Ground crew team chat

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Whaleoil (the blog) is going through growing pains.   The influx of new readers has caused an influx of new commenters.  On top of that, we’ve been under a sustained and very organised attack by people that are trying to poison the well.

Sadly, I can foresee a time when, as victims of our own success, the atmosphere of the Whaleoil comments section will be nearly impossible to control.  It is, after all, a numbers game.

What was once a personal blog with a small group of “on-line friends” and supporters has already grown into the 5th largest news/opinion web site in New Zealand (by traffic and by audience).   This caused us to tighten up on conduct, and that – ironically – has caused a mad growth as people are no longer turned off by gross comments (and articles!) like they used to.

We are very happy with the conduct these days.  Very few personal attacks on other commenters.   We’ve all but eliminated pointless slights on public figures (One rare ban for writing Cunny Lips this week for example), and almost all of you have got the fine art of not responding to comments that are obviously written to create an uproar (“don’t feed the trolls”).

On that basis, we are proud of you, and I’m sure you’re proud of yourself as to what has been achieved.

But now, due to our mad growth, we face a different problem:  Keeping things tight.

It was only two months ago when the odd “Yeah right! /TUI” or “You should have seen the other guy” kind of comments were infrequent enough and they blended in and lifted the  mood and general sense of humour.  They were not seen as bad, as long as someone didn’t make it their life’s purpose to constantly provide “low calorie comments”.

Due to the number of comments and commenters, this has now grown to be a problem.   One begets another, and before you know it, an extremely serious topic (like Judith Collins stepping down) turns into a circus surrounding one mildly funny or off-topic observation attracting a few dozen in-kind replies.

These comments, by themselves, are not bad.   But taken as “a body of work” make the comments in total very low quality reading.  

And here is my problem.   How do we turn that around?  I love the odd one-liner myself.  In fact, I kid more than I provide content.  I’m finding it hard to sit on my hands and set a good example.   But that doesn’t solve the problem.

I’m looking ahead another 6-12 months when we’ll have half a million weekly readers – not an unreasonable goal, judging by the current growth rate.  Proportionally more commenters will want to join in, and more will produce “low calorie” content.

So, education is one thing.  And that’s part of this post I guess.

But this is a blog, a very successful one, but still, a blog.  The focus should be on the articles, and not on trying to herd several hundreds of commenters on a daily basis.  It’s “empty effort” in the sense that it limits damage, but doesn’t create any value itself.   As such, I want to minimise any time spent “moderating” or otherwise “editing” the comments section into shape.

I foresee that at some point we’ll shut the comments down after x hours on each article.  Simply to make sure the workload is only ever a set number of articles at any given time, rather than about 5 days’ worth at 30+ posts a day.

What I fear is the day where we won’t publish anything until it is approved first.   That day, I’d like to push into the future as long as possible.

And finally, the worst one of all, posting articles with closed comments.

How long can we push that away?   How can we all enjoy the growth of Whaleoil without becoming a victim of our own success?

Moderators have been banning for two reasons:  to ban true pests, and to issue a harsh wake-up call to people who don’t “get it”.   But this is going to have to end.

After the election, we will have another amnesty.  People who were kicked for relatively minor offences will be allowed back in.

After that, a ban is a ban.  Permanent.  It will be done only when we can not compel the person to fall into line.   In the mean time, anyone who is annoying us will have their last 30 days of (Whaleoil) comments deleted but not be banned.

There is a chance that they won’t even notice, in which case a ban will be applied.  By then, it will be too late for reason.  On the bell curve of life, there will always be some that aren’t going to make the grade.  If that ends up being you, well, look, there are other web sites, and a thing called “a real life”.

Hope that explains where Whaleoil is at, where we hope to go, and what we’re trying to achieve.

On a practical level, expect a lot of comments to be deleted because they add no “reading quality” for hundreds of thousands other blog readers.  Do not email anyone demanding explanations.  It’s just because we want to keep the quality high as long as we still are able.

If you notice all  your comments gone, you may need to have a think.  That’s a warning.  A serious one.  It may not happen to you twice.

One way or another, this will be an imperfect process.   All I can do is promise the moderators will try their best.  You can make it easier for us, and safer for yourself, if you answer this question every time  ‘is what I am about to write going to be of interest to 100,000 other people?’

Thanks for helping out.

 


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