Commenting on blogs is broken. But what we need is a solution, not an abandonment of the concept. The question comes up every few months, but new social commenting technology means there are better answers now than ever before. Over the last day MG Siegler, MacStories, and mobile developer Matt Gemmell have all written about choosing the nuclear option and turning off comments entirely on their sites. Their key reasons for doing so seem to be:
- Comment reels are full of trolls, bile, and spam links
- There's no way for popular sites to keep up with comments on old posts
- Comment reels give random people too much visibility and distract from primary content
Here are my proposed solutions to these problems. Disqus, Livefyre, Facebook, and WordPress, how about you race to see who can be first to offer all three:
1. Authenticated Identity Sign-In With Minimum Friend/Follower Count
When people have to tie their comments to their identity, they become a lot more civil. The issue with Facebook is that it's easy to create a throwaway or dedicated commenting account to troll from. An ideal commenting system would allow the host to set a minimum friend count for commenting. A 20 friend count minimum would make it much harder to create a troll account, make bans more long-lasting, and ensure at least someone wants to hear what a commenter has to say.
Update: This is meant to authenticate a commenter's identity, not to discriminate against loners. Those who don't meet the requirement can always tweet at the author. An alternative I like, suggested by GigaOm's Mathew Ingram and ReadWriteWeb's Jon Mitchell, is a trust pyramid where veteran commenters approve newbies. This is similar to the system The New York Times is testing.
2. Ability To Lock Comments After A Certain Period Of Time
Long-standing authors have more historic content than they can possibly moderate. Comments on old posts are often irrelevant due to newer information that has emerged. I want the ability to lock down and prevent further comments on a post after a designated period of time. I could then commit to moderating and responding to comments on posts younger than a week, a month, or 6 months, and direct all those wishing to comment on old posts to Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or elsewhere.
3. Dedicated Comments Page For Each Post
Comment shouldn't be given even close to the same prominence as the post they refer to. Forcing readers to comment on social networks or their own blogs is too much work, and inefficient for an author to keep up with. A compromise would be the ability to host comments on a separate page linked to at the bottom of a post. It would also make the original post load faster, give sites more control over presentation, and create a dedicated discussion area.
Comments keep bloggers humble, honest, accurate, and in touch with their audience. Personally, I enjoy debating with people who think I'm wrong, as long as they're civil. I really value my commenters and often update my articles with thoughts they've inspired or corrections they've cited.
With the above options, blogs of all sizes could conduct efficient, meaningful discourse with their readers. There's no need to nuke the trolls. If we limit and hide them, we can coexist peacefully.
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