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Comments About Comments 276

Posted by samzenpus
from the talk-talk-talk dept.
theodp writes "This weekend's NY Times is all-about-the-comments. First, Michael Erard recounts the history of Web site comments and explains how their technical origins have shaped the actual commentary we've come to expect as usual today. On dealing with people-behaving-badly, Erard writes, 'Only a few [high-traffic sites] seem to have tried user-moderation systems like the one developed by Slashdot's creator, Rob Malda. Founded in 1997, Slashdot rapidly began to suffer from what Malda called 'signal-to-noise-ratio problems' as tens of thousands of users showed up. Rather than embracing the chaos (which was a hallmark of Usenet, another digital channel of communications) or locking things down with moderators (which e-mail lists did), Malda figured out a way for users to moderate one another. Moderation became like jury duty, something you were called to do.' Next, NY Times community manager Bassey Etim, who oversees 13 comment moderators, offers up his comments on comments, agreeing that 'the comments are where the real America is.' Finally, there's Gawker's next-generation Kinja, which aims to further blur the lines between stories, blog entries, and comments."
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Comments About Comments

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  • Like this? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 23, 2013 @12:01PM (#44924625)

    Personally, I like making comments on comments. I especially like self-referencing ones.

  • So many (Score:3, Funny)

    by djupedal (584558) on Monday September 23, 2013 @12:02PM (#44924631)
    . . . comments on my comments!
  • by Andrio (2580551) on Monday September 23, 2013 @12:03PM (#44924653)

    Earn my blessing, or my wrath!

    • by marcello_dl (667940) on Monday September 23, 2013 @12:12PM (#44924769) Homepage Journal

      except you can't use them in this thread...

    • Not in this thread (unless things have changed since I last had mod points), that's another good thing about user-moderation. You can prevent people from using them as a weapon in discussions they themselves have posted in.

      • by mcgrew (92797) * on Monday September 23, 2013 @01:10PM (#44925523) Homepage Journal

        Ah, but there's the evil metamoderation. I've had my own comments come up when metamoderating!


  • by iampiti (1059688) on Monday September 23, 2013 @12:04PM (#44924655)
    It's obvious that comments are what make some websites attractive. This is one of them.
    In Slashdot I usually find very interesting what other people think about the news. Sometimes, there're some jewels: Comments about people who really know what the news is about and offer their perspective. I same those comments as bookmarks. I wonder why there's not a "favorite" option to save them.
    • And the rest of the time, we're subjected to people shouting how much they disagree with the parent, usually in the most uninteresting manner possible, usually focusing on a tangential piece of the parent post, really beating the drum on how wrong it is. This post is almost certainly no exception, because while I agree with the premise of your post, I find that it misses the massive amount of chaff(that gets modded up, no less) that hides the wheat.

      • by iampiti (1059688)
        Of course there's a lot of horrible comments, but that's a given on any site and there's not much you can do about it. In addition, moderation is no silver bullet and can both easily miss good comments and bury good ones because they don't coincide with the majority opinion. My point still stands: There're some great comments and opinions here.
      • You misspeled a word. Therefore your wrong.
      • by Sarten-X (1102295) on Monday September 23, 2013 @01:05PM (#44925457) Homepage

        chaff(that gets modded up, no less)

        That's a self-sustaining mechanism of the Slashdot hivemind.

        Despite our best wishes to the contrary, Slashdotters are terribly biased humans. We just know what's right, because we are all of such high intelligence and scientific mind, so we are blind to our own biases. Of course, anyone who agrees with us is probably coming to the same conclusion only because they are smart and rational, too... so we should mod them up, of course, for being such a fine, upstanding Slashdotter like ourselves. Should we then ever need to examine our own judgement, we have the karma system and our comment history showing that we were modded up, reinforcing the consensus regardless of truth.

        This is painfully obvious on any thread concerning law, privacy, Big Data, religion, or economics. The hivemind has made up its mind on most aspects of these matters, so any comment parroting the approved opinion will be modded up, while any comment that opposes will be modded down, regardless of fact. Interestingly, these are fields in which the majority of Slashdotters are not experts, or even likely to be professionally involved in.

        Consider law, for instance. There are very few actual lawyers regularly on Slashdot, and also very few who have any sort of legal education at all, but any story discussing the intricacies of patents or free speech is bound to have hundreds of comments, mostly along the lines of "patents are bad" or "I can say anything, anytime, anywhere, to anyone", and the mods will happily push such comments up to +5, Insightful. Occasionally a real lawyer will stumble in and offer some actual insight, but even if their post is well-received, it is limited to being only equal to the popular drivel, so it is quickly drowned out.

        A system I've seen work well elsewhere is to have admin-promoted "top comments" for each story, where the admins doing the selection are encouraged to pick comments that are relevant, accurate, and unusual. a dozen comments repeating the same sentiment won't be picked, but one that puts forth a well-reasoned argument to the contrary is more likely.

        • by i kan reed (749298) on Monday September 23, 2013 @01:07PM (#44925493) Homepage Journal

          Then you simply replace hivemind, for Dice Holdings Approved Minds. That doesn't seem superior on the face of it.

        • You're missing the aim here - it's not to pick one, two or three "best" comments, it's to discount things that are not worth reading. In a article, you end up with hundreds of posts that are moderated as high as they can be (+5). As long as you have that minimal number of moderators who appreciated that comment, it will rise. That's as much input from the moderators as one should want - reduce noise, but don't shape the conversation.

      • Is there a discussion website with a higher signal-to-noise ratio in the comments? Even if the story is total crap, it is not hard to find brilliant comments right here on Slashdot. I don't think we have any reason to complain, as better just does not seem to be possible. (And here I am nominally disagreeing with a comment which explicitly bashes boring comments that do the same... bah)
    • by Thanshin (1188877) on Monday September 23, 2013 @12:13PM (#44924789)

      I same those comments as bookmarks. I wonder why there's not a "favorite" option to save them.

      Everyone should have a single "Supermod" point once per month that would work as a normal mod point except it would allow going past +5.

      So after the holidays we could quickly read the articles with only the very few +6+ posts.

      • by rwyoder (759998)

        Everyone should have a single "Supermod" point once per month that would work as a normal mod point except it would allow going past +5.

        So after the holidays we could quickly read the articles with only the very few +6+ posts.

        Unless it goes to 11, I'm not impressed.

      • by houghi (78078)

        I can agree with that if we can get a 'Delete this story" on April first.

    • by SJHillman (1966756) on Monday September 23, 2013 @12:26PM (#44924993)

      "It's obvious that comments are what make some websites attractive. This is one of them."

      It's sure as hell not the unique, timely stories with well-edited summaries that keeps people coming back to Slashdot.

    • It's obvious that comments are what make some websites attractive. This is one of them.
      Not a bad comment, but come on, hardly enough to make this website attractive.

  • >> Only a few [high-traffic sites] seem to have tried user-moderation systems

    Haven't been to YouTube lately, have you?

    • YouTube doesn't go far enough. I'd like to see better features for screening out the "noise" like dupes (har har) some click whore reposted as well as those annoying videos that have been flagged down, yet continue to pull in users based on misleading titles, descriptions, etc.

      • This:

        MartinJrMakesPoopVideos: hi everybody i just started my onw chanel, its really awsome even tho their arn't any videos on it, click on my name and check it out cuz as a looser i base my personal validation on how many people look at my channel! I only subscribned to this sooper popular chanel so i could solicit my own garbace in the commnts

        Seriously, can we do something about these kids? Like, send Tonya Harding over to break their shins? I hear she could use the money.

  • by sinij (911942) on Monday September 23, 2013 @12:05PM (#44924685) Journal
    Sorry, didn't read TFA, what are we talking about again? Ah, comments.
  • Kinja is one thing . . . Gawker's aberration with fake video play buttons, cross-linked unrelated topics and animated gifs is another. Please don't relate the two if you care for either.
  • by TWiTfan (2887093) on Monday September 23, 2013 @12:06PM (#44924703)

    The more you moderate a forum, or prevent users from posting anonymously, the less honest it will be. If you really must moderate, do like Slashdot and let the users do it.

    • by bill_mcgonigle (4333) * on Monday September 23, 2013 @12:14PM (#44924815) Homepage Journal

      The more you moderate a forum, or prevent users from posting anonymously, the less honest it will be.

      And dishonest too - it clips both ends of the curve.

    • I have a lifetime ban on moderating, because I up-voted "The First Slashdot Troll Post Investigation"!

      • by plover (150551)

        Me too. I like to think of it as a kind of "get-out-of-jury-duty-for-life" benefit!

    • by dugancent (2616577) on Monday September 23, 2013 @12:20PM (#44924917)

      More moderated = more groupthink.

      That is not a good thing.

      • by SJHillman (1966756) on Monday September 23, 2013 @12:38PM (#44925129)

        However, without moderation, the noise often overtakes the signal and you're left without any discussion, debate, or sharing of useful information whatsoever. Also not a good thing.

        • With excessive moderation you're left without any discussion or debate because dissension gets modded down.

      • Unfortunately it will always depend on the honesty of the moderators. Spreading the power among many moderators is no solution either as the assumption that a group of people is less biased than a single person is wrong and dangerous. People don't arrive at opinions by carefully and rationally weighing all the evidence (not enough time in the world) etc. but by picking them up from other people. 99% of our 'opinions' are memes and we are just carriers. A well picked individual with some effort can overcome

      • by TapeCutter (624760) on Monday September 23, 2013 @08:05PM (#44929707) Journal

        That is not a good thing.

        Nor is it a bad thing since unpopular opinions are in general unpopular for good reason.. Groupthink exists with or without moderation, in fact if moderation fails to highlight the group's main opinion(s) then it has failed to do what it was designed to do. It's simple really, if you want to know what the group thinks then browse at +4/5, if you want to know what everyone thinks browse at -1.

        Now if we look at your current +5 score, we can deduce that "groupthink==BadThing(TM)" is a popular opinion on Slashdot, not one that I hold myself but never the less it does represent a significant and popular "group thought".

    • by fermion (181285)
      I find it is the type of site. I find I can be quite honest on /.. The comments have been modded up or down pretty reliably.

      The exception is, of course, companies that can afford to monitor comments. So anything I write about goggle that doesn't imply they are g-d will be modded down. OTOH, such comments will often be modded up by others. I have seen up to 10 mod points being used to argue over my Google comments. Not to isolate google. MS and Åpple also appear to have a contingent

      Which come

    • by travdaddy (527149)
      The less you moderate, the more spam and trolls you get, which are the last things that come to mind when I think about "honest."
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 23, 2013 @12:09PM (#44924729)

    Horribly depressing.

  • yo dawg (Score:5, Funny)

    by Mini-Geek (915324) on Monday September 23, 2013 @12:11PM (#44924757) Homepage

    Yo dawg, I heard you like comments, so I made a comment on your story about comments on comments, so you can comment while you comment.

    • Yo dawg, I heard you like comments, so I made a comment on your story about commenting on comments, so you can comment on comments while you comment on comments.

      FTFY... or I just gave Xhibit a stroke.

      Meh, either way...

  • 'Never look at the bottom half of the internet.'

  • God help us! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 23, 2013 @12:17PM (#44924861)

    'the comments are where the real America is.'

    There was this article recently on Yahoo! Finance about people giving Liberty to prevent a financial melt down.

    Anyway, the article and many commentors parroted the argument that the Community Reinvestment Act of 1977 caused the financial meltdown. Many commentators and pundits have "reasoned" that the law caused the meltdown because it "forced" banks to lend to poor people who couldn't afford the loans. Did they have data to back up what they said?

    Fuck no! Rush, Hannity, O'Rielly and all their clones pulled it out of their ass.

    Here is what some economists found out []

    ...the available evidence seems to run counter to the contention that the CRA contributed in any substantive way to the current mortgage crisis.

    tl;dr; Most of "Real America" just mindlessly parrots what they see and hear in the media.

    • Re:God help us! (Score:4, Interesting)

      by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Monday September 23, 2013 @12:54PM (#44925325) Homepage Journal

      I fucking pray that Yahoo comments are not "where the real America is," because if they are, we are sooooooooooooooooooo fucked.

      Nothing but a bunch of idiotic, xenophobic racists over there, man, I swear. Hell, I'll go to Yahoo and stick a comment or two of pure factual information, with references, just to balance out the stupid... comments which then get modded into oblivion because I don't follow their groupthink of "Muslims bad, liberty bad, police state and genocide good."

      To reiterate, I really, really fucking hope Yahoo comments are not representative of the pulse of the nation.

      • by Grishnakh (216268)

        Well you're sadly mistaken: those comments are representative of the pulse of a large part of the nation. That's why the country needs to break apart into separate republics, so that those of us in more progressive regions can be free of the people of that ilk who live in the more backwards regions.

      • by dkleinsc (563838)

        Nothing but a bunch of idiotic, xenophobic racists over there, man, I swear.

        A significant portion of America are idiotic, xenophobic racists. For example:
        - In 2013, approximately 15% of Americans believe Barack Obama was born in Kenya, despite lots of evidence to the contrary.
        - The newly crowned Miss America has brown skin and dark hair, because her parents were from India. There was a lot of online activity complaining about how horrible it was that we were giving the Miss America award to an Arab who was a member of Al Qaida.
        - Based on recent elections for governor in my home sta

      • by kencurry (471519)
        dude, you should check "Wall Street Journal" sometime. I block non-subscriber posts, and I am still shocked at the juvenile commentary on stories there. Slashdot comments are like a PhD thesis compared to WSJ.
    • by Grishnakh (216268)

      tl;dr; Most of "Real America" just mindlessly parrots what they see and hear in the media.

      Yes, but that's really irrelevant: Those are the opinions of all those Americans, regardless of where they got those opinions.

  • by sgt_doom (655561) on Monday September 23, 2013 @12:28PM (#44925021)
    . . . . because of the existence of chatbots, trollbots, etc., since at least the late 1990s (automated software agents programmed to seek and respond in specific patterns), and since contracts have been publicly announced in the last few years (meaning they've been effectively working on them the previous decade!!!) to program "ConsensusBots" --- automated software to "persuade" (i.e., misinform and disinform) large numbers at popular newsy sites and social networking sites --- many, if not most, comments today are highly suspect!
  • Comments to an article which comments about comments means our comments about the article are comments about comments about comments. And if someone replies to my post then the site may hit a stack overflow due to excessive recursion.
  • . . . especially when the needs vary with each site. I run Flayrah [] (a furry news/features site) and implemented a comment moderation system based on weighted ratings and user karma across comments and posts that fades and folds comments as their rating decreases. It works pretty well for us, but it took a lot of time to balance, as well as technical expertise which most site-runners don't have. Sometimes people complain about the "rule of the majority", but in practice they tend to do quite well. The alte
  • Next, NY Times community manager Bassey Etim, who oversees 13 comment moderators, offers up his comments on comments, agreeing that 'the comments are where the real America is.

    Meaning: racist, misogynist, vain, hide-bound, jingoistically ignorant; all smothered in the secret sauce of the implied threat of violence.

  • ... Like on Slashdot. What usually happens is that, over time, certain behaviors or ideas end up getting reinforced within the community. For example, "government bad", "open source good", "patents and copyrights bad", "bitcoins good". Or just the general cynicism about absolutely everything.

    Eventually the community becomes so polarized that anyone who disagrees on some minor point gets modded into oblivion. The rating system ends up as a popularity contest, where the most commonly-held opinion will always

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday September 23, 2013 @01:36PM (#44925829)

    Since moderation is on-topic ...

    The biggest weakness with Slashdot's current system is the way that early posts get a disproportionate amount of attention, and mod-points. When a new story shows up, so long as I post within 5-10 minutes it's pretty easy to get modded to +5, even as an AC.

    Try it yourself - as soon as a new story hits, quickly summarize your gut reaction to the summary, hit post, and watch the mod-points accumulate. The downside, of course, is that anybody who shows up late will struggle to get heard amongst the noise.

    Oh yes, and I really dislike it when 50% of an entire comments section consists of replies to one post. This seems to happen because people want their post to get noticed.

    Can anybody think of a good solution to these problems? Or are there other moderation problems which need dealing with?

  • by blahplusplus (757119) on Monday September 23, 2013 @01:41PM (#44925891)

    ... became widespread and new generations grew up with the internet, 99% of internet comments are mostly garbage. I've found that Websites run by intelligent, educated people who put their real face, name, background on the net tend to be more informative than random commenters as the net has grown. Since as more of the general population and new generation of kids begin to lurk and comment on websites comment quality goes through surges of greatness and mediocrity as generations come and go.

    As an adult I find partisan comments the most uninformed, history and politics for anyone with any intelligence is IMMENSELY complex. Trying to apply black and white solutions and old out-dated 19th century political ideologies to complex problems is not sign of intelligence. Most of slashdot tends to fall into the extremely distorted american political spectrum since most slashdot commenters/moderators are american.

    I find as the internet became a mass phenomenon slashdot comment quality has become almost as awful as the rest of the internet. The political comments tend to be the most uninformed since it highlights the deep indoctrination of the american public. Since most comments tend to be from the most populous country (america), 300 million vs say 30 million in canada.

    So you get a massive boatload of nonsense when anyone mentions politics, anything deep and requiring serious thought and analysis can only usually be found through those who are honest and open and put a face to their opinions.

    Those of us who see the world through technical eyes know many of our current values, ideals and institutions are not in line with what is actually true about the universe. We're doing all sorts of irrational bone headed shit in all areas. I find america and americans bizarre in their adherence to simple minded political and values based sloganeering. It's not the sign of an erudite mind.

    In order to find solutions you have to study how institutions change over time and they must be informed by how the universe and nature actually operate, all of our institutions are totally out of line with this kind of thinking.

  • by gameboyhippo (827141) on Monday September 23, 2013 @01:43PM (#44925905) Journal

    This is likely to get modded down to "-1 Disagree", but I guess that's the point. If someone says something positive about religion, protecting their children's innocence, etc... it gets modded down. Don't think like the loud members of the group? Here's a mod down for you. Think that the teleology of the universe points to a cosmic designer? Here's a "-1 Disagree" for you and a bunch of hate to go with it. You must think like the hive mind or go unheard.

    Comment moderation like that on Reddit and Slashdot censors dissension and encourages hate.

    • Apparently you are mistaken, since as I reply, your comment has a score of 4.

      It is true that some people mod down comments because they disagree. But there are often other cooler heads who bring balance to the moderation.

      Usually, controversial comments get modded down because there is no actual substance to the comments. And since such posters often start with an attitude of paranoia and overestimate their own importance, they DO get modded down, and they think they are proved right.

  • by Master Moose (1243274) on Monday September 23, 2013 @06:07PM (#44928765) Homepage

    No Comment

The perversity of nature is nowhere better demonstrated by the fact that, when exposed to the same atmosphere, bread becomes hard while crackers become soft.