There are two seemingly incompatible trends going on in the publishing world right now. On one hand, there is a growing number of sites giving up on the idea of “comments” entirely (Wired has a good timeline on that). On the other — maybe as a reaction of sorts? — there is this movement to elevate the contributions of the people formerly known as “readers”.
So begins CUNY journalism student Pedro Burgos’ very insightful treatise on online commentary in a blog posted on Medium this week. His opening salvo is true and it’s been true for some time. From there, he makes some very savvy points, in my view.
Desktop vs. mobile: He maintains you can tell who is commenting on what kind of device by virtue of the length, paragraphing, spelling and so forth. A longer comment was almost certainly composed on a desktop. Which means it was likely composed by an “older dude.” He may be right about that, now that I think on it.
Commenting vs. emoji: Burgos suggests that the ballyhooed new emoji coming out from Facebook – angry faces, sad faces, etc. – may well stifle words on mobile. If you want to say something more than “Like” when you see that picture of your nephew, are you going to type out “Cute?” Or punch the “love” icon?
Should we curate better comments? And give these good commenters a role such as contributor? If so, should we compensate them? Good questions for which I don’t have an answer. …
It’s become trendy to opt out of commenting platforms altogether. A new Reddit site (a forum built on commenters) called Upvoted is not allowing comments at all. At least two of our Wick papers have chosen or are in the process of choosing to end anonymous commenting and turning over that function to Facebook. I’m ambivalent about that generally, but Burgos says, doing so “is another way of saying that they gave up.”
I guess the point here is to suggest that this remains a moving target with many schools of thought, none of them perfect. Personally? I see some value in anonymous comments, but they must be curated at least after the fact to keep the conversation from becoming abusive. It’s incredibly time-consuming, but that’s the job. And I would point out that many local papers, including ours and the Sierra Vista Herald, have long taken anonymous comments via the phone.
Three last thoughts on this topic. One: You don’t have to publish everything. Delete whatever doesn’t meet your terms or service or is abusive to other posters. Two: Don’t allow yourself to be sucked into childish behavior. And three: Don’t allow yourself to be sucked into childish behavior! Stay above the fray. Responding is good, but be reasonable, compassionate, calm and smart.