Everyday hundreds of new blogs are launched into the blog-o-sphere. There are blogs for mothers, musicians, Buddhists, writers of books, losers of weight, animal lovers with a penchant for puppy pictures, and every kind of entrepreneur known to the Better Business Bureau. There is one thing every blog has in common, though: a need for readers and, by extension, a desire for comments. Reader comments open up the lines of communication, providing bloggers with valuable insight into their audiences’ interests. A blog post that receives a high volume of comments not only indicates interest in the topic but also can bring readers back to the post to read and leave new comments. Usually, this is a good thing. Once a blog becomes popular, however, it is common for comments to go from constructive to explosive, which (just like in real life) can stop the conversation cold.
As the popularity of blogging continues to rise, bloggers are looking for new ways to deter derisive and provocative comments. As Julie Zhuo, a product design manager at Facebook, explained in her recent New York Times op-ed, inflammatory comments (known as “trolls”) are more likely when commenters are anonymous and, therefore, devoid of accountability. Because of this, Facebook made web comments as much like a face-to-face conversation as possible, using names, profile pictures, and location descriptions “to establish a baseline of responsibility.”
Another strategy, as Zhuo points out, to dissuade trolls is comment moderation. The technology blog Gizmodo, for example, has implemented a temporary review period for new commenters. Gizmodo moderators review comments by blog newcomers prior to publishing them. If, after several comment contributions, the commenters have proven their good will, they are allowed to post freely. Gizmodo’s blog also chooses certain comments to feature directly after a post, making it slightly more difficult for readers to review the entire conversation thread. This enables Gizmodo to gently guide the stream of conversation without entirely dictating it.
Similar to Gizmodo’s featured comments, some blogs have begun using platforms that allow readers to rank the comments; the comments with the highest rankings are featured first. Stefanie Murray, the Real-Time Engagement Officer for AnnArbor.com which recently implemented this tool, said, “We hope this will highlight good conversation on the site and motivate our readers to make insightful, constructive comments.”
One reason bloggers don’t moderate comments more is because they are worried it will discourage comments in general, not just the ill-tempered ones. What are the benefits and consequences of blog comment moderation? Is there a way to moderate blog comments that will encourage readers to contribute to a quality conversation?