"In Their Tribes", Or, "How Do You Handle 10,000 Tech Maniacs' Votes?"
Dell got a lot of press recently for launching its new Digg-knockoff "ideastorm" site (http://dellideastorm.com) for receiving and prioritizing customer feedback on its products and plans. Right around the same time, The Wall Street Journal pointed out that on Digg itself, there's an extreme power-law distribution among contributors: one guy, "Stoner", accounts for 13% of posts that got voted onto the Digg home page recently, and only 30 of the 900,000 registered users account for a third of Digg home page posts. The bias that such extreme concentration can create is immediately apparent on the ideastorm site: Linux (or more-generally, open-source)-oriented suggestions account for 18 of the 30 highest-rated suggestions on the first two pages of the site's list.
Set up this way, where so many "precincts" vote in the same general pool, voting sites like ideastorm can quickly alienate folks that don't have time (or money) to organize support for their ideas. Erick Schonfeld's post, here on Rojo, suggests what sites like these need is a "trustworthy reputation system" where people can disclose more fully who they are and who, if anyone is paying them to place stories there.
I come to a different conclusion. I believe voting sites, like other forms of "structured collaboration", are best managed in subgroups, defined by shared interests, and coordinated through active moderation by volunteer "editors" -- much as Wikipedia has evolved. From direct experience in managing a social bookmarking application, I can foresee (in fact we've specified) several specific administrator-defined (subgroups, categories, recognition and networking opportunities for volunteers) and user-defined (e.g., tags, profiles) mechanisms to make this work.
On ideastorm, which takes the trouble to tell you how many people have endorsed a particular person's (in this example, Gautam's) idea, it would be especially useful to publish a page that ranks submitters by the number of endorsements from unique others. These listings might include links to these submitters' profiles (including addresses for blogs if they have them, or perhaps at least bios). Dell could then draw its volunteer moderators via further screening of this pool, maybe offering a piece of equipment or some public recognition as a thank you for assiduous moderation. (Reddit provides a stats page that's sort of like this, though its "karma"-based rating -- explained here -- isn't particularly intuitive, to me at least.)
More generally, I think there's lots of room for "shades of gray" models between "fully-edited" and "fully-user-generated" content that would provide more transparency about how members of a group promote submissions. Think in terms of "concentric circles of delegated moderation", where trusted insiders recruit trusted outsiders from a pool of folks who have demonstrated passionate, constructive participation.