Pay attention to what Nick Denton is doing with comments: Gawker is experimenting with new comment systems, as should everyone really. It only takes one look at the comments on your average Big News article to fear for the future of the human race.
The new design dispenses with the tyranny of time order. On most systems, the most prominent comments are posted either by the most obsessed users (when comments are posted oldest first) or the drive-bys (newest first).
[..] Gawker’s default assumption is that most comments won’t ever appear on the article page – like the Slashdot comment system, they are all there, but only accessible with extra work by the reader. This ensures that there is, by design, no way for regular participants [...] to use either volume or aggression to maximize attention.
The problem here, however, is something that Reddit struggles with – time order still matters because the longer a comment is on the site, the more votes it gets. So, when sorted by most votes, older comments will rise to the top unnaturally. You could adjust for time, but what happens then is that newer comments get “buried,” and are not even seen to be voted on.
Commenting is a tough nut to crack, and I’m not sure that anyone is doing it well. I think we need a better way to navigate comments, which brings me back to a great system I read about last year called – appropriately – tldr.
tldr is an application for navigating through large-scale online discussions. The application visualizes structures and patterns within ongoing conversations to let the user browse to content of most interest. In addition to visual overviews, it also incorporates features such as thread summarization, non-linear navigation, multi-dimensional filtering, and various other features that improve the experience of participating in large-discussions.
Sadly, systems like this require training and an attention span of just a bit longer than a mayfly, which works against their adoption by the mainstream.