Are blog comments a “joke”?

A good question:

In the early days of the Internet, there was hope that the unprecedented tool for global communication would lead to thoughtful sharing and discussion on its most popular sites.

A decade and a half later, the very idea is laughable, says Gawker Media founder Nick Denton.

“It didn’t happen,” said Denton, whose properties include the blogs Gawker, Jezebel, Gizmodo, io9 and Lifehacker. “It’s a promise that has so not happened that people don’t even have that ambition anymore.

“The idea of capturing the intelligence of the readership — that’s a joke.”

Denton was speaking at South by Southwest Interactive, the annual festival here devoted to Web and digital culture.

He said that commenting on his own sites (which he’s seen make reporters cry) has gotten so bad that he doesn’t engage.

“I don’t like going into the comments. … For every two comments that are interesting — even if they’re critical, you want to engage with them — there will be eight that are off-topic or just toxic,” he said.

And as sites get more popular, it’s harder to control the comments, which inevitably get nastier.

“What you can manage on a small site … the level of discussion you can have on those is not the level you’re able to have on a newspaper site or one of our sites. Our smaller blogs have 2 million unique (visitors per month). … It’s hard to have that intimacy.”

So, what’s the solution?

When it comes to improving open discussion threads, Denton seemed quicker to shoot down ideas that others are trying than to provide proposals of his own.

Having editors and reporters engage their readers in the comments? “The writer of the piece has to move on to the next piece. They don’t have time to moderate all those comments.”

Require readers to post using their real names? “My own view is that anonymity is at the heart of the Internet.”

Give other commenters more power to “up-vote” or “down-vote” posts? “We don’t really believe in the democratic process of decision-making when it comes to discussion,” Denton said.

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