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    • Web content has typically divided into three camps - those who create, those who react, and those who just watch. The lurkers, if you will. From the very earliest days of blogging, those first posts awaited the inevitable comments, and, given a clear revenue stream, you would see early participants like Fred Wilson say that "comments are how bloggers get paid."


      The earliest engagements we had with people who read our site gave us incredible discussions, and spawned more posts and even, in rare cases, changed minds. Sites like Digg, Reddit, Slashdot and others became known for their diverse threads, and those in the comments are why you showed up.

      But we've also seen the pendulum swing the other way. Everybody knows to "never read the comments" on popular news sites, as the most aggressive vitriol and ignorance floats to the top. YouTube comments have long been notorious for their lack of quality (though I feel this has improved of late). And Twitter, for many who should be able to use the platform, their every move can attract trolls who have a vendetta to take them down - but somehow don't get banned.

      As social media sites eclipsed the momentum of blogs, conversations moved. We adapted by integrating social discussions from FriendFeed, Facebook and Twitter and appended them to our blogs. We would all share our posts on social, and then engage where the content landed. The best bloggers would find their readers wherever they were. But others simply turned comments off. Maybe it is because they were full of spam (they were) or the quality wasn't there (often true), but also, because the total quantity declined.

      Let's go back to talking about Twitter. Twitter drives me nuts because it's fantastic and so poor at so many things. They seriously have real-time on lockdown. There is no better place to see what is happening right now. If there's a calamity, search Twitter. A breaking news event? Search Twitter. A sporting event? Twitter.

      But Twitter has this awful habit of giving all users an equal voice. Now hear me out what I mean.

      If you tweet publicly, anybody who you haven't blocked can reply, and their content is appended to your tweet. It follows you around. If a Republican politician posts, left-leaning posters race to take down their message, while the MAGA crowds prop it up and try to gain eyeballs. If the Kardashians say something, the crowds pounce on the valuable real estate quickly to show their adoration or pimp whatever link they've got going.

      And down the publicity food chain, if you're a woman, especially a visible one, you get awful men saying foolish things. I guarantee it. They may call you names or question your ability. You block one and ten more pop up. If you're black, or Jewish, the racists will find you. They all know how to tweet.

      So what I recommend above all other Twitter changes is the ability for people to reclaim their space. Hillary and Trump should both be able to post information without the crowd's replies being appended. Just like blogs and YouTube stars can turn comments off, Twitter users should be able to as well. The thing about social networks (and most products, to be honest) is that you should give the users control. But they haven't done it, and I think it delivers a great disservice to the platform, which has become a hotbed of harassment and hate - as Reddit and others have too.

      If you can trust your commenters enough to give them a voice, by all means, amplify their voices. But when they have shown you time and again that they cannot be trusted, turn it off.

    • Retweets with a comment should continue to exist. They are not appended to the original. If they are hateful and slanderous, etc, the account should be disciplined, but the goal is to extract the noise away from the original poster if they choose.

    • Fascinating, Louis. When Taylor Swift waded into politics via an Instagram post the other day, I went to see what kinds of comments she was getting and she had them turned off. From 2016:

      I wonder if that had an unintended consequence. Did it embolden her to wade into politics and choose Instagram to do it instead of Twitter?

    • One thing that bothers me is how binary the decision is to either shut off comments or let them roll. This doesn't get talked about much, but what The New York Times is doing is working out pretty well, no?

      For example, this story about Saudi Arabia's state-sponsored troll farm should generate some unreadable incendiary comments:

      But the way they handle the comment section, it's actually informative, no?

    • I have no personal insight into the ways of Taylor, but I have to imagine that part of Instagram's growth and Twitter's churn has been the concept it's a friendlier place. What always gets me is the reticence of companies to take control away from their users, as if they always know better. They don't. The users will show you, with their behavior, what they are looking for, and whatever Taylor's reasoning - audience, safety, controlling the message, she picked Instagram. It could also have been as simple as needing more characters.

    • Since Google+ refugees are all the rage at Cake, this reminds me of the discussions we had as the network was new. At the time, when you made social accounts on Twitter or Facebook, you were either all public or all private. There was no in between. Google+ at least had circles, so you could share content with specific groups.

      Not too soon after, Facebook also offered selective sharing. Twitter has clearly decided this isn't their game. So yes, there should be options that are not binary, but at the moment, specifically with Twitter, there are no options.

    • Choice is what is sorely missing from many of the tools we have at our disposal. When effort is taken out of reward it is easier for us to be led astray. If we are having a conversation in a crowded bar do we always want it broadcasted through a PA? If it did wouldn't we modify our conversation? Wouldn't this then direct our behavoir?

    • who does the moderating? I guess that is a two-edged question; one is the potential for bias in determining what is "civil" and the other is that moderating for civility is a big man-hour commitment. As a G+ refugee, I found that the key to staying sane as a community moderator was to have the power to excommunicate the spammers from the community. Those who wanted to remain in contact with the community had to self-police to some extent.

    • In the case of The New York Times, they have a team of journalists doing the moderating. I know, that's expensive. Apple has the same for curating news for its news app.

      Once upon a time when we started SmugMug, I had to figure out how to do customer support. We thought about contracting to India or opening our own offices there. After reading all the conventional wisdom about support, we ended up opening a support center in South Salt Lake where the labor was multilingual, eBay and Amex had their support centers, and it didn't cost much. We go blah support.

      So we started hiring photographers to work from their homes around the world, in places like Slovenia, Idaho, and Canada. That was the ticket and we were pretty much the only photo sharing site to survive, and I believe a lot of that had to do with support. It was expensive.

      I wonder if there isn't something like that for moderation since our model is not about the number of users or posts, but about the quality and the number of views fewer but higher quality conversations can generate.

    • I think this moderation issue is why some sites dabble (or focus entirely) on "reputation" among users/posters. If you want a high reputation, you can't post junk. If you want to view high quality content, view posters with high reputation. To preserve a high reputation, the poster must be dynamic with their content. That might mean taking a mis-step now and then - the price of living on the edge. I imagine reputation scores of some sort will eventually become more prevalent (though hopefully not in the China-based style).

    • It's a problem of control. I really like social media sites that allow people to take control of the visibility of their posts and also of the moderation of their posts. if I post something, I should be able to decide who gets to talk to me in the comments. I should be allowed to delete comments at my leisure.

      If people don't want to risk this, they can always link to me in their own posts. Like quote-tweets on twitter or just sharing the permalink. But under my posts, I should have total control.

    • When I had a blog, I could approve each comment made before it got published. I believe that I could also turn off the approval requirement for commenters I chose to trust.

      It’s funny but the more you put control in the hands of the content creators, the more positive the result for the platform. Twitter seems to be more concerned with its video deals with ESPN, etc. than with empowering those folks who create content for free.

      You can remove replies from Twitter if you block individuals one at a time, but that’s not viable with hundreds of trolls descending on you.

      Would it be possible to assign trustworthy commenters an auto-publish status if moderation was turned on for a post? Obviously this could be taken away if abused.

      Maybe I’m completely wrong here, which would not surprise me in the slightest. But it seems to me that the more that effective moderation can be *shared* between creators and platform moderators, the better it is for everyone.

    • Their current business model benefits from a never ending stream of content going through your home timeline. The Twitter algorithm for my home timeline even shows me tweets from people I don’t follow because several of my followers LIKED the tweet—no retweets required.

      They’ve also been extremely successful in creating a culture where your goal is to constantly want more followers and to get more likes and retweets of your content.

      I have over 1,500 followers on Twitter and was guilty of having these goals: I was gaining an average of 50 new followers a month until I decided to step off that treadmill.

      So it will be interesting to see how radically they change the platform: maybe they’ll expand their character length to 500 characters like Mastodon, to increase social conversations.

    • Yeah that's a good system! I haven't created my own conversation on here that requires me to interact with that part of Cake. It feels like it's a social media for blog posts (if that makes sense).

    • These fly on the wall moments between two icons are always intriguing to observe. Replace Elon Musk with Henry Ford and DeGraase Tyson with Einstein and you’re now reminded of what an incredible world we live in compared to the pre-internet age of our grandparents.

    • Can you imagine if we can attract a big enough audience someday to get Elon Musk and Neil deGrasse Tyson having a conversation on a Cake panel? I always wanted to see that with Tyson and Hawking.