Linked by Thom Holwerda on Tue 10th Jan 2012 23:53 UTC
OSNews, Generic OSes The last few weeks there's been a considerable amount of chatter on the web about whether or not a news website, blog, or some hybrid thereof, needs comments. Since we are working on the next version of OSNews, which means I've been thinking about things like this a lot, I figured I'd pen down my thoughts on comments.
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Comment by sorpigal
by sorpigal on Wed 11th Jan 2012 12:41 UTC
sorpigal
Member since:
2005-11-02

It is impossible to discuss comments on the internet without bringing up Slashdot. Prior to /. comments everywhere was certainly not the norm, especially on news sites, but thanks to the veracity of its userbase and the relative sophistication of its moderation system, it became evident that comments can actually add value.

After becoming familiar with Slashdot and its comments it began to feel weird to hit a site with news postings without being able to comment. I observed in around 2002 that one day all things would have comments systems attached, especially and importantly things that are politically related such as sites discussing lawmakers, laws and campaigns. While this has broadly been borne out it certainly hasn't happened in the best possible way.

There is so much value in comments that it completely outweighs any negatives that might seep in. Being able to always see the counter-opinion to what was written is fundamentally good. The fact that whatever is said anywhere with comments available is not only open to criticism but open to a kind of automatic "equal time" in the same venue is a quite staggering shift in the way we communicate. You may watch some bonehead on TV say something dumb and you may complain about it to your friends, who saw it with you, but any insights you have are useless to everyone else. You don't get a chance to air them, so you don't matter. With online commenting the playing field is level. You don't have to be anybody and you can still be heard.

Of course this means that griefers and trolls are highly visible, too, which means a moderation system is a must. Since you can't compete with everybody it has to scale out with the userbase automatically, which means users have to also be moderators; now you've got another problem! How do you avoid homogenization of opinion? How do you prevent the (for example) perponderance of Apple fanboys from drowning out legitimate critique of Apple products? Worse, how do you prevent sockpuppets from stuffing the ballot box and giving undue prominence to truly fringle opinion? Should the fact that most people disagree, which is what makes it a fringe opinion, be a reason to suppress its expression?

There are no entirely complete answers, but it's pretty clear that not dealing with these problems just won't work. Comments are too useful to simply not have them. A site without comments is less valuable, to me, especially on unfamiliar topics, because I can't trivially learn whether what I'm seeing is broadly agreed upon, flawed, or what have you. Think of user reviews of products on e.g. newegg--I simply won't buy a mouse without reading product reviews that can communicate more than just "1 star" or "5 star" - they tell me things like "The mouse is too large for my hand, which makes it awkward," but I like large mice! Clearly it's the one for me.

Further, without comments I feel that I am trapped, cut off and preemtively without recourse should something go wrong. I don't want to ever return to the days of complaints falling on deaf ears and of suggestion cards that disappear into the bowels of a company without any noticable impact. With a comment system I know that I can have my voice heard, even if only by other concerned customers, citizens, etc..

Comments bring the vast digital world, somehow, back down to a personal level. It's a crowd of people in a public place holding a mostly democratic discussion of whatever topic is at hand, except that there's no fear of violent retaliation for speaking out of turn. With comments we are no longer passive consumers or sheep, we are now active participants in the discussion.

Reply Score: 8

RE: Comment by sorpigal
by ricegf on Wed 11th Jan 2012 14:16 in reply to "Comment by sorpigal"
ricegf Member since:
2007-04-25

I tend not to read comments on political sites because of the polarization and name-calling. It's sad, but it accurately reflects what the USA is seeing in our government from both major parties.

Sometimes I just want to slap our politicians upside the head and yell, "Play nice!!!".

Reply Parent Score: 2