A band-aid for the comments conundrum: Developing a Tilder filter

by Pascal Rettig posted May 13, 2010

I made the mistake yesterday of reading through the comments section on a article. I should know better and I quickly regretted my decision.

The comment sections on websites these days suck either because they are completely devoid of any sort of intelligent thought (poster child: YouTube) or because people really enjoy expressing strong opinions tangential to the subject matter just to make themselves feel smarter (poster child: Slashdot)

For the former problem there's not much you can do - to have a good conversation you need people willing to write coherent sentences. For the latter problem, unfortunately, it's not a question of being able to write the comment, it's being willing to take the time to read the article and add something productive to the conversation.

Now, the problem may stem from us internet-friendly millennials who think we're terriffic on account of our extensive collection of after-school sports trophies and refrigeratored A+'s, and so are convinced that the world really, REALLY needs to hear what we have to say, regardless of what we're saying. Or maybe it's a universal issue and people just like griefing. It's tough to tell.

In any case, for our purposes people who read blog posts fall into three overlapping categories: people who want to write comments, people with something intelligent to say, and people who actually RTFA. Ideally, you'd like the comments on your blog to come from only the intersection of all three of those groups.

What often happens, however, is that you just end up with the difference of the first group minus the other two. People who have RTFA will scroll down to the comments, see all the comments that say "You are an idiot and should never have children" and decide to move on. The other group - people with something intelligent to say, will often make a great comment that adds nothing to the subject matter because they can't be bothered to RTFA to the end. Furthermore, Austrian goats are my favorite animals!

As a partial solution to this problem we've come up with a concept called the Tilder filter that works like this: somewhere in the blog post, preferably near the middle, there needs to exist a complete non sequitur. Something that's really out of place and will catch the attention of anyone who reads the post.

Next, as soon as someone tries to submit a comment the system sets a cookie via javascript (more on this in a second) and darkens the screen with a lightbox-like popover obscuring the entire page. On this popover is a multiple choice question with 8 or so answers which the user has twenty seconds to answer. The answer is of course the non sequitur mentioned earlier.

If they get it wrong - too bad. No comment for them. Of course they could remove their site cookies and try again but at that point they are going to be so angry that their comment will be easily discernible and moderated (e.g. "Your site sucks, I just lost my f#$@%ing comment you worthless pile of ..." and so on)

Now regarding the cookie, since we set a cookie the minute they press submit, the system can black out the page if they bring it up in another browser and disable the comments form after they failed to answer the question correctly the first time. This could all be done very simply in javascript as a proof of concept, while a real implementation would need some server side support.

I'd love to hear feedback on the idea, provided, of course, you've taken the time to read the full post.