OPINION

Blogging: Making Comments More Useful

November 11, 2006
spincycle

Often times comments sections of blogging sites suffer from a multiplicity of problems - they are overrun by spam or by repeated entries of same or similar point; continue endlessly and generally overcrowded with grammatical and spelling mistakes. Comments sections that were once seen as an unmitigated good are now seen as something irrelevant at best and a substantial distraction at worst. Here below I discuss a few ways we can reengineer commenting systems so to mitigate some of the problems in the extant models, and possibly add value to them.

Comments are generally displayed in a chronological or reverse chronological order, which implies that firstly the comments are not arranged in any particular order of relevance and secondly that users just need to repost their comments to position them in the most favorable spot - the top or the bottom of the comment heap. One way to "fix" this problem is by using a user based rating system for comments. A variety of sites have implemented this feature to varying levels of success. The downside of using a rating system is that people don't have to explain their vote for or against the comment leading occasionally to rating "spam". BBC circumvents this problem on its news forums by allowing users to browse comments either in a chronological order or in the order of reader's recommendations.

Another way we can make comments more useful is by creating message board like commenting systems that separate comments under mini-sections or "topics". One can envision topics like "factual problems in XYZ" or "readers suggested additional resources and links" that users can file their comments under. This kind of a system can help in two ways - by collating wisdom (analysis and information) around specific topical issues raised within the article and by making it easier for users to navigate to the topic or informational blurb of their choice. This system can also be alternatively implemented by allowing users to tag portions of the article in place - much like a bibliographic system that hyperlinks relevant portions of the story to comments.

The above two ways deal with ordering the comments but do nothing to address the problem of small irrelevant repetitive comments, often times posted by the same user under one or multiple aliases. One way to address this issue would be to set minimum word limit for comments. This will prod users to put in a more considered response. Obviously there is a danger of angering the user leading to him/her adding a longer more pointless comment or just giving up but on an average I believe that it will lead to an improvement in the quality of the comments. We may also want to consider coding in algorithms that disallow repeated postings of same comments by a user.

The best way to realize the value of comments is to ask somebody - preferably the author of the article- to write a follow-up article that incorporates relevant comments. Ideally the author will use this opportunity to acknowledge factual errors, and analyze points raised in the comments. Hopefully then this follow up piece will be able to solicit more comments and the process repeated again helping take discussion and analysis forward.

Another way to go about incorporating comments is to use a wiki-like system of comments to create a "counter article" or critique for each article. In fact it would be wonderful to see a communally edited opinion piece that grows in stature as multiple views get presented, qualified, and edited. Wikipedia does implement something like this in the realm of information but to bring it to the realm of opinions would be interesting.

One key limitation of most current commenting systems on news and blog sites is that they only allow users to post textual responses. As blog and news publishing increasingly leverages multimedia capabilities of the web, commenting systems would need to be developed that allow users to post their response in any media. This will once again present a challenge in categorizing and analyzing relevant comments but I am sure novel methods, aside from tagging and rating, will eventually be developed to help with the same.

The few ideas that I have mentioned above are meant to be seen as a beginning to the discussion on this topic and yes, comments would be really appreciated.

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#1
neville
URL
November 11, 2006
02:17 AM

no system is perfect and i think the ease of comments makes it popular (and makes it easy to abuse too)

maybe the webmaster can delete spam comments and long comments can be shortened with a read more etc

#2
Sujai
URL
November 11, 2006
03:41 AM

spincycle:
I believe that commenters should take it upon themselves to act maturely to keep the argument and discussion sane and rational. Often, it degenerates. That has far profounder impact on the health of the discussion than such factors like chronological order.

I believe if there is code of conduct that bloggers and commenters follow, then this place can turn into a healthy and constructive debate. Unfortunately, that is missing.

#3
Tanay
URL
November 11, 2006
07:53 AM

spincycle: Why at all do you think,the blogs have become so popular. Its because of the desire to remove the barriers to the online conversation,open re/views and opinions...Don't you feel that restricting their ability would reduce the extent of the discussion and the depth of the debate..It would become less interesting..Won't it ???

"We may also want to consider coding in algorithms that disallow repeated postings of same comments by a user." - What do you mean by this ???? Do you mean the same comments repeating again or do you mean the same comments put in a different flavour and tone....If it's the second case,then by disallowing,the very root point of open discussion is hindered...As long as something is not off-context,its perfectly Ok...If it's the first one then its "spamming" and it's not too tough for somone to come with a new technique that would undermine the potential of the anti-spam algorithms...

The open medium of blogs and discussion forums often have spam comments from people with no sense of responsibility and these junta don't have an idea of the damage that they are doing....I feel no form or extent of policing or control can solve this problem..Will it ????? We have seen for years as to how the e-mail messages are spammed, its nothing new but have we found a solution to that,"NO"... still Yahoo, Hotmail, AOL, Oracle and others are struggling on this front....

Also I go in sync with you for few other suggestions,that you mentioned.... (Guess my comment was not lengthy for you but couldn't shorten it much...)

#4
Aaman
URL
November 11, 2006
11:47 AM

Quite an interesting analysis, can't wait to read further comments on this topic. The dynamics of participation online demand a certain decorum to be acceptable in the community, and to in effect, be popular - not too different from social relationships in meatspace. That being said, opinions and comments enrich the conversation and the original article, making it a conversation rather than a one-way transmission.

#5
temporal
URL
November 11, 2006
03:05 PM

spin:

did you sneak this in deliberately;)

Comments sections that were once seen as an unmitigated good are now seen as something irrelevant at best and a substantial distraction at worst

(for an interactive medium like this the comments ... all of them ...the good, the bad and the unreadable...are as necessary as the polluted air we breathe...

the comments that follow news stories on news sites such as bbc can be skipped because obviously we are there to get the news nor seeking opinion!

as for collating and doing a new piece - the (original) writer can do that

***

digressions:

freedom

how to incorporate this (in the original article - in the responses)...since not everyone is created equal we do find plenty of incidences that argue for abortion and birth control amidst the interactors

the above is for comments ..in their individual blog obviously they can whine and rant all they want...but on a public site they have to act responsible

restrictions

should comments be restricted under a registered nick for purposes of ownership and pride and control?

more later..

#6
vatsan
URL
November 26, 2006
10:09 PM

the purpose of comments is simple, one it facilitates discussion, secondly, its like a caveat. let me explain. a post is supposed to convey what the author intends to, but sadly not everyone can write well. so when someone points out a mistake in ur post, u can always tell the reader in the manner in which the post should be viewed, and that the readers way of interpreting the post is wrong. its like covering ur ass, or saying that the shit hasnt hit the ceiling, wen it actually has.

Proof: this post
http://desicritics.org/2006/11/25/005910.php

#7
Ravages
URL
November 26, 2006
10:59 PM

I am so itching to get into a fight here. But am going to hold myself back a while, to see if somebody comes up with something better.

Meanwhile, SpinCycle, why don't you order these comments chronologically, or however else you like.

#8
I
URL
November 28, 2006
11:51 AM

People that use **** in place of curse words must be banned.

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