I sometimes blog on the process of moderating blog comments. I realize it’s a bit “inside baseball,” as most readers don’t comment or run blogs that allow them. But I see Internet comment threads as a new and relatively important kind of online discussion, and I’m very interested in the conditions in which comment threads tend to be useful or just noise. In my view, having a really good comment thread is a terrific asset to a blog: It allows the post to be the beginning of a conversation, with the rest of the conversation carried on it the thread. The interesting and new question is, what are the conditions of helpful comment threads? What kind of comment policies and software leads to the best, most interesting comment threads, and which don’t?
In my experience, there are two basic conditions of strong comment threads. Here’s the first condition: Comments need to be relatively open and accessible to those using a pseudonym. If you make it too hard to comment, or you require real names, most will stay away. They won’t want to engage, for a range of personal and professional reasons.
And here’s the second condition: There needs to be some way to moderate threads to delete inappropriate comments or ban commenters who are out of line. For every one Internet commenter who is consistently thoughtful and interesting, there are X Internet commenters who are either inclined to be or can be coaxed into becoming abrasive and obnoxious. Consider the well-known “Greater Internet fuckwad theory” from the site Penny Arcade:
There’s a lot to that, with an important caveat: When the site is a popular blog with hundreds of commenters, some of the commenters will be “normal people” and some won’t. In any collection of that many people who can [...]