Slugger’s new comments boxes – update…

As I’ve mentioned a few times here, we’re going to be giving Slugger quite a major upgrade soon. The work is now underway at last.n The good news is that it won’t be falling over every time more than a few hundred of you want to look at it at the same time, or every time the server goes up the Swanney. The site will look a good deal better as well, and we’ll have a shiny new comments system. We’ve had advice from readers before on this, and we did a session at the Belfast PICamp on the subject, so here are our conclusions / instructions to the developers so far, along with a few questions.Firstly, you will be able to register as a commenter with the site – but only if you want to. You can still create ad-hoc user-names or comment anonymously . Some of our best comments come this way and we don’t want to lose them.

We won’t hold any data about you on the site apart from your email address and whatever username you choose for yourself and you’ll always be able to edit your ‘profile’ as a commenter.

If you want to, you can add things to your profile such as a Twitter feed, an RSS-feed to pick up articles from other sites (your own blog?), a fetching self-portrait, links to your Facebook profile, LinkedIn page and other good stuff like that. You’ll have the option (opt-in) to register for Slugger’s updates.

We will discourage impersonation though and unless your name actually is Martin McGuinness, we’ll probably ask you to change your chosen username to avoid any confusion – deliberate or otherwise.

If you do register, every comment you make will be archived against your commenter profile. You’ll be able to keep track of what you say – as will others.

We’re going to give the option to comment in threads, though you will still have the option to comment in the linear way that you do now. You’ll also be able to choose how you view comments.

Anyhow, here are our questions for you:

1. What do you think to this? We want the comments system to improve the quality of our comment thread – both for you as readers, and as a benefit to the wider site. To this end, we’re going to allow readers to ‘rank’ individual comments. One way would be a simple thumbs up / thumbs down option. Or we could have a slider between – say ‘conversational’ and ‘argumentative’. Or we could have a similar slider between ‘evidence’ and ‘opinion’? Or one between ‘original’ and ‘repetition’? We’ll have to tread a bit of a fine line here because we don’t want to make it too easy for everyone to dismiss some comments – thereby discouraging commenters. We all post a duff comment every now and again….

2. How do we incentivise commenters to improve their commenting? We may put something on your profile that will accumulate any data from the above comments-ranking system. If you post a lot of comments that are appreciated by fellow commenters, maybe you can build up a reputation as a ‘conversational’ commenter and your profile can get some kind of ‘badge’?. We *could* also have a ‘troll’ badge for the more persistent below-the-belt merchants (you know who you are!)

3. How do we make Slugger more inclusive? We like the fact that Slugger is a bit robust, but one downside that we’ve picked up is that some potential commenters – often people who may have something worthwhile to add – choose not to say anything on our threads because they’re worried that they’ll end up as troll-bait. We’re thinking of asking everyone who reads a thread to give it’s ‘conversational quality’ a ranking. Any thoughts?

4. Comment moderation: Though we’re keen to allow anonymous commenters, we’re thinking of pre-moderating them (but not pre-moderating well-established commenters) to discourage trollery and other undesireable behaviour. What

Lastly, we’re aiming to make the commenting system that we build available as an open source WordPress plug-in. This means that other blogs will be able to use it. Ideally, we’d like to build this in such a way that you will be able to comment on those blogs and have your comments indexed on your profile here (and vice versa – those blogs will also allow you to build up a profile there that can index the comments from here). Any comments on that?

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty