Online communities

Why we’ll never stop struggling over comment sections

Digiday | CNN | Digital Test Kitchen | Winnipeg Free Press
If ever there were a slam-dunk case against allowing Internet comments, it would be in the launch plan for The Daily Beast’s new Zion Square blog, about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which went up without them. Can you imagine the Backpage-like effort it would take to keep those readable? Josh Sternberg surveys some of the current thinking on comments:

There have been two main ways to deal with this problem. The absolutists view Internet commenting as messy but essential. The registrars believe real identities will do away with the willingness to spill bile. Neither solution is perfect, of course, because both are blunt approaches.

Sternberg leaves out people who do not value comments at all and those who believe anonymous commenting can be valuable (though perhaps he would include them in the “messy but essential” camp). Read more

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Rockville Central drops website for Facebook, offers eight lessons on Facebook news publishing

A little over 100 days ago, a community news blog in Rockville, Md., took a big leap. Founder and Publisher Brad Rourke and Editor Cindy Cotte Griffiths moved the entire operation of Rockville Central to a Facebook page.

“Facebook is where people, by and large, have decided to go for their first-stop online community activities,” Rourke wrote in the announcement post. “Which begs the question: Why have a separate site, and try to drag people away from Facebook? Why not go where they are?”

Rockville Central uses Facebook’s notes application to post news stories, which resemble blog posts with headlines, body text and comments. The site also uses simple wall posts and status updates to post short items and to share links to other news and photos. Read more


Holovaty: EveryBlock’s new community focus will ‘help you make your block a better place’

Monday afternoon, EveryBlock announced a major shift in focus, from a geographically-based, hyperlocal news site to a “platform for discussion around neighborhood news.”

In describing the changes, founder Adrian Holovaty wrote on the EveryBlock Blog that the site is moving away from a one-way, data-oriented news feed to a platform for human interaction based on that news:

While we’re not removing our existing aggregation of public records and other neighborhood information (more on this in a bit), we’ve come to realize that human participation is essential, not only as a layer on top but as the bedrock of the site.

“With this in mind, we’ve changed our site to be oriented around community discussion. The EveryBlock experience is still centered around places — blocks, neighborhoods, custom locations — but we’ve rebuilt it from the ground up to be about participation more than passive consumption.

Read more

What 12 journalists learned about community engagement and human interaction at SXSW

I spent time on both sides of the digital divide during my five days in Austin for South by Southwest Interactive, the annual apotheosis of all things technological.

Most of the time I was hyper-connected, checking the schedule with the SXSW iPhone app, texting people to try to meet up, e-mailing progress updates to my editor, and broadcasting panels via live blogs and Twitter.

But at night I lay my head in an Airstream trailer parked in someone’s back yard in East Austin, a world away from the throngs of geeks and pedicabs downtown. (Just doing my part to “keep Austin weird,” as they say.)

One morning as I tried to catch a bus downtown, I found myself walking with an Austin resident along 7th Street in a fruitless search for the bus stop. Read more


In move toward online civility, Bakersfield, Yuma, Lewiston shift commenting strategies

In the days since President Obama called for “a more civil and honest public discourse,” leaders across the country have vowed to make America kinder and more tolerant. Members of Congress — many of whom chose bipartisan seatmates for the State of the Union — spoke of limiting acrimony in Washington. The nation’s mayors signed a “civility accord” to reduce rancor at city halls.  New Jersey lawmakers proposed a resolution encouraging respect and goodwill throughout the state’s “stores, streets, and neighborhoods.”

But as challenging as it is to promote empathy among politicians — or courteous driving on the Garden State Parkway – some online content providers have taken on a task that may be almost as hard. They’re trying to bring civility to one of the places where it’s most rare — the “comments” section of news websites. Read more


5 Ways to Get People to Contribute Good Content for Your Site

As news organizations experiment with user-generated content, they’re learning that users are capable of creating quality content that can be turned into powerful projects. What’s not as clear: How can news organizations motivate people to submit the kind of content they’re looking for?

This was the topic of conversation during a recent panel discussion featuring Alexis Madrigal and Sarah Rich, two of the three co-founders of Longshot Magazine, and Laura Brunow Miner, the creator of Pictory. During the panel, which was held at last month’s Online News Association conference, the speakers shared tips on how to tap into the power of the community for stories.

Moderator Robin Sloan, who works for Twitter, pointed out that the panel wasn’t going to be about citizen journalism or examples of news organizations asking users to submit photos during breaking news events, for instance. Read more

0 Comments creates “reader engagement index” to track site performance

Nieman Journalism Lab

For the past two months, has been using a seven-part formula to create what its staff calls a reader “engagement index.” Lois Beckett writes that the formula is designed to gauge reader interest and participation in the site’s content, not simply page views or visits.

The equation looks a bit intimidating —  “Σ(Ci + Di + Ri + Li + Bi + Ii + Pi )” — but Beckett writes that it breaks down like this:

  • “Ci — Click Index: visits must have at least 6 pageviews, not counting photo galleries
  • Di — Duration Index: visits must … spend a minimum of 5 minutes on the site
  • Ri — Recency Index: visits that return daily
  • Li — Loyalty Index: visits that either are registered at the site or visit it at least three times a week
  • Bi — Brand Index: visits that come directly to the site by either bookmark or directly typing or come through search engines with keywords like ‘’ or ‘inquirer’
  • Ii — Interaction Index: visits that interact with the site via commenting, forums, etc.
Read more

Do community managers serve the community or the business?

Social Media Explorer

As media companies create new titles like “community manager,” “social media editor” and “director of engagement,” Jordan Cooper asks whether the people in those positions report to the community or the business.

He says they are ultimately responsible to the business and its objectives but suggests there is an inherent tension that should be part of the internal discussions:

“Many companies have their community managers dive straight into this social abyss with guns blazing – Twitter conversations, Facebook fan pages, user-generated content portals, official forum communities, e-mail contests and any other god-forsaken way the brand can ‘play the part’ of a customer-centric organization. But [do] they (and perhaps we) sometimes fail to first understand the exact status of a community manager position in relation to both parties in the relationship exchange?”

Cooper does not provide any answers, but this is something each company needs to work out for itself. Read more


Kommons Founder Sees Q&A Site as Way to Hold the Powerful Accountable

Social networking services have no doubt opened the lines of communication between citizens and public figures, but Cody Brown thinks they fall short in fostering two-way conversations. Politicians can easily ignore a voter’s question on Twitter. And there’s no easy way to chime in or track who asked what.

So Brown and former New York University classmate Kate Ray created Kommons. The site, which has been in beta mode since September, enables people to pose questions to anyone who has a Twitter account and to provide answers that aren’t limited to 140 characters.

“We’re trying to build public leverage from the ground up on every question,” Brown said in a phone interview. “Our goal is to be a fair place to ask and answer questions from anyone in the world.”

So far, Kommons has about 100 users. Read more


Comments return to the Portland Press Herald

Less than 48 hours after comments were removed from the Portland (Maine) Press Herald’s website, they are back, using newly installed moderation tools.

Comments were pulled Tuesday after what Publisher Richard Connor described as “vile, crude, insensitive, and vicious postings” on the site. The decision affected Portland’s, as well as the websites of the Morning Sentinel and the Kennebec Journal.

In a brief letter posted on the Press Herald’s site on Tuesday, Connor wrote that comments could return when it became possible to hold contributors accountable for what they post.

Comments did return early Thursday morning, using the Intense Debate moderation tools. A note on the paper’s Facebook page states, “The Portland Press Herald has ended a temporary suspension of online commenting. Comments are now being accepted under a new system. Read more

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