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Washington Post integrates Talk – Mozilla’s open-source commenting platform (blog.mozilla.org)
564 points by mwheeler on Sept 12, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 334 comments

Reddit has had embeddable comment threads for over two years. It was a feature I actually worked on nine years ago, but the standards weren't there at the time to make it work with voting.

I know I'm super biased, but I still find Reddit comments the easiest to read and follow (HN is a pretty close second, especially after they added comment collapsing).

Is it really just bad marketing it on Reddit's part that keeps others from using their embeddable comments? As a site owner, you can fully moderate the conversation by only embedding comments from a subreddit you fully control. You may not get quite as much data as Mozilla's solution, but in exchange you get the benefit of Reddit's 12 years of spam data that train its filters.

I just don't understand why more sites don't embed the reddit comments.

I think there are a few disadvantages Reddit has here. The first that comes to mind is that website administrators, especially for large and politically-charged sites, might like Reddit's software, but not its ... um, culture. "Just embed Reddit" sounds approximately like "just embed 4chan".

While smaller sites are happy to give up some control for the sake of easily adding a major feature to their site, larger businesses are probably going to want to own their own content and self-host their code as much as possible. Reddit has a non-trivial set of dependencies (https://github.com/reddit/reddit/wiki/Dependencies), so it's not very attractive as far as that goes.

My from-my-ass guess is that once Reddit ended up in the mainstream news a few times for some drama or another, it lost the opportunity to be taken seriously as an embeddable feature by other major sites.

But that feels like a marketing fail.

You don't have to accepts reddit's culture to embed it's comments. You can have a subreddit that you control where you can moderate it and remove any content you don't like.

As a site owner, you can have full control over the content if you want.

It's a marketing fail. The commenting system needs a separate brand. If you were going to use Kinja or Chorus, you wouldn't assume you were dragging along the culture that its existing publishers have.

To an extent, "just use the subreddit's moderation" is a product fail, too. It needs to feel like a standalone product, not embedding another site that you might not completely understand.

Subreddits don't exist in a vacuum though (and I say this as a big fan of some smaller subreddits with pretty awesome communities, like /r/vandwellers).

So even if we set aside the question of self-ownership of data vs. embedding, WaPo would look at this as an opportunity to either create their own culture, with their own weirdos and brilliant people, or to start with Reddit's and try to moderate their way towards the culture they want. Framed that way, I think Reddit's at a disadvantage.

If Slashdot had provided the option of just embedding their comment system onto Reddit pages, would Reddit ca. 2004 had done that instead of building their own?

> would Reddit ca. 2004 had done that instead of building their own?

Maybe, but probably not, largely because they could not fully control the content, like WaPo could do today.

In this day and age, commenting on the internet is pretty mature, and the best systems have years of data to feed their anti-spam algorithms.

Just like you can run your own mail server today, most people don't because it's a pain in the butt and it's a lot easier to take advantage of someone else's expertise.

It's the same with comments. It's a lot easier to let someone else do it.

Heh, I run my own mail server.

I don't think Slashdot offered the kind of users that early Reddit founders wanted to seed their userbase with. But, I can't prove that, so I'll have to take your word for it that Reddit would have been open to the idea except for the quality of the imagined software.

I've been purposely gentle because I'm a long-time Reddit user -- I remember when comments were turned on for the first time -- and although I still think the main folks behind Reddit are pretty cool and built something really big that has had incalculable impact, I also have a lot of old axes to grind and I don't want your honest question to turn into an opportunity for me to do that.


Your response here has essentially been, "everything's fine, you can just moderate the content, we provide the tools to do that. Maybe this is just a marketing problem."

It's not just a marketing problem.

Moderators have publicly castigated Reddit admins on multiple occasions over the tooling they have available (example from quick search: https://np.reddit.com/r/fountainpens/comments/3byxtg/regardi...). Articles titled "Reddit is tearing itself apart" have been published on sites with widespread readership (http://gizmodo.com/reddit-is-tearing-itself-apart-1789406294). There was that GameOfTrolls subreddit that openly harassed other subreddits and Reddit administration plainly ignored it for quite a while until they finally stepped over some fine line in the site rules.

A publication like WaPo would certainly be a target for that kind of abuse. I would have to assume that whoever is involved in making decisions about comments on their site must be at least a little bit aware of the potential for abuse here. They were one of the first (or the first?) to have their own profile page. They grok Reddit, and they decided not to have Reddit embedded into their site. That's just not a marketing problem.

Reddit administration made a decision early on to take a hands-off approach to community management. One of the consequences of that is that a significant part of Reddit's community is the sort of culture that sites like the Washington Post don't want to have to spend their time dealing with, and the moderation tools Reddit provides are just not good enough to make up for it.

But you still have to tell the reader to go to Reddit and make an account if they want to comment.

> You can have a subreddit that you control where you can moderate it and remove any content you don't like.

Or your very own installation of https://github.com/reddit/reddit ?

Reddit is no longer Open Source. As i understand it from the blog post[1] the actual code used to run reddit cannot be build from the original repository alone.

[1] https://www.reddit.com/r/changelog/comments/6xfyfg/an_update...

Heh. Time to clone it in Chez. Or Arc! :)

> You can have a subreddit that you control where you can moderate it and remove any content you don't like.

Are the moderation tools up to it? I've always thought they had the reputation of being underpowered. Or is that just another marketing fail?

They filter out quite a bit by default, and you have to choose to turn it off. What many subreddit mods do is have a bot that auto-approves stuff based on more specific criteria. That gives a lot of room to blame the forces that be when things get hinky.

> might like Reddit's software, but not its ... um, culture

Which culture? Outside of the default subs, I'm not sure its really accurate to say that Reddit _has_ a singular culture, except perhaps in the same broad sense we might say that "the internet" has one.

Rather, each subreddit has its own unique culture, and there can be a _lot_ of variance between the cultures of different subreddits.

In my opinion, the overall theme of reddit is heavy moderation. You have subreddits on all sides of the political and social spectrums that ban dissenting opinions (e.g. the_donald and latestagecapitalism). Even what jedberg is suggesting -

>As a site owner, you can fully moderate the conversation by only embedding comments from a subreddit you fully control.

I agree that moderation is necessary (hate speech, spam, etc.), but allowing any individual(s) to create arbitrary rules feels really awful. I wish there was an overall "moderation guidelines" for popular subs that enabled discussions to occur, and some recourse if mods abused their powers. Right now it's an echo chamber machine and I'm starting to hate it.

The best comment threads are on Slashdot, the ability to filter comments less than +2 makes it much easier to skim read all the good comments.

On Reddit, if the top comment is a joke, you need to wade through a million other jokes before you get to the next top level comment (which may be interesting)

Categorising (a la slashdot) comments is interesting, you can filter out 'funny' and keep 'informative' etc. But I guess it puts a burden on the users to select the right 'up vote' .... do you have a funny button, an informative button, etc?

Facebook has solved this with their 'reaction' icons (like, funny, shock, heart) so user apatite is there for this kind of classification.

> On Reddit, if the top comment is a joke, you need to wade through a million other jokes before you get to the next top level comment (which may be interesting)

You can just collapse it.

I agree with you that the categorization on Slashdot was nice, as was the metamoderating. But when I find myself on Slashdot these days, I find it impossible to follow a conversation with so many collapsed comments.

> You can just collapse it.

Yeah, but I've usually swiped down and I don't know if its worth going back up to collapse it.

Default sorting by category would be nice, push the funnies down and pull the interesting ones up.

Some subreddits have custom CSS that extends the collapse element to the height of the container. /r/overwatch is a good example; I wish that style was the default.

There's often not much conversation to follow. I'll very occasionally pop over to Slashdot (I'd been there since before user accounts were a thing), and ... well, it's fallen greatly.

>>> Facebook has solved this with their 'reaction' icons

The Globe and Mail (Canadian national newspaper and growing media company) has executed something similar.

They actually have some pretty innovative work going on (at least with respect to the rest of Canadian media), and maintain a lab for this express purpose.

example (scroll to the end of the article, comments are expandable):



disclaimer: I work for a national media outfit in Canada that isn't the Globe

That comment section looks terrible. For one thing- the fact you even needed to tell us how to find them? Second, what's innovative there? I can't even collapse threads.

Hm. I wanted to edit, turns out I can't.

I was mistaken, the comment section is provided by: https://www.getcivil.com/

Their innovation labs have more to do with redesigning their end-user services and making them accessible. Anyway I'm not their salesman, I work for a competitor. I just have heard a talk from the head of their lab in the springtime and it was great. They're at least trying things on, whereas media (at least in my experience so far) has been largely resistant.

Trust me, try pitching, or carrying out at a manager's request, a project that changes the working, production, and content delivery paradigms of media and media-design veterans at the pinnacle of their careers; they do not like it.

The fact that the Globe, NYT, and WaPo are active in trying new things is great.

Again if you doubt me, try managing 20+ WordPress multi-sites, each with differing and undocumented theme build processes, and every little component another undocumented patchworked plugin -- all because most of the group doesn't want to have to relearn something they figured was solved enough in 2005.

Innovation like these things in media is well overdue in so many of the processes up to the front end.

Further, the link above is a beta. At least they are trying on different comment systems that aren't Disqus or the 'same old thing'.

Ok got it. Yeah I'm definitely in favor of folks trying new things like Mozilla and WaPo are. We can only be as intelligent as the conversations we hold with each other.

Yeah pretty much. My personal take is there probably needs to be a larger paradigm shift in society and most people's general outlook, ultimately. I'm not quite sure proper moderation or emojis or comment filtering will help all that much. Let's face it, while on some sides optimism abounds, there has been pervading (and maybe growing with the access to information) a jadedness that is pervasive in how people conduct themselves.

Reddit + RES and "collapse all child posts" is pretty awesome. All threads start off collapsed. You can individually expand them.

https://www.reddit.com/r/GeoPolitics has a very nice CSS in which the collapse toggle runs down the side of a thread. You can collapse, and set the level you want to collapse, from within the thread. It's genius, seriously.

The bar appears on mouse-over, running vertically.

See for example: https://www.reddit.com/r/geopolitics/comments/6z27gx/rgeopol...

I have been a Reddit user for more than ten years, and am a software developer, and this is the first time I've heard of embedding Reddit comments.

Same here. Though I stopped being able to enjoy reddit long ago.

There's an extension that replace all Youtube comments with their respective reddit thread if available and it's great.

To be honest, it is because reddit still feels... frivolous? It doesn't have the toxicity that it did a couple years ago, nor the shallowness of its nothing-but-cat-pictures reputation. But neither is it a good platform for gaining customers or revenue. It is a place to gain traffic, but traffic without revenue is not the goal for most organizations. Now, if reddit traffic converted, I'd look deeper at it - but when traffic from reddit has conversion rates that are 25% that of the traffic from other social media? I just see no reason to engage any deeper.

Far as I can tell, reddit functions best as a PR platform for businesses and corporations to communicate with their customers and fan-base.

It's not the sort of place I'd go to for serious conversations about anything.

Than you haven't looked far enough, long enough, whatever. Reddit is an incredible source of information and discussion. It took me a long while to "get it", but I'm an addict now. Just for fun, but there are many serious subreddits with good discussions. It can be problematic to find them, as it's huge.

A good way to organise the good stuff into topics for yourself is via "multireddits", and add high quality subreddits as you discover them.

I have multireddits for tech, cryptocurrencies, DIY, entrepreneurship and so on. You can skim each multireddit for the top content every few days and filter out most of the low quality stuff that way. I learn a lot about interesting web businesses this way that I would have never discovered otherwise for example.

you have no idea how wrong you are, to put it mildly. there are some absolutely fantastic subreddits with quality discussions and stronger moderation than the internet forum you're currently complaining on. check out r/askscience for one example.

The thing I can't stand (rage) is when you see something interesting, then have to trawl through dick jokes, and dank memes.... to find an actual real topic answer to a redditor's interesting question. It winds me up no end!

This is how I knew I was getting old.

me too. turns out there are subreddits ran by old people, too :)

I would expect that's because conversions are antithetical to high quality discussion (and thus site loyalty).

You guys seriously did a good thing with nested and collapsable comments.

Reddit's comment structure remains by far the best on the internet. You should definitely be proud of that.

I still really like Slashdot's comment moderation, with multiple characteristics, and the ability to quickly collapse all ajudged low-value comments with a slider.

The ability to promote certain users comments (and vice versa) is good too; but you have to use that carefully.

Would love to have that with the content and users here.

Maybe /. is better now? That used to be my main tech news website, but Reddit replaced it because of the comment structure.

(And then HN replaced that because of the quality of comments here)

Reddit replaced /. and Digg to my recollection primarily because of political issues and user resistance to site updates.

I came to HN well before I found Reddit (I think it being mentioned here was the stimulus). [this is my 2nd username here]

HN thrives IMO because it got a high value kernel of contributors early on, through synergy with Ycombinators business, and because of strong moderation heavily focused against new users.

Up until the last year or so most comment threads haven't needed to be filtered, due to the relatively small population, but popular stories now attract a mass of comments such that one can't easily scan through to precis the range of reactions.

HN maybe wants to stay "small" though. A lot of users in any case want to keep a tight focus on start-ups/computer tech/programming; keeping a "clunky" comment system probably provides useful friction to that end.

The main frustration in consuming comments here for me is the lack of differentiation between valuable and disagreeable comments. Though this appears to reflect pg's personal philosophy (he stated that down-voting for disagreement was proper, or words to that effect).

The comment tools in Scoop (the Kuro5hin CMS) were pretty slick. You could select flat, nested, or minimal, and the display would automatically cycle through those as the number of comments grew.

I'm trying to remember if it had the ability to filter comments below a threshold, though I'm thinking it did.

I'm not going to use a site where the CEO edits people's comments.


Doesn't that require a reddit account to comment? That sounds like a pretty large con to me...

>I still find Reddit comments the easiest to read and follow (HN is a pretty close second, especially after they added comment collapsing)

Really? I hate the tree style of comments. It's all well and good when you're reading a chain of replies, but then you run into a comment that's halfway back up the tree and have to make several attempts at collapsing comments to figure out which one is the sibling.

I much prefer a comment system like 4chan, where the post you're replying to is linked and previewable, as are posts replying to yours.

What do you mean with "halfway back up the tree"? You mean you read a comment C5, and then there are lots of replies to C5: C5-A1, C5-A2, C5-A3, ... but you want to find C5's sibling, C6?

If I want to read C6, so I have to find and collapse C5, C4, C3, etc. in order to see their common parent. And it's hard to tell the difference, especially on mobile, the difference between C5 and C5-A1, or C5 and the parent I'm looking for.

Since you like Reddit style comments, maybe you'd like this online commenting system too: https://www.kajmagnus.blog/new-embedded-comments (click ^ to collapse)

(I'm developing it.) It's inspired by Reddit & HN, and has some additional features that makes it simpler to navigate large discussions, e.g. instantly jumping to the parent post (if it's far away) to refresh one's mind, and then jumping back. I made a video: (scroll down to "Jumping to the parent post, and back") https://www.effectivediscussions.org/-32/how-hacker-news-can... (everything not ported to embedded-iframes yet, though.)

Maybe Reddit aren't advertising their embedded comments, so no one knows about it? A while ago I searched for embedded comments alternatives, and I found some abandoned projects (that had gotten super many upvotes here at HN), + Isso, + Disqus, + Talk, but cannot remember having found anything about Reddit. I wonder why they build it, but then won't focus on marketing it. Maybe they haven't thought about any way to make money from their embedded comments, yet. Hmm.

Because they don't want the alt right and Russian bots all over their site, I imagine.

So... after reading your post, I went over to reddit to try to figure out how to embed comment threads for use as a discussion section on a site.

You know what? I can't find anything helpful on Reddit about how to do it.

I found how to embed reddit buttons easily enough (from the link on the bottom[1]). Checking the FAQ eventually led me to a page that says: "We’re working to support comment embeds shortly. We will update the publishers page and the FAQ when it’s out." [2]

Googled for it, and found an announcement blog[3] that made me realize "embed" exists under each comment. That only seems like a peculiar way of quoting a specific comment though -- and if there is some way of replying to comments through it or upvoting, I don't see how. I can't imagine anyone would want to have to comment on their own post in order to start a comment chain on their own site either.

Finally realized that "share" existed under each post as well. (Like 'embed', my brain just tunes that stuff out as junk -- seriously, why would I need help emailing a thread when I know how to copy and paste?) In addition to social media icons, there's a weird icon that seems to give you the option to embed a fancier looking link to a reddit thread. I don't see any comments attached to that in the preview though. This seems like the most likely place to find the functionality, but I'm not seeing it.

So, jedberg, I'm going to have to go with "no one knows how to do it" as the main reason that nobody embeds reddit comment threads for their own comment sections.

(Honestly though, I'd rather read reddit comments on reddit than have them embedded.)

[1]: https://www.reddit.com/buttons/

[2]: https://www.reddithelp.com/en/categories/reddit-101/post-emb...

[3]: https://redditblog.com/2015/03/23/announcing-embeddable-comm...

HN is a pretty close second, especially after they added comment collapsing

Isn't comment collapsing in HN the same as downvoting? I find this confusing - or maybe I just don't have enough karma for the actual downvote button.

Collapsing a thread is absolutely not the same as downvoting the parent. It's just a display toggle.

On the topic of thread collapsing on HN, I honestly can't believe they still haven't fixed the performance issue. It's not noticeable on small threads, but go to one with thousands of comments (like the iPhone X one), and try collapsing. I've seen threads with noticable 1-2 seconds delay for every collapse.

Are you getting confused between the down arrow to down-vote and the [-] button to collapse? I am assuming there's a down arrow, since I don't have the privilege to down-vote :-)

Collapsing only hides it for you.

With enough karma you get a downvote button.

It'd better not be, I collapse good comments all the time when looking for something specific.

> I just don't understand why more sites don't embed the reddit comments.

1. You can't leave comments after an amount of time has passed on Reddit. On even my blog, conversation will spark up 1+ years later. Why would a website want to inherit that limitation?

2. Users have to have a Reddit account. Some of the best conversations in my comments section are anonymous.

I completely agree with this. I'm surprised reddit hasn't monetised the actual comment threads themselves and become a better disqus.

Can't speak for WaPo but the New York Times comments sections are absolutely dominated by a handful of designated 'top commenters' who rush to post on any major story.

Sometimes their comments are good, but then there's the guy who writes a poem every single time, or 'Socrates' who posts the same cookie-cutter 'blame-the-GOP-all-the-way-back-to-bush' comment with the most dramatic rhetoric possible, trolling for likes of course.

Having said that, I'm pretty satisfied with the Times comment system, everyone does get a voice even though the top comments are absolutely fixed.

It seems like a mix of Reddit google's network algorithm could work - don't just upvote/downvote the post, but lend the commenter's credibility. So upvotes from hordes of poo-flinging monkeys aren't weighted as heavily from upvotes from credible sources.

Then the hack: this is a newspaper. They have no reason to be fair. Give community moderators super-credibility. So they can upvote people and not just give their comment visibility, but by upvoting they incidentally give them credibility for future comments. And in turn, those commenters' upvotes are more powerful as well, thanks to the credibility lent by the community mods.

It creates an echo-chamber, of course... but ultimately, that's what people want.

> It creates an echo-chamber, of course... but ultimately, that's what people want.

I want to eat ice cream every day, but I also want to feel good and be healthy.

Let's give people a little credit--if they're aware of their biases and are given tools to overcome them, a lot of folks might make the right choice.


Or perhaps the right wins local, state, and federal elections because a large portion of the country doesn't like the solutions the left proposes.

I find the typical stereotypes about conservative voters to be kind of amusing. I'm fairly young, and I have an BSCE, MSEE, and a very decent paying job doing tech work. I'm a libertarian and I vote conservative because they at least usually claim to want to reduce the size and power of the federal government. Based on what I've seen in the media about people who tend conservative, I don't exist ... that or I'm actually either a buck-toothed uneducated redneck, a white nationalist, or a geriatric nursing home resident and somebody forgot to tell me :).

Also - regardless of how great their new system is, the old adage holds: "Garbage in, garbage out."

Just devils advocate here, but could it be you're the minority of that demographic?

I'm libertarian, and vote all over the map, but likely lean more liberal. I know plenty of well educated, employed conservatives. But, a bulk of voters in Trump's corner are not you. It's like going to a Free Speech rally. Some people are likely there just for speech, but if Neo-Nazis show up, and cause a ruckus, they're the face of the movement. Same goes for Antifa and taking over other peaceful protests. So, I think the disenfranchised, middle of the country, uneducated, unemployed person is simply the face of the cause. Unfortunately, some people only see things at face value.

Maybe the phenomenon you describe would be weaker in U.S. politics if there were more political parties and less incentive for people to vote major-party. As it is, it seems like a lot of political journalism consists of different attempts at tea-leaf reading about which demographics were motivated to join which coalitions how, and whether the coalitions will shift, and how we would even know. I'm sure those phenomena also occur in other countries with a broader partisan landscape, but maybe they come with a smaller dose of speculation. :-)

This unfortunately doesn't work well in a "first past the post" voting system, as a more general party will typically overpower a split opposition.

That's definitely a main factor that's tended to reduce the appeal of third parties.

> [...] they at least usually claim to want to reduce the size and power of the federal government.

Why do you assume that's inherently a good thing?

Most things that the federal government wants to do these days (healthcare, education, food assistance, etc.) can be done just as effectively at the state level (and possibly at the county or city level). In general, if things are done at lower levels of government, people in a particular area get more of what they do want and less of what they don't (for example Californians could have super-high taxes and single-payer, and Texans could have no income tax and a totally unregulated healthcare market). When you start pushing lots things up to the federal level, you get a group of voters on one end of the country forcing people on the other end of the country to do things in ways that they'd rather not do them. Therefore, everyone generally walks away happier if their local governments are left to do as many things as they reasonably can, the state governments take on the next layer of somewhat 'bigger' tasks, and the federal government sticks to things that only it can do - national defense, regulation of interstate commerce, issuance of currency, international treaties, etc. Most of the 'extra' stuff that the federal government does these days is done under a twisted interpretation of the interstate commerce clause, but wasn't actually intended to be the domain of the federal government by the founders, who had recently experienced similar problems in their relationship to England and wanted to avoid them within the USA. This is why the constitution is written the way it is.

EDIT: And if you're interested in learning about the constitution, I strongly recommend starting with Hillsdale College's free 'constitution minute' series ( https://constitutionminute.hillsdale.edu/home ), and if you like that, trying out their free 'constitution 101' series ( https://online.hillsdale.edu/course/con101/schedule )

This would be great, if the states had comparable resources and economies, like they (mostly) did when the country was founded. But it hasn't been like that for a very long time, and there are benefits to having the wealthier states help the less wealthy states get some of these things done. That's only going to happen through federal coercion, because states won't volunteer their resources otherwise. (Except for special situations; TX and FL would be getting assistance now from the whole country even if the federal government wasn't involved.)

My impression is that the states who argue for small federal government, and for solving problems locally, seem to also prefer private sector solutions over government services (state and federal). So, the choice is not really between federal or state government, but between government and no government. And secondly, things like healthcare are expensive. Making it the sole responsibility of the states means that poor states will get poor healthcare. That is one reason all developed countries have some form of government provided or regulated healthcare system.

Fair enough.

But why would people need different healthcare based on different states? Or education? Or food? That never made sense to me.

Let's say 51% of the country was against abortion, but you live in a state where 100% of the people approve of abortion.

Now, why would people need different healthcare based on different states?

Not everyone agrees with your definition of what constitutes "need" as it relates to healthcare, education or food. And while populations are rarely if ever completely homogenous, it would be absurd to say there aren't significant cultural values that are largely shared based on geography.

Why aren't they already being done then?

Don't worry, it's more of a rhetorical question than one seeking an answer.

I've got a few answers anyway, if you're interested:

1) The federal government sucks up all of the money -- see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Federal,_State,_and_Local... . And that chart only encompasses income tax -- the overall federal tax rate is closer to 20% GDP. The average person in the US already works until April 24 each year just to pay taxes (if you were to take your all of your taxes and pay them at the beginning of the year). Higher income earners already work well over half the year to pay taxes.

2) People only want these things if somebody else is paying for it. 'Free' healthcare and college tuition seem a lot less 'free' if your property tax (or rent, if your don't own -- landlords still have to pay tax, after all) and/or state income tax suddenly jump by a large percentage to cover it. People are usually very happy to spend somebody else's money (the battle cry is "the rich", but the reality is more like "our children's"), but not their own. Local and state governments have less borrowing capacity than the feds and don't control the currency, so it's harder to obscure the true cost of these things.

3) A lot of people don't actually want them. Although large population centers (which hold a lot of sway at the federal level) tend to favor these things, much of the USA geographically does not. Massachusetts, for instance, already had something very similar to Obamacare (in fact, large parts of Obamacare were based on Massachusetts' "Romneycare" law), but it would have been a cold day in hell before a state like North Dakota passed something like that.

It sounds different if you say

"The average person works until April 24 to pay for things like schools, healthcare, rule of law, roads and trains, internet, etc...".

Which could still be true if taxes were levied at the state level, no?

depends which state you choose to live in, presumably

It's kind of like how liberals are all urban poor or coastal elites.

What people want isn't necessarily what they need.

When people's needs are satisfied, they want more of that.

So let's satisfy their needs instead. Echo chambers are ultimately self-defeating as they bring on more divisiveness and intolerance.

> Echo chambers are ultimately self-defeating as they bring on more divisiveness and intolerance.

But they are excellent at driving activity => pageviews. Which is where the money for newspapers comes from. Nothing to be said beyond that - the induction of outrage and divisiveness is a desired feature, not a bug, from the POV of media companies.

Do internet comment sections satisfy any need?

Now there's a contextually amusing question.

Internet commenting, wherein people use modern technology for group communication, facilitates the top two, possibly the top three levels on Maslow's hierarchy of needs. The base layer accounts for physiological needs like food and water, but past that base layer of physiological necessity, human beings need interaction with other human beings in order not to be a robot. Things like friendship and familial connections, which are are facilitated by social media such as Facebook.

And, really, what is Facebook but Internet commenting on baby and cat photos of people you are related to in some form (by choice or by birth).

If we accept that humans are social creatures, and social media is able to connect people, then it is possible to say Internet comment sections are able to fulfill some needs that people have. Displaced football fans working far from home may not be able to find a local group that also supports their home team in a far away place, but there's a digital clubhouse for the displaced fan's home team somewhere on the Internet.

This may not satisfy a need like food or water, but people organized into geographically-based, sometimes tightly-knit communities before the Internet. That modern technology allows us to organize into loose-knit communities through the use of "Internet comment sections" is to realize J.C.R. Licklider's dream of an inter-networked computer system.

If they provide an avenue for topical and reasonable discourse, then yes.

People (at least some people) tend toward the need for discourse to temper and test their ideas. I mean, you're commenting on HN.

What makes HN comments great that other comments systems don't have?

It's the guidelines. By writing guidelines that promote useful discourse you allow everyone involved to learn more about their own biases and shortcomings.

Every person that writes their opinion grows when reading the varied responses (as long as they're open to other people's perspectives).

Smarter and more insightful commentators.

That's pretty much it. Once the population gets too big and the level of discourse too low, the intelligent people will move to greener pastures with better signal:noise ratios. Slashdot's moderation system didn't save them, and HN's moderation system won't either.

I've yet to see a comment system that promotes signal:noise ratio over groupthink.

Exactly, HN works because of it's audience. This leads to weird incentives though, promoting HN to widely might worsen it by diluting the 'good' audience. Not to forget the discussion about who is part of the 'good' audience, that discussion is bound to be toxic.

So you don't think HN has groupthink?

Doesn't every groupthink community describe themselves as "Smarter and more insightful commentators"? I'm pretty sure Trump or Clinton voter websites consider their signal-to-noise high and everyone else's low.

The text-only interface with no 3rd-party ads plus the smart person cult of YC / PG contribute a lot.

If the article is written in a way that isn't honest, I expect the top comment to describe how, and I expect the top comment to that to be a rebuttal. The best comment doesn't always reach the top, but it often does, and it's usually somewhere to be found. The exceptions are usually found in heavily moderated or highly specialized forums.

If they didn't, HN wouldn't exist. ;)

HN is for the news of course.

What are you doing right now?

Something I want to do, not something I need to do.

Then why waste time and effort pretending to be democratic? Why have votes at all?

Needs aren't as profitable.

"If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses."; whether Henry Ford truly said that or not is immaterial as the quote itself is the point I was trying to make.

And your comment really rather touches on it.

Peoples' needs aren't as profitable -- not until what they need also becomes what they want.

I've never heard that quote used in that context before. That's interesting. I've always ascribed it to something closer to Kuhn's paradigm shifts.

Tell that to an oil or pharmaceutical company.

How about this:

separate buttons for "this is a good/bad argument" and "i agree/disagree with this"

then give more voice to people whose votes on these two axes are orthogonal.

this rewards policing bad arguments on your side, or finding good arguments on the other side.

If it is known that visibility is tied to "good/bad argument" rather than "agree/disagree", I'd expect most people to start using the 'argument' buttons for signaling their 'agreement'.

it's tied to both.

to gain visibilty, need to vote "good argument, but i disagree" or "bad argument, but i agree with the conclusion"

a naked 'good argument' or 'i agree vote' costs a small amount of karma.

a 'i agree, good argument', costs a large amount of karma, because those votes should be rare.

It creates an echo-chamber, of course... but ultimately, that's what people want.

Done right, it will allow diversity of opinion without turning the comment section into an unreadable ranting mess.

Do you really want to read a commentator who post the same screed about republicians or democrats on every story?

Thank you for expressing this. Our usual news providers are mostly biased.

What I'd love is to see a tool that allows you to see fact from opinion and the ability to see multiple perspectives.

In Australia there's a government run TV channel that have programs that attempt this. Good journalism is hard to find though.

As technologists we've built this system that optimises for page views. Surely we're capable of building a system that optimises for the truth instead.

> It seems like a mix of Reddit google's network algorithm could work - don't just upvote/downvote the post, but lend the commenter's credibility. So upvotes from hordes of poo-flinging monkeys aren't weighted as heavily from upvotes from credible sources.

Are there site that do that? I know hackernews limits your voting abilities until you get so much karma.

Sounds like some variation of the above ideas would work great. The vote from a random troll who doesn't understand the community's rules shouldn't count as much as other votes but I'm not sure how you would implement it in a way that wouldn't be abused.

> Are there site that do that?

Not news or commenting related, but a site like Newgrounds [0] (i.e. flash games and videos) has this feature. As you participate in the community more and contribute high-quality ratings, enforcement, etc. you gain more influence, making your votes carry more weight. Therefore an account that has been involved with the site for some time may carry more weight than a few new troll accounts.

It seems like a good model, but may still need occasional moderator intervention to prevent abuse here and there.

[0] http://www.newgrounds.com/

Slashdot uses (used?) meta moderation. You could review votes others did - not the value itself, but the category. "Do you agree this post is (interesting/insightful/funny/...)?"

Not sure how the results were used though.

On Slashdot, moderation power is (was) awarded periodically. Metamoderation was used to grade the moderators. If enough people disagreed with your moderation, eventually you got mod points less often. If people liked your moderation, you'd get mod points more often.

It's a way to police the moderators, a great concept at least, though it gets tiresome at times.

I'd completely forgotten about this. Having to review votes from other users feels like work to me though. Having the community arrive at the community rules with metamoderation isn't going to always go along with the goals of the site either I would have thought.

I wonder if a similar system would work where 1) regular users vote as normal 2) moderators who strictly stick to community guidelines vote (e.g. vote up comments that add to the discussion, vote down trolls, silly jokes and rude comments) 3) only votes from people whose votes are consistent with the moderators are weighted heavily.

Maybe you could even be rewarded with karma when a moderator agrees with you to encourage it instead of it being hidden. Obviously all these systems are open to abuse and problems but just throwing out ideas.

Slashdot comments have degenerated into uselessness.

Your solution gives merit to the individual for making the comment as opposed to the the content of comment itself. Similar to a democracy where the individual is a representative of quality content.

I worked on the blog team for Barack Obama's '08 campaign. The comments section developed a culture of posting a link to their personal fundraising page as the top comment, and other commenters would then donate to it.

Someone on the team got annoyed by this so for a while we would post the top comment before publishing such that they couldn't post their personal fundraising link. Then we ran some numbers and realized how much money it was costing the campaign (a lot).

Moral of the story: comment sections are weird.

That's really interesting. Did you guys ever test adding a fundraising link in the top comment you post vs a users top comment?

I read the paper version of the Times most week days. There are no comments (well, I guess there are a few letters to the editor).

I don't miss them. I'm sure commentcowboy236523 from Atlanta has some important things to say, but I don't need to read them. If I want conversation, I'll come to a place like Hacker News or reddit, where conversation is the goal. I can find that when I want it.

But I don't need it when I'm trying to relax and enjoy the paper. Comments simply don't add any value to the experience. We don't need better comments. We don't need them at all.

That's funny. I tend to skip the article and go into the comments.

Comments tell me "what's wrong with the article", and in doing so, give you a good picture of what the article is about.

As for the "what's wrong" part itself: generally speaking, you can really tell by how the comment is written whether it's legit or not. That way, you kinda get two sides of the coin, and you can decide for yourself what's going on.

I think you two are thinking of different things, and missing an important point: Comments are only as good as the community that's writing them. YouTube comments are the kind of comments you don't want to read, HN comments are the kind you skip the article for.

Whether comments are valuable very much depends on the kind of people you have writing them, and I believe it's worth trying to maintain a good commenting community.

I kind of agree and disagree. Yes we might be thinking of two different things. But I think it's not about the URL, but about the content. There's plenty YouTube videos that are intelligent, with intelligent responses to it.

But that was kind of my point; by looking at the way a response to a piece of content is written, you can judge its merit somewhat accurately.

For example, on a video about the way the Suicide Squad movie was edited, you might see:

- "BRILLIANT 100% agree!"

- "While I think you're right, there might be a couple of things you missed out on [...]"


Each of these comments tells you something different. And yes, some say more about the audience than the content ;)

I really just don't believe you can determine the truth content of an comment by how it is written, but maybe that's years of reading good sounding but factually inaccurate comments on HN and Reddit. There's an art to writing psuedo intellectual bullshit, and most people aren't capable of (or aren't as good as they believe they are) at judging complex issues outside of their domain.

Would just as soon not give armchair phd a platform. There's some research (don't feel like pulling it up - bullshit?) that talks about how the decline of valuing expertise has had some negative social consequences, but that's probably obvious.

Similar, I skim the article and read the comments. In some cases, I just read the comments. Though, I don't do this on any direct media sites, like online newspapers.

At Slashdot, chances are that I haven't read the article. I go straight to the comments and read those.

Curiously, I can't do that as often here on HN. Here, the quality of article is often higher and the comments are usually more on-topic and, often, more specialized. I do end up reading many more threads than I comment in.

But, yes... I learn a lot more from the comments (frequently) than I ever do from the article. HN is particularly good at this, and it's one of the reasons I visit.

We're not saying different things. As I said: I love the comments here (usually). I also learn a lot from them.

I think "forums" like reddit and HN are fundamentally different from inline comments on news websites.

Yes, I was agreeing with you and sharing my experience. That's why I said similar. Here, I am more inclined to read the article. HN people are just too smart for me to always be able to grasp it from comment context.

I wonder if there is an algorithm to score comments vs the article so that you can warp the article toward something the commentator would approve.

We have already seen examples where people run the same story on extreme left and extreme right web sites to get clicks and rage views and their toning, and changes are fairly algorithmic. That makes me wonder if you could build an echo chamber of one. So that what you read was always something you really agreed with, even if it wasn't written that way for anyone else. (same data and facts mind you, just slanting it toward the reader's preferences).

> That's funny. I tend to skip the article and go into the comments. > Comments tell me "what's wrong with the article", and in doing so, give you a good picture of what the article is about.

I'm similar. You could think of articles as one giant comment from a single person. I'd rather read comments from several people as it's much easier to spot bias and get a variety of viewpoints.

I pretty much do the same with HN.

I think reading the news without commentary is its own form of echo chamber. We will tend to pick a news source that slants to our liking and just experience that over and over again. Don't get me wrong, NYT is among the top newspapers I would want to use as a citation, but it definitely slants center-left with a hint of corporatism. So much so that after the election the NYT apologized for how it covered the election and rededicated itself to honest reporting.


> ...we aim to rededicate ourselves to the fundamental mission of Times journalism. That is to report America and the world honestly, without fear or favor, striving always to understand and reflect all political perspectives and life experiences in the stories that we bring to you.

I've taken a different approach, which I don't think is superior to yours, just more enjoyable for me... I intentionally watch openly biased news aggregators. For left wing commentary I will watch The Young Turks or Jimmy Dore. For right wing commentary I like Ben Shapiro. The truth usually lies somewhere in between.

"but it definitely slants center-left with a hint of corporatism"

Oh, I notice it. I think it's a fun game to root out the bias in the Times. It's really how the news is meant to be read (i.e. confrontationally).

There are other media organizations that decided to disable the comments' section. I remember reading something about it last week [1](https://medium.com/@AJEnglish/why-were-disabling-comments-on...). Instead of fighting Fake accounts, this company decided to allow comments only on social media platforms. Places where they cannot collect enough information to fight back "Fake commenters ".

> We feel that rather than approaching the problem with a collection of algorithms and an army of moderators, our engineering and editorial resources are better utilised building new storytelling formats that resonate with our audience.

I find that NYT comments accurately reflect the heavily liberal bias of NYT's reporting. Although I don't think that's wrong, I think there's room for constructive debate about the articles -- perhaps hosted on a different site.

It's not like it'd be difficult for NYT to have whitelisted commentator accounts run by NYT editors to game their own comment/vote system and drive a false consensus for readers.

Modern media do this every day already with their yellow-journalist hit pieces, biased comments to drive a narrative aren't even a skip away from that.

The thing is that commenting on NYT is limited to paying subscribers so it's not like they need to defend from outside 'raids'.

Then again, I would be shocked if PACs of all flavors didn't have pay groups of subscribers to crash the comments sections of the most prominent publications (NYT, WSJ, etc). Especially during the primaries last year. When you consider the amount of traffic they get, the top comment is valuable thought capital real estate during election season.

Your poem writer, Larry Eisenberg, is a national treasure: http://forward.com/culture/books/332712/how-a-96-year-old-li...

I agree about Socrates. Overwrought.

It's funny that you mention that "Socrates" guy. I see him a lot. I also see a lady named "Chistine McMorrow." They're both frequently at the top of the readers' picks section. They must check the Times often for breaking stories.

Yeah he's everywhere. I remember that NYT did a featurette on their top commenters and he's actually Chelsea Handler's brother.

I agree with the shortcomings of NYT comments you note. But they're at least an order of magnitude better than those at WaPo because they have humans curating them.

I don't read WaPo comments anymore, the signal/noise ratio is too poor. I learn something occasionally from NYT comments.

It's down to an organization's willingness to spend money on quality. NYT spends $ to improve the comment experience, WaPo doesn't.

I dimly recall one or two political blogs which grant daily rations. Something like 1 comment a day for noobs, more as you gain karma.

I have no idea how well this worked.

After reading this article over and over I am still clueless.

What is this all about? Feature-wise it doesn't sound better than a comment system from HN, Reddit or StackExchange.

Besides, Mozilla is really lacking communicational skills. This blog post feels like the documentation at MDN, tedious and unclear.

> This blog post feels like the documentation at MDN, tedious and unclear.

Of all things Mozilla may be doing wrong, the MDN docs on html / javascript is most definitely not one of it. They are by far the best available.

> This blog post feels like the documentation at MDN, tedious and unclear.

This feels like an undeserved swipe to me. How many developers prepend their searches with "mdn" when they need info on browser APIs?

Agreed. MDN is for the web what MSDN is for Windows programming - long, detailed, sometimes confusing, sometimes contradictory, and the number one resource you can find online. My three top resources for web documentation are: RFCs, MDN, and StackOverflow. I'm not even sure where I would find a list of all properties that a given DOM element support and what browser version support was added if not on MDN.

I do. I feel like Mozilla is the only organization that I can trust to provide neutral, unbiased documentation about all the standardized web APIs out there.

Plus with GitHub single sign-on it's actually very easy to contribute to or edit an article (assuming most web developers have a GitHub account). I was surprised when I found that out.

MDN is so confusing when it comes to their documentation. Some pages are better than others, but some are even contradictory in what they say. Then there is the PHP documentation which is both amazing and horrible. Each page starts off with official documentation which is even worse than MDN, but then they created a community documentation on each page (for that method/function/class whatever) below the official ones which are voted up and down by randoms and actually works out to be some of the best documentation on the web. Maybe we should all just jump to community maintained documentation. If i ever am pushed to a PHP doc page, I scroll past the official documentation and read the top rated community post which almost always gives me what I need instantly.

Stackoverflow is my preferred source of course.

I personally hate MDN. I actually prefer W3Schools. I want straight to the point examples.

I'm quite the opposite. I often use MDN when I need detailed explanation of JS or DOM features. I think it's a nice resource. If I need straight examples I go to StackOverflow. W3S isn't on my list any more.

W3Schools often has incomplete or outdated information.

I don't think that's true anymore. Do you have any examples?

Stack Exchange is not a commenting system. Source: I am one of the co-founders.

That seems like an unnecessary nitpick, considering Stack Exchange clearly includes a "comment" feature. Would you care to elaborate?

I think codinghorror is just annoyed that Discourse wasn't mentioned :)

(Just kidding!)

It's a Q&A system with commenting on the Q's and A's. Similar, but different, I guess.

Sure, but even the QA is basically a post/comment system adapted to solve a different problem. It's not so weird to take the lessons learned there and apply it back to general comment systems.

- A reputation scheme for both posters and commenters.

- Pinned responses from the poster.

- The comments appear in a 'best' ordering.

- Bad comments get pushed down and hidden.

It sounds like it's a ready-to-go free open-source project like Disqus that you can host yourself instead of trusting an outside company with your user data and relying on them to keep it up. I thought the "Here’s what makes Talk different" section with the bolded topic lines was pretty to-the-point.

Well, It's pretty much a commenting platform like Disqus, but with user privacy in mind, which seems a little strange to me, since it was conceived with (stopping) trolls and harrassment in mind. Point is, isn't identifying such individuals a way to explore their online data? I might be jumping to conclusions, but it is one of those topics that stink more whenever you mess with it.

The privacy part is that companies get to run their own instance of it instead of trusting all of their commenter data to a 3rd party like Disqus.

Unfortunately, it doesn't really remove the shadiness of the issue. Too bad.

I'm not sure what the privacy issue is here. That moderators could connect a user's posts together? That's true of all popular platforms (where the user isn't using Tor anyway).

Right below the fold of the Talk site [0]

> We’ve created a streamlined system that can improve how people behave and interact in the comments space, and allow moderators to more easily identify and remove disruptive comments.

Seems like one of its primary functions is a censorship tool. "Disruptive" is a very subjective term.

[0] https://coralproject.net/products/talk.html

Well, it's an embeddable comment system that doesn't track its users, unlike major "players" like Disqus or Facebook.

If you're struggling to grasp the importance of plug-ins for commentators, there's a good explanation of their relevance in the article.

I'd suggest that the article gives enough clues about why this Mozilla Talk solution is as beneficial to news sites as it is for their readers, but you have to consider who they're competing against. Do you think this has benefits for news sites over the solutions that players like Disqus and Facebook put out?

Also: maintaining direct relationships with some of their most loyal and valuable customers is key for news sites. Relinquishing that relationship to Fb, Disqus, Reddit, et al. can add friction to their business -- their ability to generate revenue from and Talk with their readers and community.


Yell Mozilla certainly thinks it's moderating tools are better.

There are two significant parts of the announcement:

1. Improved controls for filtering comments on prominent news sites.

2. A step towards the decentralisation of the web.

Both have potential benefits, especially if the comment filtering is user-driven.


It's about preventing wrongthink from being expressed on newspaper comment sections. Previously they just removed commenting from politically contentious stories, so I'm not sure why they're bothering with bringing it back.

No need to completely censor, when you can instead control the direction of the conversation.

Without comments, people go elsewhere to discuss the issue - elsewhere that you don't control. With comments, they discus it on your site, where you can completely control who can say what and how visible those comments are.

Done correctly it's a form of soft censorship by controlling of the discussion and manufacturing consensus among the "commentators".

Hard censorship has more immediate backlash than this does.

It's about allowing "rightthink" comments to be expressed on politically contentious stories, without having to deal with the backlash of weeding out certain comments, or having to pay the comment weeders.

It's part of a larger narrative being sold to the 21st century investor, that AI are taking everyone's jobs, so buy your robots before someone enslaves you with theirs. (It's all still leading to the Butlerian Jihad of Dune.)

As a DC-area resident and frequent reader of the Washington Post, the biggest problem with their comments section is the commenters. I'm not sure how this helps.

> the biggest problem with their comments section is the commenters

I think that's the problem with comments on any website. The questions are 1) how to bring out the best from people, and 2) whether that is sufficient.

The same person will behave very differently in different contexts. They may be professional but constrained in a business meeting or around superiors; intellectual, curious, and challenging in a classroom; and obnoxious and loud in a bar. How do you make your comment section, and website in general, bring out the qualities you want in your comments? I'd guess that many websites are not so altruistic as to want intelligent comments more than provocative ones, to generate traffic. I recently read an interesting history of the NY Times Op-Ed section, which said that provocation, rather than wisdom, was the intent.

And even if you bring out the best in people, is that sufficient? I find almost all columnists and op-ed writers to be a waste of time; how much time do I have for uninformed, random people? (And I appreciate the irony of saying that in my comment!)

> "I'm not sure how this helps."

Better tools to filter out trolls leaves more space for healthy debate.

> Better tools to filter out trolls leaves more space for healthy debate.

The very nature of US political discourse itself leaves no space for healthy debate. I'm sceptical that removing the trolls is going to be sufficient to fix that.

> The very nature of US political discourse itself leaves no space for healthy debate.

I am quite convinced that the nature of US political discourse is largely determined by the predominant media, and not by the individuals participating in the discourse.

–– Cable news is incentivized to sensationalize any minor event, and to frame stories centered around conflict

–– Social media rewards the most emotionally potent messages, consistently pushing aside calm discourse in favor of messages that hit emotional hot-buttons

–– Newspapers, magazines, etc have adapted their style of writing in order to gain more traction on social media, furthering the cycle of increasingly strong emotional engagement. Sure, newspapers are also often quite dispassionate, but those stories rarely gain much attention in the political realm.

–– Social media also increasingly creates identity bubbles, where like minded individuals can support one another's beliefs. This grouping of people has lead to identity being the primary consideration; facts are secondary.

> I am quite convinced that the nature of US political discourse is largely determined by the predominant media

There are plenty of historical examples of partisan clashes like the USA’s "conservative versus liberal/progressive" one without a modern media. Just look at some of the appalling rhetoric between the two parties of the time in 19th-century America, or the clashes between the Blues and Greens in Constantinople.

Choosing a tribe to belong to and then adapting a harsh “us versus them” stance seems to be a human universal. Modern media has only capitalized on something that was already there.

I agree with this. Sensationalism and conflict sells papers / ads. The comments section is just a reflection of the standard of the journalism business today. I would predict that any comment technology that lowers page views, even if it makes the conversation better, will be abandoned.

I would go one step further though, the news tries to make everything emotional (it obvious by the loaded words they use). Any emotional discussion can't be rational, almost by nature.

I wonder is this a line of thinking borne of weariness? The dreadful nature of political discourse everywhere is surely something that should be up for improvement. I'd like to think technology could be used to improve this, even though lately it seems to have been confusing things. I'd be given to thinking that once the public at large become more familiar with, and respectful of the power of social media, it will be the means through which this discourse is improved. I think we already see this in many spheres, just that the ugliness usually tends to undermine effectiveness. The trolls need to go, and they will in time but it's as much a social issue as a technological one. I think what we're seeing here is a "long 1997" similar to the "long September" phenomenon being played out as whole new massive chunks of the population join the online world.

I absolutely agree that our current situation needs to be improved, but looking at the history of media leads me to believe that by progressing past the centralized and regulated system of TV and radio we've left a local maximum when it comes to "civility". Older forms of "ugly" news, like the press of the french revolution or turn-of-the-century america, didn't get fixed over time, but by the law "catching up", either through oppression or the increase of regulation causing regulatory capture. Of course, the idea of recentralizing speech is more or less unacceptable: what would that even mean when the problem is not a small group of newsmakers, but literally everybody? I don't see any other solutions in our long past, though.

It would, but then there would be no one left to comment.

Except that by doing so it leaves a vacuum for more reasonable commenters to fill.

It's not a culture change that happens overnight, but the potential long term benefits make it worthwhile.

Not sure how you could ever hope to have productive debate on say an article about global warming. It's not a local topic, it's a difficult topic, there's millions of regular people and trolls around the world waiting to blab about something they don't have any clue about.

It's hard for me to imagine what a comment on a Washington Post article could add to the article or to anyone's knowledge. It's user involvement for the sake of user involvement. "Healthy debate" is maybe unobtainable at that scale.

HN can get pretty ignorant and off in the weeds (hey we're all guilty) fairly often, and that is despite being topical, relatively small, having relatively informed users and active moderators.

I think the biggest thing forums and comment systems need to do is to ban tedious comments. On subjects that have been debated to death, it is really annoying to see all the comments for a new article just be repeated talking points that I have seen a million times before. I would suggest sites have a single mega-threads for debating hot topics. Then make a rule that for any new article, you can only write a comment that says something new or something specific about the article. Forbid writing generic arguments that have already been covered in the topic mega-thread.

A ubiquitous example of this is the Facebook "Like" button, which the creator of which said she wanted to "solve the redundant problem":

> So how did the like button come about? What problem were you trying to solve? I was trying to solve what we called the redundant problem. So for example, if you write "We're getting married!" all the comments used to say "Congratulations" over and over again. I found that really aesthetically ugly, plus, every time someone did say something heartfelt, the post was hard to find among all the other redundant ones. [0]

I find a similar situation on YouTube, where commenters don't add any insight or discussion to the video, they just say something like, "Great job!" or "Beautiful music!". Not a problem in itself, but when you have hundreds or thousands of these comments it leaves out real room for critique, questions, etc.

GitHub has a similar feature with reactions to issues.

However, one small concern I have is that such reactions might "dumb down" user/viewer participation and give the impression that using a reaction is all you need to do to have an opinion. Real discourse requires thought and reason, and not just slapping an emotional sticker on something.

[0] https://www.vice.com/en_ca/article/mbag3a/the-inventor-of-th...

I've thought about something similar - a site that would be the canonical source for all arguments. Something like Arguman but with a mod policy as strict as Stack Exchange, a more approachable UI, and each point is its own thesis statement that could be plugged into different argument chains.

It wouldn't allow for great conversations, but I like the idea that I could write a blog post, go to this site, pick a couple of thesis statements that basically sum up my article, and plug them into the bottom of my post. When people reply, they'd need to reply to those arguments and use the conventions that the site establishes.

Let the inaugural cordoned-off HN comment sink be about Electron apps having high resource usage.

While this is true, that would also eliminate 95% of potential posts. I am more inclined to "you cannot post until you have proven you read stuff" ala https://meta.discourse.org/t/additional-optional-barriers-be...

Whatever tool removes the troll will tomorrow remove the whistleblower.

People are running pell mell into this arms race and are stopping to imagine how their tools could be put to ill use.

The best option for moderation is trained man power.

Not just trolls. I find that moderating voices have a hard time on comment sections. There is a tendency to go to one extreme or the other, where the most hardliners tend to drown others out.

One's healthy debate is another man's trolling. It's so obvious recently in US online media.

A troll is not someone you just disagree with.

That's my point. Too many people immediately jump to stick this label just because they disagree.

Ehh, not really.

That's assuming there's really anyone left.

That's the problem. Everyone thinks everyone else is a troll.

I don't think you're a troll.

The biggest problem is WaPo. And I'd say being a frequent read of WaPo isn't anything to be proud of either. In my estimation, WaPo is one of the most evil news institutions in the country and certainly the most powerful and the most involved in censoring/manipulating social media.

I would love to see a big site try to use Slashdot's old commenting system. Commenting felt like a privilege and so did moderation.

I don't know about commenting, but reading the comments felt like a chore with all the sliders, buttons to load more comments that went to another page where you couldn't follow the discussion, some comments being partially loaded or whatever.

By far the worst UI in a comment system. And they still do the slider and "load all comments" bit, but at least the UI feels a bit better than some years ago.

Slashdot's commenting system was 100% an echo chamber ;)

Ultimately it's very difficult to separate "that's a bad opinion, downvote", from "troll, downvote". People won't even agree on which is which, especially the trolls.

If you require someone to post really blatant stuff like "Hitler did nothing wrong" to be ejected from the discussion, then your discussion will be filled with ideological trolls who don't argue in good faith but insist that any moderation to their participation is censorship and echo chamber creation.

Their theory that Global Warming is a big conspiracy demands attention, and they have plenty of links to "studies" to back it up.

The exact same set of moderation actions will look like a necessary and correct restriction on bad actors to one group, while looking like a choking echo-chamber imposition to another.

The reality is that any social space needs to have a set of norms, including ideological norms, that are enforced to a degree to ensure they're followed. The idea of purely "open discussion" is a fantasy; if you ever have something that feels like that, it's because the participants have internalized the enforced norms sufficiently that they never run into the enforcement.

The difficult problem is picking out a set of norms that successfully produce the quality of space you want. Sometimes that is an outright ideological echo chamber. (In fact, it almost always is, to at least the limited degree that there is some ideological position that would be rejected without consideration by the participants and met with hostility. This is a good thing.) Any talk of "open discussion" must always the include the important context of "within what boundaries".

You dont select the norms

You let the people self select themselves.

Do you mean you should select the majority norms or let the first random poster exclude everyone that isn't in their subculture?

I think that a tag-based comment system, where the tag weights are set by user preference, is the best.

Some people might set "funny" to zero, and some might give it +2. Some people could set "inflammatory" to -10, while others might want it at +1.

You don't need many dimensions, and only one tristate control for each: humor/gravitas, inflammatory/huggler, informative/fluff, religious/factual, lefty/righty, vegan/meaty, etc.

People won't agree on what is "inflammatory", so the tagging system kind of falls apart.

This especially goes for anything political.

Observationally, that is untrue. There is a wide display of varied opinions that are given positive moderation.

Of course, it takes some work to read through the trolls, but their moderation system is cushioned by the meta moderation impacting who gets mod points and who does not.

I have, for example, been given great scores for comments defending Microsoft and even systemd. It's not just what you say, it's how you say it.

Really? I thought that often the +5 informative or +5 insightful post may have well articulated ideas that run contrary to the majority opinion.

Also, I was often curious to read what was "beneath my threshold" and often clicked. Which played a big part in convincing me that slashdot's moderation was top notch was that I usually did not find anything of interest.

Many people make the naive mistake of assuming that this isn't what people want. The truth is that most people, and especially your average reader who doesn't spend their time on online forums as a matter of routine, are distressed by dissenting opinions on important topics, and will reject platforms that thrust this upon them.

For example, I've posted a number of "controversial" comments on HN that were purely technical and resulted in substantial discussion of the intricacies of the solutions discussed. Because these comments condemn the listless tech-hipsterdom that many devs rely upon to feel valuable (and that many important companies subtly leverage), people complained to the mods, seeking protection of the echo chamber. Apparently some of these people were important enough that HN reacted by throttling my account, initially by claiming my posts were too "tedious" and later revising the rationale to the facially spurious explanation of "engages in flame wars".

I haven't flamed anyone, but now I can't participate much in active discussion threads, hitting a something like a 3-hour throttle at something like 5 comments within an hour. Because my voice was drowning the chorus of echoes a little too much for comfort, and this displeased people whose opinion HN values.

This craving for echoes of validation is why reddit can't shed its negative image. reddit's concept of a unified identity with "default subreddits" severely limits the site's appeal, because anyone whom doesn't find the front page appealing is going to leave. Since the front page frequently contains acerbic content that is either critical of a large section of the public or presented in a manner that is conventionally considered crude, hostile, or defamatory, many leave not only uninterested but actively offended. How would your mom react if she loaded up reddit.com and looked around?

This is why the big players like Facebook and Twitter start each user with a blank feed and suggest only the most generic initial follows (usually late-night talk hosts, reality TV stars, and sports figures), and proceed to give each user total control over what they see. People demand echo chambers.

It surprises me to see jedberg still confused about this after all these years.

Because it has been attacked and gamed by various troll armies over the years, the Slashdot comment system works about as well as any comment system out there. What's interesting about it is, if you really want to, you can see all the troll comments, but you have to specifically tweak all the comment knobs to unhide them.

The moderation at Soylent News (uses a forked version of Slashcode) is pretty good, for such a small community.

agreed. I always liked the old slashdot system. I could decide how many points a "funny" or "interesting" post got. I would always give "funny" posts negative points because they were usually not at all funny.

Here's a slightly off-topic dream about online comments:

In an ideal comment system I believe that articles, comments and moderation events should come from three different, decentralized streams (like Atom) that the end user can subscribe to individually and that are joined at the end users client. That would would provide transparency to the moderation process, ability to comment anywhere, and it would allow moderators to become effective spam-filters without giving them the power of censorship. Now, imagine if this system was built into the browser and it became the default commenting platform for all websites...

I like where you're going with this, but here's a question for you... Who controls the streams that are available on a website? Is it the end user or the website owner?

I haven't thought out the details, but I really think that it should not be the website owner, or any other individual or organization, but rather some sort of decentralized community effort. For example, one could imagine a distributed log that every commenter and moderator appends to and that is replicated to different parts of the world -- each of which a client could subscribe to.

The end user should always be in control.

You say that, but have you considered the downsides?

Imagine you know someone in the public eye, let's say a musician, with their own website. They enable comments, and site now has comments all over it that they have no editorial control over whatsoever. People are posting a high amount of offensive content. What do you advise that this musician does?

The musician can display whatever they want on their website; they don't have to host content they don't like. In the "dream" commenting system, the comments are independent; you can apply your own filters and fetch comments from sources the site owner may not approve of.

But they're still associated with that site, and that musician.

Only in the sense that someone who makes a Wix site that says "Neil Young Sux" is associated with Neil Young.

I disagree. I don't think this is like that at all. Especially given now that comments are displayed on the actual site in question. If you're going to say it's something separate, then now you're talking about Twitter or, more likely, Mastodon.

If you look at the top-level comment you're replying to, we're describing "an ideal commenting system", not Mozilla Talk.

> Imagine you know someone in the public eye, let's say a musician, with their own website. They enable comments

In my mind it would be the users, not the site owners that would enable the comments.

> People are posting a high amount of offensive content. What do you advise that this musician does?

My advice in this case would be to create a moderator stream that the end users can subscribe to. Perhaps some mechanisms could be put into the system to make it easy for site owners to suggest a "default" moderation stream that the end-users can opt-in to.

In this case the site owners would be able to moderate comments through voluntary cooperation with its users, but it wouldn't be able to censor opinions that it didn't agree with, because the end users would always be in control of how its stream is filtered and would always be able to verify that on-topic posts aren't censored.

Isn't this now Mastodon? If it's not actually connected to the site in question?

"My advice in this case would be to create a moderator stream that the end users can subscribe to."

That sounds like a pretty complex thing to do, which doesn't solve the problem of, "The comments on my site are overrun with people posting racial slurs."

"In this case the site owners would be able to moderate comments through voluntary cooperation with its users, but it wouldn't be able to censor opinions that it didn't agree with, because the end users would always be in control of how its stream is filtered and would always be able to verify that on-topic posts aren't censored."

I don't believe that's actually a problem, though. You can always go make your own site if you want your voice heard.

doesn't solve the problem of, "The comments on my site are overrun with people posting racial slurs."

I think you're misunderstanding the proposal. Comments and moderation are independent of the site, not on the site.

If distributed commenting and moderation is too complex to implement, then we need to move to network designs that make it simpler.

Commenting systems are setup and enabled by the admins of the site. Otherwise you're just talking about Twitter or Mastodon.

We're talking about something like Twitter or Mastodon but (a) can be found using the original URL of the site, as in IPFS or content-addressable networking; and (b) uses distributed opt-in moderation, meta-moderation, and filtering; like a decentralized AdBlock.

It's something that doesn't actually exist yet, but maybe will.

So they're still associated with the site, but don't actually keep people on the site, site owners have no ability to screen content of these comments which are still associated with the site, and it seeks to deny revenue to the site.

I'm sure you'll have hoards of sites signing up for that.

No, the idea is that they don't sign up for it. It's independent of the originating site.

Except it's not, because you still want it to be associated with the site. If you just want to comment on something, you already have Twitter, Mastodon, Facebook, your own blog, and probably a dozen other outlets. What you're asking for is the added legitimacy of the site itself, without their consent.

It's literally like having a browser add-on enable comments on a website by appending the Reddit/HN thread after an article [1]. But with the added benefit of the user being able to choose from a number of algorithmic/community moderation strategies to apply to the existing comments in order to show/hide/rank them.

[1] This add-on actually exists for YouTube/Reddit: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/reddit-on-you....

Read the top-level comment from hello_there:

In an ideal comment system I believe that articles, comments and moderation events should come from three different, decentralized streams (like Atom) that the end user can subscribe to individually and that are joined at the end users client.

What he is asking for is the exact opposite of "the added legitimacy of the site itself". He's asking for a user interface to integrate content that does not come from the site itself.

That would be a lot cooler than another comment moderation system, of which there are already multiple open-source implementations. Could someone at least provide an argument of why Mozilla Talk is better than the existing solutions?

If that's what you want, then again, you have multiple sources for that. Twitter, Facebook, Mastodon, your own blog, etc.

What's still needed is a set of tools to

1. Aggregate comments from Mastodon, personal blogs, etc.

2. Interact with these comments by upvoting and applying filters, etc (i.e. moderate)

3. Publish your moderation actions and apply the same type of metadata from other moderators (and moderation aggregators).

If Talk has any value, it's to serve as a starting point for Tool 2.

Agreed, this is the correct framework for web comments.

I'd perhaps do most of my commenting in a private comment stream with 2 or 3 friends.

Why would I, as a site owner, want to cede control of the comments that are associated with my site? If, for example, a comment was just a string of racial slurs, there's no way in hell I would want that associated with my site, and I would want that deleted as soon as possible, regardless if you would want to see it.

What hello_there proposes is a comment system that is not associated with your website. It would akin to having an article of your website linked to a subreddit and people commenting on it.

Mozilla Talk could be useful if it let me apply my own moderation schema (filters, blocklists, etc). It looks like another totally centralized moderation tool:


The only explanation of their approach is that they did "an enormous amount of research". This sounds about as convincing as someone claiming "Oh, I took a class in that."

Believe it or not, you can! Check our the documentation https://coralproject.github.io/talk/ where you can use plugins to hook any any part of the commenting process.

Are you saying I can run plugins as a site user (not administrator)? That doesn't seem to be the case.


As a site admin, not a user. If you see our server side plugin api [1] you can see ways to extend the graph schema, hook into existing mutations/queries completed by the system to apply any set of rules or moderation policies you want. It would be a neat implementation if as a user, you were given the ability to create your own filters, which would certainly be possible if implemented via a plugin! But don't expect to do that on WaPo anytime soon.

[1]: https://coralproject.github.io/talk/docs/plugins/server/

Thanks for the explanation. I would be interested to help build a plugin that implements user-local moderation policies, if sites would actually install it. If that's not likely to happen, then a distributed commenting model seems more useful to me.

User-local moderation will be hamstrung by the lack of data. Sure, you can block certain users or reorder the results a little bit, but anything interesting would probably require the server shipping over huge amounts of data to a client which may never even do anything useful with it, which sites are unlikely to do.

Your best bet if you really want this feature is to implement it yourself server-side with just enough knobs to make it useful for your user-local case, and hope that other sites agree...

Individuals publishing psuedonymous moderation would provide the necessary data, provided privacy concerns can be addressed.

I.e. as I upvote your comment, I publish the info that "user XYZ upvoted this comment" which you can use in your own user-local moderation schema (at your discretion).

What we have to avoid is when Potential Employer looks for info on "John Q. Smith", they can identify which articles he upvoted.

Good site also to check out is our Guides [1]. We've collected research on user engagement into a format that should be easy for newsrooms to adopt to create better discussion.

[1]: http://guides.coralproject.net

The feature I want is, as a site user, to apply my own set of filtering and moderation criteria.

E.g. "I don't want to see comments posted by user XYZ, or containing regexp W. Any comments by user ABC, or upvoted by ABC, or containing regexp D, go to the top. I trust the moderation of site trollblocker.com"

I don't see these kinds of ideas represented in the user engagement research.

One of the features offered by Talk is the ability to ignore comments from a specific user [1]. It is designed just as you described it here. As mentioned in a previous comment, our server api's should be sufficient for you as a site administrator, to write a plugin that would allow users to do exactly what you described. The idea with Talk is that we hand control to the newsroom, so they can enable or create the plugins that they like.

[1]: See a demo GIF on https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/ask-the-post/wp/2017/09/...

This is a step in the right direction, but why hand control to the newsroom as opposed to the user?

It is the newsroom's site.

Then this is evidence that comments should not be on the site. It's not the place of the newsroom to control discussion.

Then don't comment on their site? I mean if you're looking for discussion online, there are thousands of places to go. But this is specifically about the comment sections they provide. It seems entirely reasonable that a room they provide should be subject to their rules, and one violating those rules should be shown the door.

My observation is that Mozilla Talk does nothing to advance the decentralized Web, so why is it a good thing?

Just because something doesn't advance your pet cause doesn't mean it's not good.

The decentralized web does nothing to advance universal health care, so why is it a good thing?

I'm just going to point out that Mozilla and the NSF recently offered $2M for ideas to decentralize the web.


They never said that Talk was aimed at moving that goal further along, however. They're trying to use it instead to allow better curation tools to make comments manageable.

It seems that their goal is to help sites move away from 3rd-party comment management services such as Facebook and Disqus. Based on this discussion, I think federated (not site-owned) comments are the way to go long-term. Maybe Talk can eventually be adapted to help with decentralized comment moderation.

The thing about federated comment feeds is that these news outlets will not be incentivized to embed them directly to their website, as they lose control of the content. This problem will damage the exposure that a federated system would receive.

Better than having news outlets embed them, is having browsers support mixing federated comments with the original content. How about it, Mozilla, Brave, and Chromium? Afraid to bite the hand that feeds you?

Okay, I'll give it to you that your idea would be really damn interesting. Still, there would have to be some semblance of moderation, and as to who that responsibility will be placed on is a hard question.

Agreed. I trust the guy who runs uBlock Origin over AdBlock Plus not for any great reason, but because I vaguely remember people on this site recommending it.

I imagine people could delegate moderation responsibility to people and organizations with a strong reputation. Let's say GNU, EFF, and Larry Lessig would all publish moderation data and metadata; as well as your "friends" on various social media sites, friends-of-friends, etc.

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