First Word, Last Word And Letting Our Biggest Fans Help Shape The Conversation In Our Comments

from the hop-to-it dept

With the launch of our new Techdirt Insider Shop, one of the new features we've enabled on the site is something we're calling First Word/Last Word, which you may have noticed appearing on the blog. The feature allows Techdirt Insiders with credits to help highlight key comments as either "The First Word" (on top of all the other comments) or "The Last Word" (beneath all of the comments, even if other comments are added after). You can designate one of your own comments, or feel free to designate a truly awesome comment from someone else.

Because this is such a new feature, I wanted to discuss a little of the thinking behind it. Despite blogging for well over a decade, I'm still amazed by how much controversy there is over blog comments. Some people insist that they're completely useless. Others spend many hours of their day engaging in discussion and debate in the comments. There are various attempts to try to "improve the quality" of comments out there, including banning anonymous comments, heavily moderating comments or doing things like having editors highlight the best comments. Others have integrated third-party platforms to manage comments, such as Facebook or Disqus. Gawker keeps pushing the bleeding edge with a series of commenting experiments that try to increase the importance of comments while decreasing the number of comments that actually get viewed.

Over the years, we've taken a very open approach to comments. We don't require a login to comment (though there are benefits to having one). We don't require people to identify themselves at all. And despite the default assumption some have that anonymous comments are bad, we quite regularly find that comments from anonymous users are some of our most insightful and funniest comments. To that end, we've always focused on trying to do more to highlight and encourage good behavior -- such as highlighting the comments voted most insightful and funniest, both with badges on the comments and in our weekly summaries.

With the First Word/Last Word feature, we're trying to take all of that a step further. We've seen how a single trollish commenter can sometimes (not always) derail an interesting conversation by getting in early and saying something completely brain dead, then watching (probably with laughter) as the thread disintegrates. Our expanded Crystal Ball may take care of that in some cases by giving insiders more early access to kick off the comments. But, not everyone's going to be able to rush in and be first. With "First Word/Last Word," Insiders with credits can help highlight one or two of the absolutely key comments on a story and put them in places of prominence to help define the overall conversation.

This is very much an experiment (and like all experiments could flop completely). But what fun is it if you never take chances? We've trusted our community for many, many years, and here's another attempt to trust those who become Insiders to help curate the absolute best comments for everyone to see. We hope you'll take part and help us develop an even more interesting and compelling comments section.

You can get your own First Word/Last Word credits at the Techdirt Insider Shop. Most purchases include at least one credit, and subscriptions like the Watercooler Package and the Behind The Curtain Package include a cache of credits that replenishes on a monthly basis.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2012 @ 12:26pm

    FIRST!!!!!!! Last Word. :\

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Aug 16th, 2012 @ 12:29pm

    Re:

    Resisting....hard....but....want....to use....First Word....button....On....FIRST!!!!!....comment....

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3.  
    icon
    Forest_GS (profile), Aug 16th, 2012 @ 12:35pm

    I love the way your current comment system is setup. No need for me to remember another password.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4.  
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    Capitalist Lion Tamer (profile), Aug 16th, 2012 @ 12:39pm

    Re: Re:

    Just push it and get it out of your system. You'll feel better and so will whoever the hell that is above you.

    [Or use the last word to demote all firsties. The power is in your malformed hands.]

     

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  5.  
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    Forest_GS, Aug 16th, 2012 @ 12:46pm

    Re:

    Ditto!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6.  
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    The Infamous Joe (profile), Aug 16th, 2012 @ 12:50pm

    Pandora's Box

    Now you're going to have people that intentionally say ridiculous things to try and get voted into the first and last words.

    I can't wait!!

     

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  7.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2012 @ 12:55pm

    We need anonymous speech as long as there are people with big power squashing little people for having an opinion. And that's called forever..... but let me tell you, there's something else....

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2012 @ 12:57pm

    Re:

    I did LOL, and I hate 'firsts'.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9.  
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    Bas Grasmayer (profile), Aug 16th, 2012 @ 1:03pm

    Re: Pandora's Box

    I doubt people are going to waste their money (on a consistent basis) by first/last wording comments like that.

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2012 @ 1:12pm

    I disagree with the principle, even if no one is going to spend their money to regulate comments.

    It's essentially the same thing other rule-by-mob forums offer by letting you pay to moderate other people's comments. Maybe it doesn't result in a ban or them having to wear a mark of shame, but it still results in what could be very competent discourse being stifled because someone had five dollars they wanted to blow. Or inversely, it would allow anyone's half-baked opinion to be pushed to the top.

     

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  11.  
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    drew (profile), Aug 16th, 2012 @ 1:23pm

    Re:

    What you did there, I saw it...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
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    Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), Aug 16th, 2012 @ 1:27pm

    Re:

    A fair point, but it seems to me that there's already plenty of "half-baked opinion" at the "top" of the comments already... there's at least one troll who seems to have little life other than to get in first with something offensive, stupid or both on techdirt comments. *shrug* it's an experiment and I'm curious to see the outcome.

    Personally I'd like the comments in threaded mode to be properly tiered and have button to be able to collapse a whole thread or sub-thread - I think that'd do more for avoiding the derailing.

     

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  13.  
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    Karl (profile), Aug 16th, 2012 @ 1:34pm

    Re: Re:

    have button to be able to collapse a whole thread or sub-thread

    I wholeheartedly agree with this, but I don't know how easy that would be to implement. (It's remarkable how much coding is necessary for even the simplest things.)

    p.s. I just noticed the "Show all comments... (etc)" drop-down in the upper right corner of the comments. Is this new, or do I need to get my eyes checked? Either way, I like it.

     

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  14.  
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    Vog (profile), Aug 16th, 2012 @ 1:39pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    It's been around.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2012 @ 1:54pm

    If a comment is marked as always first or last will it be marked or highlighted in some way so that we know it was? Kind of like the badges for insightful and funny?

     

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  16.  
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    Jeremy7600 (profile), Aug 16th, 2012 @ 2:08pm

    So, its not quite like mod points, because only one post can be made first word, and only one can be made last word? And its only the first person who clicks "make first word" who gets to make that choice?

    Interesting.

     

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  17.  
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    Leigh Beadon (profile), Aug 16th, 2012 @ 2:22pm

    Re:

    Good idea! We're looking into it :)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2012 @ 2:24pm

    Re: Re: Pandora's Box

    I take that as a challenge, sir!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2012 @ 2:28pm

    Haha, once again Mike claims to respect anonymous comments, and then stacks the deck against them.

    You can be anonymous, but you can only comment later, and you can't be featured.

    Excellent. Freedom of speech, just watch what you say.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Aug 16th, 2012 @ 2:34pm

    Re:

    Watch what you say? How is what you say in any way relevant? Do you care? Are you a robot?

     

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  21.  
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    Leigh Beadon (profile), Aug 16th, 2012 @ 2:37pm

    Re:

    Um yes, you can be featured. Any anonymous comment can be featured as FW/LW. Someone with credits just has to nominate it.

    If you'd like to snag the FW/LW spot, I would suggest writing comments that aren't dripping with stupidity.

     

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  22.  
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    Vog (profile), Aug 16th, 2012 @ 2:52pm

    Re: Re:

    How about showing the person who promoted the FW/LW? Maybe an italicized "(promoted by _______)" line underneath the commenter's name?

    Since the votes are limited in quantity, it might be a nice little transaction, a nod of sorts, between the promoter and the commenter. It would also allow users to see the shameless acts of self-promotion.

    If this goes against Mike's preference for the option of anonymity, maybe make such disclosure optional? I'd like to think most Insiders wouldn't mind revealing their identity as the promoter, though it would perhaps be interesting to see when they don't!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
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    Leigh Beadon (profile), Aug 16th, 2012 @ 3:12pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    We had considered that, yeah - an optional disclosure option is a definite possibility in the near future

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24.  
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    Vog (profile), Aug 16th, 2012 @ 3:25pm

    Re: Re:

    While I'm thinking about it, what about a "Jump to Last Word" button under the First Word? Kind of like reading both covers of a book before digesting the middle.

    I mean, granted, the End key naturally serves the same function, but it might encourage more people to read both promoted comments before replying.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Aug 16th, 2012 @ 3:29pm

    Re:

    You can be anonymous, but you can only comment later, and you can't be featured.


    Neither of those things are true.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2012 @ 6:10pm

    would not the 'first word' be the actual article ?? and the last word would be the last person to comment on that article..

    isn't this just a paywall ? looks just like one.

     

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  27.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2012 @ 6:36pm

    Re: Re:

    If you open comments up to "behind the curtain" people first, it is very likely that an anonymous commenter will not be first. I would say that in the case of an important story, it's possible that the first anonymous might be a dozen or more comments down.

    As for featured, again, if you aren't in early, your comment / idea / framing might already be used up before you can comment.

    Basically, you created a tax on being anonymous. How wonderfully fair and equal.

     

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  28.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2012 @ 6:52pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    According to the source code of this page right here, it would be just a matter of adding a "hide" parameter to the CSS with the accompanying button to be clicked, it has to be CSS or else it doesn't appear when scripts are blocked.

    .hidden { display: none; }
    .unhidden { display: block; }


    http://webdesign.about.com/od/dhtml/a/aa101507.htm

    And the accompanying Javascript it must take 5 lines of code, but don't believe me, try it yourself creating a little webpage and testing it first, because I didn't bother to check, I know it is a small change though.

     

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  29.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2012 @ 7:00pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    ps: This only will hide the DIV so all the comments bellow someone's else must be on the same DIV, now that could be a bit more work.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2012 @ 7:02pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    oops! "it may take 5 lines of code" :)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2012 @ 7:35pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    None of what you said has anything to do with anonymity. Of course, reality is not a place you inhabit, so I'm not sure why I expected anything intelligent.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
    icon
    Leigh Beadon (profile), Aug 16th, 2012 @ 8:12pm

    Re: Re: Re:

    how is it a tax on being anonymous if it's the non-anonymous ones who are giving us money?

    Comments have been open an hour early to all crystal ball members (there are many) for years now - and in all that time, it's actually been quite rare that they even make use of the privilege. So your fears about being early are unfounded.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    icon
    AJ (profile), Aug 16th, 2012 @ 9:22pm

    Rename "Anonymous Coward"?

    It has always struck me that the term Anonymous Coward is a bit of an insult, although I realize that it's a traditional term used across the Internet (I suspect it started at SlashDot, but I'm no historian). As Mike has always maintained there are a number of good reasons why people comment anonymously, and most are unrelated to cowardice. Maybe I'm just a bit thin-skinned, but "everyone uses that term" isn't a good reason to be derogatory towards people that you want to encourage. To take the lead in respecting anonymity maybe Techdirt should change the name that appears against unsigned comments on the site to something else, such as Anonymous Commenter (rather boring I know, but it still matches the acronym AC).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 16th, 2012 @ 10:07pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    You cannot post early without an account... thus, anonymous users are now second class in the comment area.

     

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  35.  
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    G Thompson (profile), Aug 16th, 2012 @ 11:09pm

    Maybe to appease all the trolls Techdirt should just open up some basic forum (I have some old perl scripts from my Bianca days that would do for html only ones *bfg*) where there is one topic called "Last person to comment wins"

    Don't know what they would win though.. maybe the opportunity to get Cognitive Based Training on such things as Anger management, working with groups, how to think, and "contributing - it's a community thing".

     

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  36.  
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    G Thompson (profile), Aug 16th, 2012 @ 11:25pm

    Bit more thinking here.....
    I like the concept of the FW/LW highlighting (though the CSS hopefully allows the fonts to reduce in size if the comment is an essay etc)

    A few points though

    Since it is based on a credit system that AFAIK is only able to be accumulated via purchases in the shop (which looks brilliant btw) and also on some subscriptions as a recurring non-stackable option would it not be an idea and also equitable to also be able to accumulate these credits, though in a more limited way, based on things such as:
    - Most Interesting/Funny comment per thread (or week)
    - You were selected as FW/LW entry
    - other community based contributions that are acknowledge by TD members

    This then allows AC's to be more equitably involved (though this would require them to have same IP addy's) and the AC's then are empowered to also feel that they are a part of the TD community whether they are trolls, shills, first time readers or major contributors that for whatever reason deem to be anonymous. I feel that the FW/LW will dilute the feeling of belonging towards this element of the community otherwise.

    Just some ideas.. :)

     

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  37.  
    identicon
    Mr. Oizo, Aug 17th, 2012 @ 12:02am

    Jump

    How about a button to 'view the comment in its context', that would jkump to the comment in question ?

     

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  38.  
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    G Thompson (profile), Aug 17th, 2012 @ 12:21am

    Re: Jump

    Just click on the FW/LW text it sends you automagically to the comment in question (though yes I agree it could be more intuitively explained that it does this)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Aug 17th, 2012 @ 12:50am

    Re:

    Since it is based on a credit system that AFAIK is only able to be accumulated via purchases in the shop (which looks brilliant btw) and also on some subscriptions as a recurring non-stackable option would it not be an idea and also equitable to also be able to accumulate these credits, though in a more limited way, based on things such as:
    - Most Interesting/Funny comment per thread (or week)
    - You were selected as FW/LW entry
    - other community based contributions that are acknowledge by TD members


    Nearly all of which we've been discussing and are on the drawing board in some form or another... But just not ready for launch (which was taking way too long anyway).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40.  
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    PaulT (profile), Aug 17th, 2012 @ 1:04am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Purely by the intelligence, civility and truth of the comments themselves, anonymous users have been second class for a long time...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
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    art guerrilla (profile), Aug 17th, 2012 @ 6:13am

    Re:

    1. i concur, current comment system is relatively good...
    - (excepting not allowing a carriage return for better formatting)
    2. even more important, is the patience and good judgment exercised by techdirt in allowing virtually any/all comments...
    -
    not many websites actually practice acceptable versions of free speech... (too messy for most stoopid sheeple)
    -
    3. i also find a lot of merit in slashdot's commenting system where posts are modded up/down/hidden/shown by the community's judgment; *generally* works out well...
    -
    4. the one thing about virtually ALL comment systems i find unfortunate, is that even good/active threads with an interesting debate going, get scrolled down to invisibility...
    often times tough to even track down 'old' articles/threads ('old' meaning a day or two) where there is still active debate going on...
    -
    5. similarly, i oftentimes would like the commenting community (the commentard?) to vote on or otherwise designate a debater who would be 'given the stage' with their adversary, and let them go at it in a more cohesive manner, rather than disparate posts/replies being randomly scattered about...
    (unfortunately, i don't believe most of our adversaries would participate: hit-and-run works for them, why will they engage on a topic they will probably get their bad logic and bad morals exposed ?)
    art guerrilla
    aka ann archy
    eof

     

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  42. This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 17th, 2012 @ 6:18am

    Amusing as hell to see you drop the CwF+RtB thing for a straight out "give me your money for stuff" link.

    CwF I guess is last year's idea, already crashed and burned.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  43.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Aug 17th, 2012 @ 7:55am

    Re:

    Amusing as hell to see you drop the CwF+RtB thing for a straight out "give me your money for stuff" link.

    CwF I guess is last year's idea, already crashed and burned.


    You know what I love *most* about comments like this one? Is that in their effort to mock us, how wrong they get nearly every single thing. The store still talks up CwF+RtB. All we did was change *the name* to make it clearer for people to understand so that they weren't confused up front.

    And it's working as the new store is off to a fantastic start, and we're CwFing all over the place, much to the haters' chagrin.

    But, we're having fun laughing at you in the process. :) Keep trying. You amuse us.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  44.  
    icon
    Leigh Beadon (profile), Aug 17th, 2012 @ 8:00am

    Re:

    "give me your money for stuff"

    That's basically (though brusquely phrased) what the "RtB" half of CwF+RtB has ALWAYS meant... so, not sure what you're talking about honestly.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  45.  
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    Leigh Beadon (profile), Aug 17th, 2012 @ 8:02am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    You cannot post early without an account... thus, anonymous users are now second class in the comment area.

    Again, I have news for you: that has been the case for years. Crystal Ball is not new. For a long, long time, paid users have been able to comment an hour before anonymous/unpaid users. And you haven't even noticed, apparently!

    So your complaints are, in a word, laughable.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  46.  
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    Togashi (profile), Aug 17th, 2012 @ 2:18pm

    Re:

    No? It's a feature that you can pay to get. There is no content being hidden because you don't pay.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  47.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Aug 17th, 2012 @ 6:00pm

    Stories need a punchline more than a department

    Here's an idea for you: get rid of the "from the whatever dept." Now, don't get me wrong, I love seeing stories introduced in a clever way, but the "dept." thing never really worked for me. What does work, is a punchline at the end of the story. How 'bout letting readers suggest a punchline to replace the "dept" line?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  48.  
    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Oct 30th, 2012 @ 11:38am

    HA! What a hoot!

    Is the "Last Word" the bit in blue (as comes out on my highly tweaked Firefox)? This comment in part tests that; first as to whether that part will appear after it, second by my observing that I automatically ignored that block of blue text, and third by possibly defeating it with bolding...

    Second topic is that you fanboys just don't get that your own behavior is trollish and foolish: that you should just ignore comments you don't like, instead of highlighting them with "flagged by the community", or wild ad hom and simple denial, as if you don't trust readers to judge for themselves, and that THIS "First Word / Last Word" bit points that basic foolish insecurity up even more!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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