New York Times overhauls comment system, grants privileges to trusted readers

The New York Times rolls out a new commenting system today that spotlights reader contributions and grants special privileges to some.

The Times will invite any reader whose comments are consistently approved over a certain time period to become a “trusted commenter,” whose future comments go public immediately. Everyone else’s comments will be held for review by a Times moderator, as they are now.

“We wanted to both reward commenters who have this great track record with this additional level of privilege, but also try to experiment with ways we could get more good comments on the site faster,” explained Sasha Koren, deputy editor of interactive news.

Trusted commenters are labeled with a green checkmark icon and can post without moderator review.

Koren and Director of Platform Technologies Ben Gerst gave me a preview of the new features, which start rolling out at 6 p.m. Wednesday, and should be fully live across the site sometime Thursday morning.

The trusted commenter program is the most significant new feature, in my opinion. Those who join will have to submit and verify real names, a profile photo and hometown by connecting a Facebook account. (Some people object to using Facebook, so other identity verification methods may be supported later, Koren said.)

In exchange they get instant commenting, as well as a higher profile on the site. With a special “trusted” logo attached to their color photo and full name, they stand out visually from the other commenters who usually have an anonymous username and no profile photo.

This also positions the Times for bigger advances in the future. For instance, earlier this year I talked with Times CTO Marc Frons about his long-term goals for building social interaction into the website. It also could support a system that curates comments into something more than just isolated reactions to one story, like the Community Hub project from the Times’ beta620 lab.

Because this is the first overhaul of the Times commenting system since 2007, Koren said, it also includes a lot of smaller improvements that catch up to Web standards and improve basic functionality.

Some of those changes include:

  • Comments on the story page. Until now, readers had to click a “comments” link on an article to visit a different page with all the comments. Now the articles and blog posts will have comments beneath the text.
  • Reply threading. Readers can post a reply nested beneath an existing comment, encouraging back-and-forth discussion.
  • Easier sharing. Each comment has sharing buttons to send its permalink to Facebook or Twitter. This enables good comments to spread widely, and draw more people back to the article.
  • Staff interaction. New York Times journalists can reply to comments more easily, and readers will be able to filter comments to see which ones come from staff.

Other commenting systems have had some of those features for a while, so in some ways the Times is playing catch-up. But Gerst and Koren said this is just the beginning of a new phase of development.

“There is broad recognition within the newsroom as well as from everyone from the publisher on down that participation on our site from our readers is an important piece of our overall journalism,” Koren said. “Contributions from readers can enhance our reporting and coverage.”

We have made it easy to comment on posts, however we require civility and encourage full names to that end (first initial, last name is OK). Please read our guidelines here before commenting.

  • http://twitter.com/mmaryannwright Maryann Wright

    The other 80 per cent are self-confessed narcissists. Or maybe they want to make a valuable contribution in the hope to educate people.

  • Anonymous

    Agreed, yyz84.  Have had enough problems w/facebook, don’t need more.

  • Linda Norton

    Why isn’t anyone talking about the Times requirement to connect to your FB or Twitter accounts? Obviously this is a marketing and information-gathering move on the part of the Times, yet it is presented as a purely high-minded editorial move toward “civility” on the comments pages. I hate the anonymous gang-up trash on comments pages, but lots of people in this country DO NOT HAVE tenure/security/free speech on the job or at home or in school under their “REAL NAMES.” This is a speech-limiting move by the NYT. (And actually I often use readers recs ALREADY as a guide to what interests me–I don’t care if the people post under their real names or not–and if I have time and interest, I read comments that only one or five people have recommended–mostly they have low recs because they’re the five hundredth comment–but I like them and respect the commenters anyway, even if the Times doesn’t call them “Trusted.” Comment review for civility seemed to be working well at the Times–though it is hard to control trolls, and trolling (like at Huffpo) makes comments sections a nightmare of trash and boredom.

  • Anonymous

    This is a great roundup! Thanks so much for sharing. It seems that keeping the user informed of the steps left helps to increase conversion. From what we have tested at NFL hats 

  • http://twitter.com/Frentecivico Frente Civico

    Please help us raise awareness about protection o the environment and cultural heritage.   Our lnks and argumentation can be found in our frentecivico FB, Twitter profie.

  • http://twitter.com/Frentecivico Frente Civico

    Wonderful News from NYT again!

  • Anonymous

    We have a subscription to print NYT, but there’s only one login per family; my husband is already using that for comments. So, I created my own non-subscriber log-in for when I wished to comment.  With the new commenting system, it appears that one must log in in order to even read the comments.   Unfortunately, my non-subscriber log-in is limited to 20 article hits per month. Once again, NYT manages to punish actual subscribers in order to set up a higher paywall against non-subscribers. 

  • Bryan Murley

    Yes, that’s sort of the weakest point, IMHO

  • Anonymous

    The New York Times does get a lot of links to their stories around the web, but the main interactive conversations about them are taking place outside of their own site. 

    I’m debating which commenting system to use on my site, outside of the one built into my CMS system.  The Facebook commenting system does get you instantly noticed by more people, outside of your own site.  I like this commenting system from DISQUS, but there is no community associated with it.

    Having a community exchange of thought is very important.  I’m looking forward to seeing if Google+ will come out with a universal commenting system, much like Facebook’s commenting system.

  • http://twitter.com/yyz84 yyz84

    Ahh yes I see that now, I just tested it out.

    Well then I guess I will never become a trusted user because I refuse to have my personal life data mined and sold  to 3rd parties for no remuneration.

  • http://twitter.com/AndyTNumikon Andy T Numiko

    Yes but just saying “completely worthless” isn’t going to convince anyone is it? Tell us why you think it’s worthless.

  • http://twitter.com/CICM Center for Innovatio

    You can comment without Facebook, but you can’t be “trusted.”

  • http://twitter.com/jvinopal Jennifer Vinopal

    It actually doesn’t seem like a bad system to me, promoting people who aren’t trolls and don’t hide their identify. What system would work better for a digital audience?

  • Anonymous

    I’m talking about the commenting system, not the Times in general.

    Again, publishers continue to build functionality that suits the WRONG audience. I’m willing to bet this is another idea dreamed up by some editorial type with ZERO research on what would make it work for a digital audience.

    And yes, I do plenty that isn’t worthless, thankfully 11 years ago i left the publishing industry to get away from mistakes like this.

  • Anonymous

    I’m talking about the commenting system, not the Times in general.

    Again, publishers continue to build functionality that suits the WRONG audience. I’m willing to bet this is another idea dreamed up by some editorial type with ZERO research on what would make it work for a digital audience.

    And yes, I do plenty that isn’t worthless, thankfully 11 years ago i left the publishing industry to get away from mistakes like this.

  • http://twitter.com/jvinopal Jennifer Vinopal

    @mikehill33 So why do you bother to read it and and take the time to comment? Why not spend your time reading or doing something else that’s not “worthless?”

  • http://twitter.com/yyz84 yyz84

    Wow, I refuse to use Facebook because of their privacy policy so now I won’t be able to comment. Too bad because about once a week a comment of mine would be highlighted by the editor, and I would say once a month a comment of mine would be the most voted (popular) one on a big story. They have essentially silenced my voice because they demand I use the personal data mining company Facebook.

  • Anonymous

    Completely worthless, just like the Times.