Comments Holistic Open Platform: How to fix news comments

The Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership is seeking ideas on how to reinvent journalism for the open Web, so they’re running a series of challenges. The first Knight-Mozilla challenge focused on “unlocking video.” The second aims to solve the news comments problem by going beyond comment threads:

One of the best things about the web is that it enables many voices to be heard. Blogs, comment threads, forums, and social networks empower people to take part in new kinds of discussion, dialogue, and debate.

The best discussions around the web can be pretty isolated. Take comments, tweets, and other fragments out of their original context, and they can become meaningless. And take a look below the fold—in comment threads at news outlets, political blogs, YouTube, and elsewhere, you’ll often find that the loudest voices drown out everyone else.

Knight-Mozilla News Challenge - Beyond Comment Threads logo: AtomAt the same time, media is moving beyond the traditional “news story” as the only unit for commenting and interaction, stretching to include narrative arcs of multiple stories over periods of time, “explainers” that provide background knowledge for strings of stories, “streams” that include initial reports followed by updates and corrections, and more.

With all that activity happening across the web, how do we enable more coherent, elevated discussion? How can news organizations improve the signal-to-noise ratio in public news commentary?

Here’s my proposal:

Summary

COMMENTS HOLISTIC OPEN PLATFORM

This is a holistic approach to what I see as the five major problems facing comments today and in the near to medium term.

  1. QUALITY. The major problem in commenting on news sites today is finding a way to maintain high-quality discussions.
  2. DISCOVERY/PERSISTENCE. Commenting is fragmented and no system properly federates them.
  3. COMMENT FORMATS. No truly transmedia commenting system exists.
  4. CONTEXT AWARENESS. Commenting systems don’t address people’s needs in various device, temporal and physical contexts.
  5. EMERGENT MEDIA. There is no standard for comments in emergent media and platforms. Each element of this plan can be developed separately, or as part of a phased, holistic solution.

 

Description

1. QUALITY

Maintaining high-quality discussions.

    a) Community ranking / moderation + TrustRankCommunity ranking’s fundamental flaw: It rewards popular ideas and unpopular ones are often submerged. To offset this, an algorithm could assign a TrustRank score that surfaces comments from trusted people on a sliding scale weighted by the viewer. TrustRank improves over time and volume of comments.
    b) Semantic / sentiment parsing e.g. SentimentRankCommunity or algorithmic ranking and/or parsing of meaning and sentiment would assign a score viewers could weight. SentimentRank would find commenters with a similar temperament and outlook and help determine which comments they see. This improves over time and volume of comments and participants.
    c) Crowdsourced or automated summaries of longer comment posts
    As comments accumulate, reviewing and understanding the discourse can become onerous. Volunteers or an algorithm could identify and summarize key themes for brief, headline-style summaries to help viewers discover and understand context.
    d) Aggregate summaries and sentiment scores into heatmap / graph / that surfaces key points
    Rankings can be visually displayed in a map or graph. This would help to surface key thematic comment clusters that the viewer could drill down on for finer granularity.
    e) Badges / incentives / credits or scrip toward paid services for commenting
    Commenters receive rank badges to enable viewers to quickly assess the quality of an individual comment in a historical context. This could be combined with credit or scrip system that news organizations can use to reward commenters toward paid services. The open platform would make rewards portable across outlets using it.
    f) Trust circles, connected communities on other networks, TrustRank + SentimentRank sort
    Subject to individual preferences, people see comments from friends in social networks, extended networks, then people outside their networks.
    g) Present commenter with others’ comments inconsistent with own views
    Combine factors to offer viewers comments that oppose their own, to help stimulate meaningful debate vs. a cargo cult.

 

2. DISCOVERY / PERSISTENCE

Commenting is fragmented. While multiple platforms exist to federate comments, they still occur in isolated islands. To address this:

    a) Open standard that federates and categorizes comments
    Federate across services: blogs, status, chat, photo, video, text, SMS, etc. (Opt-in.)
    b) Visual / audio / tactile clustering
    Comment systems are heavily biased toward educated, literate, able-bodied individuals. Inclusive commenting systems would also assist the fully able. Standardized/automated markup would help identify and enable content federation for the multimedia and emerging sensory/haptic Web and enabled devices. People could navigate comment heatmaps parsed for subject, sentiment and trust through visuals, audio or tactile/force feedback. Similarly, content types could be toggled as comment options.
    c) Static vs. real-time
    Static comment threads are easy to hijack. Real-time commenting and discussion archived or parsed for inclusion in a historical forum/thread would enable actual discussions vs. turn-based commenting and repetitive or irrelevant crosstalk.

 

3. CONTENT FORMS

Transmedia comments vs. plain text.

    a) Text – Real-time commenting and discussion into archived/threaded forum enables collaboration with journalists on a story before publication-to-deadline, and fosters higher quality ongoing commentary and story development post-deadline. Granular word/sentence/paragraph level comments can be tagged.
    b) Images – Image-post comments for people with varying time, literacy and forms of self-expression. Character recognition and transmedia publication for any text within images, sentiment-parsing for facial expressions or gestures, and image summaries can be extracted and posted via community scoring or algorithm.
    c) Audio – Audio comments can be parsed as text and ranked for sentiment and trust.
    d) Video – Video comments (time delimited) can be parsed into text posted with and/or annotating video. To sort multiple video comments, they would be thumbnail stacks akin to BumpTop’s concept. Brushing a clustered stack would surface the video thumbnail on a card with the commenter’s profile, semantic TrustRank + SentimentRank score and/or graph, personality matching, and a capsule comment summary.

 

4. CONTEXT AWARENESS

The type of comment a person can leave often depends on time of day or their physical location:

    Office / mobile: Likely fosters shorter comments.
    Home / tablet: Likely fosters longer comments.
    Sorting and serving up comments to viewers and commenters based on set preferences, time of day and physical contexts including Web-enabled objects could foster higher quality discussions by reducing the frustration factor for commenters and viewers.

 

5. EMERGENT MEDIA

    a) Projected/sensors: Pico-projectors, digital vision, tactile and other sensors can shift comments from a solitary experience to a shared one. Collaboration in physical space is essential.
    b) Wearable: Personal augmented reality and wearable displays demand that comment systems include the ability to interact in real-time and with geolocated and physical, Web-aware objects.

First Sources Video: A secured transparency platform for video

 

The Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership is looking for ideas on how to reinvent journalism, especially on the Web. To that end, they’re running a series of challenges. The first focuses on “unlocking video“:

 

Video is a central part of many people’s daily news experience. But most online video is still stuck in a boring embedded box, like “TV on a web page,” separated from the rest of the page content. This offers little in the way of context or opportunities for viewers to engage more deeply.

New open video tools make it possible to pull data from across the web right into the story. Information related to the video can literally “pop” into the page. And videos themselves can change, dynamically adapting as stories evolve. The challenge is to use these tools in ways that serve the story. How can we enrich news video through things like added context, deeper viewer engagement, and the real time web? What are the untapped possibilities inherent in many-to-many, web video?

Here is my entry:

FIRST SOURCES VIDEO: A secured, open platform for crowdsourced, trusted, pseudonymized and anonymized video.

Summary

First Sources is a secured, transparent video dissemination system that can be deployed in any locale, to any degree of granularity to free not only journalists, citizens, whistleblowers and other people of conscience to act in the public interest, but governments and other institutions as well.

First Sources will enable people and organizations to securely submit video and information anonymously or pseudonymously in real-time or asynchronously from any device, to an openly accessible platform so journalists and citizens can collaborate to surface public-interest information on-demand, or that may otherwise remain submerged.

The core of this system would be the ability to transmit anonymized or pseudonymized video securely while enabling participants to issue alerts for supply and demand of geolocated news.

Later phases of the implementation would apply either real-time machine or crowdsourced translation and subtitles, and make it possible for journalists and the public to collaborate around video objects. This collaboration would include but not be limited to real-time discussion, remixing and creating contextual narrative using other openly available online resources such as status updates, knowledge resources such as Wikipedia, online news and more.

First Sources’ initial phase or iteration would be primarily enabled by Tor or a similar technology, HTML 5 video, Popcorn and Butter.


Description

The partnerships between established and credible news organizations and the whistleblowing documents publisher WikiLeaks have dramatically reminded us of the power of documentary evidence to enable journalists to tell stories that alert and inform the citizens in a democratic society of how their public institutions operate — and of the news they don’t see. The bulk of this material is text, with notable exceptions such as the Collateral Murder video.

Waiting days, weeks, months or years for troves of text to be released poses a problem not only for dissemination of news and information needed in the present, but for consumption, comprehension and action: Humans are visual creatures.

One need only look at the movements for change boiling up across the Arab world to see the power of information, networked communications and bearing witness in person or from afar. Video is a key part of this equation.

The risk to those who would supply this video, real-time or short-term reportage and information is great.

First Sources is a secured, transparent video dissemination system that can be deployed in any locale, to any degree of granularity to free not only journalists, citizens, whistleblowers and other people of conscience to act in the public interest, but governments and other institutions, too.

First Sources will enable people and organizations to securely submit video and information anonymously or pseudonymously in real-time or asynchronously from any device, to an openly accessible platform so journalists and citizens can collaborate to surface public-interest information on-demand, or that may otherwise remain submerged.

Similarly, enlightened governments and other institutions could use such a platform to proactively release video and information to create and sustain an atmosphere of public transparency. By doing so, citizens could anonymously or pseudonymously retrieve the released video without fear of being monitored and its potential consequences.

By combining and automating the secured identity anonymizing/pseudonymizing function within the system, it helps to ensure that journalists, witnesses, whistleblowers or users of that video receive the maximum possible identity protection and minimizes the potential for reprisals.

Once deployed, the system would be openly accessible by members of the public, or a journalist could give a source a dynamically generated invitation key. This would also provide a secure channel for sources and journalists to communicate with each other.
Alerts for supply and demand of geolocated news would make it possible for journalists and the public to collaborate around video objects in real-time discussion, remix, and contextual federated narrative.

A virtual currency or scrip exchangeable across publishers using the platform could reward the public for contributing.

First Sources would bring global and national scale video-based transparency down to the state, provincial, city or even town or community level. The same kind of transparency enabled by international and national news organizations reporting on openly available original source video would be available to anyone at any level.