A little over a week ago, I published an Announcement describing that a small fraction of our heaviest commenters would be receiving recognition for their excellent work by having their superior status so indicated. After the bit of experimentation and feedback, I’ve settled upon a gold star next to their names, and this may further evolve over time, while additional commenters may eventually be added to this list.
As an unexpected byproduct of the discussion surrounding the selection of these individuals, numerous substantive debates on various controversial topics broke out, with the heated exchanges pushing the thread to over 1,000 comments and 130,000 words. What had started out as an administrative issue had effectively become an “Open Thread.”
While I certainly haven’t read the entire thing—who has time to read 130,000 words of comments that jump from topic to topic and are heavily laced with insults and bitter accusations!—portions of it seemed quite interesting and substantive. So as an experiment, I think I’ll regularly keep an Open Thread featured in the Sidebar, available for wide-ranging discussions, perhaps a fresh one appearing every couple of weeks or so. The first of these will be the Announcement thread in question.
The Sidebar also now contains a permanent Bugs & Suggestions thread, which should be used for that purpose.
Partly as a consequence of the helpful comments in that thread, I’ve now made several small changes in the commenting system:
- “Hidden” comments now display the Replies and Reactions, making it a little easier for readers to decide whether to unhide them as they scroll through the thread.
- A new “Thanks” option has been added to the available Reactions.
- At the top of every thread is a “Trim Comments” option, which automatically truncates longer comments with a “More.” It was added to the system long ago, but was broken and is now fixed.
- Also at the top of every comment-thread is an “Endorsed Only” button, which hides all comments except those with positive Reactions or by Notable commenters. Similarly, the “Hide Thread” button hides all comments in that particular thread. These filtering operations now retain the regular numbering and allow any of the hidden comments to be unhidden. This allows very long comment-threads to be greatly reduced in length for reading.
- People have often complained of mistakes in using the Reply button, namely publishing a Reply addressed to the wrong commenter or comment. To reduce this problem, the “Cancel Reply” button now provides the name of the commenter being addressed.
These small changes may somewhat enhance the commenting process.
In a comment on that previous Announcement, I also mentioned that we might begin implementing harsher additional ways of improving the commenting environment:
I feel I may have really been over-thinking the best means of weeding out the clutter of our most worthless 10-15% of commenters.
Writing a comment, even a repetitive or worthless one, takes at least a little time and effort. So getting it trashed must be a somewhat painful or irritating experience. Once that happens enough times, I suspect that the commenters in question would either begin to mend their ways or else permanently depart for greener pastures.
I think I’ll arrange for badly-behaving or particularly worthless commenters to have an increasing fraction of ALL their comments trashed, maybe 30% then 50% then 70% then 90%, thereby giving them increasingly strong “hints” that they’re doing something seriously wrong and should modify their behavior.
One major source of confusion is that I have NEVER claimed anywhere that this is some sort of “free speech” website, only that we regularly focus on controversial topics and that our standards of moderation are far lighter than most other publications.
But I wonder if these standards have really been a little too light. Perhaps just trashing a large fraction of all the worthless comments by the spammers and extreme obsessives who clutter up these threads would produce a much more beneficial experience for everyone else moving forward.
Anyway, if certain individuals start to notice that more and more of their comments are getting trashed, they shouldn’t be too surprised.
The point is not that necessarily that all or even most vacuous, repetitive, or otherwise worthless comments will be trashed, merely that there may be a substantial risk of that happening. Once misbehaving individuals have seen their creative labors repeatedly vanish into the void, they may decide either to improve their behavior or abandon the website.
Since everyone now has access to a dedicated Open Thread, commenters here should try to stay within the confines of this administrative discussion. If your off-topic comments get trashed, you have only yourself to blame.
Finally, I should mention that the passage of another year means that another hundred thousand or more of the article PDFs contained in my content-archiving system are now copyright-expired under U.S. law and therefore fully available for public reading, including everything published prior to 1925. If not for the machinations of the Disney Corporation and “The Bitter Legacy of Mickey Mouse,” twenty additional years of important historical and intellectual material would have also been made available by now.