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.

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

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art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: 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

Anonymous Coward says:

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.

Not an Electronic Rodent says:

Re: 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.

Karl (profile) says:

Re: 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.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 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; }

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.

Vog (profile) says:

Re: 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!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: 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.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 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.

Leigh Beadon (profile) says:

Re: 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.

AJ (profile) says:

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).

G Thompson (profile) says:

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”.

G Thompson (profile) says:

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.. 🙂

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: 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).

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: 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.

Anonymous Coward says:

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?

out_of_the_blue says:

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!

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