Letters to the Editor update

New features on the way -- and why we ask you to sign your name.

Published January 30, 2006 11:19AM (EST)

Three months ago Salon launched its new Letters to the Editor system. It has been a roaring success by any measure: the level of participation by you, Salon's readers; the number of letters (close to 20,000 posted to date); or the yardstick that matters most to us, the quality of the discussion and the thoughtfulness of your responses to our articles.

As with any new interactive Web feature, of course, there's much that we're still learning as we go along. There's a host of improvements to the Letters system that we aim to introduce in coming weeks, as our busy development team gets to them.

We've already begun to highlight the most provocative and insightful letters pages with links from the Salon home page, and we intend to expand that as part of the still-unfolding evolution of Salon's new design.

We've been heartened to find so little of the spam (so far!) that often plagues blog comment features. And -- given the recent headlines about the Washington Post's troubled relationship with its comment-posting readers -- we've been delighted that we've had to exercise our right to delete inappropriate letters so rarely. We see that as a last resort, and the times we've used it have mostly been when individual users have lost their cool and turned arguments about articles or issues into vendettas against one another. We'll continue to keep an eye on that.

We ask for your e-mail address when you post a letter on Salon. In part that's so we can be in touch if there's a technical problem to resolve. We're also finding that sometimes our writers or editors want to respond personally and directly to a particular letter -- and that's only possible if we have a working e-mail address for you. (We won't trade or sell the e-mail address you provide us with your letter, or use it for any other purpose.)

Finally, though we give you the option to post letters anonymously, we strongly prefer that you sign them with your real name. First of all, it's a tradition in the world of "letters to the editor." Beyond that, we believe that signed letters and comments tend to reflect more considered thinking -- and our decade-long experience with online interaction bears out that belief. We know that some of you might be thinking, "Gee, when future potential employers are Googling my name, do I really want them to see this rant?" Maybe that's simply good motivation to write something that you'll be proud of. If you think you won't want to stand by your letter years from now, you might reconsider whether you want to post it at all.

To put a little more encouragement behind our request that you sign your letters, from now on we'll tilt our Editors' Choices toward letters that come with names attached. (Letters signed with "handles" instead of names are still eligible, but names are preferred.) We might still on occasion highlight letters that are completely anonymous, if there seems to be a logical reason the writers may have chosen to hide their identity. But that will be the exception, not the rule.

Some other features in the pipeline for Letters to the Editor include:

  • Better interfaces for reading large quantities of letters, including an all-on-one-page view for Premium subscribers
  • New ways to view all the Editors' Choice letters for a particular day's articles gathered together on one page
  • RSS feeds for letters pages, so you can keep up with the flow of letters from any RSS-capable program or service
  • Other interface improvements, including a letters content page providing a list of all of Salon's recent articles and the number of letters associated with them; links to letters from every page of each article; links from article pages that take you directly to the Editors' Choice letters for that article; and more.

We know that you'll continue to tell us what you like and don't like about Salon's Letters to the Editor. Of course, you can start right here -- just click on that long blue button an inch or two down the page.

Scott Rosenberg
Vice President, New Projects

By Salon Staff

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