Commenting systems

I’ve watched commenting evolve since it first appeared, observing the ways different sites handle it and what effects these policies have on the community. I’ve been in charge of comment moderation for a local TV news site and I pay attention to people in the industry who talk about commenting and where it’s going.

My experience moderating public feedback on news headlines has strongly informed my thoughts on the usefulness and appropriateness of user comments.

In a completely anonymous environment, people are far less inhibited. This can be a good thing. News tips can be shared that way, “anonymously” and safely. But lies can be shared that way too, and moderators walk a thin line. How far should comment censorship go? Should there be very strict rules or very lax rules? Compounding this is the fact that the licentious comments drive page views.

It’s my belief that each organization with an online presence must weigh its needs and wants before deciding what to do about comments. Some organizations don’t need commenting at all, and should not worry about providing the feature. The long strings of hateful, ignorant, or off-topic comments they’d likely have to deal with wouldn’t be worth the few helpful comments they’d receive.  And after all, if an organization wants to share user feedback, they can solicit emails and then hand-pick what goes on the site.

On the other hand, for some organizations, the potential benefits outweigh the problems. Whether the goal is content crowdsourcing, page views, or gauging public opinion, making it easy for people to contribute is often the most efficient course of action.

For this reason, I don’t see anonymous commenting completely going away anytime soon. However, as technologies improve, I expect to see more digg- or Slashdot-like features in standard comment systems. The ability to flag inappropriate comments is already present in many systems; I’m sure it’s just a matter of time before everyone’s voting comments up and down.

To me, an ideal commenting system would require little to no moderation. Getting to that point depends both on technology and on the specific community of a site.

That all said, it is possible to get feedback and interact with the community without having a comment system—by integrating third-party social networks.