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Laura Kessel is managing editor of The News-Herald in Willoughby. She writes a weekly column and shares her thoughts here.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Just a comment about new tool for our website

This column appeared in The News-Herald on Saturday, March 30, 2012. 

This week, I did something I’ve never done before.

I made a comment on a story on The News-Herald’s website,

To some of you, that’s a daily occurrence. But, for me, it’s been nearly impossible until now.

Let me explain: One of the more popular features on our site is the reader comments that are made after a story is posted.

Website users can make comments on the stories, and, if they follow a few rules, those statements will be attached to the stories that sit on our site.

The rules are pretty basic: No name-calling, no profanity and you aren’t allowed to libel someone. We also don’t allow you to advertise your business or websites you’re particularly fond of.

The comments are popular because they’re quite “entertaining.” I used those quotes deliberately.

Users either love the comments or hate them. There really is no middle ground.

People tell us they love them for numerous reasons — they’re interesting to read; they tell you what people think; people are entertained by commenters’ writing styles; and, because they’re so popular, there’s fresh content all the time on some stories.

People tell us they hate them for numerous reasons, too — they’re not very interesting; people don’t care what anonymous people think; the spelling, grammar and punctuation are atrocious; there are too many people with too much time on their hands spending all day making comments on the stories.

There have been times in the past that I’ve been tempted to comment on stories. I’ve wanted to answer questions, or even ask them of other commenters when they seemed to have information that could further our work on a story.

But, the process didn’t really lend itself to doing so.

That all changed on Tuesday.

And, what brought it about is a new platform that allows us to become actively involved in the conversation with site users.

I started immediately.

There was concern minutes after the new platform went live, because existing comments disappeared.

We didn’t know that was going to happen, or we’d have warned you.

Our users were worried that we had deleted them. Goodness no, I told them. They’re all coming back, and you’ll be able to directly comment on those that are already there.

Trust me, we wouldn’t have gone through the trouble of reading each comment individually only to have them deleted in the transfer. We’d be more upset than you if that happened.

Oh, and before you ask: Yes, we’re still reading the comments before they’re approved.

The new platform has many features that will improve the experience of the user.

As I said above, you can now respond directly to a comment on our site. Before, if someone wanted to comment, it was posted sometimes 50 comments after the initial post. Under our new system, two commenters can get a debate going.

Another advantage is that users can filter the comments in different ways. You can see them in order of most recent first, or in order of which ones have the most “likes.” Or, if you like it the way it used to be, you can read them in the order in which they were posted by readers.

One change you’ll notice is the comments are no longer hidden. They are, however, kept at the bottom of the stories, so if you don’t want to see them, don’t scroll past the box where you can make your comment.

Another change is that you must supply an email address when you’re submitting your comment.

The email doesn’t appear on the site. But it’s necessary if you want to post a comment.

But, the biggest change for us is, as I said at the top, that we’re going to be joining the conversation.

You’ll see our comments listed using our names. It might be me, or Executive Editor Tricia Ambrose, or a staff writer, editor or photographer. We’ll be answering questions, and even asking them.

We’re looking forward to some great conversation.
Twitter: @Lauranh


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