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MacWorld, PCWorld Kill Site Comments Because They 'Value And Welcome Feedback'

from the this-muzzle-shows-how-much-I-love-you dept

For a while now the trend du jour in online media is to not only block your readers from making news story comments, but to insult their intelligence by claiming this muzzling is driven by a deep-rooted love of community and conversation. NPR, for example, muted its entire readership because, it claimed, it “adored reader relationships.” Reuters and Recode, in contrast, prevented their own users from speaking on site thanks to a never-ending dedication to conversation.” Motherboard similarly banned all on-site reader feedback because it greatly values discussion.”

There’s a number of reasons to ban comments, but few if any have anything to do with giving a damn about your community. Most websites, writers and editors simply don’t want to spend the time or money to moderate trolls or cultivate local community because it takes a little effort, and quality human discourse can’t be monetized on a pie chart. Instead, it’s easier and cheaper to simply outsource all public human interactivity to Facebook. In addition to being simpler, it avoids the added pitfalls of a public comment section where corrections to your story errors are posted a little too visibly.

Few outlets can actually admit any of this, so instead we get bizarre platitudes about how moving bi-directional website interactivity backward is some kind of ingenious media evolution. Case in point: IDG last week joined the fun and announced that all of its media outlets (Macworld, NetworkWorld, PCWorld, etc.) would be removing news comments moving forward. According to the company, this change is a reflection of IDG’s ongoing commitment to feedback:

“At IDG, we?ve always valued and welcomed feedback from our readers, and that?s something that will never change. What is changing, however, is one facet of how we get your feedback.

Again, nothing quite says we “welcome feedback” like preventing all public, on-site feedback. Just like other news outlets, IDG insists that shoving interested community members over to social media is the same thing as retaining an on-site community:

“This change was made for a couple of important reasons. First, more and more of you are already communicating with us, and with one another, via social media, where our editors and reporters are posting content and interacting with readers throughout the day.

Second, while we?ve always valued comments, we?ve also had to deal with the reality of managing spam and policing inappropriate comments?comments that don?t reflect the professional nature of our audiences and diminish the value of community interaction. Moving the discussion to social media obviates those issues.”

Well for one, this idea that managing spam and trolls is some kind of sisyphean impossibility is nonsense. You’ll find countless websites (this one included) where spam and trolling is minimized and public interactivity is still protected (often by the community itself). In fact, some studies have suggested that just having website employees show up and give a damn can have a dramatic, positive impact on your local community. If you see consistent trolling and spamming in news comments it means somebody, somewhere doesn’t give a shit. Pretending otherwise is a cop out your readership can see through.

This pretense that social media interactivity is the same as more niche on site conversation is also problematic. As feedback is offloaded to social media, we’re seeing an overall reduction in transparency when it comes to news reader interaction. Many social media users exist in cordoned off areas where they only have a limited view of the conversation (protected Tweets, etc), which harms transparency. But that’s the whole point for many editors: a return to the “letters to the editor” era where you get to control the conversation, even if it comes at the cost of users spending less time on your website.

All of that said, stand still so I can kick you repeatedly in the shin out of my deep-rooted love of your ability to walk.

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Companies: idg

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Comments on “MacWorld, PCWorld Kill Site Comments Because They 'Value And Welcome Feedback'”

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art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: I welcome feedback

i give techdirtia high marks for its comment policy, and overall inclusiveness and evenhandedness for even extreme positions such as yours truly is prone to pronouncing…
this is how a democracy should look and feel: no holds barred, rollicking, roiling, bursting with energy; and yet also revolving around a general consensus which produces a type of group-wisdom… (sometimes)
in any event, even the non-starters are welcome, the walts and such of the world provide a handy and useful foil to demonstrate the faults in their argumentation, and educate the like-thinking/non-thinking cohort to how their position is in furtherance of Empire, while the better option is to further freedom…

Anonymous Coward says:

Doesn't seem worth it

That’s all well and good if you have a facebook account. But what do I do if I never made one? After seeing the stupid cash-grabbing games and near constant mal-ware laden banners from my wife’s facebook I never saw the upside of facebook. I’m not about to make one just to comment on a news article.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Doesn't seem worth it

I’ve always kept my entire family off Facebook: the cons vastly outweigh the pros.

That said, you can do just as well commenting on articles on Reddit, which is where the article authors usually grab their information in the first place, anyways. If you want to comment on an article on some site, just post it to Reddit and then add your comment. Rest assured that the website will get lots of feedback as a result 🙂

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Doesn't seem worth it

Just use the Techdirt comment threads to post anything you would like to share with the world.

No, don’t. We don’t need random off-topic news stories posted to the comment threads here. If you want to submit something for Techdirt to cover, use the submit story form, but don’t just post it to some other story because that web site doesn’t allow comments.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Doesn't seem worth it

Similar to sites that use discus for comments.
With Facebook (& real name rules) then you are (I assume – I do not use FB either!) flagging yourself specifically to a comment, instead of being anonymous (be it AC or some made up name on this site).
Discus at least allows any random username, but I do not like the tracking implications on using same discus account on multiple web sites, so sites using discus are a no go too (plus the discus JS cripples low spec ancient pc)

Christenson says:

Echo Chamber Support from Ad-paid Sites

Ad-supported sites want people to see exactly the content that confirms everything they already know; happy readers don’t get mad at advertisers. Moving comments to Facebook outsources the problem of creating individual echo chambers!

And, dear Techdirt readers, I have no interest in pictures of you and your friends outside of what you have to say about what’s on Techdirt!

SirWired (profile) says:

Commenters aren't a big deal for most sites

At the time NPR dropped comments, commenters made up all of 0.06% of their readership. Virtually any effort at all doesn’t really make sense if they are that small of a fraction of the userbase. It’d make about as much sense as making sure your new website worked well with Windows Phone and Blackberries.

I’m not saying all sites are like NPR, but for them it was a perfectly rational choice.

Websites have access to their user stats, and know how much comments cost them. You don’t. Yeah, it’d be nice if they’d just say “comments are more trouble than they are worth”, but most of us are capable of reading between those particular lines.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Commenters aren't a big deal for most sites

That’s true of almost any online forum. Even in places where the entirety of the content is just user comments, most users don’t actually post any comments, but a lot user may read the comments. I’d like to see how they determined how many people were reading comments but not posting.

Lurkers gonna lurk.

wiserabbit says:

Re: Commenters aren't a big deal for most sites

i admit it. i lurk.

and lately i’ve found myself delisting news type sites that do not have comments from my normal daily reading list. in the communities where there is a community, you usually find a lot more details and links on the facets of the story which help to put things into perspective. it is also enlightening to learn how others are reading the same story.

and, no, i’m not going to another platform to do that just because managing a community is hard for you. period. life is hard. suck it up.

Thad (user link) says:

Re: Commenters aren't a big deal for most sites

At the time NPR dropped comments, commenters made up all of 0.06% of their readership.

Which is a meaningless metric.

If it’s 0.06% of their sponsor clicks, their donation dollars, their returning users who read articles for more than 8 seconds, etc., then sure, okay. But that’s not the same thing as the number of people who visit a site.

Commenters are likelier to be more dedicated and enthusiastic than just plain old readers; they’re, by definition, more engaged. If a news site can’t turn that into value, then I think it’s the news site’s fault, not the commenters’.

michael (profile) says:

online feedback is useless

There was a long-ago time when mostly smart people were online, and online comments were valuable sources of information. That time has long-since passed.

A cursory look at past TechDirt comments is all the proof necessary.

Online comments serve no purpose other than:
1) creating the illusion of inclusion, when no one really cares what you have to say, and
2) a laugh every now and then.

And yes, this comment is just as useless as all the others.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: online feedback is useless

While I almost never comment despite being a longtime reader (mostly because I read on mobile, and typing on mobile is a PITA), I like to read the comments here for reason you’ve stated. However, I have to say that in the days leading to the US election, the quality of comments considerably deteriorated. This was in no way the writers’ fault, who insisted repeatedly that they wanted to focus on the important issues suitable for their coverage, but the persistently partisan commenters who think criticizing what a person does automagically equals criticizing their very personhood or that it must mean you support “the other team.”

That One Guy (profile) says:

Thanks to the new and improved Troll Buster 2.3: Almost 5.7% accurate!

Second, while we’ve always valued comments, we’ve also had to deal with the reality of managing spam and policing inappropriate comments—comments that don’t reflect the professional nature of our audiences and diminish the value of community interaction. Moving the discussion to social media obviates those issues."

Because of course someone spamming and/or posting troll comments on their ‘main’ site isn’t going to be the kind of person to do the exact same thing on their FB page.

Really, if a site doesn’t want to keep up their comment section because it’s too much work to do so, fine, admit that and close the comment section. Blatantly lying about how you’re silencing your readers because you ‘value their opinions just so very much’ is just insulting, a slap to the face of anyone who frequents the sites by making it clear that the ones running it think that their readers are a bunch of gullible idiots.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Thanks to the new and improved Troll Buster 2.3: Almost 5.7% accurate!

Moving the discussion to social media obviates those issues.

Yeah am I missing something or is that an extremely dumb thing to say? Are we to read "obviates those issues" as "makes those issues someone else’s problem"? Because I imagine that’s what they’re really going for, though I’m not sure it achieves even that goal.

TRX (profile) says:

Back in the 1980s many vendors of computer software and hardware ran BBSs with information, software patches or updates, discussion boards, etc.

Compuserve, and later AOL, courted the more successful companies heavily, persuading them to close their public-access support sites in favor of using their pay services. The companies got a kickback based on traffic to their forums, and they didn’t have to pay their own people to run them. Such a deal!

I’ve seen a several companies that I *used to* deal with go to Facebook-only for all support. I expect the same thing is happening there.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’ve been seeing this trend of getting rid of comments for a while now. I do have to say, it saves me a lot of time as now I’m not spending time reading comments. Facebook is not a real replacement. Not even close.

Once the comments are removed from a site, I start to care less and less about even visiting the site. I no longer have any investment in it.

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