Some Thoughts On Comments

Tereza asked me to comment on the NY Times piece that ran this weekend on news sites' decision to move away from anonymous commenters. I think anonymous commenting leads to a lot of bad behavior and it should be discouraged. But I think anonymous commenting should be allowed and I allow it here. There are enough examples out there of why someone would want to comment anonymously that I think it has a place in the online conversation.

In the world of user generated content, you are always going to get posts that you don't want. Fortunately, there are a number of techniques that can be used to downgrade or even largely hide that behavior from the vast majority of users without taking it down. I think anonymous comments should be subjected to some of those techniques.

For blogs and online publications that get a lot of comments, and this blog is on the cusp of that place, I think we need a way to highlight top comments for each post. Disqus does allow the comment reader to "sort by" most popular or "best rated" but that requires user action. I think Disqus should offer blogs with a lot of comments the ability to run a window above the comment thread with the half dozen or dozen best comments that would be automatically calculated with the possibility of override by the blog author. Some blogs are already doing this like Business Insider, Gawker, and Huffington Post.

We need to introduce game mechanics into commenting systems and I think Disqus can and will be at the forefront of this effort. Game mechanics will reward the kind of behavior the community wants and will punish the kind of behavior the community does not want. The anonymous commenter who has valuable information but can't publish in their own name will be rewarded. The anonymous commenter who leaves a hostile name calling piece of crap will be punished. And the comment thread and community will be better off for it.

The other benefit of this approach is the community can police the comment thread. I do a fair amount of that today helped out by our community bouncer Kid Mercury. Turning that job over to the community in its entirety is the obvious next step.

The comment threads on this blog are now well over 100 comments on most days and get up to 300 or more comments on the most popular posts. I continue to read every comment because it is important to me to see them all. I also want to make sure they aren't spam or hate filled crap. But you may notice that I've cut back on the number of replies. It used to be that out of a 100 comment thread, my replies might be 30 or more. Now its probably 10 or less. I make up for some of that by liking comments a lot more.

But this community is following a pattern that all online communities follow. In the beginning, I was a huge part of the threads. Now I've cut back and let the community do more of the talking. And I think that's a good thing. Hopefully Disqus will give us more features like the ones I talked about earlier in this post to take the community powered moderation and rating and presentation to the next level. I'm looking forward to it.

Enhanced by Zemanta