Comments sections across the Internet run the gamut from thoughtful to dreadful. Publications often meditate on the helpfulness or necessity of a comments section, and a few like Popular Science and copyblogger have decided to do away with them entirely. But Mozilla has teamed up with The New York Times and the Washington Post to change the conversation.
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, an organization that promotes innovation in journalism, is sponsoring a new comments infrastructure project for journalism sites to the tune of $3.9 million.
According to The Times digital media reporter Leslie Kaufman, the infrastructure will take around two years to build, and the platform will be offered to other news organizations for free once the project is complete.
The goal for the new platform isn’t just deal with comments — it also hopes to improve the quality control of user-generated content submitted to publications. “Readers will be able to submit pictures, links and other media; track discussions; and manage their contributions and online identities,” the news outlets said in a press release. The statement also noted that the content will be used “for other forms of storytelling and to spark ongoing discussions.”
The Times already has a dedicated team working on its comments section. Every comment is screened for “tone and language” according to Kaufman. If this initiative is successful, the Times and the Post could set a precedent in which user ideas and feedback are incorporated into future content, while maintaining editorial control.
Still, this wouldn’t be the first time news organizations tried to leverage social content for direction in the news cycle. It does, however, raise the question of who owns these submissions. When copyblogger closed its comments section, Sonia Simone, co-founder and chief content officer, told readers:
“If you’re going to put the work in to articulate your thoughts, to make an intelligent argument, and to bring something fresh to the conversation… you should be putting that work into your site, not ours.”