinking we've topped out, but it hasn't happened yet.
So that's the theoretical stuff, what can I really do at this point? I can turn off the Anonymous Patron account. It's just a click away. I've had several people suggest it, but I can't say that I really see any need at this point. Anonymous Patron comments seem to be, on average, less useful that Non-Anonymous Patron comments, though not always bad. This week has been especially bad, and if things keep up, or get worse, I may start to consider turning off the AP account.
I have no idea how I'd begin to program any kind of system to control new signups, but maybe that's something I can think about down the road. I'd still like to keep LISNews as open as possible, for now.