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 isn’t just for writing posts, but also for responding. “We haven’t always been good at saying that Medium allows for conversation, debate, and dialogue,” said Medium editor Sophie Moura. “We haven’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.” From the top, “Tech Is Eating Media” 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 that’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:

“I’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,” Herrman told me via Gchat on Monday. “This is a weird thing that has happened in a lot of places, and I think there’s an effort to rein it back in: ‘Interactions’ 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. “I’ve been writing these manic blogs about CONTENT garbage forever, and I hurl them out onto Twitter and Facebook and they get attention,” Herrman said. “But the sharing behavior, even for something that’s making claim after claim and argument after argument, is either like ‘yea AGREE’ or ‘shut up’…There really isn’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.

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Comments on “Instead Of Fashionably Killing The News Comment Section, Medium Quietly Tries Giving A Damn Instead”

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19 Comments
Anonymoussays:

There's also Reddit...

As long as you’re in the right subreddit, you can get adult dialogue just as good, if not better, than what you see even on TechDirt. And the metaness of it all IS actually useful: one identity used to hold conversations on items posted on a variety of sites means better identity management (troll ignoring) and more situations where the discussion will pull in source material from multiple places to back up the discussion, instead of staying in a single medium silo.

All that said, congrats Medium on joining the likes of TechDirt in figuring out that if the medium is the message, the people are what shapes the medium — and therefore the message — and embracing them.

Anonymoussays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: There's also Reddit...

Sure… try using Yahoo! or Tumblr to…

er

I see what you did there.

No, seriously, ignore the bulk of the subreddits; there are some really good niche subreddits that keep me coming back for the discussion; the original articles are just a jumping off point.

Every once in a while I take a look at reddit as a whole, and then… well, let’s just say I can see where your view is coming from.

Anonymoussays:

I’ve wondered if one reason news sites are dropping comment sections is that they don’t want to spawn hatefests against “the powers that be” when they report negative news stories.

Like this story just out about another horney Secret Service agent getting caught doing something embarrassing. And apparently illegal, even though the young “girl” he was “sexting” with was really a cop. (and then maybe this would never have happened if they’d allowed the Secret Service to continue their prostitution ring)

http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/11/12/us-usa-secretservice-idUSKCN0T12W120151112

Whateversays:

Re: Re:

You have hit one of the reasons. Another is the “drudging” of sites, where Matt Drudge posts up a derisive link and the consevative chickenheads all descend on a site and literally comment it to death, both by posting tons of negative / attack comments, but also by attacking and baiting regular readers of a site into flame wars.

CNN took the step to pretty much turn off comments on anything that might be controversial or attract these sorts of mass attacks.

Yes, it ends discourse, but honestly, there isn’t much discourse when the discussions are all flames and political rhetoric.

Ninjasays:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Well, there have been quite controversial posts here on TD either where you and a few others trolled like there was no tomorrow. These articles had a ton of comments yes but most of them were pretty good and even your trolling sparked quite awesome responses.

I’d say that if you cultivate your community, chances are you will still have to deal with trolling, but only on more elevated levels, not the pandemonium you see on some places out there. And even that small amount of trolling may be productive (even if it is annoying at times). So, be proud, you are actually helping!

Whateversays:

Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

Sorry, but I don’t troll. I do often (a) provide an alternate conclusion based on the story, and (b) point out that the author often has their own issues in how they relate to the story.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask an author to express their personal views on a topic, and to see how those views may harm the way the topic is presented.

What is unpleasant here is a few people who feel the need to troll every comment made. That the community tolerates it is sad.

“I’d say that if you cultivate your community,”

The most ciltivated community is one that has nobody to disagree with it. From the Rush Limbaugh Dittoheads and on forwards, we see that when you circle the wagons tightly and preach to a very receptive choir, you can effectively shut out or shout down any dissent, even if it has merit. It’s very satisfying to deal with people who just nod their heads and agree and tell you how smart you are, but it generally doesn’t make you smarter for it.

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