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updated: 10/21/2011 7:45 PM

Talk with the Editor: A prediction on commenting

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I'm here today to predict this: Online commenting is going to make a dramatic rebound on, both in volume and in the level of the conversation.

It's probably not going to happen overnight, but it is going to happen.

Earlier this week, a couple of Talk participants observed that the number of online comments on is down and went on to complain that the online commenting isn't as much fun to read anymore either.

Point one, I will concede. There is no doubt that the volume of comments has dropped.

That decline was predictable. We shifted to a paid-content model for the website, and not everyone who used to get it free is now going to agree to pay. Common sense tells you that. Common sense also says if there is somewhat less traffic generally, some of that decrease will equate to a reduction in commenting.

In addition, the experience of other paid news sites around the country has suggested that for whatever reason, avid online commenters tend to be among those most resistance to digital fees. We can theorize all we want about why that is, but the main point is, few sites that have gone paid have been successful in getting their most active commenters to subscribe in large numbers.

That phenomenon may be permanent; it may be temporary. The jury's still out on that. But it's clearly been true in the transitions.

It also was predictable that when we got tough with comment abusers, some would be unhappy about that and either leave the site altogether, stop commenting or stop commenting as much. So that has affected the volume of commenting too.

The good news is, some of that commenting returns just naturally as people get used to the paid-content system. That's been the case elsewhere. We expect it to be the case here too.

But I also firmly believe that as the environment of commenting improves (and it already has, and it will get even better) more and more members of the audience will feel comfortable commenting.

Many members of our audience have been turned off by the venomous nature of commenting that used to populate so much of the site. Many, many of them. In response, they not only stopped making comments; they even stopped reading them.

Some may think the old days of name calling and insensitive jokes were fun. And it certainly is true that you never knew what insult or slur you were going to read next. But if that was enjoyable, well, heaven help us all. To my mind, that is somewhat akin to going to an auto race in hopes of seeing a fatal accident.

Here's something much more enjoyable: Thought-provoking comments that elevate the conversation. Entertaining comments that don't come at the expense of neighbors.

That environment may not be pervasive in our commenting fields just yet. But it's on the way. And a lot of it.

Thank you for reading. Have a good weekend.

(Please remember to friend me on Facebook by searching John Lampinen Daily Herald and follow me on Twitter @DHJohnLampinen)

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