[ This text was started in 1991 and last updated in January of 1993,
before the Web and my experience with software agents.
I also have more recent writings - see my work on
and the new Newsfilter
Message Rating System Proposal
© 1993, 1996
This proposal describes the features of a message rating system
that may be used as a smooth extension of practically any existing
information storage / transmission system, to provide users with
increased control over what they read and who reads their messages
and give them an opportunity to benefit from the quality of their
postings as well as incentives to improve other users' life.
The system is also expected to offer many other benefits, some
of which will be described later in this text.
GOAL of this text is to share the main ideas of the message
rating system with people who can hopefully help shape it into a practically
implementable system specification and take part in developing it.
The text below does not present such a spec, but just describes
various ideas on the subject that I consider interesting and
appropriate for an informal introductory text.
Please see my essay page for other related
Idea in brief
Users rate the quality of the messages they receive. These ratings are
reported to the system that collects profiles on the posters' and readers'
reputations and interests in various topics. This information is used to
optimize the traffic for all users according to their personal interests.
The quantity,quality and timeliness of ratings, as well as the quality of
messages improve the users' selection of incoming messages, thus making
sure that diligent response is in the best interest of every user.
I believe that such a system can be used as an extension of many existing
Internet services, including e-mail, news, gopher, WWW, etc., as well as
areas where the 'underlying interest' remains off-line, such as book and
- - a system of message storage and traffic employing ratings and
agents in the mechanisms described below.
- - any piece of information reachable through the system.
- - a [numeric] value assigned to a message. One message can have
many different ratings assigned by different users.
Also, the agent gives the user a rating for every unread post.
[Maybe, different words should be used to distinguish these two kinds of ratings]
- - any entity that generates messages and/or
ratings in the system.
- reputation = capital =credits
- - the system currency. Belongs to users.
May be used by users to pay and receive payments for messages
and ratings generated by others and themselves.
- - user's personal part of the system. Configured by the user to
control message and capital traffic to and
from the user.
- system manager / owner
- - a person or group that runs the system, manages
hardware and software, sets the rules, resolves disputes, etc.
How it is supposed to work
When you write a message, you may pay any number of credits
for it, thus indicating how much importance you assign to it.
You may not want to pay for it if you don't have enough reputation/capital
or think this message is not that important, or just don't feel like it,
but I may instruct my agent to discard all messages rated low by their
own authors. Also if you have a huge reputation on the system, you may
hope that all smart people instructed their agents to read all your stuff
regardless of the number of credits you put on it.
You may also set a minimal price you want to get from each reader for this
Reading and rating messages
When you read a message, you may rate it by paying an arbitrary number
of credits for it. These credits will go to the author of the message and
to those users whose ratings were most helpful in selecting it. Again,you
don't have to rate anything (rate it with 0), but in this case the system
will not learn your interests,and you will not be able to use the benefits
of the rating-based selection, neither you will be paid for your ratings.
Also, a message may have a minimal amount of credits its author wants
you to pay for reading it. The payment should be made automatically by
your agent before you receive the message.You may instruct your agents to
send you only free messages (except from certain people, topics, etc.) If
you think that the required payments unfairly restrict your access to some
messages, consider the rights of their authors not to share their thoughts
with those who [consistently] rate them as worthless or are not knowledgeable
enough in the topic to have deserved any reputation.
You don't have a right to read my message if I don't want you to do it!
Though the authors may choose to [instruct their agents to] share their
messages for free with all or some other users - e.g., new to the system.
Getting messages rated
The messages get rated for you by your agent (this rating is different
from the rating you assign to a message after reading it). An agent is
basically a custom - configured program that takes into account the repu-
tation of the author of the message, other users' ratings and a number of
other things. When using other users' ratings, an agent takes into account
correlation of their ratings with yours on a given group of messages.
A group of messages may consist of all messages specified by their topic,
author, title, keywords or whatever else you may instruct your agent to
keep track of. The suggested default would be a topic (e.g. as defined by
prefix on extropian list).
Your typical instruction to your agent can be:
"get me all messages you rate over 8.5, all free ones you rate over 6.0,
all on topic T, all by user X rated over 0, and if total is fewer
than 20 messages, add the best-rated up to 20. Also give me all unrated
messages on my professional topic P (I'll have a chance to earn credits
rating them, so put them on top please! -all other message sort by their
ratings in descended order). And yes, never pay more than 10 credits for
a message without my approval." - this shouldn't be difficult to do by
providing a configuration info to a standard system agent.
A list of messages that received insufficient rating will be sent to
the user periodically; it will contain message #, subject and rating.
These messages may then be sent on user's request.
[more on] Paying for ratings
You rate a message by paying for it. The payment goes partly to the
author of the message, and partly to the raters who helped you choose it.
(The discussion of how to divide the payments between the authors and the
raters is beyond the scope of this text). Raters divide their share of
credits depending on the correlation of their ratings for this message
with yours, and how early they rated it (but not their reputations -
fair game!).You may instruct your agent to ignore ratings made by certain
users specified by name, minimal reputation or other criteria. Making the
payment dependent on who rated the message first makes sure nobody will
get a piece of the pie by just repeating somebody else's ratings,and also
gives incentives to users to read messages early and keep looking for
pearls that may have passed unnoticed.
Your relation with your agent
You have write access to some parts of your agent[s data], e.g. rules
for reading other users' messages and distributing yours, read-only
access to other parts (e.g. your reputation[s]), and no access to some
other parts (e.g., I want you to allow your agent use my ratings, but I
don't what you to know what they are. Thus, your agent respects
other users' privacy and, to a certain extent, private copyright laws.
Also, the agent may keep track of which messages you read and how you rated
them, calculates correlation of your ratings with those of other users',
etc. You may share all or parts of your agent with other users on any
conditions. You may choose to make different parts of your agent, including
your name, reputation[s] and rating rules visible to other users on
any conditions you may want to impose. You may also have multiple agents.
It is logical to keep different reputations for one user on every
message topic (or otherwise defined message cluster). Your political
opinions might have earned you a great reputation, but it doesn't mean
your ideas on nanotechnology have as much value. However, you may be
allowed to exchange your reputation credits earned in one area into
credits earned by you - or anybody else - in another area, using
the current 'market' exchange rate. We could expect that credits earned in
related areas will be more or less easily transferable. The system
manager may tax such transactions to discourage loss of reputations'
relevance (though there are strong reasons not to do that).
More on capital control
The system provides the financial control of its transactions, which
initial reputation 'capital' distribution. A certain sum can be
given or lent to every new user.
additional emissions of currency;
control over capital transfer / exchange operations;
fiscal policy: certain operations, like exchanges, may be taxed;
also, one may tax users' reputations to make sure they reflect
users' current positions. Dormant users' reputations may be taxed
at a higher rate. Active posters/raters update their reputations
frequently enough to keep them current and may be made tax-exempt.
- the taxation issues easily come to mind, but it seems that all
their goals may be easier and more efficiently achieved without them.
trading the credits for 'real' money. The money earned can be spent
to pay for the system hardware and software development. Also, an
exchange may allow good posters / raters to earn their living for
the work they do. The negative effects of the rich but incompetent
users on the quality of other user's reading will be minimal, since
their low-rated messages will be discarded by the smart agents.
Other financial opportunities
Certain standard payments (e.g., for writing a message) may get distri-
buted to other users proportionally to their capital. This (though in
contradiction with the idea of taxation aimed at preserving reputations'
relevance) would give users incentives to work hard at the beginning of
the system's existence, to post their best articles or compile FAQs as
early as possible, etc., and also will make everybody interested in the
expansion of the system. Also, this policy makes financial investments
attractive- if you think the list is going to be popular, buy the credits
in advance! They will pay for the current system development-and you will
return the investment later, even if you don't have any personal interest
in the discussion.
Other benefits of the system
(some of these have already been achieved by the DF agent).
Users will have good feedback from the readers;
Nobody will have to be 'officially' excluded from the system for
sending stupid, irrelevant or impolite messages. Their messages will
just become invisible to everybody who does not like them. Thus we
replace authoritarianism and coercion with ANARCHY and SPONTANEOUS
ORDER. (still, some cases, like credit fraud, breach of privacy, etc.,
may require interference of the system manager).
- The rating system will drastically reduce message traffic.
In the current systems,after you choose the presentation of information
(e.g. plain texts, or color GIFs), and start spending all the time you
have for reading your mail, all further increase in traffic consists of
the messages YOU DO NOT WANT TO READ, and the signal/noise ratio tends
to 0 together with your satisfaction. The rating system would allow you
to keep this ratio very high - and improving.
- You don't have to read and rate hundreds of messages to make your agent
barely usable. Just get (buy/rent/borrow) a few agent parts from people
whose interests and opinions you have reasons to respect, put them
together - and start having fun! Later, you will get to know the system
better,and learn how to earn more credits and cheaply get messages that
would bring you maximal satisfaction for the time and effort you are
ready to put into it.
- There is no limit to the number of users or postings in the system.
System growth may only translate into better selection of everyone's
reading, not more noise.
- The system may help people with similar interests find each other;
the users then can query the publicly accessible parts of others'
profiles and attempt to contact each other in order to form a new
discussion group, local baseball team, business or family.
Who will benefit most from such a system?
First, who won't:
Established scientific and other professional disciplines are already
sufficiently supported by established media; business is interested more in
keeping the information to itself rather than spreading it; government's
reports will never compete with each other on the market, casual chats or
alt.sex.lets.do.it.now ads hardly require a sophisticated system for rating
the conceptual depth of the postings...
Now, we are left with non-formalized, volatile communities that would
like to increase the quality of their information exchanges and are ready
to share their opinions with anybody who may be interested in them, and
for whom the relevance and quality of the information and expertise of the
authors are highly important.
Looks like most, if not all, people and groups I like fall into this category.
Who can put such a system together?
People who have:
If you are aware of any group of such people, please let me know! ;-)
- interest in using such a system (see above);
- current access to the Internet;
- experience in writing software;
- respect to free market communities;
- some idea of digital cash;
- understanding of copyright and privacy issues;
- sufficient vision in information technology development;
- a good share of adventurism.
Some general thoughts on messaging systems
Currently available messaging systems, consisting of segmented flow of
messages and a non-rating reader, have a natural limit (lets consider only
discussion streams, as opposed to, say, .forsale kinds) in segment size,
after which the segments become unbearably cumbersome and have to either
kick off and/or suppress their own participants or break up to survive.
This process has already destroyed many virtual communities.
The solution, in my opinion, lies in both better categorizing of information
(this has a great variety of well developed methods) and assessing
quality of individual items (the task, of which AI will not be capable
for at least another [human] generation).
Another bad consequence of this situation is that the topic cyberspace
becomes increasingly fragmented which puts smaller and smaller meme
populations into reproductive isolation and inhibits cross-fertilization
Thus, while the Net does a great job in carrying information over
geographic boundaries, it falls far behind any old-fashioned off-line
conversation in its ability to cross borders in concept space.
So, the rating system will not only drastically increase the quality
and diversity of your reading, protect your interests, reward your efforts
and save system bandwidth.
It is a revolutionary engine that may transform the current cyberspace
feudalism into a market economy and bring the fracturing global body of
knowledge into shape.
I could hardly think of any project of greater importance.
Implementation plan: modest -> daring -> SciFi
Stage I ~1993)
Start with one mailing list. We may base an incoming message's
rating on the reputation of its author on this topic. Individual
message ratings would require delaying of messages, or a request
from each user on logon to send the ratings for the posts s/he has
received; then a modified reader can sort the messages according
to their ratings. Also, ratings update can be sent periodically to
all participants (or appended to every message they receive).
Even using an unmodified reader, and receiving all the messages
(say, 500), the users will get the list of those few that are best
for their interests, read it, and take actions manually.
Such a variant may be practically implemented with relatively
little work, and may bring limited, but immediate benefits to most
of the list members.
Stage II ~1997)
Global information service with more or less fully implemented
encryption and archiving features, elements of hypertext and
digital 'reputation' cash. Smart people get rich, curious people
learn. Fools stay off-line.
Stage III ~2029)
Brain-resident terabit modem with VR interface suggests you the
best of global multisensia according to your current interests.
Which means the ultimate freedom of choice. Plus global integration
of consciousness. Both of which help people prepare for the
Singularity which immediately follows, unnoticeable for non-participants.
January 23, 1993.