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Reddit's r/IAmA gets tough with new Q&A rules

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Just days after the disaffected creator of one Reddit’s most popular sections nearly shut it down, moderators have issued strict new rules they hope will rein in frivolous content -- but which also are spawning fierce debate.

Last week the creator of Reddit’s half-million strong live question-and-answer section, r/IAmA (“I am A," an indication that interviewees will answer questions directly) locked it down, claiming that the poor quality of posts in the section was no longer acceptable.

Reddit admins and two influential redditors, andrewsmith1986 and karmanaut, eventually convinced 32bites to keep the section open and cede control. But that only happened after a near reddit-riot ensued, culminating in some redditors harassing 32bites with phone calls at his work

And now It seems 32bites’ dramatic protest may not have been in vain. Late yesterday karmanaut, the subreddit’s new top moderator, posted a set of rules intended to curate quality content and ease the burden placed on moderators.

Here are the fundamental changes:

1. Moderators will no longer attempt to verify IAmAs. Verification took a lot of time and was spotty at best. Sometimes malicious posters faked the verification, making it almost useless.

2. Moderators will control the content of IAmAs more strictly, as opposed to the relative free-for-all in the past. According to karmanaut, IAmAs should focus on something “that plays a central role in your life, or some event that you were involved in that was truly interesting and unique.”

3. r/IAmA often suffered from a flood of frivolous or unrealistic requests. Now moderators will delete them. “'IAmA Request: Obama!' is not acceptable. We don't need a huge amount of celebrity requests clogging up the queue,” karmanaut wrote.

4. Moderators will consider removing obvious reposts.

Unsurprisingly, the post announcing the new rules drew over a thousand comments, many of which strongly disagree with the changes. But Redditors latched on to the final change -- the one focusing on obvious reposts -- as  the major point of contention.

Redditor dean_c summed up dozens of similar complaints best: “Who are you, or anyone else, to say that one person's experience they want to share is no longer interesting because someone shared their story first.”

The debate hits at the core of many redditors’ ideas of how Reddit should be run.  The site already allows users to sort content with upvotes and downvotes.  But many users believe popularity does not correlate with quality.

So do reddit’s most popular sections function best with strict moderation mixed with voting, as many experienced moderators believe? Or should the hierarchy of content be wholly democratic, as many others say?

r/IAmA's trajectory over the coming months should be revealing. Before 32bites’ surprising move last Thursday, the section was typified by frivolity punctuated with brilliance. Will it now reverse? 

Photo by Ed.ward