When newspapers started introducing comment sections on articles, I thought it was a great move. Unfortunately, the devil is in the details and most newspapers do comments very poorly. There is a backlash towards user participation in news sites, but people need to realize that its the poor implementation thats leading to bad, hurtful, and poor comments. Here are a few quick suggestions for a successful comment implementation:
1. Require the use of real names
When you take anonymity away from the Internet commenter, you get rid of the vast majority of hateful and rude comments. Require all comment accounts to have name verification via credit card. Then display a shortened version of that name in the comment. Not only is it a way to get rid of hate comments, but it also gets people comfortable with providing payment information, which could be used in the future for a micropayment or subscription system.
2. Provide a moderation system
Slashdot has had a comment moderation system for over a decade, yet newspapers typically rely on some chronological order. Good content gets buried, while stupid one liners get displayed on the top. The best way to avoid this is by promoting quality.
3. Separate comments from the story
The Wall Street Journal is a good example of a well designed comment layout. Comments are highlighted in a tab, without overwhelming the content of the article. Philly.com is good example of a horrible comment layout, with comments cluttering up the bottom of every story. You can promote comments, without diluting the content of the story.
4. Display comments in real time
My hometown paper has a comment system that requires human beings to review comments before they are posted, which is completely unacceptable and unsustainable. The implementation of a real name requirement, combined with a moderation system will remove the need for human verification of every comment. Obviously, a reporting mechanism and keyword filtering solution needs to be in place to keep out hate speech, and other undesirable content.
5. Provide threaded comments
The ability to reply to individual comments via a threaded discussion system is a key component of any successful comment implementation. When threading does not exist, people create it anyway by using the twitteresque @reply system.