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Searching for Comment Moderation’s Silver Bullet Solution

Human moderation is still a publisher’s best bet, but it comes at a price.



By Caysey Welton
09/01/2013

To avoid trolls and curb distracting dialogues, some publishers have given up on commenting by removing the option all together or burying the section at the bottom of the page. Others, however, are confronting the challenge head on and finding ways to leverage their comments as valuable ancillary content.

To be realistic, not all content endemically lends itself to promoting richer conversations. What’s more, not all publishers have the resources to devote to moderation or new technology.

Given that, publishers have to first ask if commenting can drive more traffic and engagement to their site. If the answer is yes, the second question becomes: How can we best elevate the good comments and keep the conversation moving forward on the page?

Go Big
Gawker Media has one of the most aggressive commenting strategies with its Kinja platform. The current iteration was rolled out in the spring of 2013 as an antidote to the vapid remarks that were rampant on Gawker.com and the company’s other verticals.

The platform was built in-house and is fully scalable to allow for millions of users to create profiles, a custom homepage, store articles and post user-generated blogs. Think of it more as a content-centric social network, rather than just a commenting platform.

In addition to the resources needed to build out the platform, Gawker’s editors also police their own articles to showcase the best comments or image annotations tied to each story.

Let the Editors Do the Heavy Lifting
Gawker isn’t the only publisher asking its editors to step in and moderate conversations. In fact, that practice is almost the standard now.

Forbes, IGN, Patch and the New York Times are just a few examples of publishers that utilize editors as moderators. In fact, Louis DVorkin, chief product officer at Forbes, tells Folio: that moderation expectations are built into editorial contracts.

That notion evokes the question: How much time is spent writing versus moderating discussions?

The answer can result in a catch-22.

For lean editorial teams, time is perhaps the most precious resource, which means moderation could quickly take a backseat as deadlines loom near. But in order to maintain engagement and keep the conversation moving, moderation is fundamental, meaning that editors have to stay on for the long haul and ride out each conversation to the end.

Start A Neighborhood Watch
The Atlantic has found one solution to that problem. Early in 2013 it “deputized” two trusted readers to moderate senior editor Ta-Nehisi Coates’s article comments.

“When we started the experiment the thinking was to see if it works so we can scale it. We do think it’s working, so now we’re thinking about whether it’s time to broaden it to beyond Ta-Nehisi,” says digital editor Bob Cohn.

Allowing dedicated readers to moderate comments addresses both the challenges of keeping the threads on point and freeing up an editor’s time. Nevertheless, it’s not a perfect solution, nor is it universal.

Cohn says that it works for The Atlantic because it has an engaged and qualified audience. “We believe our readers are as smart or smarter than our writers,” he says. However, in reality, this is not a luxury all publications share, nor should assume.

Nevertheless, for some, this could be a viable and scalable solution that maintains a community on the homepage, instead of farming it out to social media channels. And best of all, it’s cheap.

By Caysey Welton
09/01/2013







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