February 22, 2006

Guardian Copying Topix Forum Geolocation?

by skrenta at 1:10 PM

Assistant editor Neil Macintosh of the Guardian writes:

We are also thinking of revealing on the site every commenter's rough geographical location; information not exposed to the public before. Experiments on other sites suggest debates are more civil when everyone knows where everyone else is.

"Experiments on other sites". . um, well, no. We're flattered that the Guardian is considering copying Topix's user geolocation feature to enhance their forum civility, but Neil should had given Topix proper attribution, instead of suggesting this idea had come to them from multiple examples. It didn't.

Apart from the civility and accountability benefits of having what is essentially a non-forgeable approximate location signature on each post, however, is being able to see the vast geographic diversity of participation. We're getting heavy use across the US, as well as approx 30% of our posters being international in our world forums.

Wags have pointed out that the geolocation is not always accurate. That misses the forest for a few trees. The fact is that the the location is usually accurate; when it isn't, it's roughly accurate. And even when that's not true, it's generally stable. Yes, you can hop around between ISPs, get in your car and drive to a T-mobile hotspot...whatever. Dealing with 32,000 posts about the Danish cartoons is not about getting every single post right, it's about good 90% solutions that, on average, significantly uplevel the aggregate experience.