Trust Levels in a Participatory System

In any participatory system, where users are expected to come back over time, there needs to be a slope of trust.

Message boards are a prime example, althoughchat, slashdot-style discussions, and user reviews also work. The lowest level of participation is reading without posting, aka lurking. There should be absolutely no barrier to entry for these individuals, no username, no password, nothing.

The next level is the casual poster. They came with something to say, they post it, then leave without an intention to return. The voices of these individuals are the least valuable. This is because they don't foster a conversation and because these types of posts have the greatest tendency to be hit and run smears. These users shoudl be assigned and automatic username (37234B) and given a cookie to remember them in case they do decide to come back. They can continue posting for as long as they'd like under that username, but don't have access to the same features that fully registered user would have (name, profile, emails for responses, etc).

The next level is for those who want an indentity. These users self-select themselves and go through the trouble of becoming a member and registering a username, password, and email address. At this point, they have acces to all the tools and have begun creating a persona on the site.

The next level is when their identity becomes closely affiliated with a group (or board). The group trusts them and the group can help move up their trust level, to become a board leader. The group votes who they would like at this level and can also vote who might be abusing their powers. These powers are the ability to warn other users (bumping their messages up to an administrator), the ability to create subfolders, and communicate directly with administrators.

Group administrators are decided by webmasters. This level is for people who gained the trust of both the members and the owners of the message board. The have the ability to delete messages, ban users, request new functionality, etc.

The last group is essentially the "owners" of the message board. They do not normally post to individual message boards as an owner, leaving the daily administration tasks to group leaders and admins. Adding new functionality, making foundational changes, should be the priority of this group.

Without levels of trust any group interactive system will quickly outgrow an owner's ability to manage it.