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The New York Times has been making changes to its UGC policy recently -enabling users to make comments directly on its blog pages but stopping short of allowing them on all articles.
Until the end of last year, it had no system for user participation, but has since started to add links to news sharing sites Newsvine and Digg so that comments could at least be left on these sites.
We felt at the time that this move, though an improvement on the previous policy, stopped short of properly embracing UGC, and that the NYT would benefit more from hosting comments on its own site, thus making it a stickier experience for users.
It now seems that the newspaper has changed its thinking, and has a number of blogs that readers can comment on. It has even experimented by adding reader comments to the homepage to entice users into the paper's blog section.
This is better, but I think the NYT would benefit from extending comments beyond the blogs and allowing users to add their opinions on all news stories. This would encourage people to return to the website to follow the discussions,
Remember that sticky websites attract lots more page impressions (pages are refreshed more often) which will keep The Men In Suits happy, even if there are a few moderation costs to factor in.
And yes, moderation is another big issue here. The NYT's comments policy is based on pre-moderation - when readers leave a comment, they have to wait until someone at the website has approved it before it appears on the site. Sensible from the NYT's perspective, but an annoyance to users.
Pre-moderation tends to be favoured by the conservative, the fearful, and the legally-minded. It also helps with quality control, but at a cost, because it doesn't send the right message to readers. Rather than supporting freedom of expression, readers often feel that pre-moderation is akin to censorship.
We've seen this here in the UK with The Times, which recently redesigned its website to have a greater focus on UGC. The new website is excellent - a real tour de force. But it's pre-moderation policy sucks. We've collectively stopped adding comments to The Times website, because they are rarely 'approved', for reasons best known to the moderation team. When they do appear, they appear late. This proves detrimental to the the discussion. Today's comments are old news tomorrow.
Other news sites, such as The Sun and The Guardian, allow users to post comments instantly and let users flag any offensive comments, which are then removed by moderators. Both sites are well-resourced in this area, and it shows.
A post-moderation strategy is a much better way to deal with comments and allows discussions to develop more quickly, which in turn will have users coming back to the site to keep up to date with the debate. It's smart to invest in UGC, but don't skimp on the moderators.