Gawker’s New Tiered Commenting System Rewards Quality Commenters

Is the Gawker Media site Jezebel making the right move in elevating some blog commenters above others? Tidbits contributors had a vigorous discussion — part of a new experiment we’re trying in which we, and anyone who’s interested, debate timely, tech-related issues.

Jezebel’s editor last week announced the site was designating a “Tier 1″ level of privileged contributors whose comments are “funniest, thoughtful, intelligent, well-argued” and who have proven themselves “engaged, intelligent, humorous, fair-minded, thoughtful, rational, etc.”

Their comments will be shown below each blog post. All others, in Tier 2, will be available only if a user clicks to see them. Tier 1 commenters, in addition, will have the right to bump comments from others up or down. Editors, ultimately, will have the final say.

Tidbits contributors overwhelmingly approved of this approach. “Overall, I like Gawker’s approach,” wrote Media Consultant Steve Outing. “I wish my local newspaper would implement something like this; its comment threads are mostly bad jokes and vitriol by the active few.” I pointed out that Gawker seems to be looking for the best of all worlds — having everything from the entire community on the site, but giving users the best experience possible, and advertisers a higher level of comfort.

We noted that Gawker is exercising editorial control instead of ceding to the community or social bookmarking sites such as Digg. Rich Gordon, associate professor and director of digital innovation at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, pointed out that there are some sites, such as Slashdot.org, that allow comments to rise and fall according to users’ designations.

Alan Abbey said experience has taught him to question the value of open comment systems. While working with them in Israel he learned “that the back and forth does not seem to change minds, produce consensus or push people toward the middle.”

He, too, endorsed Jezebel’s moves, saying “Any methodology, human-powered or otherwise, that aims to improve the tenor and tone of talkbacks, to make them more civil and civic-minded, wins my favor. If it helps Gawker financially, as well, all the better.”

You can read the full discussion thread here and add your own thoughts to it
. We’ll work on the form of this forum over time; your thoughts regarding this are welcome as well.

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