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Sept. 19, 2016, 11:46 a.m.
Audience & Social
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Shan Wang   |   September 19, 2016

Even as the number of news organizations dumping their comment sections grows, The Coral Project is continuing to build new products to try and improve how comments work.

The group, a collaboration effort from the Washington Post, The New York Times, and the Mozilla Foundation (and funded by the Knight Foundation), has been researching how to improve commenting online for both commenters and news outlets and building out open-source tools for newsrooms to test. Its latest product Ask, released to the wider public on Monday (The Coral Project held an install party at SRCCON in July), is a system for crowdsourcing reader contributions:

‘Ask’ enables editors to create embeddable forms to invite contributions from readers. These could come in several formats, including text, photo, video, audio. The contributions can be (optionally) linked to existing user profiles. Editors can filter, sort, share, and manage the contributions, and then display the best ones in a gallery.

The Coral Project hopes Ask will simplify the workflow of engagement editors, journalists, and anyone who needs to put out calls for (and subsequently sort through) reader responses, as well as improve readers’ experience submitting material to news organizations. The tool will also help publishers avoid sharing user data with third-party, cloud-based systems like Google Forms, since the reader contributions are processed on a news organization’s own servers. For interested newsrooms, Github here.

Similar crowdsourcing tools exist, but Ask was built to address some features lacking from other platforms, and it can handle the whole process, from requesting reader contributions to editing them to finally displaying reader-submitted content.

— Existing tools aren’t optimized for journalistic use — common complaints center around poor design, poor mobile experience, poor accessibility, time consuming to create galleries/share the results based on call outs, inability for contributors to be remembered across different call outs, don’t connect with existing user databases or include the context of previous comments/contributions

— It’s an important part of our “contributions, not just comments” philosophy

— It allows us to build and test scalable curation management tools with something more manageable than a full comments system, as Ask isn’t real time or user-to-user facing, so likely to be lower volume and suffer less trolling

The Coral Project also recently unveiled a Comments Lab, which lets anyone play with features they’d want in an ideal comments space online (you can turn on or off emojis, for instance, or turn on or off displaying basic data on a commenter).

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