Copyright Act of 1790

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Stack Exchange Q&A site proposal: CopyrightX
This is a near-verbatim copy of a post I made to the edX.org discussion forum for HLS1xC3. It may contain some redundant information that is contained in one of the 2 blog posts and the other page (About CopyrightX) I made here today and yesterday, but I’m pasting it here unedited because I don’t have time to revise it for the context of this blog and it might help some people with SE.

Hi All,

On Saturday I proposed a new StackExchange (SE for short) community for CopyrightX.

SE is a really fascinating collection of Q/A websites and software and users that was started with a site called Stack Overflow (SO) in 2008 by Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood. Joel is currently the CEO and Jeff no longer works at SE, preferring to focus on family and the other more important things in life (I’m paraphrasing his public statements here). But the SE network has grown way beyond just SO, apparently because of what seems to me to be a unique set of (sometimes rather complex) rules for user participation.

Built into the software are the concepts of reputation and also subtle rewards (for behavior that is deemed by the designers to improve the community) and punishments (for behavior that is deemed by the designers to be detrimental to the community). I think primarily because of these rules, the SE network has taken off like wildfire, and there are now 99 (I think) different flourishing communities of Internet users that ask and answer questions via SE software.

In the SE network of communities, there is a very strict focus

  1. in the software, and
  2. in the users who have a large investment of time and attention in these communities (as reflected by their their numerical reputation scores), and
  3. in the StackExchange, Inc. executives and staff

on keeping the questions very tightly focused and clearly written so that they are answerable by anyone in the community that wishes to try and answer the questions. Questioners improve their reputation scores by asking thoughtful, well-phrased questions that can be answered definitively.

This strict focus sometimes feels claustrophobic to some (including me), but overall, I think that it is an essential character of the SE network that makes it such a positive (in my opinion) contribution to The Internet.

Questions that are deemed by community members to not meet these requirements are voted down (which slightly lowers the voter’s reputation score and slightly lowers the questioner’s reputation score). If enough community members vote a question down then the question can also be closed for various reasons.

On the other hand, highly regarded questions are voted up (which costs the voter no reputation points and improves the reputation score of the questioner). People who answer questions have the opportunity to improve their reputation scores by providing clear and succinct answers to the questions. And their answers are also voted upon.

This is just a very brief summary of what seem to me to be a vast and sprawling collection of rules for community behavior, but I think that’s the gist of it. There is a great deal more to read in the form of FAQs and other questions on these sites, but I’ll add one more thing here, perhaps the “cardinal sin” on the SE network. It is considered very bad form to ask a question that has already been asked, because it shows a lack of research (and consideration for other community members) on the part of the questioner. Therefore, perhaps the most important rule on the SE network is to try to answer your own question with a little bit of research (and describe in your question how you have attempted to answer it yourself so others can see that you’re trying yourself before turning to them for help) before you actually post your question and thereby ask other people for a little bit of their time in trying to help you find the answer to your question.

I’m so enthusiastic about our HLS1x course that I’d really like to see the virtual community that this course represents for these 12 weeks (the students primarily, but also the staff and faculty) continue for many years after the end of our course. I honestly (though perhaps naïvely) think that such a long-standing community of people who are passionately interested in the subject of copyright may someday ultimately have an influence on global copyright legislation. We represent a diverse group of students from all over the world and we are learning a great deal about copyright from one of the best institutions for doing so in the world. I think that’s a recipe for social evolution like Kirby described at the end of Everything is a Remix. Exactly in what ways this community might eventually influence copyright legislation is a complete unknown (just as is the case with biological evolution), but the SE community rules would I think ensure that the process would be much more democratic than it currently is with regard to how laws have usually been influenced (lobbyists and trade organizations) in most countries in the past.

If you’re still reading after all that background, then I’ll close by explaining exactly what it is that I’m asking you all to do by having created this community and by posting this message to our HLS1xC discussion forum (because the SE networks can be very confusing to newcomers).

If you’re interested in helping out with the development of this SE community, then go to this URL and click the orange “Follow It!” button you’ll find there. At that point, you’ll be asked by the site for an email address (and eventually a password too), and you’ll be asked to confirm your email address as is the case with many similar sites. Once you “follow” this SE community, you’ll also have the opportunity to post example questions that will help to define the community. These example questions are both similar to and yet very different from actual questions in that they need not show any research effort, but that they should be thoughtful questions that are clearly written and that are definitively answerable.

I think that in this course already, we’ve together written more than 100 such questions within NB and this forum. Each follower of a newly proposed SE community may post no more than 5 example questions, so think carefully before posting one. It is possible to edit that question later and to delete it altogether if you desire to replace it with a different question, but each person is allowed to post no more than 5 example questions in order to try and keep the definition of the community from being monopolized by one person.

And feel free to spread the word of this community to others you know outside our section or our class. Note that you will probably want to use a URL that your SE network account gives you (under the “Share This” link just below the orange “Follow It!” button) to spread word of the community as the software keeps track of referrers and followers and awards reputation points to referrers for the followers that they refer who get involved. For example, if you look at the URL I’ve included in this post, it contains a “referrer” string at the end of it that allows the SE software to keep track of the fact that I am the SE network user who should receive reputation points for folks that follow this link if those folks ultimately “follow” the community and confirm their email address. That will contribute positively to my reputation score in area51 (the place in the SE network where new communities are “grown” and developed).

Ok, I think that’s all. Sorry for the long post, and I hope you will get involved. This newly proposed site already has a beleaguered history in its mere three-day existence. You can read about it in area51 at the site’s proposal page if interested. I don’t think that’s typical of the SE community, but then again this is the first site I’ve proposed there, so not sure.

Thanks everyone.

-Kevin F

PS. Oh there’s another way you can help define the community too: by starting or getting involved in discussions about the community. I started 4 discussions (all listed at the proposal page) by asking questions in the discuss.area51.stackexchange.com site (this is called a “meta” site because it contains questions about the questions; it’s complicated). The discussion questions I’ve started have thus far not fared very well in terms of their having met with the approval of some Area51 members, but I think the reasons for that may be self-evident in the discussions. The way to get involved in discussions about this community is to use the “create new discussion” link on the proposal page. Note that these discussion questions or DQs are not example questions, but real questions that other Area51.SE users will try to answer for you (they gain reputation points by doing so). As real questions that other community members will try to answer for you, your discussion questions should show some research effort, should be unambiguously posed, and should be answerable. Because the domain, “discuss.area51.stackexchange.com” is what is called a “meta” site, questions that are “discussion-y” are slightly tolerated there, but I would still steer clear of trying to generate “discussion” per se except in rare instances (such as my first DQ there: “Should CopyrightX be a place to talk about reforms in copyright legislation?”). That question I wrote for followers of CopyrightX and was intentionally meant to be “discussion-y”. And even as such, it still got down-voted at least twice.

PPS. One last thing that’s very important is that if you ask a real question (eg. a DQ on Area51) on any part of SE, you should make sure you evaluate any answers you receive in response to that question and take the explicit action of “accepting” the answer that best addresses your question (if there is such an answer). Up-votes are one way to gain reputation points, but perhaps the biggest gain to one’s reputation points comes from questioners taking the explicit step of “accepting” the answer that best addresses their question. Because many people misunderstand the SE network as a discussion forum, they don’t notice this part about “accepting” the best answer (which is done by clicking a check-mark next to that answer) and this is a source of consternation to SE veterans who have taken the time to answer the question thinking that they might earn some reputation points only to find that the questioner (perhaps after reading the answer and benefiting from it) never goes back and “accepts” the answer provided. This is poor form, and if a good answer goes weeks without being accepted then it will be noticed by other SE members and will be poorly regarded. I don’t think there are numerical points docked from one’s reputation for making this faux pas (I think some people there do it just to be mean), but it is reflected somewhere in one’s profile as one’s “accept rate” or something like that, and it’s generally poor form and will ultimately lead to other SE members not wanting to answer your questions because you’ve shown a likelihood to not accept a good answer. If no answers address your question then that is reasonable grounds for not accepting an answer, but not accepting an answer provided is still tracked cumulatively in one’s profile by the SE software.


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