technology

Fix comments? Axe comments? Two different approaches

A troll doll

I’m speaking tonight at a Social Media Week event about the unsociable side of social networking – and how to deal with it. No prizes for guessing that I’ll be saying people should ignore conventional wisdom and try feeding the trolls (once, at least).

I’ll also be talking about how design choices can either encourage good quality discussion or foster the accumulation of low grade insults. How commenters behave isn’t just up to them; it’s up to people who design the sites on which they comment.

On which point, this news is very relevant:

Popular Science is closing comments on its articles. Citing “trolls and spambots”, the 141-year-old American magazine has decided that an open forum at the bottom of articles “can be bad for science”.

The decision was “not made lightly” said online content director Suzanne LaBarre – nor, appropriately, without some supporting scientific evidence. Citing research from a study by University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Dominique Brossard, the magazine argues that exposure to bad comments can skew a reader’s opinion of the post itself…

Matthew Ingram of paidContent echoed the sentiment of many, asking “why not try to fix comments instead of killing them?”

That’s what Google’s trying to do. The company has announced a major change to the way comments on YouTube, widely seen as the worst of the worst, are displayed.

Now, comments will be tied to a commenter’s Google+ profile – which they will have to have to be able to comment. When viewing comments, you’ll will be able to see posts from those who your Google+ circles show as friends and acquaintances, or who are “popular personalities” near the top of the thread; by contrast those from random passersby are relegated further down the list.

As already occurs, the video’s creator will have a privileged place in the thread. But so too will “popular personalities” on YouTube.