Wanted: Ideas to Improve Online News Comments

Your suggestions are sought for technical approaches to organizing and presenting comments appended to online news stories or blogs in some saner, more thoughtful manner than just newest first or oldest first or thread hemorrhages.

As the "Beyond Comment Threads" page offered by MoJo (Mozilla + Journalism) puts it,

How Do We Reinvent Onine News Discussions?

One of the best things about the web is that it enables many voices to be heard. Blogs, comment threads, forums, and social networks empower people to take part in new kinds of discussion, dialogue, and debate.

The best discussions around the web can be pretty isolated. Take comments, tweets, and other fragments out of their original context, and they can become meaningless. And take a look below the fold—in comment threads at news outlets, political blogs, YouTube, and elsewhere, you’ll often find that the loudest voices drown out everyone else.

At the same time, media is moving beyond the traditional "news story" as the only unit for commenting and interaction, stretching to include narrative arcs of multiple stories over periods of time, "explainers" that provide background knowledge for strings of stories, "streams" that include initial reports followed by updates and corrections, and more.

With all that activity happening across the web, how do we enable more coherent, elevated discussion? How can news organizations improve the signal-to-noise ratio in public news commentary?

Design better ways to weave the audience's voice into news

New capabilities in the browser provide opportunities to completely re-think the relationship between news users and producers. Demonstrate a new form of user interaction with news that is atomic, aggregated, augmented, or just plain awesome. Push beyond the ways we currently think about comments and online debate. Grab your sketch pad and:

  • Explore emerging standards like OStatus, Webfinger and Salmon, which can liberate discussions from being tied to a single site or network. Here's a list of interesting technologies for a federated social web.
  • Brainstorm cool applications of "atomic" commenting. Atomic commenting enables users to comment on a specific paragraph, sentence or moment. Check out early examples of atomic commenting like the Django Book (note the comment bubbles at the side of the page), or SoundCloud and Viddler, which allow users to place comments and tags at various points on the timeline.
  • Explore the current state of user-interface innovation using JavaScript [1], [2], [3], or JavaScript + HTML packaged as browser add-ons.
  • Consider the social dynamics at play. Think about how Slashdot and other online forums crowdsource moderation. What works? What doesn't? Would persistent identity lead to more civil debate—or discourage unpopular positions?
  • Google around to get a sense of some of the current thinking about online identity. For example, consider the thesis of Republic 2.0: that if new technology gives us unprecedented access to and choices of information, it also gives us more ways to avoid information we don't like. What does this mean for civic participation? How could we address these problems?
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