Yes, we are fixing Salon’s comments system

In the words of Bill Clinton, “We feel your pain.” And we’re doing something about it

By Liam O'Donoghue
Published March 1, 2012 10:55PM (EST)

Thank you to everyone who took the time to read and respond to the piece “Fearless Journalism Has a Price.” We truly appreciate your feedback and, as David Talbot emphasized, you—the Salon community—are what keeps the site alive.

Beyond your financial support, your comments are a big part of what makes our site so engaging. We appreciate that many in the Salon community are interested in having genuine conversations. At their best, these conversations are witty, insightful and truly expand on the concepts explored in the article to which they are responding. The readers who comment on Glenn Greenwald’s columns, for example, often submit sources and content that are included in Glenn’s signature “updates.”

Salon was one of the first Web-only news sites and since we launched at the dawn of the digital era, we have recognized the significance of intelligent interaction in online “town squares.” This is why we take your feedback about problems with the functionality of our comments section seriously and why we’re making this our top priority.

Regarding a few of the problems, there is consensus on what needs to be improved. Here’s how we plan on responding:

  • Installing a “preview” button, so you can review comments before publishing.
  • Making comments searchable, so you can find your comments via Google or another search engine.
  • Allowing blocking comments of users you don’t want to see.

However, regarding other requests, the path forward is not as clear. For example, some users want to be able to sort comments chronologically while others want comments sorted by popularity, which would be determined via up- or down-voting. Some users prefer a nested, threaded system while others want replies grouped together chronologically. We may be able to offer choices in how you personally display the comments, or it may be that there really is a strong preference for the way the old “Letters system” worked. Let us know what is important to you.

Since you will be the primary users of the new system, we want to know how you want us to proceed. However, we need to be clear that these are not “easy fixes.” We’re well aware that free software and plug-ins are available, but these solutions simply don’t work when applied to a site with as much traffic as Salon. Our numbers have been increasing nearly every month for the past year and we’re on track to hit 8 million unique users monthly soon. The programming and development needed to update our comments system is costly and time-consuming.

We don’t want you to think that we haven’t fixed the comments system yet because we don’t care. We care very much and your feedback has already been very helpful in troubleshooting some minor bugs. For example, several of you have sent us links that have helped us diagnose and fix problems with cookies and log-in states, or helped us realize that some readers were unable to see the comments because they didn’t have Javascript turned on.

The bottom line is that we have been in firefighting mode regarding some basic site issues, and are now turning our full attention to comments. We are currently exploring solutions, both in-house and with a number of popular vendors, for our comments system and our focus is supporting the vibrant, opinionated dialogue that makes Salon such a rich community.  Obviously, the implementation timeline will vary depending on which option emerges as our best pick, but we very much understand the need to provide a robust solution as soon as possible.

In response to the many questions we’ve received since last week about whether Salon is planning to erect a pay wall that would block content for non-Core members: I’m very proud to let you know that we have absolutely no plans to block anyone’s access to our articles. However, your support is used to pay our writers, so if you appreciate fearless, independent journalism—of which David Talbot provides a great list of recent examples here—please consider joining Salon Core to sustain our ability to continue this work.

Lastly, we are aware that one of the most common complaints is that comments are not functioning on many mobile devices. Optimizing Salon for mobile is on our list of priorities, but this is a major project that will take months, not weeks, to accomplish. Unfortunately, this is not one of the upgrades that will happen in the first round.  We are currently exploring various mobile strategies and, as you requested, we’ll be more transparent and communicative about the progress of our efforts.

Liam O'Donoghue

Liam O'Donoghue is Salon’s communications director. He writes about what’s happening at Salon and manages Salon’s social media assets. You can follow him on Twitter @Liam_Odonoghue.

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