Tagged: philly.com

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.

In yet another example of the power of twitter, a few weeks ago I posted a snarky tweet about the Philadelphia Inquirer.

AlexValentine thinks the Philadelphia Inquirer should drop the daily news, and try making a website that doesn’t look like shit.

Naturally, I assumed that only a few eyeballs would actually see that tweet, but a few minutes later somebody from Philly.com replied.

Now, I don’t pretend to be a modern web developer. I use to be decent at making web pages about a decade ago, but I haven’t done any professional web design in a long time. I wish website design was the Inquirer’s only problem, but as we all know by now, the newspaper business is dying. It use to be considered a slow death, but the economic meltdown is speeding up the death of newspapers, and the Philadelphia Inquirer is no exception.

In the past few weeks the death of print has been in heavy rotation in major media outlets, with lots of unqualified people giving their two cents, so here is another scoop of manure to add to the pile, specifically for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

  1. 1. Start Charging for Philly.com

    It doesn’t need to be much, it could be as small as $1/month, but the newspaper industry needs to condition people to start paying for online access. Philly.com has a huge advantage, because its a regional site. There is no comparable free online alternative to philly.com. If you start introducing online payments in a phased incremental way, with tangible benefits to the user, people will pay.

  2. 2. Discard or Sell the Daily news.

    Why does one company sell two different daily newspapers in the same market? The Daily News is redundant. Philadelphia is not a big enough market for two major daily newspapers anymore, and the whole “Tabloid” delineation doesn’t make sense when there are no new readers to replace the ones dying every day.

  3. 3. Move Tabloid and Sports content to new separate online entities

    Its impossible for people to take philly.com seriously when the lead story is a hockey game, or every article’s footer features a picture of playmates or girls sporting bikini’s dancing at the “Wing Bowl.” I love sports and the occasional trashy article, but the widely varying quality of philly.com content needs to be properly segmented. When I go to a news website, I should have a general idea of what to expect. The current iteration of philly.com is like news site Russian roulette, you have no idea what you’re getting.