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Apr. 5 2010 - 2:32 pm | 69 views | 0 recommendations | 7 comments

Fixing commenting, the sweaty mosh pit of news sites

The solution is in moderating — not limiting — comments. In a few months, The Post will implement a system that should help. It’s still being developed, but Straus said the broad outlines envision commenters being assigned to different “tiers” based on their past behavior and other factors. Those with a track record of staying within the guidelines, and those providing their real names, will likely be considered “trusted commenters.” Repeat violators or discourteous agitators will be grouped elsewhere or blocked outright. Comments of first-timers will be screened by a human being.

When visitors click to read story comments, only those from the “trusted” group will appear. If they want to see inflammatory or off-topic comments from “trolls,” they’ll need to click to access a different “tier.”

via Andrew Alexander – Online readers need a chance to comment, but not to abuse – washingtonpost.com.

True/Slant launched nearly a year ago, and from the get-go we deployed a managed commenting system that enables T/S contributors to elevate user comments that move a conversation forward. The entire comment string for any post sits behind an “All Comments” tab, or as we like to say, one level below. How do user comments get “Called Out?” It’s the job of each T/S contributor to do so as they monitor their individual communities. It’s also the job of contributors to respond to user comments, just as Michael Pollaro did so effectively on his Obamacare post.

Just as important, all our T/S contributors have free reign to comment on the posts of all their fellow contributors — and they do so with fervor. On any given post, you can find contributors talking with users, contributors talking with other contributors and even contributors talking with users from communities other then their own. Caitlin Kelly’s post on Why Men Blog More is a perfect example.

This multi-tiered conversation is evolving into what I like to call a new story-building construct. It is often far more engaging and information packed than traditional media formats — and for that matter other online formats. Check out what happened when Matt Taibbi asked his community what they were reading and what he should write about. Nearly half the comments to his post included links to other stories.

Quite often I’ll get asked, “Why are the conversations on True/Slant so interesting? Why are they so civil?” I just point to our managed commenting system.

Over the past year, I’ve met with many reporters and editors at traditional media companies who balk at the perceived “work” involved in approving comments and actually engaging with readers or viewers. My response is always the same. The role of reporting and and editing is changing. You must become part of the fabric of your community. Engaging with user comments enables you to do just that. I finish by saying, “Sitting above it all will no longer work.”

As True/Slant evolves we’ll be adding technology to our managed commenting system that automatically elevates the comments of our most engaged users. But the active participation of our T/S contributors in “Calling Out” comments will always remain the hallmark of the system.

I look forward to the roll out of The Washington Post comment mechanism. I do hope there will be a role for reporters and editors. That way they can stop sitting above it all.


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  1. collapse expand

    I enjoy the comments and the conversation. I now find the “push” notion of old media — I talk, you listen silently, you can’t respond — dull and cold. I’m amazed at the civility of T/S commenters but I also think it’s because it’s up to each writer to set and maintain the tone. I don’t want people flinging *&^#$ within my home, either at me — or especially at others (which totally inhibits or destroys people’s eagerness to talk to one another), nor at my site.

    Thanks for the shout-out.

  2. collapse expand

    Honestly, it’s tough to fault the True/Slant comment system. I sure wish I could have back the comments that don’t get called out, though!

    One critique that could be made about True/Slant is that having the writers be the moderators creates a gateway to having a platform. (I know, ranting commenters who never make the cut could just start Wordpress blogs)

    What I like best about True/Slant is the writers engaging directly with commenters. So many news outlets forbid or discourage it. At least this way the “gatekeepers” are accessible.

    I still think Slashdot has the best comment system of any site out there. It’s community-moderated and encourages participation by giving users mod/rating-points when they leave a highly rated comment of their own. Moderators can rate posts on a scale of “Troll” “Off Topic” “Informative” “Insightful” and “Funny.” The overall scarcity of mod-points actually makes people care about using them. It’s brilliant!

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    I'm the Founder and CEO of True/Slant. It's been a long journey: The New York Times, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, a little tabloid TV, Forbes, AOL -- and I certainly don't want to forget TMZ. I lived through a newspaper strike (sounds quaint, right?), the New York City Black Out in '77, my bout with the Cabbage Patch Dolls -- and a few stints on the unemployment line. I got hooked on the News business as the editor of the Daily Iowan, during the days of Vietnam, Watergate and Roe v. Wade. I can quote all the best lines from "All the President's Men," and I still think Howard Beale did it better than all the real-life pretenders who followed him. I owe so much to James Bellows -- a truly gifted editor, an extraordinary human being and a mentor who was always there for me.

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