Friday thread: Improving Slugger’s comments

One of Slugger’s virtues is its comments thread. Unlike a lot of blogs, Mick applies a certain standard and trolls, threats, sockpuppetry and flamebaiting are generally discouraged. This isn’t done perfectly or consistently because it’s a big job to do and involves hours of unfunded work. We do the best we can under the circumstances – and at least half the job is done when people find themselves occasionally clipped.

For the most part, commenters are better-behaved on Slugger than they are on most blogs because of this. This is doubly useful because – unlike most political group blogs, Slugger is multi-partisan. And it being based in Northern Ireland (where partisan differences are held less lightly than they are elsewhere) it’s no mean achievement.

But we recognise that we could do this better and do it more consistently. We’ve picked up bits of anecdotal evidence that women are less keen on rambunctious comment threads than men are, and like a lot of the political blogosphere, Slugger is fairly male-dominated. Poorly managed comment threads also make it harder for people to advance ‘apostate’ opinions and I think that it’s fair to say that Slugger would benefit from a wider range of political and social viewpoints.

It all helps. We’ll shortly be introducing a ‘flag this comment’ button to comments so that readers can help us with this be more consistent in managing this. Ban/deletes will still be down to Slugger’s editor’s prerogative, but at least we’ll miss less bad behaviour.

Deleting comments and banning / suspending commenters is only one side of the carrot-stick equation though, and we want to look at how we can positively encourage readers to sharpen the quality of their contribution to the comments thread. So we are planning to introduce this grid – in miniature – beside each comment:

(Note: I’m no designer – this is for demo purposes only).

When you write your comment, instead of hitting the Submit Comment button, you will instead be asked to click on a point on this graph that you think best represents the nature of your comment. Remember, no point on this graph is ‘wrong’ – purely adversarial comments with no evidence to back them up can sometimes add to a debate. But such comments are more likely to be problematic – and if Slugger were dominated by them, it would be a bad thing.

So, here’s what it would look like next to a comment in moment after you submit it:

Now, once you’ve submitted it, others may have the option to also rank your comment. Our suspicion is that – as long as your own assessment is fair – that they won’t. But if your judgement is wildly wrong (often because you have a different standard of ‘evidence’ to others) they may have the option to also click on the graph and rank your comment.

If they do that, the graph next to your comment could look like this:

And finally, all of this information would also appear on your profile page – when people click on the name next to your comment, they will be taken to your profile. This will display an aggregate map of your commenting history and it will look like this:

So – feedback time:

  1. Do you like this idea?
  2. Would it encourage you to comment more or less?
  3. Would it change the way that you approach commenting?
  4. Would you like or resent your profile having a map of your comments?
  5. Do you think that this idea would make the comments thread more hospitable and diverse?

Living in London but working all over Britain and Ireland. A left-leaning Labour Party member and blogger. I’m on twitter as @paul0evans1 and I blog mainly at the Local Democracy blog though I’m in lots of other places as well. I’m a massive fan of Google Reader – please follow me and share the better posts from your feed?