Jessamyn_West,_librarian_(2012)Jessamyn West, a well-known librarian who moderated for the MetaFilter Web site, has a thoughtful essay in Medium on how sites can do comments right.

It’s obvious to me. Editors and publishers should expect intelligence and civil replies to writers and to other commenters. Trolls should be banned. Cyberspace teems with places for them to be obnoxious elsewhere.

The best Web sites are communities—not necessarily of like-minded people but of those who respect each other. They may disagree on the topics of the day, but keep at it again and again because they enjoy the wit and other qualities of their sparring partners. I’ve learned plenty from TeleRead’s commenters, some of whom have in fact gone on to become regular contributors.

I know a wonderful editor on a major daily newspaper who more or less ignores comments. But I suspect that many journalists who do so are lazy and arrogant. Some first-class news sites have dropped comments—for example, The Verge and Popular Science—and it isn’t as if they’re suddenly fifth-rate, but they may not be quite as stellar as before.

Comments especially count on niche sites like TeleRead, where so many of those speaking up have extensive knowledge of the topics under discussion and can fill in gaps on posts done under deadline.

Our commenters are worlds apart from the morons spewing venom by way of large general-interest sites. The New York Times, however, shows there’s as better way even for the giants. Although it does not allow comments on all items—would that it did!—it takes moderation seriously and is even helping to develop comment-facilitation software, also useful for other interactivity.

In a related vein, Yael Grauer asks in MediaShift if writers should respond to commenters. To me, in most cases, the answer is obvious. It isn’t practical to do this always, but within the limits of time, I do what I can. Same for Chris Meadows and the other TeleRead regulars.

Here at TeleRead, comments are not a burden. They add to the value of the site. Keep at it! I won’t name the best and most frequent commenters here—lest I accidentally omit anyone—but I’m grateful to all of you.

Related: Digg is building a new community commenting platform, from NiemanLab.


  1. Playing devil’s advocate, I’ll say that’s certainly true, for a site and community of our particular size. But if we suddenly started getting thousands of comments a day—actual comments, not the thousands of spam comments and couple of dozen regular comments if we’re lucky—what then? Would we have the time to sort through them all while still producing articles for the blog? 🙂

    (Although I wouldn’t mind saying, I’d love to find out. 🙂 )

  2. @Chris: Great question. Yes, may we have that problem! We could use Slashdot-style crowd-sourced moderation and other tricks to winnow down the number of comments that editors needed to read. Hey, automation helps us deal with the zillions of spam commments TeleRead receives. It can do the same for humans’ legit comments. For those who want to see everything–good luck actually doing do!–we can make that available as an option.

    Like the Times, we could reward commenters who were constantly voted up or who impressed the editors in other ways.


  3. In your article about the NY Times article about Amazon you linked to a rebuttal by Nick Ciubotariu, an Amazon employee, who says he sent a similar comment to the NY Times and it was deleted by their moderators. If that’s true, it would seem that they’re moderating for content as well as civility. His article seemed to be well thought out and he should know what he’s talking about and his points courteously stated.

    Anyway, that’s a problem with moderation of comments. It has to be tempting for even an honest moderator to delete something he doesn’t like but that is well stated.

    I think you’re right that you can get away with leaving comments be because there aren’t that many of them and that’s a good thing. While I wish you all sorts of success with this site I hope it doesn’t happen in the form of too much growth. 🙂


  4. @Barry: Very thoughtful comment! While I like the NYT system in general, I agree that it didn’t do justice to Nick Ciubotariu.

    In fact, I reached out to him yesterday on LinkedIn and asked for permission to reprint him in full. He’s obliged. You’ll see his essay in full on TeleRead in the next hour or two. Perhaps the length of his rebuttal put off the Times, simply for format-related reasons. But it could have replied: “Hey, Nick, just shrink it.” No such problem at TeleRead. We’ll carry every syllable.

    Yes, there is the danger of moderators censoring. But sometimes the case for deleting comments and commenters is pretty strong. Recently a troll called Chris and Joanna “plagiarists” merely for picking up news stories. Absurd. They both attributed the information and added their own angles. Clearly the T word applied. I’ve banned him from the site. He’s in a very select group. I can tolerate a lot as long as the language is civil.


  5. I think calling someone like that a troll might be pushing things a bit, but, of course, I didn’t read the articles or his comment. What he called plagiarism is what bloggers do these days. Actually it’s what nearly everyone who writes in any form whatever does. We all build on what we read. That’s how we learn and grow.


  6. @Barry: “Learn and grow.” Exactly! Our friend didn’t want to add to the discussion—just to tear down Chris and Joanna with inflammatory remarks. I’m 100 percent confident you’d have done the same thing in my place. The T word indeed fit. See

    “In Internet slang, a troll (/ˈtroʊl/, /ˈtrɒl/) is a person who sows discord on the Internet by starting arguments or upsetting people, by posting inflammatory,[1] extraneous, or off-topic messages in an online community (such as a newsgroup, forum, chat room, or blog) with the deliberate intent of provoking readers into an emotional response[2] or of otherwise disrupting normal on-topic discussion.[3].”

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