Ideas for improving comments?

We’ve tried LOTS of different approaches to comments on My Ballard over the years.

We began with open comments, then switched to Disqus, then switched to Facebook comments (backlash!), then switched to register-only comments (crickets), then back to open comments.

We’ve always had to contend with the usual moderation challenges — here are the rules — but events in Ballard over the last few months have amplified the challenge to new heights. Many people aren’t happy with the state of affairs in our neighborhood, and duking it out in comments has become a common occurrence.

So… we’re looking for some advice. Anyone know of any WordPress plugins or new commenting platforms that encourage open conversations but at the same time reward more thoughtful responses? There’s no perfect solution, but we’d love to hear ideas on how to make it better.

Geeky Swedes

The founders of My Ballard

65 thoughts to “Ideas for improving comments?”

  1. Turn them off entirely. At this point they’re a drag on the site, and I’m less likely to link to a story if there’s so much vitriol underneath the otherwise valuable information

  2. Improving comments? I’m more worried about rapes, murders, stabbings, robberies, needles in parks, meth vans, bike thefts, car break-ins, unsanctioned camps filled with filth (because apparently some people are too poor to clean up their homes). You get the drift.

    Comments on local blog don’t harm anyone.

  3. Is there some way to format it like the comment section in Quora, where you can upvote, or add to the comment section, or downvote? I believe Yahoo also uses some version of this format.

  4. there are a few very antagonistic commenters that seem to go way beyond expressing their opinion and drift into trolling territory (“elenchos”….).

    nobody should feel ashamed for expressing their opinions on the nutty situation at st lukes, the homeless rapist, etc. – these are completely valid concerns and should not be belittled or, especially, censored.

  5. I would suggest posting the IP address so you can tell the different accounts from one source (the multiple ones from Russia and/or Magnolia at least).

    1. Along those lines, it does seem like if the moderators were to block the IPs of folks who appear to be simply trolling or entirely non-constructive in their comments, that’d be a good solution.

      Having disagreeing viewpoints is constructive – name calling, outright disrespect and even hateful comments are not.

  6. I read My Ballard as a local news source and the comments as they tend to be are a distraction from this function. But people want to express themselves. Therefore, I suggest limiting comments to the FB site and having none on the blog.

  7. @Nato Only:
    Russia? Really? Russian hackers are trying to influence city politics in Ballard? That’s a stretch, although Elenchos has also suggested the selfsame trickery. I think that’s the sign of a paranoid and delusional mind (“delusional” usually being the prime insult of @Truth), and I’d be really surprised if Comrade Vladimir was concerned about the state of affairs of Ballard.
    Ballard…first landing point for Russia’s invasion of America! just leave my food alone.

    1. The reason I found this site is because I have a comment a day coming from Russian, Ukraine or a Poland IP address commenting at my site, and I am trying to see how other people handle it. So, I don’t think its delusional to be aware that some people are employed in Russia to daily comment on US sites.

  8. Automated comment moderation. There are a number of tools like Crisp Thinking and Smart Moderation that help with toxic content, bad actor detection, and variant moderation tiers based on the rules in place for a particular site.

  9. Haha I love the “TURN OFF COMMENTS” folks.

    Here is your social justice “free speech tolerance” in its full, resplendent glory.
    Yes, let’s all be fake nice while the city falls to pieces in front of our eyes. Pathetic.

  10. Interesting timing, Geeky Swedes. Right about the time there is some real substantial push back against the corrupt status quo in the this town you guys want to start limiting the discourse.

    Too many skeptical or – dare I even utter the word – “conservative” viewpoints being expressed here?

  11. there will always be haters. don’t allow them a forum. No comments.
    Comments serve no real purpose. They allow me to see if i think like others and visa versa. Who cares.
    The haters should be deprived and i am willing to give up my voice for that.

  12. Turn them off. I believe that you’re doing a great job of sharing information. while occasionally there is valuable information in the comments, I feel it’s not needed for My Ballard to be a useful source of information.

    Free speech can exist without amplifying people like above. The guy with the racist tag above can build his own website and likeminded individuals can listen there. I however find him and many other comment offensive and would rather that this trusted news source not give a platform. I won’t link either because of the vitriol. Newspapers worked fine without comments. Thank you for all your work.

  13. Turn them off. I get so disgusted with the childish, spiteful, nasty comments that I’m inclined to not read the articles at all. I was so relieved when there were no comments because no one bothered to register. However, it may be useful to have some sort of feedback where people can send you updates/ corrections.

  14. Are you a news outlet ? Or a public forum? I don’t think it can be both. Frankly, I read it for the local news, not people’s opinions about it

  15. Geeky Swedes… Leave it be. You’re looking for traffic and clicks. I cruise this site all the time and give my $.02 once in a while without retribution. And I like it.

    Don’t bow down to political correctness . If you tighten down the Comments it will disincentivize people that want to post and remain anonymous. Sure it gets rowdy but it’s a great way to gauge the political climate in our little neighborhood.

    You can cruise browser metadata, IP addresses, and such to give someone a 24 hour ban, etc. That’s not a bad idea for super flamers… but truthfully. It’s not that bad. You guys run a great site and fine, comments can get “mean” or “rude”. I highly doubt this has a long lasting effect on peoples feelings and in the scheme of life it doesn’t matter much.

    Let the Comments be and keep up the good work!

    Vote O’Brien out. Don’t by his wife’s stuff a the Farmers Market. and….! Doug Dickson for Mayor!

    (See, it’s not that big of deal)

  16. I’m OK with it as it is although I agree that some people are clearly falling short of what is constructive comment. For those who want to turn comments off, you can chose to not read comments. Just sayin’.

  17. Keep the comments. Don’t turn them off. That’s pandering to the lowest common denominator of people who are easily hurt by words on a screen. (The comments are some of the best reads on this site)

    You guys do an awesome job with the site and I come on a daily basis. Please keep it as is.

  18. I like the comments as they are now, it’s a fun combination of of people. I like the comments even the ones I disagree with. I find a lot of them to be funny or meaningful and it gives people a place to share their thoughts whether mainstream or totally outrageous. It’s fun and it’s got a community feel to it.

  19. I don’t quite understand why someone would ask for comments to be turned off. If they bother you just don’t read them.

    I for one enjoy the constant back and forth between BHAGWAN SHREE SAWANT and ELENCHOS as there are almost no venues left where the right and left interact anymore and it’s a tribute to myballard that it still attracts both sides without being labeled partisan, biased, or fake news. The idea that these two sides should only hang out with like minded individuals on like minded sites is the exact cause of the dysfunction we have today. Would it be better if they could keep their comments civilized and lower the sarcasm? Yes! And in that regard just delete the ones that go too far off topic, but if anything we need more places where the right and left are interacting not less.

    In fact why not take advantage of it. Have a weekly or monthly “thoughts” piece on recent events. Geeky Swedes could sit down and have a beer (or three) with ELENCHOS and SHREE SAWANT and discuss the big events in Ballard and the view from the right and left.

  20. I vote for register-only comments…. similar to what the Seattle Times or The Stranger has.

    I like your comments section but would prefer that there be some methodology for moderating some of the more extreme commenters. Asking commenters to register is an easy way to screen out the more strident posters. You could always go back to open comments at a future date.

    There’s also a lot in play right now in the neighborhood and city. Stakeholders (homeowners/business) are pushing back hard against a city council that they see as mismanaging transportation, homelessness, and neighborhood policing (to name a few).

  21. Please leave open comments. For the ones requesting comments be turned off as they are a distraction, just don’t read the comments. Avoid Facebook, do not let the Russians take over, they have done enough damage.

  22. Require that commenters register with and use their real name.

    The Constitution guarantees Freedom of Speech, but it doesn’t protect you from the consequences of said speech.

    Require real names. That might calm things down a bit.

  23. Nuke off-topic comments on sight. Nuke them immediate. If the topic of the post isn’t homelessness, delete any comment about homelessness, addition, crime. A post about a new burger joint shouldn’t have any comments about the (phony) crime wave or about junkies. Almost all of the worst crap is off-topic spamming. You have one guy with 20 false names who goes off about junkies and crime in every post. Delete that.

    Any comment with obvious falsehoods, or obvious unfounded defamation of anybody, should be deleted. You don’t have to fact check every comment, but the ones that stand out as obvious nonsense should be removed.

    As far as “encourage open conversations”, don’t worry. MyBallard doesn’t have to take the burden of he whole rest of the internet. There are plenty of places to have flamewars. Aggressively remove off-topic, ideologically motivated propaganda, and with a little persistence, they go away.

    They will yell and threaten and pout, but before long, they will go away. You do not have to coddle alt-right trolls. Kick them out.

  24. @elenchos
    I disagree. Crime waves could be relevant to a burger joint opening.

    Like, will there be a guard with a glock standing inside, like Taco Bell, The Public Library, and Fred Meyer, due to a phony crime wave happening in their doorway, and inside the restaurant?
    That’s relevant, @elenchos, that’s relevant., to people who don’t like to have mouthy, loud, rude underqualified, freeloaders with guns roaming around the burger joint, that’s also pertinent to the new burger joint, as are mouthy, loud, rude, freeloaders standing in the doorways of businesses with large wooden sticks, golf clubs, and wooden poles. Thank you for your comments, dude man.

  25. I refuse to and never will use FB our MND. Getting ganged up on is already a Seattle thing. Conservatives like me are now in our closets, and we all see the results of liberal mob-rule. Shame on us for having a different idea/opinion. So much for tolerance. I see these bumper stickers urging us to “turn off FOX”. So what do many here want? Totalitarianism? Try turning off MSLSD and NPR. Leave comments alone. What are we afraid of here? An actual debate or differing opinions? Or is this just for the people who re-made Ballard?

  26. What’s wrong with Disqus? You have to pre-register so it limits the flyby posting. You get notified when someone comments on your post so you can engage in dialogue (unlike the Time comments).
    Anonymous or not, we’ve seen that any Comments section is going to descend into vitriol, but pre-registered comments seem to take longer to get there.

  27. A tool only helps with things like formatting. To help with the tone and quality of discourse, you need an active community manager in the comment threads constantly reading and responding to set the tone and establish boundaries. There are a lot of resources out there for community managers. For this active of a community that would be a full time role, especially at first as you establish things.

  28. We’re experimenting with a new plugin-in here, which enables users to vote up/down comments — and then you can click “most voted” to see them ranked that way.

    The only problem is there isn’t a way for you to set “most voted” as your default view — you have to click it every time. Or… we could set it as the default view for everyone, which means the comments are no longer chronological and makes it harder to have a conversation. We did add comment threading (“reply”), which could offset that problem.

    So.. we’re not really sold on this plug-in — and voting might make things more divisive, rather than helpful — but we thought we’d add it and see what everyone thinks.

  29. It’s like the Seattle Times – commenters just get nastier and nastier in their anonymity.
    Ido appreciate the thoughtful comments though. And the attempts for a civil discussion.

  30. You could limit the discussion to people who actually care about the neighborhood, like those who believe in workers rights and fighting the billionaires that bought out Ballard and kicked out the women and people of color for their techbro fantasies. There is a reason why Sawant and O’Brien won with their massive majorities and why we might finally see the workers revolution sweep the rest of the city.

  31. I agree with Scott, turn them off completely. Listening to these neanderthals whine on every story is getting really old Swedes.

    1. I should clarify, if there isn’t a way to make comments more civil, then you should turn them off. also, check into a system called Kinja. it allows for “approved commenters” comments to be shown to the public, and then non approved commenters comments to be in a different area, also available to the public, but it takes a couple clicks to get there. Not sure how much it costs of course.

  32. I come rather for the news, but the useless comments keep me away. Literally no value to them, other than to the person commenting, As I am demonstrating thusly.

  33. “Anyone know of any WordPress plugins or new commenting platforms that encourage open conversations but at the same time reward more thoughtful responses?”

    Reward? Isn’t that already in place, the up and down arrows as a sort of polling of how much a comment is liked or disliked? Perhaps you could be more specific as to what feature you want.

  34. Late to the game, but look at the Seattle Transit Blog for a good example of a healthy comment section. Lengthy discussion and heated debates are allowed and encouraged.

    Any ad him attacks and off topic comments are deleted without the comment section suffering. To provide for open discussion, news round up and open topic posts happen once or twice a week where people can talk about whatever, again subject to moderation of ad hom attacks.

    1. Funny how everyone who is on the old sockpuppeteer’s enemies list gets exactly 4 downvotes almost immediately. Guess sockpuppet must have 4 IP addresses they can quickly cycle through without having to go far. I bet it’s obvious from the logs.

      Socking is bad. Don’t sock, sockpuppet.

      1. Well, since our favorite sockpuppet can’t string together a sentence of cohesive words with any sustenance or facts, he can now resort to silently stuffing downvotes to make himself feel accomplished, as if anyone gives a crap about a voting system on a neighborhood blog.

        I’ll help you out, Mr. Sockpuppet, the down arrow is here:

  35. Maybe create an “extremist’s playpen” and route all posts by Truth, Andrew Daisuke, Elenchos, Shree Baghwan Sawant and MOB’s Ballsack to it. They can throw Fischer-Price toys (and arguments) at one another while the rest of us, across the political spectrum, can engage in sincere and respectful discussions. And the rankings have to come with a sting…if you get X number of downvotes, your comment is deleted…get that three times, you’re banned. Anyway, it’s a thought…I don’t think a soft hand will work here. You need to be an iron fist from time to time to keep anonymous ideologues in line.

    1. The issue with using downvotes as a punishment is that voting is supposed to be on whether the comment is relevant or not relevant. What happens instead is it becomes more of a agree/disagree with the comment or commentor. If you notice, any comment on this thread pointing out the constantly irrelevant sockpuppet gets 4 downvotes immediately, as I’m sure mine will. It would be too easy for a legitimate comment or commentor to get deleted or banned by our sockpuppet, just because they don’t agree.

      Instead, we need an active, benevolent moderator to delete off topic or ad hom comments. That’s how you get to have a vibrant, relevant comment section, similar to the Seattle Transit Blog.

    2. They could set up their own neighborhood blog “Ballard Blues and Reds” and stick to political hand wringing, with the occasional detour into the fine art of Russian sockpuppetry….Actually, I’d visit that site.

  36. Deal with the sockpuppets. Discus, or whatever methodology works to sort out the trolls who post under many different names. Easy to see by the linguistics that it’s the same person trolling under multiple names, and it clutters the comments to the point where most respond with “Turn them off!”.

  37. Get rid of the one guy who constantly posts with multiple names. The Sock Puppet. Just block all of his IP addresses. For the most part it is just one person causing the problems.


    “Kasey Lebechuck was coming home Sunday evening about 6 p.m. when he noticed a homeless man setting up camp near his Northeast Portland home.

    He approached the man and asked him to move. At first, the man seemed willing, telling Lebechuck he was reaching into his backpack to get his cell phone.

    The man, later identified as 25-year-old Todd Schneider, allegedly pulled out a knife and attacked Lebechuck, leaving him with 17 stab wounds in the head, neck chest and torso. Lebechuck, who is in his mid-60s, tried to fight back, according to his daughter, but the younger man repeatedly pushed him to the ground and continued the assault.”

    If you guys get done hand wringing about comments can we talk about our felon hobo problem?

  39. Not sure there is a WordPress plugin but Ars Technica has a cool way of doing it. Comments are on a separate page except those that are promoted by the author. They appear on the same page as the article then.

    This has the advantage of promoting positive actions explicitly and hiding unhelpful comments by default instead of requiring whack-a-mole.

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