Tablet Magazine has announced that they will begin charging readers for the privilege of commenting on their articles. I admit to not having researched this, or to having checked with anyone at Tablet, but standing here on one leg, it seems to me that the decision is motivated either by greed or by a misguided desire to "clean up" the comment section. Or perhaps both.
The (apparent) logic: Hey, people LOVE commenting here. We get thousands and thousands of comments! Let's cash in, and charge an admission fee!
The mistake: People aren't used to paying for the right to leave a thought on a web page. They will resist. And as the articles collect fewer and fewer comments, we'll see a negative snowball effect because no one wants to talk to an empty room.
MISGUIDED DESIRE TO CLEAN UP THE COMMENTS
The (apparent) logic: Wow, people say a lot of nasty things on our comment threads. Reading those nasty things make us sad. And all the mean remarks are probably discouraging upstanding people from joining the conversation. If we charge to comment, the nasty people won't bother to pay and continue commenting, but the upstanding people will.
(1) In many cases, the nasty people and the upstanding people are one and the same.
(2) Fewer comments lead to fewer comments (see above)
(3) No ordinary reader sees as many comments as a moderator sees. While a moderator might be overwhelmed by the sheer column of negativity, the ordinary reader never sees that many comments. Also, a moderator is likely to perceive a criticism of the article or the magazine in a personal way that the ordinary reader won't.
Ultimately, I think any attempt to limit the conversations on a comment thread is misguided. Though the moderator should certainly delete abusive or openly hostile comments, vigorous no holds barred conversation is what makes a comment thread successful.
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