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Thank you, BikePortland commenters

Posted by on June 6th, 2014 at 12:01 pm

“…a multitude of comments germane to the subject matter with the vast majority displaying not only reasonableness but also sanity.”
— Mike Deme, editor of Adventure Cyclist Magazine in reference to BikePortland comments.

I just want to take a break from our regularly scheduled programming to say thanks to everyone that comments here.

As blog comments have increasingly become the butt of jokes and scorned for their lack of constructiveness and compassion (John Oliver’s amazing net neutrality segment being the latest example) — you have been the exception to the rule.

It seems not a day goes by here on the Front Page when Michael and I aren’t impressed at the level of civility and smarts displayed in our comment section (like the one going on right now about land-use changes on SE Division). Sure, we have had our share of messiness and meanness that requires intense moderation. But like in real life, public conversations — especially when emotions and intellects get involved — are not always nice and tidy.

Of course I’m biased about our comments, but I also hear regular compliments from readers who appreciate them. And a few weeks ago I even saw very nice words about them from a unlikely source: the letter from the editor in an issue of Adventure Cyclist magazine.


The focus of Editor Mike Deme’s monthly letter to readers (PDF here) was to encourage them to check out the digital version of their magazine. He started it off by explaining his fascination with blogs and comments, but he also issued a warning:

“Typically, my fascination is derived from reading comments connected to any random online article or news item. What they are about is unimportant because rarely do the comments pertain to the article’s subject past the first three or four. The remainder either succumb to Godwin’s Law or devolve into an online food fight that leaves me in a state of utter stupefaction, revealing what appears to me as the inability to reason, an affliction that may eventually contribute to this version of human society reaching some sort of conclusion.”

But Deme had just come across our article about Nick Falbo’s “protected intersection” design. And he held your comments up as an example of what Internet conversations could be:

“In the case of the Nick Falbo article, however, my fascination was because of the opposite occurrence: a multitude of comments germane to the subject matter with the vast majority displaying not only reasonableness but also sanity. Perhaps I should be hanging out on more august websites in the future…”

From day one, I have held your comments in the highest regard. I see no difference in value or importance between the words we type in stories and the words you type below them. That perspective has guided my (very loose and open) comment policy for the past nine years and I suspect it will guide me for the next nine years. Your comments are not just moving important conversations forward, they are a key part of our mission to inform and inspire.

So thank you, commenters for being so awesome and on point — and for shattering the blog-comment-sections-are-cesspools stereotype.

(If you have feedback about our comment section, or would like to ask me a question about our moderation policies, feel free to ask below. To further highlight our appreciation, and as a way to encourage others to leave great comments, Michael and I will be starting a new “Comment of the Week” feature. Watch for it here on the Front Page starting next week.)


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Comments
  • Mark June 6, 2014 at 12:50 pm

    It is, to a great extent, the sensitivity, rigor, evenhandedness, and spirit of probing inquiry of your reporting that inspires the high level of discourse found in your comment section. So, kudos to you, to Michael, and to your other contributors.

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  • AndyC of Linnton June 6, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    I read all of the comments because it feels like a continuation of the articles you publish.
    Congrats on being an “august website.” I heartily concur.

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  • Scott H June 6, 2014 at 1:27 pm

    Thank you for hosting a site that encourages constructive comments and discourages the particularly unintelligent ones.

    The headache-inducing, mindlessly offensive comments spewed onto our other local news outlets by knuckle dragging chimpanzees that frequent them have made said news outlets something to be avoided.

    So again, thank you for hosting and moderating this one.

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  • q`Tzal June 6, 2014 at 2:08 pm

    Speaking of civil, polite and constructive yammering:
    Any hints on where the forums are going?
    The private reply was lawyery vauge.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) June 6, 2014 at 2:47 pm

      q’Tzal, Sorry if my response was vague… That’s because I’m still not quite sure what we’re going to do with the forums. I really don’t like the vBulletin software and I’ve long wanted to integrate the forums more closely into the main site. I think forums in general are an awesome and necessary thing and I plan on having some sort of forum on bikeportland in the future. Please have some patience while Steve (Bozzone, our WP guy) and I move toward some sort of solution. Thanks.

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      • q`Tzal June 6, 2014 at 10:16 pm

        Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
        q’Tzal, Sorry if my response was vague… That’s because I’m still not quite sure what we’re going to do with the forums. I really don’t like the vBulletin software…

        It did seem like an artfully crafted “ummm…”. I suspect you are in good company in that most website owners know they want a forum and commenting system but can’t stand any they find.

        Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
        … and I’ve long wanted to integrate the forums more closely into the main site. I think forums in general are an awesome and necessary thing and I plan on having some sort of forum on bikeportland in the future.

        I was thinking about this and part of this post comments and forum is continuity and perspective.
        On one level comments per blog post are topical reactions to the time sensitive subject at hand.
        On another level subject matter experts, like bike lawyer Ray Thomas, post critical information that is easily buried in tiers of comments (tiered comments are still probably the way to go, just more easily visually navigable) and virtually lost as the parent blog post falls off the first page.
        And realistically a bulk of comments are nested under single off-topic 1st level comments that might be more at home in forums.

        For the 1st scenario I honestly think the comment system works well enough. Me personally, I’d prefer a comment and user rating system like Slashdot because it can be time consuming to weed the insightful and useful comments from the similarly popular “Me First” and fluff.

        For the last scenario it would be easy enough to have a self-collapsing comment tree for rambling OT comments. Have the mods give it a quick subject summary (3 words max) and just visually highlight the number of total comments, the last post time and poster’s screen name. Anyone can open it and go down the rabbit hole or just glide past it. Any of these that gets large enough or off-topic enough should automatically “graduate” to a separate forum post. Maybe future comments threads on newer blog posts can the reference these forum’s posted comments as part of the blog post’s nested comment tree. This cross pollination of comments with forums would move more users to both.

        The 2nd scenario is what bothers me the most: losing valuable information and perspectives. Too much is spread around the site in ways that new users can’t find while even flummoxing experienced site users. So here’s my crazy proposal: a hybrid forum-wiki system.
        If a user goes in to the forums domain proper they would see the forums essentially as they are; I don’t give a fig about the visual style or format as long as it is easy to use. The forum threads that get “voted up” by established users and mods become the foundation for a more centralized and easily read wiki.
        For example: if we had substantive information about an infrastructure project like the 50′s Bikeway Project injected into the comments we could promote it to a Bikeportland.org based wiki for reference. This would aid any future activism by showing not just the info but the poster/commenter’s name but main website blog post for context. As the subject develops and knowledge is refined from previous comments and conversations can be promoted or demoted, but not removed unless false, providing a central repository for what we’ve learned in the struggle. This could work for perennial topics like wet weather clothing, fenders, gear like lights or tires; probably not for more personal items like saddles or diet. I imagine that a wiki page on “best chain lube” or “helmets” would be best represented by a smoking crater and Taps playing gently in the background.
        When i got the idea to start a centralized forum thread for anyone to look up bike light info I checked to see if K’Tesh had already done it. To my astonishment no had done that on our forums but for other topics I saw duplication of effort where the task was started once and forgotten. Due to poor searching or poor search tools someone else starts from scratch repeating all the work for no reason. K’Tesh’s “Perpetually Relevant Threads…” would be an excellent place to start.

        And I appologize for comparing you to a lawyer; such harsh language was uncalled for ;)

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        • 9watts June 7, 2014 at 7:05 am

          I’m wondering if there is a way to improve the search function box on the bikeportland home page. I don’t know if anyone else uses it, but I am perplexed why the results one gets are not sorted chronologically, or in much of any way that I have discerned? To revise the search it is necessary to back up two steps, back to the homepage, otherwise the search is broadened to anything Google can find, rather than bikeportland. Etc. Perhaps Q’Tzal is speaking to some of this. I, personally, am not familiar with this forum about which you are speaking. But perhaps I should be?

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      • wsbob June 6, 2014 at 10:47 pm

        Long before the most recent site adjustments, participation in the forums had dropped off to almost nothing. A bit hard to understand why, when for example, bikeforums continues to be very active everyday. In part, much bigger coverage, I suppose. Even that site though has its sort of small group of hard core regulars, which may be dissuading a wider group of people from participating.

        At time in the past, the forums did have some fair participation, and some good solid discussion and information reporting, so it was probably worth it then. The potential is there if people are prepared to manage it well. Much better format for discussion than the main page story comment section.

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  • Spiffy June 6, 2014 at 2:41 pm

    …meanwhile the forums are being killed off…

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) June 6, 2014 at 2:48 pm

      Spiffy,

      No they’re not. See my reply above to q’Tzal. I’m just trying to figure out the next step for them… If I wanted to kill them off, I’d simply turn them off and be done with it. Thanks for understanding and for being patient while we figure out the next steps.

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    • Chris I June 6, 2014 at 3:01 pm

      There have forums here?

      ;)

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      • q`Tzal June 6, 2014 at 3:04 pm

        Thus witness the usual limits of our tr0lliness. (;

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  • TOM June 6, 2014 at 3:13 pm

    I post up what I think are safe & sane comments and a little yellow pop down box appears and merely says “error” . ???
    (no explanation at all)

    Or some go straight to “awaiting moderation” , while another similar post goes right in.

    does the software scan keywords or IP address or posters name ?

    it really gets frustrating sometimes, and some good posts (IMHO) get lost forever.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) June 6, 2014 at 3:20 pm

      I post up what I think are safe & sane comments and a little yellow pop down box appears and merely says “error” . ???
      (no explanation at all)

      Sorry Tom! That has nothing to do with your comment. It’s a server/caching glitch that I believe we’ve fixed. I realize it’s a hassle… because it’s even happened to me when I’m commenting! Luckily I have some amazing help to fix stuff like that (thank you Ryan Aslett).

      Or some go straight to “awaiting moderation” , while another similar post goes right in

      does the software scan keywords or IP address or posters name?.

      Good questions. Our system is set up to automatically let comments through from people who have already had at least one comment approved. However, the WP system isn’t perfect and sometimes (for reasons I’m not sure of), even trusted commenters get put into the moderation queue. Luckily I check that queue many times each day and push comments through ASAP. I abhor having pieces of a conversation get held back.

      And yes, I do have a long list of words that are flagged and that will result in instant moderation. And yes, there are several commenters who get auto-moderated because I don’t trust them and I want to read everything they write before allowing it to be public.

      it really gets frustrating sometimes, and some good posts (IMHO) get lost forever.

      I agree it’s frustrating… But hopefully no comments ever get “lost forever”. There is a spam filter that will sometimes catch good comments. When that happens, the commenter usually emails me and asks why their comment didn’t show up (and often accuses me for censorship). I then check the spam filter and push it through if it’s there.

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      • 9watts June 6, 2014 at 5:34 pm

        I remain interested if there is a way to subscribe to comments on a given article without first posting and checking the notify me box? Last time I asked I was told no. Is that still the case? Any way to tweak that?

        Thanks.

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  • K'Tesh June 6, 2014 at 3:33 pm

    Thanks for creating the site Jonathan!

    All The Best!

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  • TOM June 6, 2014 at 3:39 pm

    Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

    I post up what I think are safe & sane comments and a little yellow pop down box appears and merely says “error” . ???
    (no explanation at all)

    But hopefully no comments ever get “lost forever”.
    Recommended 1

    by “lost forever” , I was referring back to the yellow “error” message , after paring down the post over & over and not getting past the error , i just give up, quit and lose the post myself.

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  • 9watts June 6, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    “comments are not just moving important conversations forward, they are a key part of our mission to inform and inspire.”

    I too am addicted to reading bikeportland comments, and appreciate all the work that everyone puts into them. I always learn a ton here and have acquired a deeper understanding and even changed my views on quite a few issues after lively back and forths with many of you. Thank you all.

    I suspect not all agree, but I feel that the disagreements can be the most interesting and productive conversations. A special thanks to you, wsbob!

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  • Bella Bici June 6, 2014 at 6:51 pm

    I certainly appreciate your posts, 9watts, and wsbob’s as well. The civility and that commentators stay on point is highly valued.

    And of course, q’Tzal as well as many other commentors have given me insight, education and a perspective that a solitary person could never acquire.

    Many times I wait to read a story after several comments have been accumulated.

    Lastly, Jonathan, et.al., set the tenor by the quality of their initial article. Thank you ALL who make BikePortland!!

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  • Jerryw June 6, 2014 at 8:05 pm

    I get the feeling that BP is going to start charging to post a comment ;-)

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    • 9watts June 6, 2014 at 8:29 pm

      If we manage to vanquish the Street Fee, I’ll happily pay my $97.31/yr to bikeportland. And perhaps even if we don’t. A pretty cheap graduate course in Transportation, besides everything else it is.

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