by Robin Miller, Editor-in-Chief - Open Source Technology Group
The following is a summary of an article Robin Miller wrote for the Annenberg Center for Communication at USC's Online Journalism Review about how to bring your website's discussion areas "to life."
Your discussions must be threaded or nested, not just "flat."
A flat discussion tags the newest comments either on top of or below the ones already listed. A threaded discussion shows "discussion threads" but doesn't display the entire content of posts.
You have readers who know more than you do about any given topic -- and plenty of readers who don't know nearly as much as they think they do.
Learn to accept corrections and criticism from readers - it'll make your reporting more thorough. And don't sweat comments from clearly uninformed and/or argumentative readers - they almost always draw rebuttals from other, more knowledgeable readers.
Let your readers judge each other so you don't have to judge them yourself.
Build in features that allow readers to rate each other's comments. This "moderation" technique will drive useful comments up and push obscene, attacking, and otherwise unwelcome comments into oblivion.
All good things must come to an end.
Close commenting on stories older than 30 days or so, and archive old discussions as static pages if you think they'll continue to be useful to readers.
Why buy a cow when the software is free?
Make use of free software such as Slash and other content management systems that have comment and moderation systems. There are many currently available.