Saturday, November 6, 2010

Online communities – it pays to be involved

As science journalism moves increasingly to the Web, the work often just begins with writing and posting an article. The commentary from readers that follows a post needs focused and immediate attention, especially early in a site’s development. That was the consensus that developed during the discussion at this morning’s ‘Social web and online commenting’ session.

Tools such as site registration can halt detractors from the conversation before they ever get started and help weed out the spammers and trolls – the commenters who fill their posts with insults and other types of harassment. But, says Teresa Hayden, community manager for BoingBoing, “Great conversations require real human beings.” Hayden’s pedigree in social media stretches back to the 1980s.

Near-real-time comments from insightful readers add a dimension to science blogs and online articles that isn’t possible in print media. To develop that value in your web site, Hayden says, find ways to motivate the best commenters.

Mathilde Piard points to a badge system used by the Huffington Post. Thoughtful contributors who frequently post about, say, foreign policy might be rewarded with a ‘Foreign Policy’ badge that indicates their elevated standing in the community. Piard is the social media manager at Cox Media Group Digital.

By the same token, sussing out the system’s abusers is also critical. Just as comments that drive the conversation add to a site’s perceived value, spammers and trolls can degrade a site’s image in a hurry, discouraging value-adding contributors from posting. Amos Zeeberg, managing editor for Discover Online, says that catching a nefarious comment early on can halt an ugly turn in the discussion.

As a site develops a following, the panelists agree, the community will begin to police itself, as contributors become stakeholders in generating thought-provoking discussions.

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