Lola the Alaskan Sled Chihuahua is resistant to change.
Last night, for reasons unrelated to this post, I was looking back at the posts from when former Cornell undergrad Kathleen McCaffrey joined (November 2010) and then departed (May 2012) Legal Insurrection.
What I immediately noticed is how many of the commenters back then still are commenters now. That sense of continuity and community is one of the things I think sets Legal Insurrection apart.
But it wasn’t something I was going to write about.
Over the years I’ve struggled with how to handle the comment section. I’ve had to make repeated appeals to commenters to tone things down, and on occasion have had to ban people when they crossed that “you know it when you see it” line. Those appeals have met with limited success, and it troubles me that in the past couple of months I have received numerous communications from long-term readers — some who have been with us almost since the beginning — that the comment section is out of control and they don’t like reading it anymore. They are not wrong, and things seem to be getting worse this election season.
But, that said, I want our comment section to be vibrant and active. I think it would be worse if we opened it up to third-party software like Disqus or Facebook. We would lose the sense of community, and would open ourselves up to more drive-by commenters throwing hand grenades into the comment section then moving on.
As a business reality, there’s a reason why so many of the large websites use third-party commenting functions. Drive-by commenters are page views, and page views are money. I’m convinced we would significantly increase our page views if we used a different system. There’s also a sense of growing the audience apart from monetary considerations.
So the reason I’m writing about this is that this morning I saw that Hot Air is moving to a Facebook comment system:
We have certainly enjoyed the comment section and look forward to seeing it grow and become more diverse. That is one reason why we feel it necessary to make this change. A closed, proprietary system requires far more resources to manage than we can apply to the task. As a result, we rarely have the opportunity to open the system to new commenters, which means that newer Hot Air readers have no opportunity to engage and provide their feedback to our articles. That is unfair to those new Hot Air readers, and it also deprives other readers from a broader range of views.
Also, our commenting format has been outdated for some time. The Facebook interface has comment nesting, the ability to like, and post-commenting editing capability. Rather than use resources to essentially re-invent the wheel, using what has become an Internet standard interface makes much more sense. Facebook has over a billion users and many Hot Air readers likely already have accounts, two key reasons we chose this platform for our site. Sites such as IJ Review, TechCrunch, Huffington Post, WebProNews, Inquisitr, and more have gone to Facebook comments, while almost all others have gone to some other outside platform that allows Facebook for a login, such as Disqus. Some readers may have concerns about using their real identity to comment at Hot Air, and we certainly understand that reluctance. Anonymous accounts can be created on Facebook, though, and those can be used for commenting on other websites.
Perhaps equally pertinent:
This will also allow Hot Air’s editors to put aside policing the comment sections. We get steady, and lately increasing, demands for interventions in quarrels between commenters that often requires much time and effort to unwind.
Every website has to do what’s best for it. Hot Air is in a league of its own and one of the flagships of conservative media. It competes at a different level than we do, so it seems to me that moving to a Facebook system would make sense for it.
For us, I’m not convinced it makes sense. Many of our readers don’t have Facebook accounts, in part because they don’t trust Facebook’s privacy or lack thereof. Legal Insurrection has a large and active Facebook page (give us a “Like” if you haven’t already), and I don’t notice a lot of cross-overs between the people who comment there and the people who comment here.
Also, it would be much harder to maintain anonymity, which is a long American tradition. See, The Federalist Papers.
I asked Lola the Alaskan Sled Chihuahua what she wanted to do. She’s very resistant to change. It can be a problem. Lola wants to keep the current system. And whatever Lola wants, Lola gets.
So, for now, the BREAKING NEWS is that we are keeping our current comment system.