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