It takes a lot of moderating time to foster a positive commenting section. Writers or editors have to jump into the conversation to keep it on track, or to mete out justice by removing comments or even banning the worst offenders. It’s nice to think we’ll just let a thousand flowers bloom; in reality the garden needs to be weeded. But who’s got the resources?
The piece comes at a time when both The New York Times and Quartz are trying out something new; Putting comments alongside the story so they appear next to specific paragraphs/points rather than all clumped together at the bottom of the story.
As the story notes, on-domain comments are at an odd crossroads. They require constant vigilance and maintenance but their basic utility – allowing people to chime in with their opinions of a story – has largely been co-opted by Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and other social networks. Despite that shift in conversational habits, though, the comments section of a story still attracts heated opinions and has the potential to become the rallying point for people to sound off on what they think about that story.
Which is why the experiment outlined by the Folio writer – deputizing two members of the existing community to become moderators of civil conversation – is so interesting. On the one hand this makes complete and utter sense since it keeps the responsibilities within the community and frees up the writer and editors to actually write and edit. On the other it puts the site’s brand reputation in the hands of people who don’t actually work for it and haven’t gone through the same level of training someone internal may have.
Either way, some interesting stuff going on with a tool that continues to get short shrift when it comes to content strategy.