We examine some of the factors that might influence the quality of information produced in discussion groups on the internet, such as USENET and the WELL. In particular, we look at the impact of various different pricing structures, and compare regimes in which anonymity is enforced with regimes in which all contributors must identify themselves. Our main finding is that the flow of quality-weighted information within the group is maximized by a regime which front loads the cost of sending messages, and identification is required. If there is a positive spillover from the intra-group transmission of good quality information, however, benefiting society at large, then the social value of the flow of quality-weighted information may be maximized by a different regime, in which all replying is anonymous. Reputation effects play a key role in our analysis: posters who have sent high quality messages in the past are considered more likely to send high quality messages in the future, and are thus more likely to be taken notice of.
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