Over the last couple of years, I think this website has evolved into a successful opinion webzine and discussion forum, with our traffic now eclipsing the overwhelming majority of other alternative media publications. For example, we apparently now get several times the traffic of Takimag on the Right or Counterpunch on the Left.
Our very light standards of moderation have encouraged an enormous proliferation of debate on all sorts of controversial topics, generating around 50,000 comments per month and totaling well over 4 million words. Many other websites attract long, thoughtful comments and many other websites attract huge numbers of comments. But I think we are quite rare in attracting such enormous numbers of thoughtful ones, though these may often be somewhat obscured by the 50-60% of our comments that are rather worthless.
As I previously discussed, I was recently shocked to discover just how much time many users were spending on this website, often running 20, 30, or 40+ hours per month, and in some cases even 100 hours or more. Perhaps the Google Analytics timing estimates are incorrect, but considerable numbers of users generate thousands of pageviews per month and leave many hundreds of comments, totaling tens of thousands of words. Writing 40,000 words of comments per month—the length of a short book—must require a tremendous amount of thought, time, and effort. Or at least it should.
Some of these especially active commenters are very high quality and add a great deal of value to our webzine, resulting in comment-threads that are frequently far more interesting and informative than the original article that sparked them. Other very active commenters seem entirely sincere though agitated individuals, spewing forth their views and at least providing some insight into various ideological perspectives that would rarely be set forth in the opinion pages of The New York Times.
However, I strongly believe that at least some of the commenters who seem to be spending 50 or 100 hours per week on this website are trolls and shills, probably paid ones. They are working hard to clutter up our comment-threads with endless verbosity and other nonsense, thereby obscuring the important points made by their betters and driving away more thoughtful readers. Unless they were being paid, it’s difficult to understand why individuals of their supposed views would have seemingly spent years of their lives writing their 600,000 or 700,000 words of worthless comments on this website.
Such trollish commentary is less than 10% of our total, but I think eliminating that sludge would be a desirable outcome for everyone else. Meanwhile, reducing the comments of individuals who are sincere but have little of value to say would also be beneficial, and even high-quality commenters must admit that they sometimes waste their time on insults or other remarks of little value.
I think we need to put our commenters on a strict diet, perhaps cutting our monthly total of 50,000 comments by a quarter or even a third.
Meanwhile, when I discovered just how much time so many people were spending on this website, I decided it would make sense for them to pay some of our costs. After all, since our bloggers all draw a salary and many of our columnists and writers are paid regular stipends as well, shouldn’t our heaviest users be required to cover some of these expenses? If someone spends 20 hours a month reading articles on a website, how can they reasonably object to paying the writers?
Many newspaper websites these days allow visitors 5 or 6 free stories a month, after which they must buy a subscription. So my initial idea had been to allow visitors perhaps 100 or 200 pageviews per month before requiring them to start paying. But people raised various objections and such software metering might also be difficult to implement in practice. Fortunately, a shrewd commenter came up with a much better suggestion:
This is exactly what I proposed (several times) to Taki’s daughter when they took the “world famous” comments behind a paywall. Let the comments remain visible (as they were great) and, if someone feels strongly enough about an issue they want to spend the time and effort to comment, they will spend perhaps a small amount of money, too.
A dollar per comment, say, would have the added benefit of improving the quality of the comments, too, I imagine. People would probably spend more time on their comments and would be more likely to refrain from posting fluff or personal attacks if it cost them a buck to do it. But if you have something substantive to add to the conversation, you’ll probably pony up….
Taki’s daughter didn’t bother responding to my suggestions as, I suspect, she was happy to get all those potentially socially awkward views safely out of sight. She lacks the appreciation Taki has for the intellectual thumb in the eye–an appreciation not in short supply here on Unz.
Now, would I pay a buck to post this? Yeah, poor as I am, I would.
I’d like to keep the initial “entry barriers” to new arrivals who stumble across this website and its freewheeling discussions as low as possible, so I would lean towards a much softer version of that proposed payment structure.
Perhaps the first ten comments every month would be entirely free of charge. After that, users could either start paying $1 per comment, or be restricted to just one free comment per day. Under this structure, even the most impoverished or stingiest reader could still publish nearly 40 comments per month without paying anything, and 40 comments per month is actually a pretty sizable number.
There’s also a clear difference between the commenting environment provided by our four bloggers and that of the rest of the website. By word count, our bloggers attract roughly half our commentary, but their comments typically tend to be much shorter, generally not much more than half the length of the ones left on our major articles and columns. This gives those blog post discussions much more of a casual, informal atmosphere, and charging $1 for each such comment would be completely unreasonable. Therefore, after the ten free comments are exhausted, I think a relatively low fixed monthly fee should allow an unlimited number of additional blogger comments.
I’m not sure whether anyone has previously implemented the notion of charging for comments on a webzine, but I certainly think it seems like a better idea than charging people merely for reading our articles or comment-threads.
And for quite some time, it’s been pretty obvious to me that certain individuals are organized trolls, who are not acting in the best interests of an intelligent discussion. The enormous fees that they will be charged will either drive them away or help cover the salaries of the writers whose ideas they and their paymasters so abhor.
Our comment threads are also cluttered with all sorts of nonsense produced by sincere but obsessive individuals, whose irritating verbiage is often quite repetitive. Once they’re charged for their remarks, they’re likely to become much more thoughtful or abandon this website for some other venue where they can endlessly rant free of charge to their heart’s content.
Meanwhile, we do attract a core of very thoughtful, knowledgeable, and interesting commenters, and their views may become a much larger fraction of our threads after much of the other clutter is removed. And someone else came up with another excellent suggestion:
“Perhaps one should make it possible to pay commenters.”
Exactly. Ron could gain renown and turn the internet on its head by arranging this site so that those commenters deemed to have made the most substantive and popular comments would be paid proportionally. This would create the most professional comment section on the net.
Perhaps every commenter who begins paying a usage fee and thereby becomes established would be allowed to provide a link to some preferred donation page or method, whether PayPal, Patreon, Bitcoin, or something else, and a “Support Me” button to that donation link would be displayed next to his name. Therefore, someone who produced particularly insightful or articulate comment could be directly rewarded by grateful readers. This might partially cushion the blow of a comment charge since it’s always possible that the $1 spent publishing a particular comment would yield $100 in resulting donations. Rather unlikely perhaps, but possible.
Anyway, these are my current ideas, substantially based upon the suggestions made on the previous comment-thread, which has now been closed.
I very much look forward to getting further feedback, whether positive or negative. However, some of those very same active trolls who have spent years cluttering up our threads with many hundreds of thousands of words naturally decided to clutter up that thread as well, pushing it over 50,000 words and rendering it unwieldy. Since I’m hoping to permanently exile them using these new methods in the near future, I’ll just trash most or all of their comments on this thread, along with other comments that seem overly off-topic.
So be warned that this particular thread will be subjected to much harsher moderation than is usually the case.