Saturday, May 29, 2010

Webmasters, Site Editors Seek to Control Comments

Originally, webmasters provided forums and feedback options in the hopes of sparking discussions amongst readers who would further explore the topic at-hand with intelligent debate, and thought-provoking commentary. Instead, they got "FIRST!," "I just bought new panties, come see them on my new web-cam," and the ever-popular, "ur a fag." Up to now, everyone has let it slide, but some webmasters and site editors have finally gotten fed-up and are trying to "take back" their discussions boards.

Contrary to what some will say, not being allowed to blurt-out whatever is on your mind whenever you fell like it is not censorship; some things are simply inappropriate at certain times and/or for certain venues, while others are basically inappropriate at any time, for any reason. Censorship is an altogether different animal. Put plainly, people have a right to expect open, on-topic, communications, and when someone goes outside of those boundaries, there should be consequences.

In the BBS days, almost all forums had a "Flame" board, where users were encouraged to go after one another as much as they liked, and be as vicious as they pleased. The phrase, "Take it to Flame" became a popular way of ending disagreements in other forums. The flame board, and the rules surrounding it, were generally respected by all, because forums members were there to converse, not get attention. Forums were easier to maintain then, because there were fewer participants, and though Sysops (system operators, the ancestors of webmasters) had more control to enforce the rules, "spam" was also yet to be... invented (for lack). More than anything, there was a sense of community that, though present on certain sites, is absent from the Web.

Online comments have become so nasty and useless that many sites are simply getting rid of forums and commenting, altogether. Others are more determined though, installing software such as Disqus, and assigning staffers to monitor boards and engage in the discussions. Some websites would truly suffer without visitor interaction, while others would be just as well-off without them, and some would actually benefit from a lack of user-generated noise which does nothing but detract from their content.

The Weirding originally had forums, with boards specific to each game, blog, and section, but they generated little more than spam and became a huge time vacuum.
The Speakeasy (as the forums were called) used a myriad of security measures, but spammers found ways around whatever hurdles I put in their path, and I spent at least 5-10 hours a week monitoring the boards for spam and fake users. There were so few helpful comments from real users that I eventually deleted the forums, entirely.

All told, I believe The Weirding is a stronger site without comments or forums. The truth is that many gamers are a stubborn, thankless lot who criticize fiercely, though rarely constructively. The design concept behind the site was about bringing print online, and with the exception of "letters to the editor" columns, few print works are interactive. I feel our site is better served without user-generated commentary, though we encourage visitors to contact us directly.

It's high-time webmasters, editors, and visitors alike did something about online comments. All too rarely are online discussions civil, informative, or even enjoyable to read; they have become a burden instead of a boon, and that will only change once people start changing it.

© C Harris Lynn, 2010

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