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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: October 25, 2010 @ 6:47 pm

    How should we improve our commenting, debating and interactivity on irishtimes.com?

    Hugh Linehan

    With the rapid-fire speed for which we in mainstream media are renowned, I’m just getting around to acknowledging our delight here in The Irish Times at winning the Grand Prix award for Best Website in Ireland at the Irish Web Awards on October 16th. It was a great night, and the award means a lot to everyone in here who works hard to make the site better all the time.

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    Speaking of which… I made a commitment when accepting the other award we won, for Best Online Publication, that we would be redoubling our efforts in the next 12 months to make certain key improvements in what we do and how we do it. I and my colleagues are very aware that there are a considerable number of things we could do much better. It’s not that we don’t care about enhanced interactivity, better use of metadata, increased liveblogging, etc. But, we do have some quite complicated technological and organisational projects to undertake before we can realise our potential to the full.

    One key objective for us in 2011 is to make irishtimes.com a better platform for debate on key issues which are of concern to our user community. This objective will include (but isn’t restricted to) better integration with social media; faster publication speeds for users who are engaging in conversations; and a broader range of threads than is currently available through our Have Your Say comments facility.

     It would be ridiculous for us to embark on this project without asking you about it. So what would you like to see us do in this area? All ideas are welcome.

    • Hugh Linehan says:

      Helena – we’re starting to go down the rabbithole on this one – and my email is a matter of public record if we need to take it further – but I am able to right-click on headlines, summaries, latest and everything else and I’m given the full range of opening options.

    • Redking says:

      @Hugh Helena is correct on this one, at least using Internet Explorer 8. I did a test on the main page. Right-click on an item from the top menu (news, sport, business, etc.) and you’ll see the expected contextual menu for an anchor tag. Right-click on an article headline (Berlin bids to secure…) and instead the contextual menu for page whitespace appears. The anchor tag is not recognised.

    • Mumblin' Deaf Ro says:

      Two suggestions for blog comments:

      1 – when you return to a blog post you should have the option to start reading at the latest new comment – most message boards have this

      2 – the ability to quote a previous post you are responding to, so that other readers know whom you are addressing.

    • Kev says:

      @Paul M – Sorry for the sourness. I just couldn’t think of any useful suggestions. I figured it’s not always better to stay silent rather than be negative; silence is can as easily indicate indifference. And I’d love a fig roll, thanks.

      How about if the best comments on the day’s articles were selected, at the end of each day, and were posted the following morning on an online ‘letters page’ ? This might be a way of giving commenters a format and style to aim for, as well as rewarding quality. Also, like the print edition letters page, it would allow readers to access a variety of insights, on articles they may not have otherwise read.

      The selection mechanism could be by IT staff moderation – and I suspect this would be best – or by commenters moderating each other (‘like’ / ‘dislike’), or maybe some hybrid of the two?

      Any solution, I think, should reward, or seek to exemplify, quality. Most online debates are awful (google image search: “internet argument”). Most comments on this forum and pretty much all others are awful. Interactivity is something people might say they want, but, in reality, we keep coming back to quality news sites, such as this one – I don’t think it’s for the interactivity.

      I’d love if the comments gave a broad spread of viewpoints, and I’d love if they were generally insightful, thoughtful, and with some level of analysis. If this can’t be done – and I’d be pretty sure it can’t – I’d love to be able to pretend it can be done anyway. Picking the best and leaving the rest might be a way to do this.

    • Frances Macken says:

      Is it time for the Irish Times to prepare guidelines for those who want to post comments on IT Blogs? Word count, spellings and so on. And keeping to the point. Many people have remarked that they are tired of long-winded comments. Could we see the pithier 50 words or less comments in one view and 50+ words comments in another viewing option?

    • Hugh Linehan says:

      KEI@35 says ‘Finally, why are you still charging for the archives, it was always my impression that the newsstand price was to cover the cost of the printing while the advertising covered the cost of the production.’

      If only our technologically disrupted business model were so simple. While it’s true to say most newspapers have traditionally had a dual funding model (circulation and advertising), I’m not aware that any of them then assigned that revenue to specific costs such as printing or production. The relative importance of copy sales and advertising differs greatly from title to title and country to country, so it wouldn’t work as a universal principle anyway. I think the reality is that, as newspapers across the world (well, the developed world anyway) see traditional revenue streams declining as a result of migration to new platforms, and online revenues failing to live up to optimistic projections, they’ll look to monetise their content in whatever way they see as being in their own best interest. Hence The Irish Times at the moment does not believe a free-access archive would deliver sufficient advertising revenue to justify removing the subscription charge.

    • Hugh Linehan says:

      There are some interestingly varied views on the ranking and ordering of comments, filtering for quality etc. I wonder might part of the solution here involve providing tools which allow users to view, participate, etc in the way which suits them best? For example, you might choose to be part of a certain community/discussion forum and only members of that forum’s posts would be visible to you. I had a brief exchange of views on Twitter last night and someone said (I’m paraphrasing) they used to comment on blogs and websites, but they now found Twitter much more satisfactory, because of its instantaneous nature. It strikes me that Twitter has a couple of other attractive features as well: in the vast majority of cases you know who you’re taking to; and if someone’s being objectionable you can just block them. Would it be possible to introduce some of those features here?

    • John Quinn says:

      Getting published in the prestigious Irish Times would be a great honour. As a Freelance journalist; I would like to see an interactive and moderated repository on the website where ideas for news or feature items could be pitched to the various Irish Times editors with a view to getting published.

      This facility could be designed to induce the busy editor to use it as a potential source of good ideas meriting further investigation.

      The process in terms of how this would work in real time could in the best interests of both Journalist and Editor be teased out as part of the test phase and I would be delighted to voluntarily participate in this exercise if needed.

    • Helena says:

      @ Redking,
      Phew, that’s a relief coz was just beginning to doubt my own sanity, lol

      @ Hugh,
      Thanks for inviting our suggestions on this topic. Good call.

    • Frances Macken says:

      @John Quinn, @Hugh Have either of you sussed out Qluso yet, allows news editors to bid for best freelance ideas. Currently live in Beta.

    • Jean says:

      I think the like/twitter buttons would be a great idea. My college paper has a recommendation function so you can post a story to your profile.

      I know Gawker media has a sort of commentator league table with ways for you to star the best.

      Also I’d like a European section separate from world news.

    • John Quinn says:

      @60. Frances, Thanks for the pointer. Qluso looks very promising. Positive reviews from reputable sources like http://www.journalism.co.uk. I’ll register with Qluso and see what happens.

    • minXie says:

      Hugh (and congrats on the award)
      Just a little thing but wonder if it would be possible to have the main Irish Times front-page photo featured also in the online “Have your say” comments section every day so that people could comment on this. The front-page photos are generally excellent and often quite amazing and could invite very interesting comment imo.

      Apart from that I wouldn’t change much else. The Guardian CiF has its fair share of problems re moderation and I don’t think their system is that great. At least 50% of the comments on any topic are rubbish and sometimes downright disgusting but I do think it’s a good idea to have to register with just one identity + password, whether that be an avatar or real identity. As it is, in the IT a commenter can post using multiple identities even with the same email address and so anybody posting on the opinion/analysis sections or the blogs, for example, can post any amount of comments using different pseudonyms to back up support for their position with regard to a particular topic, etc. – I’m surprised more politicians or their spin doctors don’t do this!

    • webstar says:

      I often find that I do not get time to edit/correct typos..or am ‘timed out’ if I type anything more than a couple of para’s…Is this some default setting at your end …? If so can it be rectified..?

    • MinxxiE says:

      Definitely should be no “delete” button. Grammar mistakes, syntax, typos, etc., give the reader an insight into the cerebral level at which the commenter is operating. Having said that, Einstein couldn’t spell for nuts. But people should take the time to correct their own obvious mistakes, at least, in M/soft Word, for example and not press “submit” in a hurry or especially in anger………..although that can be fun when you get the attention-seeking, egotistical blogalomaniac* to the point of spewing inanity.

      *Blog-megalomaniac – you know, the commenter who thinks s/he owns the blog and takes ‘their self’ way too seriously..!

    • Eugene O'Negin says:

      Nice win, Hugh & Co. My minor suggestion: on the pages that have a slideshow image, have the slideshow start automatically, without the viewer having to click them. Those who feel that it’s a distraction and just want to read the text can do so fairly smartly; those who would otherwise have clicked each of the individual images save themselves having to do so.

    • Bryan says:

      The homepage could be tidied up if the articles on the right that have a picture contained only a heading (and sub-heading if needed). Use rollover text to display the short explanation so it only appears when you mouseover the picture. Guardian.co.uk is a good example. It makes the page more interactive for the reader.

    • webstar says:

      As someone who decided as a matter of principle not to learn to type on principle because I was unwilling to be anyone’s secretary/typist I accept my keyboard skills leave a little to be desired…in fact I’m quite proud of the fact…
      Whereas I would normally dictate my correspondence for typing when this option is unavailable I am reduced to relying on my own digitally challenged effort…hence my request…
      The inclusion of the delete button and/or correct facility would be of assistance to both the writer and the reader whose sensibilities would not be offended by typos.etc…
      As I say I am quite often timed-out and get an error response when I submit comments after taking time to edit…I’m grateful!

    • Ted says:

      Hugh, I see comments have been deleted and commenting is no longer possible on Vincent Browne’s opinion piece on Mary Harney. In light of your blog here and the comments on commenting it might be interesting to know why the door was shut on Vincent’s piece.

    • Hugh Linehan says:

      Ted – just checked with moderator and comments still open, live and kicking on that piece.

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