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For many online publishers, user-generated content is often created through commenting systems that allow users to engage in discussion around a publisher's content. In many cases, these user-generated comments are more interesting than the content they are in response to. That's a boon to publishers.

But comments can be problematic. Trolls and spammers, often anonymous, can wreak havoc and turn a friendly experience into an experience plagued by hate and vitriol.

This weekend, Matthew Ingram, a writer at GigaOm and former community editor for The Globe and Mail, weighed in on the topic of anonymous comments, asking "Are they good or evil?"

His post is interesting, and well worth a read. For publishers, the debate about such matters is far more than just theoretical. User-generated content can't be ignored, and developing a sensible comments policy is a must for publishers who permit users to interact around their content.

Here are five tips for doing just that.

  • Know who your users are. Different kinds of content bring out different kinds of commenters. You can't develop a sensible commenting policy unless you understanding who your users are and what motivates them to leave comments.
  • Check your content. High-quality content is far more likely to produce high-quality comments. Therefore if you're worried about the type of comments you're receiving, you might want to evaluate the possibility that your content is part of the problem. Needless to say, publishers should not be surprised that sensationalist headlines and linkbait is a motivator for less-than-quality commenting.
  • Let the community filter. As a publisher, you should be able to trust your users. If you've built a loyal, engaged audience, chances are that members of it are more than willing to help you filter comments. Filtering can range from the promotion and demotion of comments (eg. a voting system) to a simple spam reporting mechanism.
  • Incentivize reputation-building. In many cases, debates over the value of identity really, when you get right down to it, revolve around reputation. Instead of, say, forcing all users to provide a first and last name, thinking that this will keep commenters on their best behavior, look at ways that you can reward commenters who add value. After all, that's what you really want. Points, rankings, special profile features (eg. avatars, user titles, etc.) and the promotion of superb comments are but a few of the ways different websites effectively encourage commenters to add value.
  • Don't throw the baby out with the bath water. Nobody likes bad apples, but a few of them never hurt anybody. Trolls, spammers and troublemakers can never be completely defeated, but if they're not ruining the experience for everyone else, consider whether or not draconian measures are really warranted.

It's important to remember that commenting functionality is an outlet for human thought, and emotion. What form both take usually depends on the environment individuals are placed in. A good comments policy is designed to create a good environment.

Patricio Robles

Published 24 March, 2010 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2393 more posts from this author

Comments (2)

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Rob Mangiafico, CTO at LexiConn Internet Services, Inc.

Some good points Patricio. For WordPress blogs, we've found the combination of:

  1. Akismet plugin for catching spam
  2. Cookies for Comments plugin that requires the user has cookies enabled to verify they are a real person
  3. Allowing repeat commenters to comment immediately
  4. Queuing comments with more than one link in them for review

works quite well for weeding out 99%+ of all spam comments. Make sure the comments are threaded for easier back and forth discussion, and you'll have a good system to start from.

over 6 years ago

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Tia Fisher

Hi Thanks for your article, and I completely agree that comments should be moderated, and that the community istelf can be really helpful in the filtering process as you have said.

However, taking into account the 'broken window effect', whereby a small sign of neglect - the broken window in a house - can lead to others assuming it is not cared for and quickly trashing the house wholelsale, I don't agree that a 'few bad apples never hurt anybody'.

If the community is strong and can ignore them, fine, but the aim should be always to keep the comments as clean and spam-free as is possible, especially if there is a filter which brings busy comment threads to the top.

As I help to manage a moderation and community management company, I have obviously got a vested interest, but I would strongly recommend employing paid moderators, either inhouse or outsourced. Trained, knowledgeable and experienced moderators can work very quickly, are adept at diffusing difficult threads before they get out of hand, are trained on laws relating to sub judice or libel, and can react quickly when illegal content needs to be reported to the authorities.

I hope this helped :-)

over 6 years ago

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