Thursday December 20, 2007
Storm clouds gather around the reader comment situation at Herald.com. It seems that the future holds a registration system and/or comment moderation for the Herald, and with the ratio of useless/offensive comments that currently plague the site, I can’t say that I see this as a particularly bad thing. But I would also encourage the Herald to borrow even more liberally from how comments work on blogs. For example, the few comment excerpts at the bottom of articles never correspond to the articles at the top of the comments page. And why have a separate comments page, anyway? But more importantly, there is a glaring fallacy here:
The number of visitors to MiamiHerald.com in November was up 66 percent from the year before, according to Executive Editor Anders Gyllenhaal, and registration might slow or even temporarily reverse such strong growth.
With all due respect, Mr. Schumacher-Matos, the Herald’s Ombudsman, is getting himself very confused: what’s putting the breaks on Herald.com readership is the registration system required for reading the site, which is not only invasive and tedious, but broken — I’ve personally repeatedly re-registered for the site, only to have it forget me after a couple of months. I’m back to using bugmenot to access it, which of course does nobody any good (like the slipshod “data” they collect with the system had a hope of being of any use to the Herald to begin with). The obvious non-controversial solution is to make the site as easy as possible to read, and require registration for commenting. Throw in a few simple social-networking features, and your offensive comments will decline drastically, and be much easier to enforce.
I do appreciate the difficulty of the Herald’s position here, though — deleting comments is tricky, because once you take an active role in comment moderation, you are more responsible, both in a commonsense way and in a legal way, for the comments that remain on the site. And of course journalists prefer to error on the side of free speech, reader-friendliness, and (more recently) “interactivity.” Of course in this situation, those three ideals stand somewhat in opposition to each other.comments powered by Disqus