Washington Post, New York Times and Mozilla team up for new Web site comment system

In an unusual partnership, The Washington Post, the New York Times and software developer Mozilla will team up to create digital tools that will make it easier for readers to post comments and photos on news sites and to interact with journalists and each other.

The two-year development project will be funded by a $3.89 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Miami-based philanthropic organization that specializes in media and the arts.

As described by its developers, the as-yet-unnamed system aims to standardize the many different “community engagement” systems that Web sites now use to collect and publish outside contributions, especially reader comments and photos.

The most ambitious aim of the project is to create a feature that would efficiently highlight the most relevant and pertinent reader comments on an article, perhaps through word-recognition software. Another feature would categorize and rank commenters according to their previous postings.

Such a function wouldn’t eliminate “trolls” — readers who post intentionally inflammatory or abusive comments — but it might diminish the “incentive to be the loudest voice” and would foster communities of commenters, said Greg Barber, The Post’s director of digital news projects who is part of a steering group.

A highlighting system might also make it easier and more practical for journalists to interact directly with reader-commenters, he said.

The Post and the Times not only hope to incorporate the system on their Web sites but intend to share them with other publishers and bloggers, much like the WordPress publishing tools that enable anyone to create their own Web site, said Marc Lavallee, editor of interactive news technology at the Times and another steering-committee member.

The collaboration among representatives of the three organizations grew out of conversations that began last October at an industry conference, according to Sasha Koren, the Times’s deputy editor of interactive news who is also part of the steering committee.

The project, which will have about a dozen members, will be led by Mozilla’s Dan Sinker, who heads the Knight-Mozilla OpenNews initiative, which develops digital-news tools. Mozilla is best known for its Firefox browser.

The Times and The Post are longtime journalistic competitors but have cooperated previously. In late 2002, the Times Co. completed a deal to buy out The Post Co.’s 50 percent share of the Paris-based International Herald Tribune. The Times renamed it to the International New York Times last year.

Paul Farhi is The Washington Post's media reporter.
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