Online comments have always been — and probably always will be — one of the Web’s thorniest problems. At their best, comments add depth to stories, videos or other pieces of online content. At their worst, they undermine stories, link people to scams, make you question the state of humanity or, well, just want to take a shower.
Google’s YouTube video service, which most people can probably agree has some of the worst comments on the Web, announced Tuesday that it will revamp its comments so that more relevant content will float to the top. That means comments from a video’s creator, well-known personalities, or those involved in active discussion about a video will get featured, as will posts from people in a user’s Google+ circles. Users will be able to comment privately to Google+ friends or publicly, and content creators will also get new tools to auto-moderate comments by blocking certain words or auto-approving certain fans.
None of these tactics are particularly new to trying to get more of the good stuff and less of the bad. Plenty of sites have tried methods ranging from requirements that users register to comment, to set-ups (like YouTube’s or even The Washington Post’s ) that try to separate the comment chaff from the wheat. There are also a variety of systems that try to tie comments to people’s real names, in the hope of improving accountability.
Google’s approach pulls together a couple of these threads, particularly by integrating its own Google+ service. That underscores the company’s ongoing push to get users to use the same name across all of their Google products — which could lead to more real names — and also attempts to tackle the problem of the most recent comments getting prominent billing regardless of whether they’re relevant to the content or not.
Still, it’s not an easy problem to fix — and some Web sites have stopped trying altogether, opting instead to foster conversation on social media sites.
That’s the approach Popular Science announced Tuesday. The publication said its stories will no longer feature comments, because the comment section had become a platform for exactly the kind of views that it was founded to fight.
“A politically motivated, decades-long war on expertise has eroded the popular consensus on a wide variety of scientifically validated topics. Everything, from evolution to the origins of climate change, is mistakenly up for grabs again,” wrote Suzanne LaBarre, the publication’s online content director.
“Scientific certainty is just another thing for two people to ‘debate’ on television,” she continued. “And because comments sections tend to be a grotesque reflection of the media culture surrounding them, the cynical work of undermining bedrock scientific doctrine is now being done beneath our own stories, within a website devoted to championing science.”