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The Subscription-based Comment Model
Years ago- I'm certain it predated his blog- David D. Friedman posted an essay online about a microscopic postage charge for e-mail. I think his post may have been so old that it was on UseNet?. Anyway, he had the goal of eliminating primarily spam, but perhaps also careless trolling, perhaps, by charging a microscopic fee for dropping mail into an inbox.
Junk e-mailers, after all, are so prolific because of the non-existent cost that comes with mailing ever address in the known universe. If it cost as little as a cent, however, the cost of mailing millions of inboxes starts adding up. Presumably, the unsolicited mail you receive would vanish, while mailers with truly something important to say to you personally will pay the cent.
Spam filters have gotten a lot better at screening malicious junk emails, but in comment sections on webpages, "trolls" are still a major problem. And it isn't just outright trolling that's a problem. Thoughtless comments still dominate most forums.
It has occurred to many that trolls would only trawl free comment sections. After all, few would find it in their best interest to pay a subscription fee at a place where a moderator would just ban you. The defiant expression a troll might take is "not one red cent!"
We have something of a Laffer Curve situation. You want the subscription fee to be just high enough to deter trolls and the thoughtless, while inexpensive enough not to deter the thoughtful group you want.
Obviously, with a Pigovian tax, you're shrinking your pool to less than everybody. But you still hope for a vibrant community.
Ricochet, the politically center-right hangout of Hoover Institute fellow Peter Robinson and National Review contributor Rob Long, decided to peg their monthly fee to the cost of a grande latte in a Seattle Starbucks, which was $3.67. Buying a year's subscription in bulk drives that down to $2.49 monthly.
At that price point, the conversations are generally intelligent and lively, but I wonder would would happen if the price became pegged to an iTunes single, or the bare threshold of what Paypal deems a micropayment (12 cents). Or what happens when that fee is yearly, rather than monthly.
What difference would it make if, for a few pennies, you had permanent posting privileges?
I recognize that dues-paying clubs attract some commitment in membership, that each member paid for his stake. I believe that dues-paying and better discourse go together. But I also believe that the higher the dues, the more you shrink the pool. There is one sign a web administrator can make to signal that he values a larger community. Mr Robinson, if you seek a more vibrant community, if you seek an expanded commonwealth and liberalized conversation, then come visit your point-of-sale. Mr Robinson, lower the barrier. That's some expensive coffee. Peg it to a cup of black coffee at Dunkin Donuts.
I propose an experiment. Somebody that posts multiple times a day, gets plenty of traffic, and doesn't already have a comment section he's attached to ought to try the micro-pay-to-comment model a try. If I could regain a following, I'd want to give it a try.