A Note on Comments

I wanted to bring you all up to date on where we are on pushing our new commenting engine online. Details and schedules after the jump.

First, a few details about what these changes will involve and what they won’t.

1. One of the benefits of breaking our ties with outside ‘authentication’ and log-in systems is that we can make these changes with relatively little disruption (obviously having comments down for a week sort of negates that a little, but stay with me). When we push the new engine live, you won’t have to sign up or create a new account or anything like the. The same account and log-in details you’ve been using since September will work in exactly the same way. So no new account, new username, new avatar, all seamless.

2. The new format will be significantly different from any commenting format we’ve had before. And this may take a bit of adjusting to at first. We’re confident it will provide a venue for more reflective and probing discussions. But change is always a little jarring. So I just want to flag that in advance. If you’re a Prime member, it’s a modified version of the system we use to run the forum discussions in The Hive.

3. There are a lot of reasons we’re integrating public article comments with the system we use at The Hive. One big reason is that it provides a continuity of experience across the site – one profile page, one comment reply tracking and notification system, one user experience. Another big reason is our effort to deepen the community experience by having better control over trolls, spam and people who are just out of control and can’t behave in any we find acceptable. The new system will provide a much richer system for community moderation of the comments, in addition to what we do as moderators on the staff side. In addition, it will allow us to stagger access. We haven’t determined a precise formula. But the idea is to limit the number of times someone can comment on the first day or few days they sign up. That’s a good thing in general since it’s good for people to get a sense of the community’s norms and folkways before fully diving in. But there’s another benefit. Virtually all of the attacks from spammers and trolls come from people spinning up new accounts, going nuts and dominating threads. We ban them and they immediately spin up another account and go back at it. You can IP addresses and do some other stuff. But those are pretty easily circumvented by troll with basic skills. So basically as long as a dedicated troll/disruptor wants to spend his or her day trying to blow apart our comment threads (and not having a life), we can really only manage the problem not prevent it. And our staff resources for combating these kinds of attacks are quite limited in any case. In theory you could spin up a new account for each comment, or spin up a million accounts up three days in advance if we decided to do something like a three day hold. But in practice it increases the amount of work you need to do to mount a sustained attack by a couple orders of magnitude. And we think it will make a big, big difference.

Finally, when are comments coming back? We expected we’d be able to have them up last week after a delay of just a couple days. But we had an entirely separate tech project dropped in our laps and we lost about a week, and – candidly – pushed our techs to the breaking point doing a bunch of programming on the fly.

That means we are going to try to have the new system up this week. But … and this is an important but … We initially were going to crash to definitely get the system up this week. And no one wants that more than me. But I also need to keep tabs on the morale and sleeping habits of my techs. So on Friday I made clear that the top priority for this week is getting back to a human work schedule. We’ll do our best to get them up this week. If not, we’re confident we’ll have them up the beginning of the next week.