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Comments about comments about comments on comments

Wow – comments seem to be a popular topic around the old Journo-blogosphere this week.

It started with a radio piece on NPR: On the Media: Comments on Comments

It got kick-started by Jeff Jarvis: Comments on comments on comments

Kevin Anderson followed up with a post reviewing the whole thing: On the Media and Comments on Comments

And of course it spilled over to blogs and forums and Twitter and Google Reader and Friendfeed and ad infinitum. Hey, the medium IS the message. Wow.

By coincidence – we changed our commenting policy on Monday. Changed it slightly. Our approach has always been to start with the most open system possible and then gradually adjust ‘as the situation on the ground’ dictates.

We have been using to host our comments for about six months. Based on the feature set they offer we have gone with a hybrid approach to moderation. If you are a registered user, (with a verified email address) you can post directly, automatically, immediately, without moderation and without delay directly to any story on our Web site. If you are unverified, you can post but your comment gets put in a moderation queue awaiting review.

Not surprisingly we have very little trouble with registered users. Also not surprisingly it is the unregistered (unverified) commenters who try to spam the site with obscene, racist and libelous comments, not to mention the dedicated collection of sock-puppets we have attracted.

Disqus also has some reputation management tools and a ‘report offensive content’ button – but I think the simple act of verifying an email has been the strongest deterrent to bad behavior. Keep in mind, we do not require real names – only that if you pick a screen name you stick to it.

So after six months of this system, our biggest problem has been that the volume of comments makes it difficult for us to keep up on the average day. We have had an informal policy of reviewing and approving comments whenever we could. So, it could be three times a day, or three times an hour, depending. Unfortunately, as policies go that one is not very scalable or sustainable.

So, in the new policy announced yesterday – we are going to start moderating unverified comments twice daily. This will greatly reduce the stress on the approval system in the office, but hopefully it will also encourage readers to actually go and register for an account.

We can only hope that requiring commenters to be the owner of a working email account is not too high a barrier to participation.