Comment weighting and building a Verge community

There have been continued discussions in Meta regarding The Verge’s commenting system and how it relates to us—from moderation, to trolling, to encouraging healthy discussions. It’s a tough balance to keep for a large and growing community and a job I do not envy, but it’s a necessary goal and one that requires continued adaptation. No solution is perfect; they all have weaknesses. Even the best one has an expiration date due to inevitable shifts in community size and Internet culture. However, some solutions can have a longer shelf-life. I wanted to brain-storm a few ideas I’ve been thinking about and observing in other places across the web in hopes that a really good idea can come of it with your help.

Comment Weighting

We currently have half of a weighting system—the ability to vote-up by recomending. This, and especially the starred comments that have 5 recommends or more, are very helpful when looking for the high points of a discussion. This puts the comments without recommendations all on the same plane, figuratively. As we’ve all observed, however, some comments deserve a down-vote. These are comments that aren’t simply "not helpful", they are the opposite of helpful. Are they worth flagging? That varies with each readers definition of "flag-worthy" and their willingness to fill out and send in the flagging form. I would guess that it’s easier for someone to determine whether a comment is un-helpful (down-vote) than if it’s worth flagging. When flagging is clearly in order, do both. It’s helpful to see visual indicators of the "weight" the general community has given a comment. It helps in not taking instigating comments so seriously, resulting in less spiraling comment threads. Some people want to say "this is a lousy comment" outloud for everyone to see, and if they can’t do it with a voting button, many will do it with words. I think this is part of what we’re seeing at The Verge. I think a down-vote button could help.

Sorting and Colapsing Comments

We also have the ability to colapse comments manually. But if we had a down-vote system, one could set a threshold for the number of down-votes before the comment is collapsed automatically. This could be set by Verge moderators or individually by users in their profile.

When I go to Amazon, or any product site, to look at reviews I always sort by Most Helpful first. What if Verge comments had the option of being sorted? If particular comments were voted as helpful, those threads would go to the top; with the most helpful comments being expanded and the rest in the thread being collapsed. Readers could then expand the above comment that was being replied to if they want context. This doesn’t have to be the default behavior, but could be a sorting option at the top of the comments section.

A Sense of Community

Some have it, perhaps more so those who have been around sinsce the beginning. But as one editor mentioned, not everyone typing in a comment feels the same sense of community that others do. So the question is, "Is there a way to bring more of a community spirit to The Verge?"

I started by looking at other online communities. Take, for example, the Stack Exchange sites. While it’s more of a Q&A format, there’s more of a community feel (and encouragement to leave good comments) becuase of reputation points. Perhaps this is close to "karma" at other sites. But at Stack Exchange, reputation points are given some meaning by not being given out like free candy. You are limited in the number of up or down votes you can give based on how much reputation you’ve been given by others. This could encourage a couple of things: 1) wise use of the votes you have (not as many frivilous GIF up-votes and not needlessly down-voting becuase you’re feeling contrary) and 2) giving well-thought comments that other will appreciate and up-vote. The more reputation points, the more voting priviledges. When you have a reputation to think about, the temptaion for drive-by commenting is reduced. You care about your Verge reputation. That’s a good thing. That builds a community.

Again, there’s no perfect solution and my ideas are obviously not new. But maybe these ideas can be fleshed out into something really good; something that keeps The Verge comments from being more than "not as bad as other sites", but takes it to the level of "a benchmark for other sites."