The Cyberbrains

Research and contemplation in new media

Keeping comments clean

There’s a fascinating conversation going on over at ESPN.com about the death of WWE wrestler Chris Benoit. I’m surenew hans mug most of you couldn’t care less about this, but if you are interested in how to manage user-generate content, you should really pay attention.

After the story, ESPN presents a sample of some of the 138 comments it has received about the story. Clicking on a comment takes you to the entire list, and while most are dripping with vitriol and some are sprinkled with occasional “hell”s, the comments expand and enliven the discussion of this tragic situation, I believe. Since ESPN.com started allowing users to comment on every headline news story in February (thanks to Steve Rubel for the information) , I have been impressed with how insightful, how intelligent and how on-point most of them seem. I don’t know exactly what procedures ESPN follows in selecting or editing comments (if anyone wants to enlighten me, I’d be very appreciative), but it seems like the company maintains a pretty open forum. How then does ESPN manage to keep things so civil?

My suspicion is the little mug shot you’ll see if you scroll down about halfway through this page helps tremendously. Not only does ESPN have active community editors, like Matt Friedrichs, who read through the posts, but it also makes sure people know who they are and what they are doing.

The key to making sure reader comments work is active editorial participation. By that, I don’t mean editors should fix the punctuation, grammar and spelling of every entry. In fact, I think they should leave that stuff alone. But someone needs to be there to read what is posted, steer the discussion back on topic and ensure that rules are followed. Just knowing that someone will read their entries gives readers the confidence and the motivation to add insight to the conversation.

Making comments work is a challenge. The Cyberbrains are still struggling with how to make comments effective on MyMissourian.com. But keep a close eye on sites like ESPN.com and WashingtonPost.com for tips, and whatever you do, make sure someone is there to keep things from spiraling out of control. That’s what happened when the L.A. Times started an editorial wiki, but that is a topic for another time. In fact, it’s the topic I had originally promised to write about.

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June 26, 2007 - Posted by | Hans Meyer

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