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Most comments suck. Discuss

Guest posted by With Associates,

In the first of our weekly discussions we have invited our digital partner With Associates, to comment on commenting.

Online comment has become a medium in its own right, but when the general consensus is that most comments suck, why do we continue to add the functionality to websites? Click through to let us know what you think…

When they work, their value is clear. They enhance whatever they are attached to and offer insightful and constructive debate. Rallying cries of support and advice on a 2007 kozyndan Flickr post springs to mind. As do some of the views expressed daily on sites like Design Observer where the comments are almost as important as the articles.

There is also the emerging genre that sees meme-mobs posting satirical reviews on god awful albums or the t-shirts three wolves howling at the moon (1,458 comments / reviews at time of writing), which reveal more the comedy of crowds as opposed to their wisdom, but they are relevant and worthwhile none the less.

Sadly though these straight faced and comedy comments are few and far between and we are more likely to find ‘comment’ in the form of excessive superlatives or the monosyllabic jeering and swearing from anonymous cowards, wading through which only saps our energy to persist in looking for something worth while to read.

But is there a solution to this comment suck pandemic?

Maybe they need to be banned completely until everyone starts being nicer / more constructive? Perhaps enforcing lengthy registration and email verification processes? Or simply a harsher form of censorship that deletes “Wow”, “Amazing”, “This sucks”, and “FAIL” comments along with Viagra spam and naughty swears?

If none of these fit the bill, then perhaps we just carry on as is, and allow the free-for-all bitching to keep clocking up impenetrable numbers of comments, in hope that a sensible minority will read them all and blog the best bits back at us is in a legible form.

At With Associates our general view is to use comments in moderation and with moderation. Don’t open them on everything you publish, and consider what your desired definition of ‘comment’ is. Do you mean comment as exclamation, conversation, discussion or conclusion? And will your participators feel the same way?

With all this and more in mind, we are today launching comment in the form of discussion on It’s Nice That.

We’ve opted to use Twitter to authenticate users and double as a way to discourage anonymous comments. Sure, anonymity can still be achieved, but hopefully under ongoing pseudonyms that in themselves will offer consistency and identity.

We’ve also played a little with the convention of how comments are shown (minimising them all to 3 lines on first view) with hope to democratise the page and help the reader scan and delve deeper when intrigued. We hope this might also encourage writers to think more succinctly about their first words and so post them on Twitter to encourage others to join.

Most obviously however you will notice that comment is only open here in the new Discussion section of the site. In developing this solution it was agreed unanimously between It’s Nice That and With Associates that there was little benefit in adding comments to the daily posts on the homepage. That curated content remains an offer and a reference only.

So, like it? Hate it? Think it sucks? Tell us. We’re not finished on this idea and plan to develop it further so all comment here is very welcome and much appreciated.

With Associates is a collaborative digital agency based in North London and has been the digital partner of It’s Nice That since January 2009. www.withassociates.com

Comments

12942303322542825 geometriques on Mon Sep 21st 2009

A truly fantastic idea and approach. 3 lines are borderline excessive, consider 2 maybe? Best of luck in finding the solution and I look forward to the finished product!

12942303340203335 pandachops on Mon Sep 21st 2009

Wolves are so passé. Try cats and a keyboard http://www.threadless.com/product/1960/Three_Keyboard_Cat_Moon

12942303348493307 undividual on Mon Sep 21st 2009

I agree with everything you've said here - online 'comments' have the potential to be such an amazing thing, yet most of the time seem to be filled with pointless, one word remarks. It will be interesting to see how this progresses, I certainly like the idea of linking things in with Twitter, not something that would have occurred to me, but I think it could work really well... Only time will tell I guess!

12942303355456235 rosiejam on Mon Sep 21st 2009

So you want us to comment but only in an interesting way? Is that it? Really I shouldn't be commenting at all here. In fact why am I?

12942303361476007 TheWhodio on Mon Sep 21st 2009

Pretty much hit it bang on the head with using twitter as a sign in. I think you've even been too nice. The bad thing about comments at the moment is the anonymity, you end up getting people like this - "yeeaaaa boiiiiii gooooonnnerrrr !!!1".

Twitter predominantly is a way of projecting aspects of your self into webspace. So linking the fact that your comment will be projected outward as part of your 'personality' is a great idea. I dont think you should have the option of not letting it get posted on twitter.

1294230337146478 Raid71 on Mon Sep 21st 2009

What about examples like The Guardian website where people really get stuck into a debate..
Also you mention Amazon but who doesn't read through a least the first customer reviews when buying products, I like comments even shitty ones

12942303377560031 whatkatiedoes on Mon Sep 21st 2009

Awesome!!
Joke, joke. Buy why is it so bad getting a comment like that - it's just the virtual equivalent of a pat on the back. Censoring them out is just a bit.. weird. Who gets annoyed by them - other readers or the blog author? Either way they don't bother me (though I find the mutual back-patting that goes on a lot on Flickr a bit bemusing).

The Guardian (any newspaper in fact) is a terrible example of comments being used constructively; they just attract the most awful form of self-important pigheaded arrogance, to the extent that I can't bear to read them any more. I think idsgn and Creative Review are best for encouraging good debate in their comments.

12942303383279343 pace on Mon Sep 21st 2009

If you want to filter out supposed comments that are of no use, you could order the comments (or perhaps whole threads) by user-voted 'usefulness'. I personally am not offended by one-word comments of 'shit' or 'awesome!!1'. It tends to give me an overall feeling of how the user-base has responded to a post by skimming 5 or 6 comments; I don't think comments necessarily have to engage in/start conversation.

129423033909054 bprobe on Mon Sep 21st 2009

I believe an editor is vital to a magazine's life. Someone experienced needs to correct spelling errors, remove discussions that take away from the original intended message, and provide the needed clarity for fine reading.

Since editors check for congruency in content, and comments supplement the content, I believe It's Nice That will really benefit from closely-monitored commenting.

12942303401181648 markeebee on Mon Sep 21st 2009

Comment quality varies wildly. On the one hand you have examples like the Word Magazine web site, where the comments are the absolute lifeblood of the community; on the other, YouTube, where the inanity and offensiveness of the vast majority of the comments renders them almost pointless.

Forcing your users to identify themselves is always a fine balance between keeping out the idiots/spammers and presenting a barrier to entry for the genuine but casual user. I think the Twitter integration works well here, particularly as it's something that many will already have signed up to. However, I also think this is very dependent on your audience; for example, I would have thought that this site is more likely to have a greater percentage of media/internet savvy users who already have a Twitter account.

12942303407517414 lexnels on Mon Sep 21st 2009

I'm inclined to agreed with @pace - sometimes it's nice to just get a general feel of the range of opinions people have on a post (ie. with one/two-word answers). If the reader wants to engage in a more involved discussion about it, then that's good too.

On the other hand, seeing hundreds comments on a youtube or flickr page means that I rarely read down, as it's more than likely they're not worth looking at - I'd say the quality of the comments will more often than not be a fair reflection of the quality of the reader base. Wouldn't have thought that would be an issue here.

Nice work on the Twitter integration though - gives the comments much more weight when they're not completely anonymous.

12942303414090686 dan2600 on Mon Sep 21st 2009

Keep in mind "ya Boy" and troll comments can be very useful for a website, especially when you have a reply system. First, a thread of 500 reply's (often incited by a troll comment) will not only draw more viewers to the article seeing it as popular it will as attract advertising, seeing the site as having active users (ones who are more likely to click on a link). While saying "Awesome!" "this sucks!" ect you are at lest getting an indication that your readers are reading. When you google an article find a blog that talks about it with 0 comments, you almost automatically discredit the blog, even having 1 or 2 comments makes your blog more creditable.

I think what's funnier then a "cowardly troll comment" is the Zionist replies they often get from the "sane" users. Feeding the troll is why people do it in the first place (it's like making a prank call, you do it to get the reaction). So rather then placing the blame on the troll, they won't post if they are ignored. While a bit buggy, Engadget's commenting system has one of the most constructive and active discussion groups out there.

Also I've noticed on design blogs, many are very protective against criticism, especially realistically looking at a "cutting edge" design's implementation. I would hope your blog supports both positive and negative criticisms of the works that you post.

I think you have a great blog here, and I think adding a discussion aspect will be very valuable.

12942303420131369 kidcollective on Mon Sep 21st 2009

Agreed. Online commenting has the potential to be a powerful way to get quick feedback from those who agree and disagree from a variety of sources. Positive or not, it should be sincere and at the least thoughtful. So often it becomes a popularity contest.

12942303426092446 lifeatthebottom on Mon Sep 21st 2009

You win. Perfect solution. You better patent that shit before it takes over the world.

12942303433970907 jonze2012 on Mon Sep 21st 2009

I have a teeny-tiny design blog, and right now if I was getting "Awesome" or "That sucks" comments, I'd just be grateful that people were taking time to read my post and comment, however insignificant that comment is. Sure, I'd much rather constructive comments but as long as it's not spam, I'd be really happy with it!

12942303440901456 ljmbarrett on Mon Sep 21st 2009

I agree, most comments are entirely superficial in nature. But perhaps the part of the problem lies with the inherently superficial manner in which work is presented - often, we are only given one image of a project and generally the shot tends to focus on an obscure corner detail or an abstracted shot of foil blocking or some other printing nicety. This makes for an appealing image on a website, but in the case of work, in particular books, magazines and other formats, tells you little about the editorial flow of a piece of work, the actual content, or how this aesthetic came to pass in the first place. And as such, it can become difficult to judge work on anything more than an aesthetic level.

12942303448004804 _boyce on Mon Sep 21st 2009

This sucks!!!

...only playing – nice touch, INT!

12942303454307961 mvmnt09 on Tue Sep 22nd 2009

hey love the idea... is this comment worth posting so do you think ?

12942303464729934 _RossPhillips on Tue Sep 22nd 2009

I LOVE the idea of logging in using twitter. So much easier than having to fill out my email again and again like on other websites.

12942303471461685 Heather_R on Tue Sep 22nd 2009

I moderate comments on a daily basis as part of my job in customer service. Censoring "bad" comments and encouraging constructive ones is an ongoing struggle. You're absolutely right that monosyllabic comments are a problem. They're often well-intentioned ("Thanks!" "Yay!"), but add nothing to the discussion, so those tend to go. Page-hogging is another, for sure, and your method is definitely a good solution for that issue. As for setting a higher standard for general web etiquette... not quite sure how to solve that one, yet.

12942303477720885 cheesem4n on Tue Sep 22nd 2009

My fav posts are those written by the readers through the comments. Posts can act as intros, engaging enough to provoke pages of new insight, ideas and responses. Blogging utopia I know but that's why comments are cing

1294230348449694 Pietervl on Tue Sep 22nd 2009

nice article and I agree with almost everything, but I think you create a new problem, where people are forced to make their point in the first three lines or 140 characters which isn't necessarily a good thing.

On the other hand it's a good way to get rid of the BS posts, although I think most of us probably made a horrible first post or experienced some childish flamewar anonymously once or twice during our online activities and even enjoyed doing it

1294230349074879 chads_eye_view on Tue Sep 22nd 2009

Comments feed into the intrinsically selfish nature of the web - "If I comment on this blog then then it will mean more hits for my blog, etc.". Therefore, invariably, most comments are not crafted and deliberated over by their writers, but 'j*zzed' up all over the screen in a moment of manic self-love.

Of course, doing away with linked comments is an option but will also stem the flow of traffic around various sites/blogs etc, which can stunt the wonderfully organic nature of the 'net somewhat. Certainly something needs to be done, however.

I applaud your efforts and like the Twitter-based registration element. Now go visit my blog! ;)

12942303498684573 danmatutina on Wed Sep 23rd 2009

I love the idea of using twitter to post comments as i dont really type a lot. But you'll create problems for your other users. Cheers!

1294230350488759 RobertLoeber on Wed Sep 23rd 2009

I'm completely agree... the majority of comments are usually negative but at the same time you have to appreciate freedom of speech. Everyones entitled to their own opinion even tho most of the time it seems that only people with something bad to say comment.

Using Twitter as a form of authentication is a great idea but there is the small problem that someone may not have a twitter account. I know that twitter is the "hot" new way to interact with people and intern the term micro blogging was created but i have to call into question the longevity of the website. Just look at myspace before facebook came along. When something better or easier to use comes along people usually jump on board.

Spam can be a massive problem. I'm unsure what platform It's Nice That is running on but Wordpress has a really helpful plug-in called Akismet [http://akismet.com/]. Once added to your blog it automatically sorts through any comments filtering them for you into genuine or spam. I use it and it works a treat.

I really appreciate what you guys are doing and i love the fact you've started to get people talking about an issue that been bugging me for years now.

All the best

Robert Loeber

12942303511161263 e_grody on Wed Sep 23rd 2009

I think is genius.. Its nice that someone has finally broke through the comment idea and trying to get out of it what seems like was the intent in the first place.. constructive criticism.

I am a student studying design and someday hope to have a website to share my design with the world or at least a place to put them on the web such as a design site. If I had to check my comments everyday I would definitely not want to see all the crap that somehow ends up on the comments all the time.. (as discussed in the article.. eg. 'awesome', 'nice job', ' that sucks' etc..)

Constructive Criticism... THUMBS UP!

12942303517669628 jhames on Thu Sep 24th 2009

Write articles that demand quality, not quantity, of comments. Sarcasm, like fire, needs oxygen to burn.

1294230352518484 withassociates on Thu Sep 24th 2009

Very pleased to see support and criticism coming on the discussion, and totally see your point @RobertLoeber about the problem of people that don't have a twitter account. But Twitter is free and very quick to sign up to, as @e_grody proves (who by the looks of it signed up just to comment : )

Trying to please all the people all the time is always dangerous and can only result (in the case of comments) in allowing totally anonymous comment, bringing us back to square one.

12942303531319523 tomfroese on Thu Sep 24th 2009

I just commented on It's Nice That.

12942303537729862 3stripe on Fri Sep 25th 2009

I came to a similar conclusion a couple of weeks ago when I was trying to work out why a trip to ffffound.com is so peaceful...

But I'm glad to see that you finally enabled comments on here, although I doubt everyone will be 'nice' for long... see http://www.newscientist.com/blog/technology/2007/11/dont-flame-me-bro.html for a social psychologist's angle on the tendency for abusive commenting

12942303545129492 ant_oh_noes on Mon Sep 28th 2009

This is an interesting approach. Perceptions of how one is viewed certainly does influence what we say and don't say. Plus I doubt I'd comment here if I hadn't already an account set up.

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