Instead Of Fashionably Killing The News Comment Section, Medium Quietly Tries Giving A Damn Instead
from the try-trying dept
Nearly every week another website shutters its news comment section, breathlessly declaring that comments are an old-fashioned relic of a bygone era, long supplanted by the miracle that is social media. More annoying than the act of shuttering news comments sections perhaps is the disingenuous blather that accompanies these announcements; company after company proudly insisting that they’re muzzling entire communities — because they just really, really value conversation. As we’ve noted it doesn’t actually take much work to fix comments, it just requires actually giving half a damn about the end user.
So with so many sites outsourcing their communities to Facebook and Twitter, it’s refreshing to see some sites still actually trying to have a conversation and make commenting better. Medium is one of several websites bucking the trend of taking the easy way out, instead recently launching a new effort called “You Tell Me” that attempts to solicit community and expert input and encourage community interaction. There’s nothing really particularly ingenious about the idea; the website’s simply fielding input from interesting people and then encouraging people to have an adult conversation:
“You Tell Me is an effort by Medium to remind users of the fact that Medium isnâ€™t just for writing posts, but also for responding. â€œWe havenâ€™t always been good at saying that Medium allows for conversation, debate, and dialogue,â€ said Medium editor Sophie Moura. â€œWe havenâ€™t been as good at explaining how responses work as we should be. The You Tell Me series is designed to role-model how the platform can be used.â€ From the top, â€œTech Is Eating Mediaâ€ looks a lot like a straightforward Medium post, with the addition of a You Tell Me logo. At the bottom of the post, though, are bolded questions and featured responses.”
It seems inherently absurd to lavish praise on a news outlet simply for giving a shit about conversation, but that’s quite an accomplishment in an era when websites are lazily shoveling all on-site interaction over to the wall of noise that is social media because (at least according to ReCode’s Kara Swisher) it’s “just a better place to engage a smart audience thatâ€™s not trolling.” Because, you know, there are no trolling nitwits on Facebook and Twitter.
And again, it’s not really all that hard to manage said trolling. A recent paper published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication found that all it took to improve civility was someone with the vaguest semblance of authority showing up and treating people like actual human beings. Treat comment sections like unmanageable troll playgrounds, and that’s generally what they’ll become. And they’ve only become that because many editors and authors either don’t want to see corrections to their stories made quite so visible, or they’re too myopic to see the public’s role in the fluid conversation that is modern news.
And indeed, the posts where Medium attempts to have an actual conversation (one on ageism in Silicon Valley and another by Awl editor John Herrman on how “tech is eating media“) quite shockingly wind up with — people quite civilly speaking to one another (go figure). That’s in contrast to social media, where Herrman highlights users often get to enjoy the illusion of actual discourse, (quite intentionally) cordoned off from public view:
“Iâ€™m especially receptive to trying this out because we get a lot of feedback and discussion around our stories, but not the kind that really begs for response,â€ Herrman told me via Gchat on Monday. â€œThis is a weird thing that has happened in a lot of places, and I think thereâ€™s an effort to rein it back in: â€˜Interactionsâ€™ or whatever have skyrocketed, but they take place out of view, or in such a way that precludes further argument.”
And, as noted above, social media has its own limitations when it comes to commenting and responding. â€œIâ€™ve been writing these manic blogs about CONTENT garbage forever, and I hurl them out onto Twitter and Facebook and they get attention,â€ Herrman said. â€œBut the sharing behavior, even for something thatâ€™s making claim after claim and argument after argument, is either like â€˜yea AGREEâ€™ or â€˜shut upâ€™â€¦There really isnâ€™t a natural place for the kinds of things we do to unfold into discussion.”
Well there actually is, it’s in the traditional comment section. It just requires the website giving half a damn.