Although there are some weaknesses in the Ventura County Star's new system for allowing reader comments on articles, the newspaper deserves credit for moving so quickly to restore the comments feature after turning it off last week.
The new set-up forces visitors to go through the paper's online registration system in order to post on a story, requiring use of an email address. If inappropriate comments are posted, the site can warn the person via email and then can block the user both through the registration and through IP addresses. They're also using a profanity filter. And users are encouraged to report inappropriate posts with a feedback email.
Assistant Managing Editor John Moore says, "By forcing people to use registered names (which should be their real names), we invoke the "Mama's listening" rule: Don't say anything you wouldn't want your mother to hear."
Allowing reader comments on articles will help the Star solidify its connection with visitors. And I'm glad to see the Star reinstate the comments function even though this system isn't perfect.
- Online registration doesn't force people to use their real names or for using shared logins via services like Bugmenot.com. Was that really "Seymour But" and "Neil Diamond" commenting on "Assembly dumps 147 bills for this year"? My problem isn't with the anonymous comments but with the Star giving the impression that it has taken a significant step to thwart anonymity. Be upfront: Encourage people to use their real names, but acknowledge that you can't stop people from using pseudonym.
- The method for reporting abuse -- sending an email to the web site -- is cumbersome. Readers should have a simpler, one-click option. The Star's method means that few abuses will be reported, so either the paper will have to accept the presence of some inappropriate posts or they'll have to monitor closely.
- Profanity filter? I'm sure people will find creative ways to curse it if they're determined.
- I wonder whether IP blocking will result in over-blocking, freezing out people who have done nothing wrong.
- Finally, posts are not shown on the article page but are linked and displayed in a separate window. I suppose that's a safeguard of sorts, ensuring that inappropriate posts won't immediately be displayed to everyone who reads an article but it also means legit posts are buried also.
Despite my criticisms, I'm impressed with the Star's ability to move quickly and all three of the articles I spot-checked today had comments. So, they're doing something right.