Belfast Telegraph

Many ways to offer your opinion, and we value them all

By Paul Connolly

Newspaper readers are, as everyone knows, an opinionated bunch. They love to let off steam and are never slow to tell you what's on their mind.

The Belfast Telegraph's website hosts thousands of comments and for many people commenting online is their preferred way of making their views known both to the newspaper and the world in general. We still, of course, publish a traditional Letters to the Editor page, and research shows this is one of the most popular pages in the paper.

A few years back, to reflect the huge online conversation back to print-only readers, we began publishing a daily sample of comments on the Letters page.

Recently, the Telegraph introduced a section online called DebateNI, described as "a home to the ideas and the critiques, the disagreements and the brain-storming that is the foundation stone of any democracy".

We believe commenting on the articles to be a fundamental element of DebateNI and already there has been a healthy uptick in (mostly) intelligent comment levels.

One or two features of our commenting service have, however, been the subject of some criticism.

First, I should explain that the commenting service, called Intense Debate, is a separate 'plug-in' to the main website. It is what's known in the jargon as a blog comment hosting service. This works by externally hosting comments posted by online readers of the Belfast Telegraph (and other websites).

Users need to register with the service, which then gives them a profile and a commenting record. Aliases are allowed when posting, and indeed, most people chose to use them. (This isn't just a Northern Ireland thing – it's common the world over.)

Two recurrent views about our commenting service centre on the 'nesting' of comments and the Like/Dislike button which counts votes using a simple 'thumbs up' or 'thumbs down' icon.

Some readers dislike the nesting, which groups replies between posters together, and suggest it encourages posters to point-score and squabble amongst themselves.

We believe the opposite – it neatly lets commenters diverge off into sub-streams which often are tangential to the original article, and allows the reader to scan down the main posts quickly. It keeps the comments 'tidy' in other words.

As for the voting button, we feel it is important to let people vote on comments without having to register or log in. It encourages participation and gives a flavour of public reaction to a comment. But it is entirely unscientific and no-one suggests otherwise.

At the end of the day, all interaction in any format, is welcome so please keep your comments, emails and letters coming!

Belfast Telegraph


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