David Beers (and Everybody Else) on Managing Online Communities

I stopped reading The Tyee’s comment threads a while ago because they simply go too long, and were frequently unformatted (there were long, long paragraphs without breaks). The Tyee’s founding editor David Beers has written a kind of state of the union on site comments, and a follow-up on the changes they’ve made to their commenting and moderation systems. There stats weren’t surprising, but they’re worth repeating:

We note (from our reader surveys) that less than one per cent of our readers actually contribute comments. We calculate that a significant majority of our commenters are male. That a handful of commenters are responsible for the majority of comments. That the number of regular commenters is not growing, though our readership is.

They’re moderating much more closely, and implementing a ‘Best Comments’ tab, where Tyee staff promote comments from the mire of discussion. That’s probably a decent approach, but I think there’s more they could do. Here’s the comment I left on the latter article:

There are two pretty common approaches to this issue, which you haven’t chosen to add. The first is multi-threaded conversations. The Tyee’s comment threads can get long, and I’ve always thought there’s a place for a tree-view style of comments which enables multiple conversations to be grouped together. This makes the conversations easier to distinguish and read.

The second is user moderation of comments. This is a proven tactic on a host of venerable online communities, from Slashdot on down. Why place the burden of moderation solely on the (apparently overworked) Tyee staff?

Also, how about permalinks for comments? They exist in the system, but there’s no visible link to them in the comments section.

Interestingly, these articles come on the tail of a bunch of managing online community pieces I’ve read recently. I blogged about three of them over on Capulet’s site, and there’s also Cory Doctorow’s recent piece in InfoWorld.


  1. I can’t possibly see how having Tyee readers moderating comments would work. While I think that the Tyee’s editors’ judgment is suspect at best, I have even less faith in the commentators — they’re the ones who turned it into a cesspool in the first place.

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