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How Can We Improve Commenting Across BBC Online?

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Tom Van Aardt Tom Van Aardt | 19:34 UK time, Saturday, 29 November 2008

We are always trying to improve the public value of the BBC's different offerings on the web.

There is a fine balance between providing public value with broad appeal to the majority of licence fee payers on the one hand, while at the same time keeping up with new technology and experiences.

One of the areas we are spending a lot of time on is "comments".

BBC web properties have several ways of accepting user contributions, newsgathering, user generated content, comments, discussions or what ever you want to call it.

In the next week a group of us - from telly, radio, news and online - are putting together a presentation on our future requirements. We already have a long, long lists of ideas, but we need to know what the community actually wants.

I recently Twittered about this and got some interesting replies:

- @tomVS could I add 'switching off comments' to your list ;)

- @tomVS I hope you are including threaded commenting.

These are interesting ideas, and we've already put together a lot of others.

But I'd like to know what you think. We need the ideas before lunch on Monday, 1 December.

Use our (existing) commenting system below to build a wish list about our (future) commenting system.

Add your voice, about your voice...

Tom Van Aardt is Communities Editor, BBC Future Media & Technology

N.B.Tom has also posted a thread about comments on the Points of View message board.


  • Comment number 1.

    Comments should have comments?

  • Comment number 2.

    I like the comment system as is, although I'd like comment to be available on pretty much all stories. The change I'd really like is to have a notification when someone replies to a comment, rather than trawling through 9 hours later to see...

  • Comment number 3.

    1) Integrate blog comments and messageboard postings under a single system, letting users track their comments from a single page

    2) Provide a 'my comments' zone on the BBC Homepage

    3) Improve formating of BBC Blog comments (maximum number of postings shown on a page)

    4) Improve the page layout of blogs, the fixed width setting is far too narrow for today's screen definitions


    All of these could be created by migrating the blogs onto a dedicated DNA-run site.

  • Comment number 4.

    add comments to the iplayer page for a program episode so that people can discuss that episode of the program. Obviously make them hidden by default so as to avoid spoilers for people who haven't watched it yet.

  • Comment number 5.

    Hi Tom,

    here's a link to the script which enables (via greasemonkey) configuration of the boards. It includes instructions hot to install it.


    I was recommended it by someone on the 'bbc.co.uk' boards, who are probably much more expert in it's workings and implementation.

    It allows me to easily subscribe and unsubscribe to threads, change the colour and layout of the boards and in 'my discussions' I can see if there have been any further posts to threads, and jump straight to the first 'new' post since my last viewings.

  • Comment number 6.

    On the face of it, and as a consumer (rather than contributor) of comments, the slashdot system seems to work quite well.

  • Comment number 7.

    Ability to subscribe to blog post comment feeds is a must-have.

  • Comment number 8.

    Why are is the amount of posted comments on a blog limited to 500?

    Given the extraordinary circumstances in which our country currently finds its self, could someone PLEASE increase the amount of accepted posts to at least 1000?

    It's ridiculous to have comment threads suddenly come to an abrupt halt when the counter reaches 500.

    Alternatively, allow a message board and threads

    Come on BBC, how hard can it be?!!!!

    I'm sure you have more than enough people around to get this sorted in minutes!

  • Comment number 9.


    I meant link a message board to the blog - how hard would that be to do?

    Probably easier to increase posting limits!

  • Comment number 10.

    Tom, I deliberately held off from posting my thoughts as I reckoned my question may well have seemed way too dismissive. I'm glad I did as other commenter's contributions have set us in a direction.

    I can't help wondering, however, whether we really need commenting for some things.

    It feels as though commenting is problematic - moderation can be a nightmare and very labour intensive for a start.

    Then as I've thought about it more, I've come around to wondering just who exactly benefits from the commenting.

    In a situation like this - where you ask a question with a view to acting on a snapshot view of what the audience wants - the benefits are obvious.

    But in those situations where a correspondent or specialist thinker presents a boiled down view of a particular issue in the news, in entertainment the feeling is always that we want to hear what the audience thinks.

    Sometimes those comments will stretch to many hundreds of comments.

    My thought is who exactly that long list of comments benefits? Is there someone who is able to pour over every single comment and come up with a consolidated view taking into account every single opinion? Is the audience of the piece reading over your words and all of those left by members of the public?

    Interacting with the audience (some would say, interacting with the fee-payers) is vital, respectful and to be encouraged. Responding to their thoughts and needs even more so.

    I just wonder whether it's actually OK for commenting *not* to be available for some stuff rather than trying to accommodate every single eventuality.

  • Comment number 11.

    It would be very helplful if you make you presentation available on this blog. I am very interest in understanding the reasoning behind what features around commenting the BBC is considering. I find the number one issue is navigation - how i discover, find and avoid comments depending on their value to me.

  • Comment number 12.

    The commenting system could do with being threaded as they use in systems such as slashdot.

    This is not a particularly complicated system to implement, and is how ALL discussion boards used to be in the early days, but it would make it much easier to follow conversations.

    Also, I think you desperately need to revisit the related Have Your Say system.

    Many, many posters have commented how it has been subverted by the far right wing who work together to push up certain posts. And indeed, moderation seems very uneven and cleverly disguised racist messages are often top to the list. (They plan their campaigns on boards such as the horrific anti-Semitic stormfront)

    The problem is the "recommend" buttons which allows groups to pool together to get posts pushed to the top very easily.

    I think it is vital to do one of two things:

    1. Remove the recommend system - just let the comments speak for themselves.

    2. Add a dissaprove button to lower the post rating.

    Personally I think the first option is the fairest as it would put off many extremists as they would have nothing left to gain.

    Democracy is about sharing equal status - the current Have Your Say system is too easily abused and undercuts letting every one have a fair say.

  • Comment number 13.

    Actually, thinking about it, you could just implement the Slashdot system.

    It is open source (so would not cost the tax payer a penny) is already configured to run across many servers, and on the slahsdot site already handles far more comments than the BBC get.

    That would probably answer just about every post on this topic, and would be a really good bit of PR

  • Comment number 14.

    Is there a way of showing how many views a blog and its comments receives?
    Presumably there are many more readers than those who post comments, it would be nice to know how popular various blogs and threads are. (I realise some people will visit a page more than once.)

  • Comment number 15.

    I quite like the way comments are displayed at the moment, in that they are:
    a) chronological (starting with the first, not most recent), and
    b) linear,
    just like a normal conversation.

    I know there has been talk of a threaded system, but I think that makes it harder to follow. When I get the occasional link to Slashdot, or something similar, I find it quite cumbersome to work out who is replying to whom . I prefer it when people use a short quote if they want to address a point that wasn't in the immediately previous post, rather than relying on matching how much particular posts are indented by.
    (If threads are to be used, could this be a user option, leaving a linear layout by default?)

  • Comment number 16.

    One thing I'd really like to see is more information about the programmes. Currently all you get is what's shown on a TV screen, i.e. just the credits, but I'd like to know more about the making of some programmes, including the music used. In fact especially the music used because some of it is quite good and I want to know where it's from. For each programme you have a complete list of the music used stored in your database for rights tracking purposes. It would be very easy to make this available on the web.

  • Comment number 17.

    I find it interesting to look through that thread and see the sheer venom the message boarders have for blogs and how the few suggestions for slight tweaks in this post are read as "i see the consensus is to get rid of the blogs"

  • Comment number 18.

    I'd personally like the ability to hide, or just collapse, all the posts from particular commenters.

    On the flip side I'd like the ability to have favourite commenters; people whose comments I'd like to monitor for whatever reason.

    Preferably this would be anonymous so the hidden and monitored commenters wouldn't know they were in these states.

  • Comment number 19.

    It certainly would make sense for each of the programmes listed in /programmes/ to have full comments, and these should be shared with the iPlayer.

    I suspect that post-moderation of these comments would be needed to keep them "on topic".

  • Comment number 20.

    I posted this same question on the message boards, where the community has some specific views on this topic :-)

    Thanx to all for the ideas. My original "wish list" has grown with more than 20 ideas in the last day or two. I'll put these forward at our workshop where we'll be discussing the different ideas to figure out how we improve things.

    Thanx @thoroughlygood, who also blogged about this here: http://thoroughlygood.wordpress.com/2008/11/30/commenting-follow-my-advice/

    @Faye Tsar thanx for the link to the script, I'll give it a go.

  • Comment number 21.

    On a related topic:
    With the list of blogs names/contributors could you have the title of the topic and/or the first line appear when we mouse over it, so we can see quickly when a new topic has been posted. It wastes a lot of time clicking and waiting for that page to load just to see if a new post has been added.

  • Comment number 22.

    Lucas wrote: I know there has been talk of a threaded system, but I think that makes it harder to follow. When I get the occasional link to Slashdot, or something similar, I find it quite cumbersome to work out who is replying to whom .


    You do? Slashdot is very easy. All child posts are indented. and there is a filter at the top to limit the "depth" of child posts you see.

    Threaded conversations are the most logical form since they reflect how a discussion would take place between several people.

    Using ajax technology, you can make threaded conversations even more intuitive. Many opensource systems allow switching between threaded and flat view, allow you to collapse of expands elements of the threads and so on.

    And of course it elliminates the need to continually quote each other which is a pain and slows down the use of it.

  • Comment number 23.

    the issue i have with threaded systems if having to go back and forth between bits when returning to the page and finding there is a clump of replies both in the middle and further down. i find it very jarring.

  • Comment number 24.

    As someone who has just registered, you need to fix the e-mail system that sends out verification emails. My first one never arrived, and I had to request a second.

    Also the registration process is protracted and irritating.

  • Comment number 25.

    we need to be able to edit our posts here where i am writing. I often make typo's or miss out words and I cant edit my post once i've pressed "post comment", its extremely annoying!

  • Comment number 26.

    The_Old_Boar wrote:
    You do? Slashdot is very easy. All child posts are indented. and there is a filter at the top to limit the "depth" of child posts you see.

    Threaded conversations are the most logical form since they reflect how a discussion would take place between several people.


    I get the concept behind Slashdot, I just find it annoying trying to work out what people are referring to based on how indented there comment is. Then, when I get to the end of a sub-thread, I have to scroll up again to remind myself what the next comment is in reply to. I also find the depth limited irritating - in order to see all the comments, you need to keep clicking lots of links.

    I disagree that threaded conversations reflect how discussions take place between several people. Usually, when I have a discussion, people take it in turns to say things, one at a time. The conversation flows from one point to another. If someone wants to comment on a point that has already passed, they have to specifically mention that, otherwise everyone gets confused. I don't' know any discussions which occur in a hierarchical tree, except where it's been predefined by an agenda.

  • Comment number 27.

    Agreed, Slashdot is a usability disaster.

  • Comment number 28.

    Any updates Tom (seeing as you've not responded to the nudge's from Nick Reynolds on behalf of POV messageborders)?


  • Comment number 29.

    I'll take that as a "no" then Tom - or don't you check your blogs for any questions?

  • Comment number 30.

    Any updates yet Tom?

  • Comment number 31.

    Any information about how this is going, what stage you're at and any timescales Tom?

  • Comment number 32.

    "High on a hill, stood a lonely goat herd"

  • Comment number 33.

    Nippie Sweetie - as I've said here this is taking us longer than we would have liked and when we have something concrete to tell you we will.

  • Comment number 34.

    Thanks Nick - a response is all I wanted.

  • Comment number 35.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 36.

    Very cool thank you...[Unsuitable/Broken URL removed by Moderator] sesli sohbet


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