At the 140 Character Conference in New York this week, Jeff Jarvis had a bone to pick with the media industry (surprise!). This time, his issue is with comments. Namely, he thinks the process of commenting online is broken.

"I defended comments for years. But the problem is that comments are too often the voice of assholes."

What does Jarvis suggest to fix this problem? Well, speaking at a Twitter conference, he thinks the answer is to make comments more like Twitter.

Part of the problem, according to Jarvis, is that traditional media outlets don't particularly want to hear what people have to say. They want to create content and have people consume it.

"Newspapers don't like to hear the voice of people, and they are especially disturbed by the voice of assholes."

Often online, it seems like the voice of disgruntled users is the one that is the loudest, and becomes most prominent. Jarvis says this is only natural given the nature of most commenting systems.

"We allow comments only after we are done with what we're doing. It's inherently insulting. We finish our work or stories and say, "Now you can talk about them."

Jarvis thinks that feedback would be much more useful during the process of writing a story. Of course, many publications are using their comments to fuel new stories and continue the reporting process. But for Jarvis, that's not good enough. He thinks that the crowd would be more influential during the process of creating stories.

He champions groups like DemandMedia, which is having reporters tweet about stories as they're writing them and asks questions to get feedback before they're finished.

"If you open up the process you become more open. It gives respect to the crowd."

According to Jarvis, "The real magic in Twitter is following."  The knowledge that you can be unfollowed works as motivation for users to keep their content usable and relevant. In the comments section of news websites, it's assumed that people don't get the same kind of feedback. That's not always true. Sites like Gawker have made minor celebrities of their top commenters (New York magazine's commenters even got their own ad campaign last year).

But Jarvis' comments do get to the fact that Twitter is a much freindlier place than most online comment sections. As Ann Curry said yesterday: "There is a core goodness in people who are twitterers."

Jarvis thinks that media establishments have to think more about listening and learning than creating in social media.

"We in media have the wrong expectation. In fact, the internet is a place where people connect. The internet is not a medium, it's a place."

Of course, when it comes to practical advice on how to make this happen, Jarvis was less clear. He has no idea how to actually make comments more like Twitter, but he thinks that Twitter works as a wonderful curator of the junk that's always existed online.

"Interactivity 2.0 was comments. Interactivity 3.0 is what we're seeing right now. It's relationships and collaboration. The control is over, it's lost forever."

Brands are becoming accustomed to the fact that they no longer maintain tight control of their brands. Moving forward, it will be interesting to see who figures out the best way to curate news commentary online. Aside from simply adding Twitter mentions to news posts online, there are plenty of ways to improve commenting systems. For example, Gawker's had some success inverting the incentive structure of their comment system and making it harder to comment.

Commenting online may be broken, but that doesn't mean it will go away. As Jarvis said during his lecture, "the lecture format is bullshit." But that doesn't mean that you won't continue seeing him on the lecture circuit going forward.

Image: jaysbryant

Meghan Keane

Published 21 April, 2010 by Meghan Keane

Based in New York, Meghan Keane is US Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow her on Twitter: @keanesian.

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Comments (4)



I totally disagreed with some of the comments Jarvis made above. I was going to comment on here, but it got so long I thought I'd write a blog post: It's so frustrating that someone who has previously been incredibly forward-thinking about newspaper comments has gone as far as to insult the people using them ... what do you think? Ilana

over 8 years ago



So, "the lecture format" is bullshit, but Jarvis is going to keep collecting a paycheck for doing them anyway, lecturing about how other people should do things that even a genius like him has no idea how to do. Never mind that there are plenty of loud assholes on Twitter who get plenty of attention just for being loud assholes. Heck, how many well-publicized incidents have there been of the Twitter back-channel getting ugly during a presentation? And those are the ones that are well-known. I'm not knocking Twitter, just noting that it's not as Utopian as those who are so in love with the medium portray the site. As far as commenting systems being the moment when the so-called News Elite "allow" readers to discuss a story - what was stopping people from talking about it before? When major news goes down, people talk about it, be it on Twitter, Facebook or any other public discussion forum, using whatever information is available at the time. And people who have something to add frequently do make it into evil mainstream news articles. What's the problem? Far as moving to a public collaboration model - the question I'd throw out is how many people really want in on this? One thing I've noticed reading "future of news" commentary is that the people who crow the loudest about "two-way conversations" usually have highly inflated egos. As a freelance writer, I frequently tweet about what I'm working on and get zero feedback. Plenty of comments after an article goes live, though.

over 8 years ago


ugg classic 5815

tro mes mas, este especial por caer en Domingo el dia 11! Asi es que no hay escusa para no participar señores, señoras... será un dia memorable!

about 8 years ago


wally simpson

rather interesting he thinks everyone is qualified to participate in journalism and even actually funny that he thinks it's manageable . apparently when it comes to journalism he has gone the "citizen journalist" route which is basically another way of saying "underpaid and undervalued." sure, the main stream media has problems, but having everyone comment while the "work is in progress" is just nonsense. there were 7,000 comments on the recent wall street journal article "why chinese moms are superior."
imagine incorporating them all or even a fraction (there were some wonderful comments and dialogue going on). comments have their flaws but they beat pretty much anything that is out there now, including some of the absolute crap on twitter. twitter has it's place and replacing real journalism isn't one of them. aiding yes, replacing no. he is catering to the lazy sound bite crowd. go to the 60 minutes site. you will find some very thoughtful comments (perhaps because it was good journalism) along with a few "haters" but that goes with the territory - always has always will. it is a democracy. like twitter, comments make it easy. many of these people would have never written a letter.
........a few years back marc andreesson started a "death to the nyt" campaign. it was the epitome of arrogance. it would have been humorous if it had not been so ugly. as the saying goes "any jackass can tear down a barn, it takes a carpenter to built one." an old adage that would be wisely adhered to these days. there is no doubt there is some seriously "ugly hate fueled media" out there. all the more reason to support real journalism trying to do a professional's job.......without screaming and inciting people.
good luck to us all if we have to spend out time on twitter and FB to get our news.
but then again, we don't seem to be able to get enough of these overnight billionaires.

over 7 years ago

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