From comments to conversations


A conversation with 2 to 6 participants (EDIT: about a controversial topic) can be pleasant, can be thoughtful. The same conversation with more than 20 engaged participants is always awful. Here is my solution to solve this inherent problem of comment sections with many users.

This approach is only intended for comment sections of articles on politics. Its not supposed to work for a Q&A community. Sorry Edie

Let us view the top-level comment as an opening to a debate. The author of this comment is going to be one participant of the debate. One of only two. Its is going to be a 1:1 discussion.

After the top-level comment has been written, every other user is allowed to write an answer (not more than one per user). All the answers are displayed indented below the toplevel comment. But nobody except the author is allowed to answer on the answers. Got it? You can view an answer as a proposal to a debate.

Once the author of the top-level comment has answered to one of the proposals, the 1:1 debate starts: The participants are the author of the top-level comment and the author of the proposal that has been answered by the author of the top-level comment. Nobody else is allowed to take part. Since it is an 1:1 debate, no more indenting is necessary. The debate is easy to follow for the readers of the comment section.

All the other proposals are collapsed to the single sentence: “(+) show more answers to the top comment”.

I think Courtney would love this approach, because her well articulated comments would finally pay off.

extended version
Maybe you think that is approach is to strict. And there should be a possibility for other discussants to join the conversation.
So instead of just prohibit other users from answering to an answer of such a conversation, lets use the “reply as a linked topic”-pattern from Discourse™. So other users cannot join the conversation, but they can create another top-level comment by using the additional interaction ~“reply as linked topic”. Using this method the author of a top-level comment is able to debate with more than just one of the answering users. But in completely different threads.

any comment? :blush:



This approach seems like it work really well as a tool or heavily curated digital Lincoln-Douglas debate . Where by selecting the premise the original commenter and the person debating lock in on a resolution and then exchange. It definitely would lighten some of the sprawl of online interaction.

I’m thinking how that could be designed to be fun.

Also wondering how that kind of compartmentalization might work on sprawling but less contentious debates ( like those around culture ) . Those of ten aren’t as acrimonious and have really good exchanges that no one sees. And a way of creating a" featured" moment would be really valuable


Why do you think, its not fun? I think most commenters of comment sections really love to discuss and debate. And … they are not all like Larry :wink:

Something like this?

I think its only working on controversial topics (so if that particular debate around culture is controversial, it should work). Maybe the original commenter should decide if she wants an open or an 1:1 debate.


That’s really interesting. Also it makes me very happy that you referred to our personas with such clarity :slight_smile:


This is a really interesting idea, Christoph. I wonder if the model couldn’t be pinwheeled out a bit, to allow the creator of the initial comment to allow more people into the discussion. Every comment would exist in a “pending” state unless/until approved by the initial commenter.

Taking it a step further, what if the creator of each approved reply could, in turn, approve replies to their reply?

This would be a fascinating experiment to try. Unless it’s already been tried somewhere?


I thought about that too, because it would be a shame to leave a good answer hanging. But — as you know — I really like to ty more 1:1- debates, so I would contain both debates in different threads. So the original commenter would be able to have more than one 1:1 discussion. Or make it all configurable: open discussion, invited discussion, multiple 1:1- discussion.

I discussed the idea with a friend and he said that the original commenter might leave the discussion at one point (for whatever reason). In open discussions it sometimes happens that another commenter takes her position and the discussion can continue on a high level. My approach has a weak spot, if the Original commenter leaves the discussion. I thought of fixing it by nominating a stand-in from the audience, but that idea might be rubbish.

Oh, I see. Did not think of that. Could be very interesting. But might increase the problem of leaving a lot of good answers hanging


I think this weak spot is what I am honing in on for making it fun. Now thinking fun isn’t the right word. One of the most common replies to why comments go left especially in contentious issues is that people feel like they’re unheard. The exchange sounds like it would be a wonderful piece of controlled UGC content or even a second level comment system.

" This discussion is very spirited/contentious/sensitive. We want it to continue so we’re moving it this model"

So that it’s seen as way of listening to the community and streamlining. That way points of view can nominate whose exchanging in between that statement and the discussion?


I think its quite hard to feel unheard in a 1:1 discussion :wink: (its possible though) . But its mainly a problem in a group discussion, don’t you think?


The jump of going from group to 1:1 is what I’m thinking of. It’s a process/ management skill question. The exchange mechanism sounds great . I 'm thinking of how do you set it up so the community feels invested and not just observing two people debating.

It would be fascinating to try.


Ok, I got it. You are talking about your “We want it to continue so we’re moving it this model”-idea.

Hmm… Lets see: Maybe let each member of the group (aka the commenters in that spirited/contentious/sensitive discussion) decide on which side of a resolution (which is picked by the moderation?) he/she stands: in favour or against. Then let each side elect a representative, who is going in 1:1 with the representative of the other side.

This is a game invented by Deanna Kuhn (paper ) to teach critical thinking skills to adolescents.

Endgame (Sessions 10–12). Participants returned to same-side small groups and engaged in two sessions of preparation for the final “showdown” debate. One session focused on reviewing the arguments the other side used in the dialogues and the coun-terarguments that could be used against them in the showdown. In the other session, students focused on their own side’s argu-ments, expected counterarguments, and rebuttals. For the showdown session, participants remained in their small groups; the first half of the session focused on two of the small groups (one from each side), and the second half on the other two. As decided on by the group, one member at a time went to a “hot seat” and verbally debated someone from the opposing side. Time was called after 3 min, and a new team-mate came to the hot seat. Students in the inactive small groups were able to observe and forward written suggestions to the active groups. Whenever they wished, members of either active team were able to call a 1-min “huddle” to confer.


I suppose this would be very discouraging for trolls, when they cannot force themselves into a conversation, when they depend on the approval of others.


I’m still thinking about this . My mind wandered into " This sounds great . Could we also make the info they use for this debate structured" but then it feels very "high school debate " . The structure however sounds really interesting for a test run


You lost me :cyclone:. Could you explain your new idea to me a little further?



So I am thinking of if you select two debaters and provide them information to debate from. So if the article centers around a Brookings Institute or UNESCO finding , creating tool that would let them reference that easily . Also the slight restriction can generate really great questions around the data . I.E : Why did you use this data and not others ? Why does the data not reflect these findings?

I would like to see if by constricting the place of debate we can get higher level meta discussions.


Yes, the use of data and how it was collected and processed has to be discussed – just as everything else. But your setting cannot work between two commenters, because neither of them is responsible for the article. So in your setting, one debater should be the author of the article, who used the finding to prove some conclusion and the other should be a commenter, who does not buy into the conclusion.

This setup has more in common with the election idea from