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Toward a better conversation at MiddletownPress.Com

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Middletown Press Editor Viktoria Sundqvist explains an important change tonight to the online story comment system at MiddletownPress.Com.

Instead of going up immediately and unfiltered, online story comments are now being screened by monitors prior to being posted on the site.

The downside is that there might see a slight lag time before you see your comment appear. We don’t expect that to be a long lag time, and feel it is far outweighed by the benefit of being able to screen out comments that are obscene and blatantly and intentionally untrue.

When we implemented a similar change at RegisterCitizen.Com last year, we expected to see a drop-off in the overall amount of story comments because of that loss of immediate back-and-forth debate. But after an initial dip, we found that the overall number of comments came back stronger than before. We think that’s because some community members who were so disgusted by the nature of what the nastiest comments left our forum, and came back when it was safe again to have a decent conversation about local news and sports.

Why don’t we switch to a “registration” system, some have asked?

First of all, if the goal in suggesting that is to require people to identify themselves and “own” their statements, registration does not force anyone to identify themselves. It is still an anonymous system, as it’s easy enough to register as “Mickey Mouse” and create an email account such as mickeymouse@yahoo.com. And it would not cut down on abusive comments among those who really want to be abusive. Other than make it more difficult for everyone to comment in the first place. There are programs that allow you to login via your Facebook or Twitter identity and comment, and that’s the closest thing out there on the web (but still possible to manipulate) to an “identity” system. I can see us adopting some kind of hybrid system down the road where you can sign in and identify yourself that way, but also choose to comment anonymously instead if you wish. And it will be up to the reader to consider what stock they put in anonymous comments vs. identified comments.

More importantly, the nature of the web is that readers find stories based on topics of interest to them, referred by Google searches, friends’ recommendations on Facebook, etc. That means they might be reading about river quality, or dirt bike racing, on 15 different sites. If we all required separate registrations, it would kill any kind of conversation. We feel the input of people who visit occasionally and don’t want to take the time to register is valuable.

Written by mattderienzo

March 4, 2011 at 10:03 pm