The Thorny World of Online Comments

Friday, December 30, 2011


Last month, The New York Times overhauled its online commenting system in an attempt to create a more engaging comment section. Many websites aspire to have an interesting, relevant and user-friendly comment space, but few have successfully figured out how to do it. Bob speaks to The Atlantic's Rebecca Rosen, who says that more than a decade in, online comments continue to be terrible.

Comments [10]

Philip Prindeville from Portland, OR

Or of course, one could take the approach of "On The Media" and completely ignore their listener comments...

Jan. 24 2012 02:31 AM
fred from USA

Up voting is a popularity contest problem, inconvenient or unpopular opinion gets squashed, and depending on the bulk of your users or small clique of rabid comment users, it can lead to a distorted comment section.

Some like gawker have figured out a way to have a pseudo comment system. I think some sites make the calculation that comments aren't worth it, or a priority, so they find a way to make them pointless. They need to find a way to make the comments inoffensive for advertisers sake. The way gawker does it is to have absurd comment tryouts/auditions, meaning if you waste your time replying, it may or may not show up based on the whims of who knows who. Based on that one filter alone most potential insightful commenters are removed as they won't waste their time. The folks that do make it past the gate seem to have the same political views, and once starred with power to upvote comments into visibility, they form their own little sick clique of enforced opinion. Random commenter executions for poor spelling, snarkiness, grammar or anything else the gawker staff wishes make sure the commenters are not adventurous. So you have a small band of no life hall monitors who overjoyed to wield their small amount of power make sure there is no real debate and thus you have a comment section that is only the appearance of one, with almost no expenditure at all.

It is one of the most deviously admirable business tricks I've seen.

Jan. 12 2012 07:33 PM
rfgardner from ny

I occasionally post comments to news stories. Usually thoughtful, sometimes playful, sometimes obvious, and if possible humorous. First thought after hearing your analysis-Wow, what a waste of time, since so few people ever read one of my posts.
But today, a counter thought occurred to me - The value in posting comments is personal, to the writer.
As author of my own content, I articulate and source thoughts and beliefs that I am willing to voice in a public forum. And in a world of self discovery, my comments are like footholds for my own take of society and the news.

Jan. 03 2012 09:41 AM
oriented x3 from My mom's basement

@SlackerInc from Kirksville, MO

"All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident."- Arthur Schopenhauer.

FWIW, Glenn's blog post from 12/31/2011 was Progressives and Ron Paul fallacies.


Yes, I’m willing to continue to have Muslim children slaughtered by covert drones and cluster bombs, and America’s minorities imprisoned by the hundreds of thousands for no good reason, and the CIA able to run rampant with no checks or transparency, and privacy eroded further by the unchecked Surveillance State, and American citizens targeted by the President for assassination with no due process, and whistleblowers threatened with life imprisonment for “espionage,” and the Fed able to dole out trillions to bankers in secret, and a substantially higher risk of war with Iran (fought by the U.S. or by Israel with U.S. support) in exchange for less severe cuts to Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs, the preservation of the Education and Energy Departments, more stringent environmental regulations, broader health care coverage, defense of reproductive rights for women, stronger enforcement of civil rights for America’s minorities, a President with no associations with racist views in a newsletter, and a more progressive Supreme Court. [...]

I'm genuinely curious where you find such thoughtful commentary.

Jan. 03 2012 12:53 AM
SlackerInc from Kirksville, MO

Oriented, I was curious to check out the "treasure trove" of good comments, so I checked it out and found only a tiresome discussion of the merits of Ron Paul (despite it being off topic for the post; Greenwald himself intervened to beg commenters to not make every topic a Ron Paul thread). Not impressed.

Jan. 02 2012 02:36 PM
oriented*3 from My mom's basement

Glenn Greenwald @ Salon has one of the most fascinating comment sections I've seen. It is a treasure trove of great conversation.

I love the show.

Jan. 01 2012 12:22 PM
KevDog from Williamsville, NY

As on the post regarding Ta-Nahesi's blog, Riversong is claiming rights that do not, in fact, exist. The First Amendment only, and has only, protected government action. By definition, private individuals cannot engage in censorship. It is this kind of basic misunderstanding between rights and privileges that underlie so many problems in dealing with both the public and private sectors.

Jan. 01 2012 11:23 AM
Robert Riversong from Warren, VT

The description of On the Media states, "We often fail to fully realize how broadcasters and print professionals filter our political process and shape a sense of national culture." This suggests that the media, like the corporate PR and governmental worlds, is engaged in social engineering, and is most certainly the case.

What all cultural elites share is the perception that democracy is unruly and messy, and the desire to "clean it up" to suit their own sensibilities (and maintain their own power).

The only legitimate restriction on internet commentary is the requirement that people use their full names (and perhaps place of residence). Whatever people are willing to put their names to is fair game for public discourse in a truly free market of ideas, otherwise known as democracy. Any other restriction is censorship, social engineering, or self-protection through the avoidance of criticism.

Jan. 01 2012 10:48 AM
FMC from Harrisburg, Pa

Your show is great. I thought this episode very poignant. I find some commenting is very distracting but also feel compelled to read them just to get to the ones that have more information to share about the topic. The blogs where the author addresses the criticism is very helpfu; especially for a writer still learning his craft. Thank you for such a good program.

Dec. 31 2011 08:18 AM
Jessie Henshaw from way uptown

I've been trying to bring attention to a real scientific solution to the comment jumble for years.

It's a systems science method for eliminating the usual jumbled pile problem produced by rating systems for comments. The basic problem is that comments are stored in linear fashion, so only a few at the top of the pile get read at all, and that biases the ratings completely. So the "truth finder" involves calling up a comments view arranging them in **random order**.

A small reader effort would be required as the price of making a comment. To make a comment, or just browse them, readers would needed to offer a response of "like/dislike" as well as "thoughtful/thoughtless" (as a simple version), for just 4 **randomly selected comments**. Votes could not be recorded when the list is viewed in any other order. Then... when they filter the comments for the best and worst, or other features, ALL the comments would be **equally read and equally voted on**.

I'll look up my other notes on it if you're interested.

Dec. 31 2011 07:41 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.