Slate Fare

The State of Slate’s Commenting, an Update

Following up on the suggestions members made about improving Slate’s commenting.

Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Thinkstock.

On Friday Slate launched a new writer-and-member commenting tab. We’re excited about this feature and believe it directly addresses some of the feedback we heard from members during a December open thread about improving Slate’s commenting.

But we wanted to follow up on some of the other ideas raised by members in the December open thread. You had a lot to say!

Didn’t Slate promise a follow-up to the December open thread about commenting a long time ago?

Yes, we did. Frankly, I never got around to writing a follow-up. Apologies!

In my defense, I did explore all of your suggestions with the staffers responsible for Slate’s commenting. The main reason I procrastinated on the write-up was because the answers I could offer felt nonrevelatory in a P.R. kind of way; answers like:

“We can’t do that because of cost. Maybe someday.”

“We’re working on that.”

“We’re actively considering that, actually.”

Well—be that as it may, you promised. So what ideas were rejected?

To name a few popular suggestions:

These ideas all involve significant investments of time and money. Unfortunately, several Slate staffers told me, it’s not clear whether those investments are worthwhile.

I’ve heard some commenters disagree. They argue that the investments could pay for themselves, positing that the improvements would encourage commenters to make more frequent visits to Slate.

The staffers I spoke with agreed that the investments might help grow traffic from commenters. The question, they say, is whether the improvements could generate enough new traffic. Commenters currently represent a very tiny sliver of Slate’s total audience, driving only around 1.5 percent of all traffic to the site. In order to justify an investment, these commenting improvements would need to spur a significant increase in traffic. In sum, that’s a risky bet, especially when a pile of other Slate priorities are after the same small pile of money.

Many Slate staffers are advocates for these ideas. To make them happen, they’re trying to learn more about our commenting audience. “One of my main priorities in 2015 is to collect more and better data about our commenters. If we have that, we’ll have more certainty about whether these sorts of larger investments make sense,” explained Slate’s head of product David Stern.

So is this all we get—the new commenting tab?

No, we’re working to improve commenting in other ways. Here are two quick examples that arose from suggestions made in the December open thread:

  • Given Slate’s publishing volume, it’s difficult to keep up with moderation on the site. Some members suggested that Slate deputize moderation, allowing trusted commenters to manage discussions in certain areas of the site. (Hat-tip to members @William@Arbaito, and others; and also to member/Slate contributor @Vanessa Vitiello Urquhart.) There’s interest in this idea, and we’re exploring how logistically complicated it would be.
  • We’d also like to provide commenters with a better way of seeing an overview of all the comments they’ve made across the site. (Hat-tip to @Becker82, @AppleBites, @BrentJatko, @Shrek, @chickenfrog, @smallbutmighty, and others.) Slate’s tech team is investigating solutions that may deploy later this year.

Anything else?

In the December open thread, members made a number of small but smart suggestions that we intend to implement. These tweaks might not happen right away, but look out for:

  • We’ll make our commenting policy more visible on the site. (Hat-tip to members @JessesGrl, @stein02, and others.)
  • We’re making a few tools more obvious, including a button that collapses a subthread. (Hat-tip to @Bookwoman.)
  • We’re planning several small improvements to the commenting tab itself (for ex).

And one final thing that you won’t all understand: We know that some of you continue to have problems with the right-arrow key. Meet me in the comments; I’ll collect some more information from you and try to follow up with our tech team.

Thanks everyone! I bet you have more questions—I’ll meet you in the thread below.