ADOTAS – You don’t have to look far to find a situation where the moderators of a community have simply been overwhelmed trying to keep up with the anonymous trouble makers. In February, Engadget completely disabled comments on its site due to some anonymous grandstanders (known as “trolls”). In a competitive response, Gizmodo posted why their comment system is better than Engadget’s.
Aside from the grandstanding by Gizmodo, they provided some great ideas on how to build an effective commenting solution to allow their moderators to fight the trolls, or unruly anonymous users.
Many of the ideas Gizmodo shared are ideas I have highlighted in my previous posts in this series on anonymity. However, the one thing missing from Gizmodo’s post was how their commenting solution enables the community to participate in managing the trolls. My previous post explored ways to allow your community — the “army of volunteers” on your site — to establish some form of social control and extend the reach of your moderation staff.
There is no doubt involving your community in the moderation process is helpful, but only if your end users have effective ways to apply the collective opinion of the community to avoid the trolls. Simply put, your end users must have manageable ways to leverage the crowd’s opinion as well as their own opinion in an effort to cut through the noise of anonymous users.
The good news is that your end users are only a mouse click away from leveraging these opinions if you implement some basic features in the user interface. Here are four features to make this work effectively:
Sorting. While this is a simple feature, sorting can have a big impact if you give the right options to the end user. Most of us are familiar with basic chronological sorting, oldest to newest and newest to oldest. These are nice options to preserve the flow of the conversation, but they do nothing to filter out the noise.
Consider implementing two additional sorting options to your site to leverage the opinion of the crowd, the highest score and the most active. The highest score allows users to move the contributions to the top of the conversation that the community found most valuable.
The most active enables users to move the contributions to the top of the conversation that have had the most community activity where activity is the most total number of votes (thumbs up and thumbs down) and the most number of replies. These contributions may not have the highest score, but they are most likely intriguing.
Filter by Friends. Since the launch of social networks, the Web is full of statistics highlighting the influence our friends in our social networks have on us. For example, a recent study by research and consulting firm Morpace found that 68% of consumers on Facebook are more likely to buy from or visit a retailer’s site if it received a positive referral from a friend.
The bottom line is most of us care about what our friends have to say and we want to see their opinions before reading others. This feature accomplishes that goal by allowing users to filter conversations by just what their friends are saying.
To implement this feature, you will need a social platform to allow users to build a local social network on your site, or a way to allow users to bring their existing social networks (e.g. Facebook or Twitter) with them to your site.
Ignore. Everyone has an opinion and it is impossible to please everyone, and this feature recognizes this inevitability. The idea is simple: allow each end user to maintain their own list of ignored contributors in the community.
When implemented effectively, the end user will not see any contributions by users they have ignored; instead, they will see a placeholder marking that a contribution was made. The placeholder is important because it gives the user the opportunity to expand contributions on a selective basis; especially ones that have received a high score or have a lot of activity.
Replies. This is a simple feature that can hide a great deal of noise in the conversation. The idea is to allow contributors to reply directly to what another contributor has said and then link it to the original contribution. The replies to a specific contribution will be hidden by default and only expanded if the end user finds value in the first contribution.
In addition, the replies should be linked to the sorting values of the first contribution. This keeps the conversation around a contribution together, and filters out the noise of replies that lack context outside of the original contribution.
You can have a big impact on your community and assert more control over the conversation when these features are implemented correctly. It’s all about empowering your end users.
The San Francisco Chronicle recently implemented a number of these features on article comments, and one of the most popular comments on the article announcing the new features sums up the positive impact these new features can have on the overall community and comment experience.
The comment read, “I’m very happy about these changes. There were interesting articles in the The New York Times and The Washington Post this week on trying to keep the comments area more civil. I particularly like the new Most Popular approach. It’s fine to attack ideas. It’s not fine to attack people. Can’t we all just get along? :)”
Check back to learn more about this topic, as my final post of this anonymity series will examine the role of the moderator in the conversation.