To Comment Or Not To Comment? Now There’s A Live One

I remember some time back getting embroiled in a deep conversation with journalism colleagues about how important it was to allow reader comments on a news website.

You would have thought the very future of humanity rested on the outcome of the discussion. This was going to be a chance for intelligent engagement with readers, the supporters of open online comments said. It’s a chance to tear down the imaginary wall between readers and journalists.

Hokum, said the naysayers. “Do you know the kind of people who post comments on websites?”

Guys who live in their mother’s basements. Spin doctors for politicos. Even worse, Tiger fans!

What promised in the early years of Internet expansion to be the great pantheon of greater knowledge has in many respects catered to the least common denominator. Most sites that allow comments find themselves spending more time policing the sites for misuse than actually posting content.

But there was for a time groups that actually sought out the consistently good commenters and even offered them jobs as bloggers and citizen journalists. And then the recession hit and we all had way too much time to post pithy comments on all sorts of websites.

I’ve always fallen in the camp of those who question the quality of the responses you get from the folks who post on websites. It’s sort of like taking a poll among website posters to see if posting is a valid endeavor.

As it turns out, Gawker founder Nick Denton said recently at the South by Southwest Interactive festival that the hope for the Internet as a global conduit for thoughtful discussion hasn’t happened.

“It didn’t happen,” said Denton, CNN reported. “It’s a promise that has so not happened that people don’t even have that ambition anymore.

“The idea of capturing the intelligence of the readership — that’s a joke.”

But what about the clicks, you might ask. What about them?

Does the level of off-topic and toxic commenting really justify allowing open commenting on most sites? Does it truly drive quality viewership to your site, or is it just a chance for everyone to see the caustic underbelly of the Web?

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