Changing the Game: Charting a Path Beyond Comment Threads

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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:

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.

Revisiting the project’s review criteria:  If implemented, especially with the up-front consideration of business model and early involvement by the project’s outtandnding media partners, involved in the project, it’s likely to get broadly adopted.   It’s a unique solution: no other open-source project is looking at anything on this scale.  Mojo’s resources (an online learning class for 60 people, a 15-person hackathon in Berlin, and 15 fellowships) are enough to make a significant impact if they can catalyze an open source projects.

And if it’s successful, it will certainly change the game.


Also submitted to Beyond Comment Threads