This is written in response to a post Paolo Mottola made on FlipTheMedia: Online Media Democracy Is Still Under Construction, or Why Engadget Had To Flip The Switch On Comments
Thanks for the food for thought, Paolo, but I disagree. What follows is a contrarian view. ;-)
(1) Several people commented, post-suspension, that Engadget allowed anonymous comments. I don’t know if that was true, but the way the Engadget FAQ currently reads (“We need your email address so you can create a profile in our system and become a member of our community”), it appears that these were valid criticisms of Engadget’s management system.
This one thing — allowing anonymous comments — probably contributed more to uncivil behavior than scale. Scale, by itself, is not a problem. Behavior that has no consequences? That’s a problem.
(2) Even now, although you’re supposed to need to login or create an account before commenting, two of the four people commenting on the first post (about Deutsch Telecom) are unverified. This is not the way to maintain civility, because the person is for all intents and purposes, anonymous. Anonymity = behavior without consequences.
What does “unverified” mean? From the FAQ: You have “left a comment without having first set a username.”
What? Why would the system let you do that? I mean, you just told us that you have to “create a profile” in order to comment.
“This is most likely because you were an Engadget commenter on the old system, and you have not logged out or cleared your cookies since the new system was implemented. To select a username, simply log out of the site and log back in — the system will then ask you to select a username.”
Cookies, as we all know, have expiration dates. Why is Engadget using the same cookies? Why didn’t Engadget ask its dev team to force a log-off?
(3) Finally, comments are not on by default at the moment. I just went to Engadget (note, I am not a regular reader) and clicked “discuss” on the top story. I was momentarily confused, as there was no comment box and the message I saw began … “Comments are currently turned off.” I did a double take and then realized that … “You can enable them by clicking “on” above.”. Where the heck is “on”? My eye did a scan, scan, scan – oh, there it is.
I have no idea why Engadget has implemented this speed bump when it is allowing people to post anonymously (at least in the eyes of the world). Seems very odd.
In sum, I disagree that the problem Engadget faced with uncivil behavior lies solely at the feet of the “community.” IMO, Engadget did not have a community, because anonymity is antithetical to community. A community “policies itself” (see Slashdot, for example, or Newsvine*) but how do you exert peer pressure on anonymous accounts? You can’t.
* Added after reading Suzi’s comment