The Huffington Post has launched an interesting tool that’s designed to, in essence, maximize the value of all those comments it gets. Called “Conversations” it basically breaks comment threads out into their own page and assigns them a unique URL. The idea appears to be to make those conversations as sharable as the articles themselves and reward those people who spark good comment threads.
It’s an interesting development because it seems to be part of a trend of comments and conversations being as much, if not more, of a draw as the articles their based on. It also hinges on the notion that there is a “right” way to do online comments and that this is just a nut that we still haven’t quite cracked, something I think is a bit of a snipe hunt.
Comments are, by their very nature, messy things. As the article states, if you want to provoke people – an increasingly common tactic as writers seek to have their material break through more and more clutter – then is should come as no surprise when people are provoked into leaving incendiary comments.
This all comes at a time when more and more sites are adding Facebook Comments in a (questionable) effort to clean up the conversations people are having by (it’s assumed) forcing them to use their real names.
It brings to mind a recent post about the problem with social news being that it doesn’t reward quality content as much as it rewards the egos and self-worth of the people who are doing the filtering. That’s because the problems that have been identified with social news – it becomes an ego fest where a few people decide what is worthy and what isn’t – are being replicated in the current conversation around comments.
I get the idea that we want to make these things better. There’s still a lot of love for the idea of comments, even in a day where so much of the conversation around a blog post happens off-domain on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and other social platforms. But the central premise that there’s some system that can be put in place that will filter the stream to an extent that it’s a more civil, sanitized experience isn’t one that I can necessarily sign on to. Conversation is messy. Conversations are healthy. And conversations ultimately need to be guided and curated by human beings as opposed to being dictated by easily gamed karma points or other algorithms.