Slugger’s comment thread rebuild – redux

You may recall that – a few weeks ago – I posted an idea on how we can add value to Slugger’s comments thread. It met with a mixed reaction, and while some of you liked the idea and saw possibilities in it, there were also some extremely perceptive objections. As a result, we have ruled the idea out of bounds.

We are keen, however, to try and give Slugger more of a community dimension for a number of reasons, so we’ve been trying out a few other ideas.

The site only works if it’s moderated, and moderating the volume of comments we get sometimes is a big – unpaid – job for Mick. It has been made easier by the fact that Slugger has a well-established ‘play-the-ball-not-the-man’ rule and the commenters reinforce it more here than they do on other sites. We now want to make this community support for Mick work more effectively and all of you will be able to ‘flag’ a comment for review.

Reinforcing the comments policy

All this will do is notify the moderator that a particular comment may be in breach of our comments policy and that it may need editing / deleting. In extreme cases, it will notify us that a commenter needs a warning or even a ban, though we are only asking you to flag comments – nothing else.

If a post has been ‘flagged’ by a number of people, these flags will not be visible and only the site’s moderator will be aware of it. There is no benefit to someone vexatiously flagging a post because they disagree with it. Repeated inappropriate flagging can – after all – result in a warning or a ban from the site. We already do this informally and a flagging system will just make it easier for the moderator – and it may help to make commenters more concious of the site’s rules.

Providing every registered user with an archive of their posts and comments

At the moment, if you click on the name of someone who is posting to the blog, you will see that if takes you to a short profile of them (they can edit this or leave it blank) and an archive of their posts to Slugger. It currently doesn’t also provide an archive of their comments on other posts and we’d like to fix that.

Secondly, we want to give posters the option to invite readers to ‘friend’ them on Facebook, follow them on Twitter or LinkedIn or subscribe to an RSS feed of their posts or comments.

Thirdly, registered commenters (as opposed to bloggers) don’t have a profile on the site at the moment. We’d like to change that so that they can have an archive of the comments they’ve made on the site. This will make it easier to find old comments. These users will also have the option to add a description and link to a Twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn profile of themselves.

Building communities and rewarding good contributions

But we think we come up with a useful variation. We think that it would be interesting if every logged-in visitor to the site had the option to agree / disagree with either a post or a comment using a simple ‘slider’ that looks very roughly like this:

Then – and only if you ‘agree’ with a post – you will have the option to ‘recommend’ it for the quality of argument / evidence. We’ve sort-of nicked this idea from a project called Opinion Space that the Obama administration has been trying out. There’s a good summary of the project here but a shorter version of it is that it’s less useful to know whether lots of people agree / disagree with a viewpoint (lots of bad arguments have millions of followers) than it is to know which arguments are particularly well rated by people who agree with them.

So, each of you that opt in to this idea (and we’d hope that you would all at least give it a try) will have a sidebar on your profile that looks something like this mockup:

We’d muck around with the number of people that we list as agreeing / disagreeing, and you would probably needed to grade someone’s comments more than three times for them to register as single ratings would be fairly useless.

At some point in the future, we may even pull out the agree-disagree data and see if we could produce a visual representation of our community of users in the same way that Opinion Space does – but that would definitely have to be in v.2 or later…..

So what do you think?

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?

29 thoughts on “Slugger’s comment thread rebuild – redux

  1. sounds a bit more managable Paul, couple of questions, should all “swearing” be “flagged” and let the moderator decide if it is justifable in context?
    Whilst I happy to have post achived, I’m not so sure about comments, alot of them at just “chat” and I would prefer if they disappeared after a yr or so.
    The agree/disagree sounds interesting, so long as it dosnt become tribal, or intimidate those who have given a perspective outside the normal concensus.

  2. It’s up to you what you flag – ultimately, Mick will deal with it according to his own lights the way that he does currently. I don’t think there are hard-and-fast rules on swearing now and all this does is make the current moderation task easier.

    On the comments, if you do a lot of them, they’ll kinda disappear themselves down the list. I think that asking you to un-archive your comments would be an ask-too-far.

    Personally, I suspect that the agree/disagree thing will actually encourage people out of consensus – everyone is different, but I’d be disappointed if many people agreed with me on everything. It may end up making a virtue of originality – but we’d need to run it to see.

    One thing though – if it doesn’t work, we can get rid of it. It’s an experiment as much as anything.

  3. I think it will be tribal, but in good way. You might find, if we can ever get to the point of maping this in the way the State Dept has that people form into surprisingly irregular tribes… with people agreeing over some policy issues and not on others…

    As for swearing, most of the worst ones already mean the post will be reserved for moderator to approve or otherwise….

    But in any case I would not make that the critical issue. It’s whether or not you consider it to be a breach of public taste. I got pulled up for referring to the Queen as “Her Madge”… because one of our readers (and maybe there were more of them) feel it was disrespectful…

    Such matters can be a fine line… (although in that case, I would not have repremanded myself since it’s perfectly acceptable practice in almost every other part of the Kingdom)…

    Some swearing can be genuinely funny, and apposite… I would not like to red it out completely…

  4. And, unless I have got this wrong, it may give people who don’t want to comment directly on a given subject, a lower and less risky threshold to cross to register in their views.

  5. I’ve noticed that the new Belfast Telegraph comments section seems to be getting quite busy, they use the like/dislike buttons and are a good edition.

  6. I hope the agree/disagree slider doesn’t encourage comments on its own, like that which you find on CiF with some people demanding to know why so many people recommended a particular comment. Such comments are the blog equivalent of a handbrake in a canoe.

  7. It won’t flag up numbers RS, so there shouldn’t be a stimulus for any such tangential distraction…

  8. I think you have a point on the unexpected tribes that could arise from this system and it does serve as an incitement to then say why you hold the opinion thus expressed, so I would expect it to increase contributions. If it is true that the confrontational style often found here is dissuasive to a female audience, one could reasonably expect the flagging system to help in that regard.

    I thought the matrix idea had potential though, and would suggest that perhaps a vertical axis based on how informative a post/comment is could be of interest in terms of adding value.

    I can see a weakness with an agreement scale. It lends itself to arguments rather than statements of fact, so might be appropriate for Brian Walker, for example, than Pete Baker. Whether this means you would like to encourage more opinion pieces in the posts is another question, and if so I would agree with your idea, given the added value the blogosphere adds includes notably the interpretation of the ‘facts’ presented in the mainstream media. Perhaps when Pete draws a particular dialectic to a close, he could invite comments on such a scale.

    Unrelated, but as you’d expressed a certain interest in the fate of Le Monde, you may have seen that it’s been taken over by the triumvirate led the by the creator of Free, an ISP and soon to be mobile network. His, and Orange’s, interest was based on the premise that ISPs depend on content for success, that an independent press is a key part of valuable content, and that in the reciprocal benefit could lie the solution to the crisis facing the media. This seems infinitely preferable to the Murdoch model in terms of sustaining independent press and the blogosphere.

  9. On the female thing we’ve had some great guest blogs from three new women bloggers which have added some much needed breadth and depth to the Slugger offering. I’ll see if we can prompt one or two to bring us more.

  10. All good ideas, with the possible exception of the like/dislike option. Could get very close to the rating option proposed last time and could be fraught with problems.

  11. Agreed. I do think that’s likely to be the most effective approach; I look forward to the results.

  12. If we want to encourage people to use evidence in their answers, ask them to say how sure they are of their opinion.

    For example, you could have a thumbs up or down to say whether you agree or disagree. But you would also have to move a pointer on a slider somewhere between (I am sure and I can prove it) and (it is just a feeling I have). That would force people to think a little before they rate.

    If you want to see how that kind of slider works, take a look at . Now that is an educational game to train decision-makers to better handle uncertainty when making decisions. Play enough quizzes and you get a calibration curve showing when you are over-confident like a rogue trader, or under-confident. You can train yourself to be a better bookie.

    But apart from that, I think this explicit acknowledgement of known/unknown, certain/uncertain could help in online debates.

  13. Seems ok. Certainly worth trying since, as you say, you can pull the plug if it doesn’t work out.

  14. I like the user stats idea – I think it helps people make up their own minds about a commenter’s status and stance rather than relying on how other people view them.

  15. Here are the results of the Neverlands jury

    Ability to ‘flag’ a comment for review. Yes

    Repeated inappropriate flagging can result in a ban . Yes

    All users to have an archive. Yes

    Friend option. Yes, albeit in the two months of my blog’s existence I have yet to be befriended or followed by anyone.
    My daughter thinks this is sad, I think it is cool. If I could disable the follow me option I would.…… A prophet without honour in his own country lapel badges will be available shortly.

    Slider. No or should that be strong disagreement, very strong disagreement, robust disagreement, muscular disagreement or “with every breath I breathe” disagreement. Keep it binary with thumbs up and thumbs down and let the aggregate number show the strength of opinion.

    Opinion space. No. A visual representation of our community in terms of agreement or disagreement serves what purpose on this site. For Obama spotting the next herd of wildebeest to follow sorry lead is a useful tool but on Slugger its just a variation on tribal head counting. In this part of the world we are a binary society, we very often live the dialectic, and we need to move forward. Perhaps the best we can achieve is to ask and honestly respond to the question are we better informed as a result of this thread, and with each positive response recognise that we are moving forward, tiny step by tiny step, to a more tolerant society with stronger mutual respect.

  16. Articles,

    On the lack of friends, Millwall used to have a lovely chant (tune: Rod Stewart’s ‘Sailing’)

    “No one likes us
    No one likes us
    No one likes us
    We don’t care
    We are Millwall
    Super Millwall
    We are Millwall
    From The Den”

    Personally, I will regard it as a badge of honour if I don’t have many people ‘close’ to me in terms of agreement.

    The Opinion Space-style visualisation is a ‘can-have’ rather than a feature. It just occured to me that – if we downloaded the data, it would make an interesting visualisation of how people on slugger relate to each other. As with a lot of these things, you never know *how* interesting they will be until you see them. Sometimes they’re disappointing, sometimes they’re interesting.

  17. Hello Paul

    I suppose I’d better declare I was once a Leeds supporter, cue you bristling, growling and baring teeth, until I fell under the spell of KK and joined the Toon Army.

    Given you’re probably still snarling or spitting in disgust ( at my being a turncoat) I suppose i’d better feed you a morsel or two.

    I very much take your point about not knowing until we try it so give it a go. I wouldn’t want to belong to that thoughtpool that resists the new or condemns without trying . Such sloppy mindsets go hand in hand with stereotyping and namecalling. Shameful really.

    Similarly on your part turn the TV on at 3.00pm. It will take a few minutes to adjust (you, not the telly) but it’s actually football. Unrecognisable I know and light years away from your usual Saturday fayre but go on give it a go.

    Seriously, point taken, let’s suck it and see.

    Incidentally wasn’t it Millwall that played Iran for some reason in the mid noughties at the Den. A few Iranian female supporters were clothed in the full burkha and the chant went up “Get your faces out for the lads”. Very politically incorrect, very disrespectful , and apologies one and all,but very funny.

  18. In general good! However for me personally there is one serious omission from the previous format : I am referring to the preview facility.

    I will cheerfully admit to being dyslexic and I cannot spell for nuts, never could and at this stage of my life never will. I have learned to live with it and work around it. By law of averages there must be more than a few others like me out there!

    For some reason or the other I was able to see and pick up things in the old preview that I cannot do in this format. I would very much like to see this back. Any possibility of this happening ?

    I am also an Apple computer person, it is mainly stable and problem free but there is one annoying problem since the change over, I would like to know if it effects other Apple users : the log in facility is frequently lost in slugger, it used to be several times a night, it is now down to a few times a week, but it is never the less a distraction that I can do with out. It only applies to slugger.

    Any ideas out there?

  19. Agree that the preview is a great loss.

    Also have this problem: should I be away from home and access my computer and slugger remotely from someone else’s computer I cannot contribute, as if my registration doesn’t kick in. Any way round this? Am I doing something wrong?

  20. The comment preview function will be back soon.

    I’ve got a list of upgrades that we’ve prepared and we are going to roll them out at a time that the site is quiet – that’s all.


    All you need to do is make sure that you remember your user-name and password and then you can comment from anywhere – make sure you don’t allow any other computers to ‘save’ your login though – it will usually ask you – just say ‘Never’ (think ‘Rev Ian’) – that should make it easy to remember 😉

  21. Paul
    You’re a star…will help me when I am granni sitting in Brighton (when on proper hols, Slugger takes a back seat).

  22. Good to hear that preview will be back . Overall it sounds like an improvement . Being able to look back at archived users / regular commenters will be good. Not sure about the slider assessment .

    To misphrase a certain wise Scotsman name of Burns ;

    O wad Mick the giftie gie us to see oursels as ithers see us!’

    Overall I’d say go for the change but be ready for to act quickly to rescue from ‘unintended consequences . I’d suggest a ‘trial ‘ period of perhaps a month or two and then a review with modifications if necessary .

  23. Off topic, sorry, but I didn’t know where to ask this.

    Why is there no mention on BBC NI of the death of David Dunseith’s wife Roisin? The BelTel and UTV cover it in detail, the second of course because she worked there.

    What’s going on here? No mention by Wendy Austin on Talkback, the programme he hosted for 2 decades. She took over from him and Lord only knows why.

    Is there something rotten at the Beeb that I don’t know about?

  24. Sad news . Perhaps just an oversight on the part of the BBC ?

    Condolences to Mr Dunseith and family on their loss . David Dunseith always struck me as a broadcaster with uncommon common sense probably the best on this island and the other .

  25. Big Maggie ,

    ‘Off topic, sorry, but I didn’t know where to ask this.’

    Perhaps the slugger o’toole site reformers might consider a permanent ‘thread’ devoted to what I will term for convenience sake call Flaggers whereby regular users or even not so frequent commentators can enter some newsworthy item for the record . The Blogging team can then either take up the theme if they deem it to be worthwhile ? Just an idea ?

  26. Having spent the day drinking good Donegal poteen….I think the proposal is……..worthwhile.

  27. Meaning the idea floated by P. Evans.
    VAST improvement on initial multiple-choice -type proposal of yestermonth.
    Could be interesting!(bring back preview)

  28. “Perhaps just an oversight on the part of the BBC ?”

    Perhaps. Not that they overlooked the recent death of Gerry Ryan, an Irish radio presenter.

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