Just yesterday I wrote here about the shift toward less anonymous commenting happening on the web. And today Gawker Media released some interesting numbers proving how weighting reputation has worked as an incentive across their properties.
Last summer, Gawker introduced a tiered commenting system, giving more weight to comments from trusted readers and making it harder for other comments to get noticed. What has Gawker found since then?
Instituting a class system in their comments section has made more readers comment, more often.
Gawker's new commenting system inverted the commenting structure of its sites. Writes NiemanLab:
"In essence, Gawker’s “class system” means unknown commenters get stuck behind a “show all discussions” link few users will click. What most readers will see are only the musings of trusted commenters and the few comments from the riff-raff that either Gawker staff or trusted commenters have decided to promote — the “featured discussions.” (The system also put the most recent comments on top, not on bottom as at most sites. That would seem to reduce the possibility that a dumb early comment would sway the chain of comments that follow it into irrelevance.)
Originally, there was a steep descline in commenting. Gawker's chart represents September 2005 to the present. The dip in July is concurrent with the policy changes:
But the numbers quickly rebounded across Gawker's properties. Gawker CTO Tom Plunkett writes:
"Though there were some calls to do so, purging commenter accounts is not a solution for the out-of-control commenter community. Nor is a large moderation staff. We believe pruning, and a commenting platform as we have implemented, will lead to increased participation, while at the same time encouraging quality. This data, and the subjective opinion of many, seem to back this assertion."
Gawker shifted the incentive structure with tiered commenting. By placing new comments on top of old comments and letting the best comments (at least according to the sites' editors) float to the top, Gawker encouraged commenters to do better work for them. And these numbers show it worked.
Of course, critics can beg to differ as to whether the comments are high quality now, but the policy certainly helped quiet the cat fighting tiffs that used to dominate the network's commenting sections. Also, a big concern with any policy shift like this is that it will stifle the community that has developed. But Gawker's numbers show that that wasn't the case. In fact, it appears that Gawker readers actually care what Gawker editors think about their posts.