HOME
          
LATEST STORY
A conversation with David Rose, little magazine veteran and publisher of Lapham’s Quarterly
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Oct. 23, 2008, 3:38 p.m.

Structure might help keep the junk out of comments

The Medill grad students at the Crunchberry Project have a good post examining the various ways of getting comments from readers. Interestingly (and smartly), they define “comments” broadly to include any sort of feedback from the audience — including polls, star ratings, Slashdot-style up/down voting, Salon’s letters to the editor, and even Mad Libs-style fill-in-the-blanks.

I like the way they’re thinking, and I think providing structure to the commenting process is worth exploring, for two reasons.

First, not to get all McLuhanish, but I suspect the tone and quality of comments would be affected — maybe even for the better. A lot of commenter behavior is based on social modeling; think of it as the Broken Windows thesis applied to web sites. If a site has lots of high-quality comments and a community of users who really care about the place, it’s a lot less likely that some bozo will come along and dump nonsense all over the place. Conversely, if a site is known far and wide for the junk in its comments, it’s very hard to raise the standard of conversation.

The form of the commenting system is important in setting those guidelines. For instance, Salon’s system requires user accounts and explicitly rewards good comments with prominent display. It also uses a metaphor (“letters to the editor”) that evokes a time when time lapsed between when a thought crossed your mind and when it appeared before a reading audience. It also, on every comment, provides a link to all of that user’s other comments — making it clear that he will be connected to his dumb tossed-off slander for ever and ever. All of these structural systems conspire to create relatively high-quality comments.

Another example: When you leave a comment on the blogging platform Vox, you’re given the opportunity to check a box marked “[this is good].” (Note the Mad Men reference in that last link.) It’s a very small detail (and an obscure reference to a old-school web site), but I’d wager the availability of a small and easy way to express a positive emotion makes the comment quality a little bit better. There’s no blanket answer on how to make comments better, but I’d sure like to see more experimentation around structured response in comment systems.

And the second reason? Data. Anytime you provide structure to comments, you generate data that can be used in interesting ways. Think of it as a corollary to Holovaty’s Law — it then becomes trivial to detect trends in your commenters that might be of interest to your audience or your writers, if packaged correctly.

POSTED     Oct. 23, 2008, 3:38 p.m.
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
A conversation with David Rose, little magazine veteran and publisher of Lapham’s Quarterly
“I hear the argument, Oh, these poor little magazines with their tiny readerships, if only people appreciated them more. It’s partly true. But the bigger side of that is, well, if only you knew how to read a budget. If only you actually knew anything about publishing.”
The New Inquiry: Not another New York literary magazine
For New Inquiry publisher Rachel Rosenfelt, building cultural significance was easy — building a sustainable business is the hard part.
iOS 8: How 5 news orgs have updated their apps for Apple’s new operating system
ABC, the AP, Breaking News, The Guardian, and The New York Times have all updated apps (or introduced new ones) to take advantage of new features on iOS 8.
What to read next
753
tweets
How a Norwegian public radio station is using Snapchat to connect young listeners with news
“A lot of people check their phones before they get out of the bed in the morning, and they check social media before the news sites.”
727When it comes to chasing clicks, journalists say one thing but feel pressure to do another
Newsroom ethnographer Angèle Christin studied digital publications in France and the U.S. in order to compare how performance metrics influence culture.
714Wearables could make the “glance” a new subatomic unit of news
“The audience wants to go faster. This can’t be solved with responsive design; it demands an original approach, certainly at the start.”
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
El País
MSNBC
The Bay Citizen
The New York Times
The Daily Show
Talking Points Memo
The Blaze
ProPublica
Tribune Publishing
Sacramento Press
Creative Commons
Hacks/Hackers