The Economics of Blog Comments

Guido is winding down for Christmas and mulling over whether that means he has to put comment moderation on over the holidays or just let anarchy prevail. This graph from this article on the economics of blog comments is thought provoking:

Iain Dale has had enough of window-lickers in his comments and introduced registration, he told Guido he realised he had to when he himself was no longer interested in reading the blog comments. Guido cops a lot of criticism for his laissez faire attitude towards the comments. In some ways it is easier for Guido to take this attitude, it is not as if there is any likelihood of him running for elected office or making a job application where the comments can be held against him.

Anne Spackman of The Times told a seminar organised by the Goldsmith University Media Research Centre that pre-moderation of comments costs The Times six-figures to do. Emily Bell from the Guardian made a similar point, it is expensive to moderate comments. It is certainly expensive in time, every morning Guido deletes a load of comments which have, in his rather arbitrary judgement, just gone too far.

Picture credit : GQ

Some bloggers get very worked up about online comments because they are so often rude and abusive. This blog, in contrast to say the Guardian’s Comment is Free, takes a sticks and stones view to a large extent, particularly with regard to prominent public figures. It is actually pleasing that Ed Balls gets angry about the abuse dished out here, that Hazel Blears loathes the co-conspirators, that self-important politicians hate it so much, that thin-skinned journalists don’t like a taste of their own medicine. The comments and the blog itself perform the role of a cyber stocks, you can say almost whatever you like about leading political figures and it will go unchecked, however say something gynaecological about a lowly intern, it is likely to get deleted (if it is noticed).

Originally when this blog started and had readers numbering only in the tens, rather than the tens of thousands, some of the regular comment makers were very witty and brought gossip. In the last four years 200,000 comments have been made, the signal to noise ratio and average quality of the comments has declined. That is an inevitable consequence of having among the tens of thousands of readers a number of moronic, window licking, certifiable loonies. Mostly it is people just venting about their bugbears and commenting on the character of Geoff Hoon, with a few gems to be found. Guido has no problem with swearing at politicians. That has its place, and that place is for better or worse here.

Things will be changing in the New Year, you will still be able to say what you like (within somewhat arbitrary inconsistent limits) without pre-moderation or registering. However there will be incentives for those who produce better quality commentary based on a new element of co-conspirator community rating. Good comments will be more prominently displayed, disliked comments will be less prominent. The biggest innovation is that it will be possible for readers to set their own tolerance thresholds. Poorly rated comments will be invisible to those who set their preferences accordingly. If you only want to see comments judged by co-conspirators to be witty, amusing or illuminating, set your threshold to “Recommended”. Don’t want to read foul language? Set your threshold to “U”. Want to see all and any comments no matter how foul? Set your threshold to “XXX”. If your commentary is consistently recommended your comments will automatically be more prominent in the future and may even get highlighted on the frontpage. Will it work? That is up to you.




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