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Wanted: Your feedback about comments on BikePortland

Posted by on December 1st, 2010 at 11:14 am

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Results from our recent reader survey: 49% say comments
are their “least favorite” part of the site.

I want to share a few things regarding comments here on BikePortland.

Regular readers know that my efforts to foster quality, productive, and respectful comments has been (and will continue to be) a work in progress. I place an extremely high value on comments, giving them equal weight and consideration as the words I publish in stories. What this means is that I willingly spend a lot of time reading them, responding to them and editing and/or deleting them when necessary.

I hope some of you have noticed that the quality and tone of comments have improved considerably in recent months (they were a big enough concern in August 2008, that I had to address the issue head-on). The reason for this is simple: I’m spending more time monitoring them. Part of my motivation to do this has been very clear feedback on this issue from readers.

In our recent reader survey, 49% of respondents said comments were their “least favorite” part of BikePortland.

I’m tackling this issue not just with increased moderation, but also by looking at new designs. You have probably noticed the change in how they are formatted. The new comment section allows you to upload a profile image (go here to get one) and makes it easy to reply directly below other commenters.

Please give us some feedback on how you like this new comment system compared to what we had before.

On the design note, we are putting some things in place right now that will result in a complete design makeover of BikePortland by this coming spring. How we design the comments section will be a major part of the re-design (and please note that because of an impending re-design, I’m not looking to implement a major new commenting system).

I’d love to hear your thoughts about comments on BikePortland (especially whether or not I should keep these new-fangled ones, or go back to the old way). As always, I take your feedback seriously and will use it to guide the future of this site. Thank you… and thanks for commenting!

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Perry Hunter
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Perry Hunter

The new comment system is much nicer, much easier to follow the thread. My #1 and #2 items on the wishlist would be to require real names, and to ruthlessly ban trolls.

Jeremy
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Jeremy

The ability to reply directly to other comments directly is so valuable and makes conversations much easier to track.
The only additional feature I would love to see would be “numbering comments” so it is easier to start where you left off. If I knew the last time I read comments there were 50 comments made, I could make sure I only read ones that are 51 or higher. This is especially important with the new format so you can tell by the number of a comment if it is new to the original comment.
Hope that made sense and thanks for all you do for Portland.

Alex Reed
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Alex Reed

I like the ability to direct replies, which is the main difference I noted. So, I support the new comment system!

Nick
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Nick

I find it very surprising that so many are unhappy with the comments here. I’ve learned a lot of interesting stuff from them, and they give a lot of context as far as showing what people think about certain subjects that I might be unfamiliar with.

Maybe you could do another survey specifically about comments and ask *why* people have such an issue with them? I just don’t understand it…

Carl
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Carl

Jonathan, you’ve done a remarkable job of managing your comments. They might drive me mad sometimes, but at least they’re valuable enough for me to read. With the exception of Joe Rose’s diplomatic management work on his Hard Drive blog, the same cannot be said of most oregonlive comment sections. They’re not even worth reading. Thanks for working to maintain comments as a valuable resource and forum.

The new format is good, too. Will these profiles be linked to the forum profile eventually?

Steve B
Guest

LOVE the new comment system. Much easier to follow replies, although it seems not everyone is using that function just yet.

I would love to be able to rate comments or thumbs up/down comments — that might add another fun level of crowd-sourced comment editing to the site. For the wish list!

I find the level of discourse on bikeportland to be above average for the internet, mostly due to the care BikePortland shows in its moderation. Thanks for that!

OnTheRoad
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OnTheRoad

If the replies are nested, then you may not realize if new ones are added, particularly if you come back later and start reading where you think you left off.

I say go back to numbering sequentially. The commenter’s referring back to post # so-and-so seemed to work.

El Biciclero
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El Biciclero

I’m with Nick–the comments are my “most favorite” part of the site. I usually learn a lot from others’ perspectives and appreciate the ability to carry on discussions of issues raised by the articles. I don’t understand how they could be so disliked by so many.

Regarding the format of the comments, it is a no-win. On one hand, I like to be able to quickly pick out the most recent comments made, but when those are replies to other comments, they can be hard to find. On the other hand, it is much nicer to be able to respond directly to comments rather than having to start my own comment with “dear user at comment #x”, and inversely, having to scan for “user at comment#” to find all comments related to a particular conversation. To summarize, both the old and new comment formats have their advantages and drawbacks; it is a matter of whether you want to optimize for chronology or conversation threading.

Mindful Cyclist
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Mindful Cyclist

While I am still getting used to it, I do like the new comment format. I personally like the comment section, though and think you do a fine job of moderating the comments. It can be a tough job as a comment that could be viewed as a troll by some, may not be viewed as one by others.

And, thanks for always responding to my comment when I ask you a specific question.

PoPo
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PoPo

Jonathan,

I agree that the tone is better than it was, and definitely better than other blogs in general, and appreciate your work on that. But I still understand now negative comments would drive away more thoughtful commenters. And by “negative comments,” I am not referring to “constructive criticism”. I think we can all recognize the difference when we see it in writing.

It is a challenging task to moderate. Here is a very interesting article in the NYT regarding just this issue, the psychological roll that anonymity plays in comments, as well as some ideas some people are coming up with in order to better moderate comments. Maybe there are some that could be useful to you.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/30/opinion/30zhuo.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=trolls&st=cse

BURR
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BURR

If you don’t like the comments you don’t have to read them.

Jim Lee
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Jim Lee

What is a “troll?’

Hope I am not one. At least I do not hang out under bridges–unless it’s Sellwood or CRC.

John Lascurettes
Guest

+1 to real names. Don’t know how you’d enforce it though.

Shane
Guest

As someone “involved in the bike movement” my semi-aversion to the comments doesn’t have to do with the differing views it has more to do with tone. I prefer listening to people opposed to something lay them out in an intelligent manner rather than just throwing out gripes, barbs, and negativity for negativity sake and sometimes that is what the comments feel like. When you get the ‘trolls’ getting in the first couple comments with some sort of snide bit of “see that’s why this sucks…” or “yeah, whatever bikers are still a bunch of…” it taints the tone of the page.
I do think the comment section is very valuable and am highly impressed with how you moderate them Jonathan. I also think it has improved over the years thanks to you staying on top of them. I think the comments are the least favorite section because the rest of BP gives us such a warm feeling where as we can sometimes walk away from the comments feeling a bit icky.
I do like the new layout. Look it’s my bike blender =)

q`Tzal
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q`Tzal

The new comments are better.

I would like thumbs up and thumbs down functionality for comments.
Then possibly the ability to sort comments by time or popularity.

Alex Reed
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Alex Reed

I’m one of the people who chose the comment section as “least favorite” due to negative/unpleasant comments. I’m not sure that I would say that a year from now, given that the comment section has become much more fun to read in the past few months.

Honestly, I don’t want to come onto the BikePortland site and read comments that are either rude or lacking in factual, relevant points. I welcome only polite, interesting comments, and I find that positive comments are almost always polite.

Maybe my preference for polite and fact-based comments makes me thin-skinned. It’s a reality about how I want to spend my time and energy.

JAT in Seattle
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JAT in Seattle

I preferred the old chronological comment format and numbers. Often a reply comment is in response to a theme rather than to an individual, and the nesting does make a hash of checking back to see how the dialog is progressing. At least that’s my opinion.

I’m not particularly enthusiastic about the idea of real names; I think the comments here are fairly productive and civil (considering how highly opinionated the crew here tends to be) and I don’t think changing the name policy would really impact civility.

I’ve only lost one comment to moderation (a particularly clever quip related to helmets, or so I thought when I typed it…)

I love the comments generally – I agree one learns a lot here – or at least learns that reasonable people can stridently disagree on some issues while remaining generally aligned on big picture matters. I would hate to see them disappear entirely because moderating them is too much of a resource hog

mello yello
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mello yello

We should have a comment party where we all show up at a bar and try to figure out the identity of everyone else. That way we can slug it out and leave the negativity at the bar.

Spiffy
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Spiffy

I love the comments, but don’t like the new system because of the lack of numbering which makes it tough to remember where you were at… also, you have to go back and see if anybody replied to a message rather than just reading the newest ones at the bottom…

I’d like to see the numbers return, and stay put… meaning that if you deleted comment 50 then we never see a comment 50 again… so annoying when people reference the comment number and it gets deleted so somebody else’s comment is now in their slot…

I like that includes the reply text though, just not that it sticks it up with the original post because it’s not linear that way…

if this were threaded with links then I could just use browser history to tell where I’ve been like in the forums, but that’s not the case…

I think using the forum registration in order to able to comment would be a good idea… less trolls and more accountability if you’re registered…

Daniel (teknotus) Johnson
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Daniel (teknotus) Johnson

One problem with being able to comment a reply directly after what you are replying to is that the second comment thread can become buried such that people only see what the first commenter wanted to talk about. Systems that let you see the threads, and expand them help solve this problem, but if two people start similar threads at the same time they stay separate. I don’t think it’s a solved problem.

Dave O'Dell
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Dave O'Dell

Nick
I find it very surprising that so many are unhappy with the comments here…

Same here. In fact the comments are too good. I spend too much time reading them. 😉 But, often there is some gem of information or a link to be found in the comments that I would have missed otherwise.

The comments here are far above the typical blog comments seen elsewhere.

I like the new format.

spare_wheel
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spare_wheel

>and editing and/or deleting them when necessary

imo, censorship of posts has been heavy handed. for example, even though i rarely ever agreed with him vance longwell had interesting things to say. other posters have been harassed for “negativity” that imo was entirely in the eye of the beholder.

>have a strong aversion to any criticism or negativity…so when they see it arise.. they simply look away…and they stop commenting

i have a very strong aversion to echo chambers.

mello yello
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mello yello

Vance had some weird things to declare on his personal blog — like how he hadn’t gotten laid in 20 years, by choice. A bit of a misogynist and declared war on the “house of green.”

JJJ
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JJJ

Regarding the reply system and know which are new. Another website I visit does let you reply to a post, and have a nesting system, but also shows NEW next to recent comments, so as you scroll down the page, they’re easy to find. This does require having a login though.

JAT in Seattle
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JAT in Seattle

Vance is one of my favorite features of BikePortland; is he gone/banned/left in a huff? that would make me sad.

resopmok
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resopmok

I sometimes wish I could edit my comments after they have been posted, either to correct myself or change a misspelling or wrong word, bad wording, etc. Most forums allow this (though comments aren’t forums) and edited responses are marked as such. I like the new threading as well, though I also miss the numbers for some reasons noted previously. Perhaps collapsable threads would be cool so that you can skip replies you’ve read, and flagging threads with new comments you haven’t read will keep you from missing any details. Registration is an option that might help cut down on trolling and could be linked to your forum account (if you have one) as well to streamline things for regular commenters. Regardless of what happens, BikePortland remains one of the most relevant webpages for my life, and I appreciate your hard work in doing it well.

Sean G
Guest

Although I don’t comment much, I do appreciate reading the generally constructive and supportive tone of the comments here. While I can understand that the comment moderation may drive away some dissenting views, I think that the ridiculous negativity of an unmoderated board drives more people away. Add that to the inevitable fighting and loss of focus that comes about when trolls run rampant, I think it’s a small price to pay to have an editor deleting some contributions. After all, this is a service that is provided to us free of charge, Jonathan has no obligation to allow users free reign on the board he works so hard to maintain.

Looking at the commentary section on Oregonlive shows pretty clearly how out of control and destructive a completely open forum can be.

Geezer Guy
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Geezer Guy

I really like and depend on your site for info about whats going on in the bicycle world. I like the old way and so far I like your new way of doing things. As for the comment section I do like reading what people are thinking and if I don’t like what some are saying I just go on to the next comment or end my reading altogether. Please keep up the great work.

lisa
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lisa

I like the new system because of the direct replies. And I think the comments are one of the best parts of the site too Jonathan. And I appreciate the work that goes into moderating them.

Roland
Guest

I like the newfangled comments. The numbering, I don’t miss, since referring to someone else’s comment is now done without numbers via the reply or quote buttons. Unfortunately yes, you lose the numbers as a way of keeping track of where you were in the stack, but you can at least still remember the time & day of the last new comment (i.e. not a nested reply) that you’ve read, which is lot more vivid, because you can picture where you were and what you were doing at the time the comment was being submitted! That was a hell of a run-on sentence.

Meanwhile I don’t mind not seeing every nested reply, because I find that usefulness, relevancy and enjoyability typically seem to drop off quickly on the commenter-to-commenter replies. Or at least that’s where all the namecalling and frivolous stuff seems to start, nine times out of ten. I like the idea or ideal of a multi-sided dialogue or forum where anyone can address anyone else; however it seems typical that if the article scores a 10, a comment on the article can only hope for an 8, and a comment on that comment probably rates a 5, and a comment on THAT comment is already mentioning Hitler.

So, if you don’t even bother to read nested comments, you’re getting more original and less reactionary content, more relevancy to the original article that you bothered to read because it interested you, and less Hitler.

Roland
Guest

PS, if you don’t want to nest, use “quote” instead of “reply”

Roland
Guest

PPS: In fact, by way of suggestions for improvement, I say, down with the Reply button, huzzah the Quote button.

JV
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JV

Jonathan,
Thanks, as always, for your efforts at continuous improvement!
I’m surprised to hear that nearly half of respondents were so down on comments in general. I often find them informative, articulate, and helpful. That said, I usually just skim them and bail when they degenerate into personal flaming.
I, too, like real names.
I, too, like numbers.

Your increased attention to the comments section is noticed and appreciated.
Cheers,
JV (Jonathan Vinson)

Anne Hawley
Guest

BikePortland is one of the only places on the internet where I actually break my Never Read The Comments rule.

And while I’m all in favor of dissenting views (and get a lot out of reading them when they appear here), I have no problem with discouraging, disallowing or deleting comments by bike-haters who come here for no other purpose than to spew “Why don’t you stop at stop signs and pay road taxes?” rhetoric, or to call names (or worse, wish harm to bike riders).

The new format works well for me. Easier to read, too–the visual layout is kinder to the eyes.

Alex Reed
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Alex Reed

One last thought: Jonathan, if 47% of your population didn’t like the comment section, they might be unlikely to comment even on this post. Maybe you could put your email at the end of the post so the non-comment-inclined would be better represented?

3-speeder
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3-speeder

I’m one who was in that 49%. Comments in general are among my favorite and most useful parts of the site. But those comments that are mean-spirited with little-to-nothing constructive to say are a poison.

To me, the point of most comments is to make your point of view, and then leave it to others to decide if they agree. (Some comments are just made to add flair to the existing post and not to express a point of view – these are fine, but not what I’m referring to here.) Having a debate via comments seems to often be ineffective .

I would actually like to see a policy where for each article posted, each commenter gets to post one comment and that’s it. If you have a point to make, make the effort to clearly express it because you only get one chance (before the next time an article on the same topic arises).

I don’t care a lot whether real names are used or not (3-speeder says a lot more about where I’m coming from than my real name), but maybe some system can be implemented where whatever name that is used is associated with a 5-digit password that only the name owner knows. This would prevent a random person from commenting using other people’s user names.

The only person who gets to say whatever they want on this blog is Jonathan. It’s his blog. Anyone else acting as a parasite (in a literal sense of that word) to make it their blog too, acting like they can say whatever they want, ignoring common courtesy and standards of social politeness, are abusing their comment privileges. Abuse has consequences – complaints of “censorship” in this context are just a failure to ackowledge the abuse they are responsible for.

Ryan Good
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Ryan Good

I have always enjoyed the comments section immensely- still do. +1 to those who have found it surprising that nearly half of readers say it’s their least favorite part. Also, like others, I have mixed feelings about the new system- I love the reply, but miss the numbers. Each has its pros and cons, so whatever works for you. I will continue reading and enjoying them either way.

Chris Tuttle
Guest

Regarding the quality of comments, this post comes a day after an interesting article in the New York Times about the “online disinhibition effect” http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/30/opinion/30zhuo.html

Paul Johnson
Guest
Paul Johnson

Rather than trying to shut out people from having a voice, it would make more sense to have the people who aren’t interested in reading the comments just not read the comments. After all, there’s a reasonable expectation in this country to be able to speak your mind. There’s no expectation for everyone else to listen.

jim
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jim

I like being able to reply directly to the comment. It is hard to keep up on reading those new posts that are 1/2 way up the page. I’m sure I miss a lot of them.
I’ve been censured a few times, sometimes justly so when the conversation starts heating up, sometimes because my opinion or political view is not liked.
Needless to say the comments section is my favorite part. I usually read all the stories and just comment on the ones where I want to contribute. I do appreciate the work Jonathan puts into bringing us these stories.
I wish there was a spell check feature as I am too lazy to look up words and I suck at spelling.

BURR
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BURR

It seems like there are probably multiple reasons for someone to have said in the poll that they don’t like the comments section, which would make that 49% number meaningless without some further explanation.

wsbob
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wsbob

“If the replies are nested, then you may not realize if new ones are added, particularly if you come back later and start reading where you think you left off. …” OnTheRoad December 1, 11:50 am

That does happen, which is one of the drawbacks of the nested comments setup. It can take some scrolling up and down to pick out additional replies since a readers last visit, which can be a hassle. When there aren’t a lot of comments to a thread, the nested comments feature kind of streamlines browsing the comments. Mostly, I’ll probably just continue using the cut and paste quote with name and date means of replying to a comment.

For a weblog/forum such as bikeportland, ground rules for commenting, and a willingness, and ability to apply them are essential if it’s to be constructive. In past, bikeportland’s mods have let some very mean comments stand. The tendency towards allowing that to happen seems to have been corrected somewhat.

Even the O has been recently making greater efforts to weed out some of more offensive and mean comments from its online site. As necessary, every once in a while, the writer or editors post a reminder amongst the comments, letting people know that they’re obliged to adhere to a user agreement in exchange for the opportunity to post a comment. Of late, maus seems to have done some of that also.

That’s really all that should be necessary. People have to start somewhere, and I think that obliging all of them to include real names as a condition to have the opportunity to post a comment, can have the effect of discouraging worthwhile comments that might be otherwise posted by people whose skills at expressing an idea in writing are at an early development stage.

sabernar
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sabernar

It’s not so much the comments as it is the commenters. Is there any way to switch those out? Maybe with some people who feel less entitled?

Red Five
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Red Five

Things are very biased and heavily censored here.

CaptainKarma
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CaptainKarma

Another 2 cents worth:

The comments are at least as important as they news.
I liked the linear format, but whatever.

The least amount of editing or censorship is paramount.

Would I ever stop reading BP no matter how it was changed? Probbly not!

old&slow
Guest
old&slow

I have stopped commenting because I had so many censored. I never thought they were out of line, just comments about the content, etc.
Your censorship stopped me and in fact, stopped me from visiting this site.
I have not looked at it in weeks. The new comment look is not bad.
Your sucking up to Adams and the “powers at be”, whether they were good for cycling or not is the reason for most of my comments and probably why a lot of them were censored.
You want to be the only voice for cycling in this town, and you want “access” like most suck up “jpurnalists”, so you don’t want to hear valid criticism about you style or substance.
It is your site and I have enjoyed a lot of it, but your editorial style would suit Faux news junkies.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Guest

Red Five

Things are very biased and heavily censored here.

Red Five,

I delete a lot of your comments not out of a bias but because they are sometime mean-spirited and often seem to be left for no other reason than to stir the pot. I have tried to email you directly to discuss this but have not heard back. As you know, I always leave your comments when they are above the belt.

And this site is far from “heavily censored”.

Thanks.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Guest

Old&Slow,

I just checked the database and found that you’ve left 200 comments on this site over the years on a variety of topics and some of them are openly critical of me and/or coverage on this site.

Just an FYI and I think it shows this site has no bias… except against mean/hurtful/insulting/inappropriate comments.

Andy
Guest
Andy

I don’t understand how comments can be anyone’s least favorite part of the site. If you don’t want to read them they are extremely easy to avoid. It’s fine to insist on civility.

jim
Guest
jim

It would be nice to have some emoticons to express some emotion