Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A vote for user comments signed with real names

Versión en español aquí.

A Spanish colleague who has been asked to develop the comments section of a new digital publication asked if it were better to require users to register or allow anonymous comments.

The dilemma is always quantity vs. quality, I told her. If the idea is to generate traffic, comments can do it, and some editors will be content with that.

Although the numbers might please the higher-ups in the short term, don’t expect comments to attract advertisers. YouTube has never made money because major advertisers are skittish about associating their brands with content that might be amateurish or in bad taste. Anonymous comments represent the same kind of risk.

Real names

Requiring users to register in order to comment tends to increase quality. Texas Tribune has a model comments policy that tells readers the expectations and standards: 

The Texas Tribune is pleased to provide the opportunity for you to share your observations about this story. We encourage lively debate on the issues of the day, but we ask that you refrain from using profanity or other offensive speech, engaging in personal attacks or name-calling, posting advertising, or wandering away from the topic at hand. To comment, you must be a registered user of the Tribune, and your user name will be displayed. Thanks for taking time to offer your thoughts.
Get in the game

Journalists themselves can improve the quality of comments by participating in the discussion. The Guardian has given its staff some guidelines for blogging and commenting. Here are some of them: 
  • Participate in conversations about our content, and take responsibility for the conversations you start.
  • Focus on the constructive by recognising and rewarding intelligent contributions.
  • Don't reward disruptive behaviour with attention, but report it when you find it.
  • Link to sources for facts or statements you reference, and encourage others to do likewise.

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