Wednesday, June 11, 2008

O-D Sez: No Anonymity For You!

Many predicted it would happen, and today it came to pass. The Observer-Dispatch website is once again requiring registration for anyone wishing to comment on stories.

Over the last few years the O-D has gone through no less than four different comment/forum systems. Up until their purchase by Gatehouse the management's obsession with being able to track each commenter, including a registration process that required name, address, phone number, and at one point an actual interview, had driven off any real public feedback to stories or articles.

That started to change when they finally embraced what nearly every other newspaper website in the world had already accepted- commenters drive traffic. People love to post their thoughts on stories, and they'll keep coming back to see both their own and other's comments. That adds up to a heck of a lot of eyeballs, and all those eyeballs help pump up ad revenue.

Unfortunately, that built-in audience is also an irresistible attraction to the ever-present trolls of the online world.

I'm just speculating, but I have a feeling the O-D's online editors simply didn't have the manpower, or motivation, to keep the trolls under control by enforcing their own moderation policies. I think the new policy, or more accurately the return of the old policy, will once again strangle the public conversation that open commenting encourages.

It also misses much of the point of what "interactive" really means.