Is it a “game changer?” Not every entry we support will be, but we should all be looking for ones that may be.
— from the review criteria for the Knight Foundation/Mozilla Beyond Comment Threads innovation challenge
Some consistent themes are emerging from the excellent Beyond Comment Threads suggestions, pointing to a radically different user experience from today. Here’s the new world people are describing:
- people owning their own comments with comments as first class citizens, more visibility for the best ones, the article as “first of equals“, tags and themed geographical and topical communities, inline commenting and annotation
- plugins for different kinds of community moderation and feedback: flagging and favorites, Slashdot-style voting and meta-moderation, fact-checking and crowdsourced debugging, recommendation, reputation, metrics
- alternate user interfaces with new forms of navigation and interaction, tailored for devices, allowing for audio as well as textual input, designed for listening and chatting as well as debating
- federated across multiple websites with a “web of comments” that is no no longer limited to a single site
It seems to me that an API and a family of open-source implementations (in Python, Ruby, PHP, Java, .NET on the server side and HTML5 on the client) supporting all of this, with accessibility and multi-lingual support designed in from the beginning, would be a great project for the innovation challenge to support. And there are a couple things I’d add to it as well:
- support for various business models including subscription, advertising, sponsorship, app sales, etc.. A great discussion area should be a profit center for a news organization, and participating actively in comments should be a way for small businesses to help promote their products and for participants to help their careers
- designed and implemented by a diverse team, and with a goal of prioritizing diversity — something along the lines of Dreamwidth’s diversity statement and How would Quora be different if it prioritized diversity? Many discussion forums today are dominated by a handful of loud voices and/or overwhelmingly male. Diversity’s like security, you can’t add it in after the fact, so it’s crucial to design it in from the beginning.