Have online comment sections become a joke? That’s the headline on a small story running on CNN this morning. While it’s not likely to draw the attention of, oh say KONY 2012, there’s a few interesting points in the article, that features blog pioneer Nick Denton (Gawker) who spoke at SXSW.
The original premise of the Internet as an unprecedented, open, and anonymous vehicle for global communication has become an ambitious idea that is failing. Or so goes the thinking. Denton says that for every two interesting comments (even if cynical) there are eight others that are “off-topic or just toxic.”
It would be a (massive) stretch to consider Denton as the arbiter of taste. He’s incredibly successful when it comes to highly trafficked blogs. But his sites – such as Gawker – aren’t exactly seen as ground zero for cultural revolution. When comments and engagement goes haywire, and plummets down a spiral of hatred, negativity and trashiness, I’d suggest it has a lot to do with the article/author in question. Though he denies it, I very much believe the site in question does play a significant role in setting the tone. So the conversation you see on Venturebeat or Wired, for example, would be predictably different than, say, TMZ or Gizmodo.
One solution is identity. Some suggest that if only real names are allowed then low value comments will decline. Denton says that strikes against the heart of the Internet: anonymity. I agree with that. That’s why we use Disqus on Stark Insider. While I prefer commenters to use their real identity, I can understand and value the ability for users to remain anonymous if they wish.