Monday, November 3, 2008

Interesting place

I wrote a post on Saturday that lamented Eric Zorn's decisions to shut down comments from his excellent, long-time blog. I added this to some other posts in which I've expressed disappointment in the failed potential of so-called Web 2.0, despite TIME magazine's very premature anointing of this as important enough to bless "Us" as Person of the Year (they did have some concerns, but that was largely lost in the enthusiasm).

I received an interesting comment on this post, which I repeat:
I tend to think the problem is not comments, per se, but the way the Tribune has implemented comments (using Topix's technology, which doesn't even require a persistent login name).

I also think it's well past time to think more creatively about the "comments box." Surely we can come up with better ways of enabling people to interact with us. I'm currently working with a class of master's students at the Medill School at Northwestern University that's experimenting with various more structured forms of user interaction around news.

More here:

... and at the class's Web site:
I wrote the following comment in response:
Rich, I will check out those links when I get the chance.

But I think the very existence of a project to create "more structured forms of user interaction" actually proves the point I was trying to make. The marvel of Web 2.0 was that it elevated the consumer into a producer, that we would all swim in a pool of unfiltered thoughts that would allow us to connect directly with one another without mediation.

Yet we've found that it is actually a cesspool, that people bring some of the most base aspects of their personalities to the online world, and we end up requiring moderation or some other form of structure. That this kind of toxicity so often prevails is profoundly sad, I think, and is not why most of us choose to put our thoughts into a public forum. To create a structure that will allow the good and exclude the bad, without compromising spontaneity will be difficult, but I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
Since writing that comment, I found a few minutes to check out the links, and I highly recommend that anyone who has thought about the interaction model of the Web do so as well. Rich's site will also lead you to the Idealab site under PBS, and that appears to have interesting material as well.

I am very hopeful that we will, at some point, evolve to a more useful interaction model than what we have now. Obviously, the best way would be for each individual to provide the first filter, by not sending out comments that have the stink of stupidity, intolerance, various -isms, or simple carelessness about them; absent that, we're going to have to find other ways. There are crude comment filters that exist, comparable to spam filters, but they still have a way to go. It's good to know there are people looking at this and trying to discover solutions.

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