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Letters to the editor

Posted by Michael Bloch in online world (Tuesday October 26, 2010 )

Remember the ubiquitous “Letters To The Editor” sections of newspapers? I’m assuming they still exist in those paper thingies – I haven’t read one for a while. Perhaps there’s a lesson for for all of us in those sections in relation to online comments.

Letters To The Editor, or LTE’s, have been around for hundreds of years as much of early newspaper story sourcing came from these missives.

In the 20th century, as reporting became more of a profession, LTE’s from readers were segregated and gained sections of their own. I remember it being quite a privilege to have an LTE published. It would be something that was cut out and stuck in the family scrapbook.

Fast forward to the online world of 2010 – today’s LTE’s are comments – comments on articles, comments on blogs, comments on images, comments on videos and comments on comments.

Sadly, most of it is noise that contributes nothing to the conversation – the me-toos, the argument for the sake of it, the trolls and the shills – the web is a mess as a result. This can be very evident when searching Google on certain topics and these comment threads come up that do nothing to inform.

Who is to blame? Joe Sixpack with a bee in his bonnet?

No, it’s us – the “editors” of the Internet – site owners and bloggers. We let this stuff through for fear of losing rankings, readership and through a twisted interpretation of freedom of speech. I’m not taking the moral high ground here, I’m as guilty of it as anyone. But the issue does continue to weigh on me.

Even if 10% of comments are good and valuable and we’re afraid of maybe filtering that out, well, it still means that 90% of the stuff that trails from our articles and blogs like a piece of toilet paper stuck to our butts is just.. sh##. Imagine how much time is spent each day globally by people searching comment threads for real information.

Maybe this post could be lumped in with that category (the 90%).. but anyhow, I think it’s time we rethought user comments; make it an online version of the prestigious LTE’s of yesteryear. It would do wonders for the Internet in terms of making it an even more valuable information source – saving time and bandwidth.


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