Understanding Spectrum's New Commenting Policy

Today (Monday, August 10), Spectrum implements its new commenting policy, approved by the Spectrum / Adventist Forum Board. Here is the explanation of the commenting guidelines that now accompanies each new article posted on the Spectrum Website:

If you respond to this article, please: Make sure your comments are germane to the topic; be concise in your reply; demonstrate respect for people and ideas whether you agree or disagree with them; and limit yourself to one comment per article, unless the author of the article directly engages you in further conversation. Comments that meet these criteria are welcome on the Spectrum Website. Comments that fail to meet these criteria will be removed.

The biggest change is asking commenters to limit themselves to one comment per article.

When the policy was announced a few days ago, several regular commenters voiced their dismay with this provision. What has become abundantly clear is that there are two distinct categories of readers who visit this website: those who come here for the articles--the news, analysis and commentary Spectrum provides, and those who come specifically for the discussion that has up til this point taken place in the public comments section.

I've likened Spectrum's Website and public comments section to a crowded train car in which a small group is having a fairly lively and loud conversation. Because of the volume of their conversation and the close proximity, everyone in the train car becomes a participant in the small group's conversation--unavoidably. We (meaning members of Spectrum's Board and Web Team) have received a lot of feedback, some of it pretty strident feedback, over several years now, from people who have said they do not want to be obliged to overhear everything the people in the train car have to say.

So what if we were to provide something for both those who are just on the train for the ride--who just want to get to a specific destination, and for those whose reason for riding the train is the lively conversation itself? This new commenting policy is an attempt to do that. Here's how:

By asking commenters to limit themselves to one comment per article, the hope is that people will take advantage of the opportunity to provide substantive, quality responses to the topics at hand, as presented in the articles. The emphasis is on quality rather than on quantity.

The commenting software Spectrum uses--Discourse, it's called--has a feature built in that we are leveraging to its full potential to give the back-and-forth conversation lovers a place to keep the conversation going in a separate train car on a parallel track: the Spectrum Lounge.

The Lounge is a feature of Discourse software intended for the frequent fliers (to mix metaphors a little bit) to be able to meet privately off the public comments section. There are close to 100 registered users already eligible for and participating in discussion in the Lounge. Essentially, the Lounge functions like a private web board or chat room, where commenting is essentially self-moderated and unlimited. Lounge users can comment as often as they want with no limitation on the number of comments per topic.

I'm encouraging people who would like more information about using the Lounge to email me at wrightj@spectrummagazine.org. I am doing my best to approve all users who would like to take advantage of the conversations happening in that space.

Will providing these parallel tracks create a more welcoming place for those who come for the banter and those who come to read articles alike? We'll see. We're initiating a 30-day trial period for the new commenting policy, starting today. At the end of 30 days, the Board will assess the efficacy of the changes and decide whether to make them permanent or to make additional adjustments. During the trial period, specific feedback is welcome.

One final note: Because Discourse software does not have a built-in mechanism for limiting the number of times a person comments, we are relying on readers' respectful compliance with the commenting policy and self-limiting. We have a small group of moderators who will be reading and helping to ensure that commenters abide by the guidelines as well. We hope that commenters will not violate the policy deliberately, but in the unlikely case that someone does, we are prepared to suspend accounts temporarily.

Ultimately, we want the Spectrum Website to continue to be a place for outstanding news, analysis and commentary, and a place for lively conversation for those who want to participate.

With thanks to all the contributors, readers and commenters who make the Spectrum Website the great place it is,

Jared Wright Managing Editor Spectrum Magazine

If you respond to this article, please: Make sure your comments are germane to the topic; be concise in your reply; demonstrate respect for people and ideas whether you agree or disagree with them; and limit yourself to one comment per article, unless the author of the article directly engages you in further conversation. Comments that meet these criteria are welcome on the Spectrum Website. Comments that fail to meet these criteria will be removed.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/7022

Why don’t those who don’t want to be part of the discussion just not GO THERE? Nobody is forcing them to scroll down and read every comment. I guess curiosity killed the website. But hey, that’s just me.

You left out the people who come here to just read the articles but also the comments.

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I’m happy to cooperate w/ the new policy. However, it’s important to point out that there already are separate tracks for those who want to avoid the comments because commenting takes place in Spectrum Conversation rather than at the Spectrum Website itself where articles are published. Since the change to the Discourse commenting platform, one has had to choose to leave the Spectrum Website, not only to comment—but to even read comments.

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I agree. One can already read the articles and never have to go to the comment sections. The only way that comments can bother people who come just for news, is if they make the choice to intentionally go where the comments are. They don’t have to!

Kinda makes me feel like we’re being relegated to a back room, and it doesn’t really have to happen. That’s just my take.

Thanks…

Frank

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Commenting upon articles is important to the article and reader. I think these new terms are good. For those that read the article many are very interested in the responses of those that have also read and reflected on the material. What most don’t want is have to wade through irrelevant and often times off topic comments which can be very, very lengthy. Little is gained by such readers and they become very disappointed. I think the readership can be better served by having the Lounge. I look forward to how this new policy works out.

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Christainity is based upon whom to worship and why. Denominationalism has added the when and the how. Now it has been added and likely rightly so where to share thoughts. I hope it works. As a retiree reading through the lot has not been a chore. Tom Z

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My concern is this: I read the Spectrum articles in their entirety. If interested, I also read all of the comments. Often, I also post a comment or two. Why more than one? Because often I have noticed that people either don’t read the comment in its entirety yet respond, creating a thread that is far removed from the intent of my comment, or I may see their comment and realize that my original comment needed further clarification.
If I understand your new policy correctly (and please correct me if I am wrong), I will have to go to another area and register in order to post any comment, and even then, I am limited to one comment, which means this is not a conversation area. I’m not comfortable with this. Dialogue is back and forth, not just one comment if it gets really interesting. This reminds me of the Adventist Review - just a comment, but no dialogue. I like Spectrum, but this seems to be very limiting, at least in my opinion.

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“This” is even more restrictive than Adventist Review!

What a travesty! To build a Spectrum Community for the purpose of open discussion among community members… and then kill it with one fell blow… by turning “discussion” into “discourse”. I’m fine with Spectrum essays being “discourses”. I’m not at all fine with having a “comments section” which is nothing more than a string of “discourses” with no dialogue between/among the writers.

Oh well… I’ll hang around and see what happens… just hoping that at the end of the month we will see a return to being a discussion community again.

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Jarred, the one area I see a problem arising here is if someone replies to another persons comment rather than the article itself. They may end up critiquing that persons beliefs on the article and he/she will not be able to reply. This can become frustrating if that person believes he/she has been misunderstood or unfairly critiqued.

Now, yes, that person can alert that individual to the Lounge and sort it out there. But for the many who do not attend or cannot attend the Lounge may be left with a false understanding about a persons intentions/beliefs.

This is going to be very difficult for Spectrum to say the least.

Maybe when people reply to a comment rather than the article, they should end with something like “Looking froward to reading your response in the Lounge.” This will give the impression to outsiders that the conversation did not end there.

Just a though, thanks for the update.

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This is actually not quite the case. Discourse has set criteria for qualifying for participation in the Lounge (see this explanation). Spectrum’s unique spin on Discourse’s Lounge idea is to set it up as a place where all those who have either qualified according to Discourse’s criteria, or been approved for participation by a Spectrum moderator, can comment with minimal moderation and with no limits to how often they comment.

One of the significant differences between Spectrum’s revamped public comments section and the Adventist Review’s comments section is that there, a moderator must approve every comment before it appears. Here, all comments appear instantly, and provided they align with the criteria set forth, pretty much any view point goes.

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I’ve not commented a lot here but from time to time I’ve liked to join in the lively discussion. I think it’s time to simply forgo participation…

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I’m fairly new to commenting at Spectrum but not in favor of the new policy for the following reasons:

  1. Until now, if someone didn’t want to participate in the comments or the ongoing thread, they didn’t have to. They could simply read the article and if they so desired make a comment. The analogy of commenters being loud voices on a train does not hold up because the article readers can choose to review comments or not (it’s not forced upon them and they can read or respond to as few or as many as they wish).

  2. The ability to post only one comment limits the free flow of ideas that an article often initiates. I may post a comment about something in an article and someone responds to my post with an entirely different take on it. This causes me to think about both my and their statements in an entirely new way and I may modify my original comment, or defend it in light of their statement, or dovetail in a different direction based upon their thinking. This creates new value and new content which is important for the free flow of ideas that Spectrum is famous for.

  3. Often an article in Spectrum may cover several important threads within the article that lend itself to multiple comments. An example (from San Antonio) could be a specific thrust about women’s ordination, with related ideas regarding authority of the GC versus Unions, and changes in the 28 Fundamental Beliefs such as the addition of “recent” regarding the Biblical account of creation versus interpretation of current science. That might suggest that separate comments on the different themes of the article might be in order.

Seems to me the issue is not commenters making multiple comments or engaging in dialog with other commenters. The issue has been one of respect of commenters especially to each other, the work of the website moderator to read through and police all of the comments (I’m guessing that’s the big one and it’s exhausting work for you).

Here’s my take: Spectrum should consider reversing itself on the comment policy (there is no harm in backtracking - Coca Cola did it with “new Coke versus old Coke”). That an open comment policy adds vibrancy to Spectrum’s dialog. It becomes both a selling point for Spectrum readers; reinforces the idea that Spectrum is an Adventist source of vibrancy of thought and a voice for those not a part of Church hierarchy, and helps create a tight-knit community of voices which amplify Spectrum’s message. This is valuable for Adventism in general and Spectrum in specific. I understand that moderating the comments is a lot of work. I’d encourage you to find a different way than to simply end the ongoing dialog which commenters have had the opportunity to engage in.

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I am using my one comment to comment to your excellent one:

I am in agreement with you 100%…and this is going to be a long and fairly boring month. However this first week is certainly panning out to be a fairly commentless week. August is typically a month where people are getting ready for school or getting that last minute vacation in but I am not confident at all that this won’t continue for an indefinite period of time-if not for ever. But then again…no one has asked me.

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From what I am seeing on the “outside” is that the comments have dwindled down to a scant few. At Discourse, what I see are mainly the “regular” Spectrum posters (George, Elmer, Elaine, etc.) with about two dissenters (Birder and Pago). This change is going to be the nail in the coffin for Spectrum as they are going to lose a vast number of silent viewers who come here to get the real story - not the posted one. But hey, that’s fine - Advindicate is happy to take them.

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If readers of the posts at Spectrum think the conversation is too spirited and critical, God help them at Advindicate.

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Unfortunately I quite agree with this.
I still don’t understand a couple of things about this “SpectrumGate”:

  1. What was actually so bad that we were doing, other than having an open discussion that sometimes got “spirited?” This is what happens when people with different background discuss.

  2. Who are those supposed “complainers” that are so influential to a point of Spectrum being willing to mess with its own forum - maybe on the road to annihilation?

I bet @elmer_cupino would describe the process as “attempted suicide” …

If even I considered going to Advindicate, the situation must be really ugly… :slight_smile: … Just kidding, I would not do such a damage to myself…

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There are no complainers, George. You know that.

It all boils down to the Spectrum Board. It would have been easier for them to say, “Cut out your wise cracks with Dr. Cupino, both of you don’t forget to take your Concerta and stay focused.” Instead, they blamed it on those anonymous “complainers.” They had to re-enact the story of Garden of Eden, where the serpent (complainers) are blamed.

I’m gonna pay for this. Oh well, it’s still better then Advinticate.

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The only consequence of this change will probably be that some participants like you and I and a pretty good list of other names will just lose motivation and stop posting relevant comments, and avoiding exchanges with others.

Some board members will probably be relieved.
@ageis711Oxyain

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Here’s what happened:

At the GC Spectrum booth many members of the world church expressed distaste and disapproval at the snide, bitter tone of the Spectrum forum. They also questioned the magazine’s commitment to the SDA church due to its lack of censorship of said comments.

Many made clear their perception that the Spectrum forum is but a platform for disgruntled SDAs to vent their open hostility towards the church and it’s traditional doctrines.

The Spectrum Board wishes to perpetuate the alternative-perspective journalistic function of Spectrum however it is of the opinion that the emotional and combative nature of the forum trivializes and distracts from the impact of the articles.

Authors of articles on Spectrum have also been increasingly vocal about not wishing to have their work associated with the blatantly anti-establishment tenor of the forum.

I made all of the above up…
Rohan

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I find the comments of George, Elmer, and Elaine worth reading but there are others that clutter the space with fundamentalistic nonsense. Some cannot even string an English sentence together. Others prattle on as if they simply like to see their name up in lights or love dragging red herrings and hobby-horses into the conversation.
This new policy will guarantee that the comments are succinct. I give it a tick.
And I certainly won’t be going to that Adnauseum site mentioned by Historic.

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