Comment Systems: Part Complaint, Part Proposal
Thursday April 16, 2020
Last week I disabled comments on one of my Youtube videos. I don’t exactly have a big, popular channel, but in the span of one day:
- Two commenters used the comment section to lodge general complaints about people they don’t like. Legit grievances I think, but I was concerned about specific aspects of the comment leading to a flame war. This kind of thing is all over Youtube and it’s just a disgrace. A huge disappointment.
- Another commenter complained that I hadn’t put enough work into a video. And yet, the whole idea of this video was to quickly put something out there in order to help people.
- Finally, one commenter looked up my phone number and called me for tech support.
Aaand, that’s about when I decided to disable comments on that video. This week I’m thinking of disabling the rest.
(And is it just me, or does Youtube’s messaging template for disabled comments make you feel like a jerk for doing this? Deep inside, just about everybody wants to think of themselves as a person who invites community feedback.)
This video makes some good points:
That is, with the possible exception of “Reddit is full of thoughtful productive…” …eh. If you’ve participated in Reddit discussions, you know that exercising huge amounts of restraint while filtering out annoying comments is also part of the Reddit experience.
Behold: Today’s Solution-focused Human, Ready for the 2020s
This all got me thinking: What kind of comment system would I like? I’m not comfortable just taking shots at Youtube or Reddit without contributing in some way.
We may never see a “filter out annoying human psychology” button, because human psychology is amazingly dynamic, adaptive, and flexible. But here are some ideas based around what I’ll call a Comment Engine. Hopefully it speaks to the needs of dynamic, adaptive, and flexible human psychology.
The idea is to encourage developers, or even just interested folks, to design plug-in “comment engines” rather than forcing a fixed comment system design on everyone. Comment engines could, in turn, draw on a wide pool of bots, parametric filters, art assets, and other style/computation-transcendant templates to design unique, creative interaction systems.
As an example, a restrained and quiet online religious community may not even need to bother with a bot or filter that sweeps for inappropriate language. But they may decide to use bots to encourage new discussions and raise the activity level a bit. This could be done through an award system, customizable in-comment profiles, etc.
And as a plus, content migration between differing comment engines is designed in. A periodic comment engine switch would be designed in as part of the system, not a problem to cause huge issues down the road.
Here are some ideas for variants:
The Comment Engine: Creator Choice
- Allow creators and publishers (individual Youtube channels, Facebook personalities) to pick from differing comment engines. This way, they can try out those they like and see what fits best.
- Creators can also challenge participants to design CE’s that fit their community best.
The Comment Engine: Community Choice
- Allow communities to enable a variety of different comment engines across their communities, in different locations / discussions.
The Comment Engine: User Choice
- Allow individual users to submit comments via the engine of their choice. By default, other users will have to filter for, and activate, that engine in order to participate in the discussion via that engine.
- For example, a user could submit a comment via their favorite engine, to see how it’s received.
- Others who like this comment engine could be notified when it’s activated.
- Other users can indicate in their settings whether they want to see any or all comments. Specific comment engines and characteristics can be left off, so they’ll never see that kind of discussion.
- Content creators can highlight or share comments from various engines, giving attention to the type of comments they want to encourage.
Some blend of the above would also be really cool to see. And since it’s tech, the evolutionary factor of a comment system continually evolving could by itself solve a lot of problems with behavior.
I have some ideas for individual engines, too, but that’ll have to wait for later. I don’t think it’s unrealistic that a new “world wide web” of comments-as-personal-pages could arise, giving room for both personality and expression while balancing community needs.
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