Can Kialo turn online shouting into enlightened debate?

In an era where personal newsfeed, tweets, and entertainment rule the day, Kialo looks to put reason at the heart of debate through its online platform for critical thinking and discussion.

Consumers and companies alike have come to depend on crowdsourced content as input for decision making. From product reviews on Amazon to biography searches on Wikipedia or commentary boxes on news sites, the input of a wide audience helps inform our judgement, for better or worse. While “liking” and average star ratings have helped users to draw conclusions from user input, much of online debate is lost in the weeds. Major news sites have taken measures to address it. The Times implementing a new Google-led system called Moderator in 2017 after it struggled to keep up with reviewing the 12,000 comments per day posted on the site.[1] A debate on a meaty discussion topic can often dissolve into shouting as balanced conversion remains elusive. Kialo was designed to change that. In 2017, after six years of development, Errikos Pitsos launched an online debate platform “powered by reason”.[2] Kialo aims to be “a simple yet powerful tool for critical thinking, serious discussion, and decision-making”.[3] Far from wanting to avoid disagreement, Kialo wants to embrace it. It shifts the focus of online debate from winning the argument to providing different viewpoints. Whatever side of the argument the user sits, Kialo aims to make them better informed.

Source: Kialo

 

The immediate focus of Kialo has been on designing features to keep the conversation in the spirit of self-moderation. A conversation begins with one user posting a thesis, typically structured as a question. For example, “Do we need nuclear power for sustainable energy production?” The conversation opens for others to provide input as claims, with additional points falling distinctly into either a pros or cons list.[4] The arguments build out in an interactive tree structure allowing users to visualize the layers of debate and contrasting arguments. The broadest claims start at the top and proceeding claims fall relevant to the parent. Kialo removes clutter as users no longer struggle to filter through comments to find the thread. Users have the option of creating private or public discussions to make the scope for input as broad or as narrow as they wish. Kialo has integrated many features now taken for granted in online conversations such as the ability to vote and comment, as well as flag potentially redundant comments. Admins and owners moderate the discussion with considerable control and re-arrangement of the discussion trees remains one of the more controversial features with users.[5] Kialo puts this responsibility on invited users, removing the administrative burden of monitoring for trolls which many other sites face.[6]

Over the next few years, management will face decisions on the use cases of Kialo – where can it add value to online debate and what’s the business model? It is already exploring sectors where internal discussion requires input from large groups. If one of the aspirations of Kialo is to make the world more thoughtful, education seems like a natural arena to play in. The company has already partnered with universities to beta test use in the classroom.[7] Several of Kialo’s top tips for contribution overlap with HBS’s guidance on classroom case participation from presenting concise claims to avoiding duplication.[8] A platform like Kialo can allow companies to embrace open innovation by testing out hypotheses with a broad user base and gain feedback in a clean structure. Regardless of industry, it offers a fresh and efficient way to gain team input while saving time on long email threads or rambling meetings. My challenge to management would be to explore the ways Kialo’s architecture can be added as a tool to online platforms users already love. While the level-headed debate enthusiast might turn to Kialo.com, the moments where reasoned debate is most needed, users may not turn to search for it. Unless the Kialo architecture can become integrated like more mainstream tools like Moderator, its influence on online debate could remain limited.

Does Kialo’s reasoned debate architecture have a roll to play in social media? Do we lose any value by removing emotion and opinion from debates? Are there lessons to be taken from the HBS case structure that can inform the design and use cases for Kialo, or vice versa?

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Sources:

[1] Bassey Etim, “The Times Sharply Increases Articles Open for Comments, Using Google’s Technology”, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/13/insider/have-a-comment-leave-a-comment.html, accessed November 2018.

[2] Jonathan Margolis, “Meet the start-up that wants to sell you civilised debate”, https://www.ft.com/content/4c19005c-ff5f-11e7-9e12-af73e8db3c71, accessed November 2018.

[3] Medium, “KialoHQ”, https://medium.com/@KialoHQ, accessed November 2018.

[4] Audrey Williams, “How to Promote Enlightened Debate Online”, https://www.chronicle.com/article/How-to-Promote-Enlightened, accessed November 2018.

[5] Gregory Kohs, “Why Kialo is not for me”, https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-kialo-me-gregory-kohs/, accessed November 2018.

[6] Kialo, “Tour” https://www.kialo.com/tour, accessed November 2018.

[7] Stephen Chaudoin, Jacob Shapiro, Dustin Tingley, “Revolutionizing Teaching and Research, with a Structured Debate Platform”, https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/dtingley/files/structureddebate.pdf, accessed November 2018.

[8] Kialo, “Top Tips”, https://support.kialo.com/hc/en-us/articles/115000761972-Top-Tips, accessed November 2018.

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5 thoughts on “Can Kialo turn online shouting into enlightened debate?

  1. Thanks for posting!

    I’m curious if admins and owners are enough of a blockade to prevent internet trolls and fake news from entering the site. I would imagine that people who enjoy the site often lead discussions on multiple topics that they find interesting. If each post has hundreds of responses, it is unrealistic to expect a single person to comb through and fact check every post.

    Even if admins only review reported content, it is possible that they will face difficulty in determining what is the threshold for a credible source. For example, while Fox News and CNN are both national news channels, some people would argue the credibility of articles written on either site. So then do you use an external fact checker and relate the accuracy score of the cited source to the readers? Furthermore, how do we ensure admins are equitable and act without bias to remove content from both sides of the debate that does not meet the quality standards?

    At some point the shear scale of policing a post could be overwhelming for even the most engaged admin. In this case, is there any sort of tool that could be developed that automatically relates this information and highlights to users (i.e. a notification that reads accuracy score of XX below the comment) so that admins are not required to be the sole guardians of Kialo from trolls.

  2. What a fantastic (and relevant) post. Some thoughts:
    – Do you see this being a tool for more moderate/centrist individuals? As you mentioned, the more ideological individuals are probably not looking to engage in civilized, rational discussion through online platforms. Should Kialo be concerned?
    – Should this be a niche product or should they seek a mass-user platform? Connecting with sites like FB, as you mentioned, will bring more people into the discussion. Is that a good thing?
    – How can this be replicated in human to human interactions? People behave drastically different and are often more open minded when in front of someone.

    Great job!

  3. Interesting post! I wonder what problems may arise from the control given to the admins/owners. Given that they have significant power over what is posted (and where it sits), they are able to guide the conversation. If done well, this can definitely lead to interesting debate. However, I also see a world where the bias of the admins may drive their decisions. It will be interesting to see what controls the company puts in place to monitor admin performance.

  4. Wow, we so need this! Like some other comments already mentioned, I’m also concerned about the bias of moderators on the site. However, I’d definitely prefer moderators (and perhaps a note on some known biases) than a bunch of internet trolls. Wikipedia managed to figure out the open-source thing pretty well and we all now rely on its information and pretty well trust it, so…I do believe there’s potential here. isidewith.com also has a nice way of sorting out pros/cons based on user input for different questions and political topics.

    It would be interesting to see Kialo implemented in the comments section of online newspapers. I always get frustrated at the lack of logic, rational and “feelings vs facts” presented and believe that Kialo may add a lot of value if implemented in existing applications (FB threads could be another use case). One of my co-workers and I were thinking about this problem a few months ago and thought one potential solution would be to have a “‘Did you read this?’ question” in online newspapers before being allowed to comment. It would ask something specific about the article that wasn’t in the title or first paragraph to (at least try to) encourage people to go beyond the headline.

    In any case, thank you for bringing my attention to Kialo – I know where I’ll be spending way too much time now!

  5. Thanks for highlighting this site – I had never heard about it.

    I think it is a phenomenal tool to structure debate. I am however concerned about its practical applications. I fear that it is designed to preach to the choir. The people that will take the effort to seek out the site, find the debate they are interested in, read all the contributions, and then comment (ideally with a source) are probably people who are already engaged in public discourse and have fact-based view points. As such, I am not sure it can succeed in trying to change the way most commenting works in the internet.

    I am, however, much more positive about its application in the education space. Especially in a classroom environment like HBS, where there are more arguments and opinions than we could ever get to in class, it would be a great way to collect input the night before class that we can then build on!

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