// Internet Duct Tape

Five Ways to Fix Digg’s Comment System

Posted in Digg, Digital Culture, Technology by engtech on March 27, 2007

The Kathy Sierra story made Digg. Of course, the comments were to be expected. Robert Scoble is outraged by the comments (truly, there were some horrible ones there). MG@ParisLemon asks the question:

What role, if any, should Digg play in this? The comments could be a place for great discussions on the story, but usually they degrade into the musings of lunatics. When do comments stop being free speech and start being serious threats? These are the questions.

Many negative things have already been said about the Digg comment threads. David Pogue of NYTimes says “discussions devolve into name-calling and bickering”. Gina Trapani of Lifehacker once said:

Netiquette in public forums has a lot to do with the content around which the community is centered. Lifehacker’s posts set out to help folks, so in kind, our readers want to help us and each other back. Digg is a popularity contest of oneupmanship. Gawker is all about making fun of things, so its readers mock each other and it right back in the comments. Karma’s a boomerang.

Digg’s inherent nature explains why the comment sections are judgmental flamewars rather than discussion and enhancement of the story. Surprisingly, Digg has a solution for this already in place:

- Block/Report User: If you find that a user is someone you don’t want to read, you can filter out that user (site-wide) by clicking the block user button. With enough user blocks the offending user is reported to the digg abuse staff. (March 2006)

You can block/report a user by clicking on the circle with a line through it beside their username on a comment. You can also bury specific comments but there doesn’t seem to be any penalty for users whom the Digg community has marked as continually adding nothing valuable to the discussion.

Here are my suggestions to how Digg can add more feedback to their comment system and make negative comments have a negative impact on user accounts.

  • Keep a running total comment score of someone’s total negative/positive comments and display that publicly on their profile.
  • Top 100 positive commenters list. The top 100 submitters did wonders for getting people to devote huge amounts of time to improving the site, top commenters could do the same thing. Of course, this will never happen.
  • Display someone’s comment score to them while they are logged in. Make them conscious that people are reading and reviewing what they write.
  • Comment karma where if you have been identified as a negative contributor any new comments will start out with a negative value. So many negative comments are click-bys where the user doesn’t return to see the results of their actions.
  • Temporary automatic bans from commenting if someone’s comment score becomes too low (for the extreme conditions — or maybe automatic reporting of the user to the Digg staff).

Negatively rated comments would have no penalty so long as the user also adds positively rated comments. The pieces are already there with the comment voting system, Kevin Rose and Digg only need to close the loop and make writing stupid, obscene, irrelevant comments (as voted by the other Digg commenters) have a negative impact either through public display or temporary bans.

As things stand Digg has no negative reenforcement for making an asshat of yourself. Having the most buried comment on a story is actually a way to stick out from the rest of the commenters and draw attention to yourself. The existing report/block mechanism certainly doesn’t seem to be working.

UPDATED after 1 hour: I missed the block/report user icon the first time around. Thanks, Dan.

38 Responses

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  2. MG Siegler said, on March 27, 2007 at 9:10 pm

    Nice job coming up with some ideas. I really like idea #1.

    Here are some concerns: a) what constitutes a ‘positive’ comment is subjective and b) people who say the most humorous things, even if they are bad, often get the most positive marks.

    So #2 could just turn into a humorous score, or that could just be another game for the trolls to play.

    Still some really good thoughts, I’ll try and post on this later on.

  3. engtech said, on March 27, 2007 at 9:29 pm

    Yes, you’d have to look at criticisms of existing comment systems like Slashdot’s to see how they played out before implementing this. These were rough ideas. It isn’t easy to do right.

    But some sort of feedback loop should be put in place to improve the quality of discussion on the comment pages. A lot of people post without any kind of filter between their brain and keyboard. See comment #1 on this post, for example.

  4. defrostindoors said, on March 27, 2007 at 10:06 pm

    Ironically this has 12 Diggs already. :)

  5. Dan said, on March 27, 2007 at 10:23 pm

    The block/report icon is a “circle with a diaganol line” icon located to the direct right of the user name and the time in which the user posted in the applicable comment. I believe it’s been the same icon in the same place for over a year (since Digg v3). If you hover over it, it says “Block/Report this User”.

    Also, Digg will never start a Top 100 commentors list, since they removed the Top Users list 3 months ago in a reported move to “stop gaming” (an entirely stupid and worthless move, but unrelated to this issue). And seeing that Digg already has a “karma” type score behind-the-scenes pertaining to a user’s ability to get stories promoted and/or the individual weight of each user’s diggs, they are probably already using comment ratings in the algo. And a temporary banning is a terrible idea; it will cause discontent and disloyalty and conflict with the overall intent and philosophy of Digg.

    My opinion is the only real solution mentioned here is to start producing the overall commenting score of users, but not on every page as stated here, but only next to a user’s name when they comment. The comment score should not affect submitting or digging stories, only in showing a user’s history of commenting.

  6. engtech said, on March 27, 2007 at 11:11 pm

    @Dan: Thank you for the correction. My web browser isn’t displaying hover text so I missed the block/report button. I’ve never used it before.

    Temporary banning could be replaced with automatic reporting to staffers… and I don’t think it would be something most users would ever encounter — just the bottom 1% to 5%.

    re: displaying the comment score all the time

    I meant to say, display the comment score to the logged in user to make them more aware of it, not having it show up beside the username when they submit a post. Having it show up in the comment thread might be a good way to encourage people to aim for better comments.

    What a lot of commenters don’t seem to realize is that you can “play the ball and not the man” and attack an argument without attacking other people.

  7. defrostindoors said, on March 28, 2007 at 1:01 am

    44 diggs! Amazing. It’s on reddit too but I can’t find the URL. Reddit feels much less cliquey than Digg, which surely helps matters a lot.

  8. [...] Lastly, I’m curious about technical solutions. What are some of the most common plug-ins for WordPress to disallow anonymous comments and require email confirmation? What could be done on digg? [...]

  9. defrostindoors said, on March 28, 2007 at 3:00 am

    The Washington Post ran into problems when they allowed comments on stories:
    http://tinyurl.com/yrsnqr

  10. [...] Ways to Fix Digg’s Comment System Five Ways to Fix Digg’s Comment System “The comments could be a place for great discussions on the story, but usually they degrade [...]

  11. Seandon Mooy said, on March 28, 2007 at 5:49 am

    I need to point out a massive flaw in this before this thread becomes to busy for anyone to catch this:

    Digg uses a system that will allow a MASSIVE wave of users towards a single page during a very short duration of time. If a user posts a minority view point, their voice is in danger of being muted forever. If there is a debate between lets say, linux and windows people (hugely hypothetical), and 55% of people are on Tux’s side and 45% of people are on Gate’s side – What happens to the brilliant digger who posts a thread oriented towards one side of the argument and gets ‘flash-buried’?

    Please, please, please, do not implement this system. It inherently flushes out contradicting opinion, while simultaneously killing the entire editorial effect DIGG pulled off in the first place!

  12. chicago_m said, on March 28, 2007 at 5:52 am

    Are we talking more of a feedback system like eBay has?

  13. Christian von Kleist said, on March 28, 2007 at 6:06 am

    All great ideas, but certainly comment karma is my favorite. I think starting out with a negative comment value would guarantee that users would either comment more carefully or not comment at all.

  14. Roger Strong said, on March 28, 2007 at 6:26 am

    I agree with Seandon Mooy. A brilliant user who posts a minority view point can get “flash-buried”.

    An example of this is anyone who contradicts or debunks any bit of so-called evidence from the 9/11 conspiracy crowd. The better their arguements, the faster they get buried.

  15. kyle said, on March 28, 2007 at 6:28 am

    to really fix digg’s comment system, people need to mod comments rationally. don’t downmod what you disagree with, downmod poorly constructed arguments, spam, trolling, or inane remarks.

    respect people’s comments. unpopular opinions are quickly hidden, transforming the discussion into a one-sided circlejerk.

    finally, comments are threaded for a reason. don’t reply to a comment if your comment is not related to it’s parent.

  16. [...] Ways to Fix Digg’s Comment System Filed under: Uncategorized — recar @ 2:38 am Five Ways to Fix Digg’s Comment System “The comments could be a place for great discussions on the story, but usually they degrade [...]

  17. ilker said, on March 28, 2007 at 6:46 am

    Way to go..

  18. DigDug said, on March 28, 2007 at 6:50 am

    Great way to force conformity to the majority. Thx Big Bro.

  19. Qwiggalo said, on March 28, 2007 at 6:52 am

    Hello, and welcome to the Internet. You have chosen or been chosen to relocate to one of our finest Public Access Terminal centers. I thought so much of the Internet, that I elected to establish my administration, here, in the Digg.com, so thoughtfully provided by our benefactors. I am proud to call the Internet my home. And so, whether you are here to stay, or passing through to parts unknown, welcome, to the Internet. It’s safer here.

  20. boldtech said, on March 28, 2007 at 6:54 am

    Go fuck yourself. Your system would inhibit free speech on the most important site on the net. I don’t want to live in a world where everyone has to be “nice” and conform to the mainstream ideas. Digg is already bad enough in that it hides comments that have been dugg down. Your ideas are very bad and dangerous.

  21. Tommy Hardkore said, on March 28, 2007 at 6:55 am

    The suggestions about the comment karma and the temporary commenting auto bans trouble me. What if the article were a political one, lets say an article that is pro al gore’s global warming deal. All of the people who side against Al Gore’s initiative will most likely be marked down because the pro side dont like the comments. I would be very upset if I was banned from commenting because other people didnt like my thoughts on the subject.

  22. Disastermaster1 said, on March 28, 2007 at 6:58 am

    I think this is all sounding like a PTA meeting.

  23. engtech said, on March 28, 2007 at 7:11 am

    Good point on the political side of things. People do use the comment moderation system to vote with their beliefs instead of downmodding bad comments.

    (tiny update start)

    But so long as a user is also adding positive comments to other digg stories they won’t get that much of a hit from having a few negative comments. If all you are doing is looking for digg stories where you can add comments that will be downmodded to oblivion then I hate to say this but you’re probably a troll.

    Even if the only ideas that was implemented was displaying a user’s overall comment score I think that would be enough of an incentive to steer the site towards constructive discussions. Show a geek a stat and he’s going to try to maximize it.

    (tiny update end)

    @boldtech: Thank you for being a shining example.

    Comments were temporarily turned off while this was on the Digg homepage. You can read them here.

  24. pligg.com said, on March 28, 2007 at 9:56 am

    Five Ways to Fix Digg’s Comment System

    The Kathy Sierra story made Digg. Of course, the comments were to be expected. Robert Scoble is outraged by the comments (truly, there were some horrible ones there). MG@ParisLemon asks the question:
    What role, if any, should Digg play in this? The com…

  25. The TekTag Blog said, on March 28, 2007 at 8:58 pm

    Great Ideas for Effective Comments

    Some great ideas from the engtech blog about ways to fix broken comment systems. It caught our attention, since we are in the beginning phases of adding comments to TekTag. We were going to just do the usual, but this

  26. Top Posts « WordPress.com said, on March 29, 2007 at 3:58 am

    [...] Five Ways to Fix Digg’s Comment System The Kathy Sierra story made Digg. Of course, the comments were to be expected. Robert Scoble is [...]

  27. Akkam’s Razor said, on March 29, 2007 at 6:21 am

    [...] Five Ways to Fix Digg’s Comment System « //engtech Thoughts on social incentives to improve Digg’s commenting system. (tags: article comments community socialsoftware digg web2.0) [...]

  28. engtech said, on March 30, 2007 at 3:44 am

    Spolsky has some good stuff on designing a message board to avoid flaming on http://www.podtech.net/scobleshow/technology/1414/joel-spolsky-the-famous-blogger-on-software-productivity at 21 min mark.

  29. [...] speech, how to you impress responsibility on a horde hidden behind user names and bad avatars? The Engtech blog suggested 5 possible solutions.  Among these are automatic bans if the comment score gets too [...]

  30. Bret said, on April 01, 2007 at 3:37 pm

    Great post on a important problem for Digg. I’m not certain, however, the proposed fixes will actually work. I think the suggestions might backfire. Another possible solution, not mentioned, is to simply remove comments altogether. Many of the articles on Digg are actually blog posts which already enable a comment system (this post here is one such example). Doesn’t it make more sense for the article discussion to take place beneath the article at the home of the article’s source?

    I’m a Digg fan. Unfortunately the comment system is seriously flawed. Personally, my fix for the problem is to NOT read the comments. I usually just follow the link, read the article, and make my own judgment. If I’m so moved, I usually just leave a comment in the article’s comment thread (such as I’m doing now). Honestly, I guess that is my “real” suggestion to the problem: Don’t read Digg comments and don’t participate in the comment system.

  31. morganusvitus said, on April 04, 2007 at 6:10 pm

    The site looks great ! Thanks for all your help ( past, present and future !)

  32. [...] also did a post yesterday, outlining five ideas for fixing Digg’s comment system, and his story actually [...]

  33. Motorcycle Guy said, on April 22, 2007 at 6:19 pm

    Someday the web will grow up. But can digg every grow up? I would assume it’ll be hard work.

  34. [...] to what they want (and in being careful how you build your community). Anyone who has seen a Digg comment thread in action knows that anarchy rules and this kind of chaotic behaviour is to be expected. Where [...]

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