What I want for my website

I really only want two things for my website: (1) I want the software that runs my website to be high-quality and (2) I want my website's content to be high-quality. It sounds easy and straight-forward but I assure you it isn't.

I want the software that runs my website to be stable, efficient at handling my website's traffic, and flexible. Good content management systems meet these requirements, but it took years to get where we are today, and we still have a really long way to go. Fortunately, all my websites run Drupal, so the first part of my requirements presents no problem. If you want, you can have a Drupal site too -- it's free! :)

I also want the website content to be of high-quality. That applies to both the quality of my own writing, as well as that of others that participate on my site. I believe this is a much more difficult problem to solve -- I'm interested in helping to solve it.

I'll be moving from an apartment to a house with a small yard, so last weekend we bought a hose to water the plants and the grass. Now that I'll have to get into gardening, it struck me that maintaining and improving the quality of my website is a bit like gardening too.

First and foremost, you have to keep the weeds out. In the world of websites, that means preventing spam comments and other unwanted posts. I never liked weeding -- as a kid, I had to help weed our garden. Collecting a bucket of weeds each vacation day was no fun. I don't like manually deleting spam comments either, so I addressed that with Mollom.

So far so good -- Drupal and Mollom make me a pretty happy camper as my two requirements are mostly met.

Just weeding your garden, though, doesn't make it beautiful or interesting. The same is true for websites. My favorite websites are those where the quality of the comments exceed the quality of the actual posts. I think there is much more that can be done to improve the quality of content on websites.

For example, I often wish I could tell people that their comments are poorly written or formatted before they even submitted it. It would be nice if more comments used proper capitalization and punctuation like we learned it in school. Or better yet, imagine having a service that estimates the added value of any new comment, or that somehow encourages thoughtfulness and constructive debate. I know I'm dreaming (and rambling a bit), but I also believe that these kind of tools are in our future for those that want them. They would be a natural addition to Mollom so maybe I'll be working on them myself, especially if people keep getting their capitalization and punctuation wrong. ;-)

Comments

Ryan (not verified):

Do it! : D

I'm sure you can work "Intense ..." into the title of the service. ; )

July 6, 2010
Dries:

I'm not sure I understand this comment. Care to explain?

July 6, 2010
Ryan (not verified):

heh, guess you'd have to use sites with Intense Debate on it to know the software exists. So I guess it was really an inside joke with myself. : P

It's Automattic's comment solution, a drop-in replacement for a site's comment system. It doesn't do any sort of pre-post evaluation on comments that I know of, just user voting once a comment has been posted.

Understanding there isn't a direct correlation here, I can see this fuzzy equation in my head of Mollom on Drupal > Akismet + Intense Debate. : D

July 6, 2010
Boris Mann (not verified):

You're describing, in part, IntenseDebate, the service that Automattic bought, that is a competitor of Disqus, Echo, etc.

July 6, 2010
Roger Simms (not verified):

I assume you know your competition better than the rest of us but I think you’re hinting more at a combination Intense Debate & After the Deadline?

However, you’re then forcing users to format in a particular manner; something which may get some people’s backs up & put them off. Though this may be you’re eventual last resort as computers don't do creative in a way that’s as pleasing as humans, regardless of grammatical correctness!

July 7, 2010
Thomas Svenson (not verified):

It's only a matter of time. Word processor software has had grammar features for years and they are really good. The one in Word works really well.

Now when such applications are moving to the cloud, I see no reason for those features to move in there too.

Firefox was first with adding spell checker support directly in the browser. Chrome has it as well. Rich text editors such as CKEditor has spell checking build in.

Since we are talking about text here I can't really see any difficulty by adding grammar features to either Google Docs or CKEditor.

It can easily be living in the cloud and could be an add-on service for editors such as CKEditor. Free or paid for depending on use.

/thomas

July 6, 2010
Anonymous (not verified):

Awes0me POST !!! Full of win. Me 2, I can haz nice commants.

July 6, 2010
Dries:

I love you too! ;-)

July 6, 2010
Island Usurper (not verified):

I guess it's only a matter of time before someone writes the lolcat grammar filter, and then uses it to enforce lolcomments on their site.

July 6, 2010
Vimal Ramaka (not verified):

So that's going to be the of birth another amazing software, eh?

Go for it!

July 6, 2010
ajayg (not verified):

Capitalization and punctuation are related only to English (or perhaps a few other language). Other languages have different needs. Whatever solution is designed, it needs to allow different plugin/modules/whatever for differnt languages to make it really useful outside english.

July 6, 2010
Patrick Hayes (not verified):

Dries,

Are you writing love-comments to spam-bots? How could you!

July 6, 2010
mac (not verified):

I agree with you on the wish, but I also think that moderating on the base of "quality" is a dangerous path to follow if you want to keep a site "open" (whether this is done by humans or by a validation process).

The bottom line is that poor quality is not always the result of sloppiness. Poor quality could come from poor language skills, little knowledge of conventions, learning disabilities, poor education, hurry, limited input devices, or - simply - because one likes 1337 more than regular English.

You can turn your site from "open" to "closed" (or at least "less open") but I think this is a radically different concept than the one of "comments to the post". [A beautiful and equal-in-dignity concept, but different!].

What appears to me as a good mediation between "the wish for quality" and "the openness of the platform" are comment rating systems, in which readers assign scores to other people's comments. They are difficult to tune (e.g.: balancing the absolute number of votes with the average of said votes), but when they work, they work wonders, IMO [Think Amazon or Stack Overflow, for example].

Speaking on a very much more specific level (Drupal): one little tweak that IMO would represent a big improvement in terms of quality of contributions, would be to simply disable the functionality that assigns as as title the first few words of the body if one forgets to specify the title itself. That makes post titles in a forum thread absolutely meaningless: spamming it with titles such "Can somebody explain why", "@tommy: I tried to use your code and", etc...

Just my two cents, anyhow! ;)

July 6, 2010
sun (not verified):

One little tweak that IMO would represent a big improvement in terms of quality of contributions, would be to simply disable the functionality that assigns as as title the first few words of the body if one forgets to specify the title itself. That makes post titles in a forum thread absolutely meaningless: spamming it with titles such "Can somebody explain why", "@tommy: I tried to use your code and", etc...

Absolutely! I wonder whether we can remove that for D7? ♥

http://api.drupal.org/api/function/comment_submit/7 is the offending code.

July 13, 2010
John Walling (not verified):

How about a plagiarism rating, if text is not in quotes?

As I said before, a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.

Ooops. Burned! My bad.

July 7, 2010
decibel.places (not verified):

haha! I thought buytaert.net was up for sale! (buytaert.net Estimated Worth $69174.8 USD at Website Outlook)

Srsly, you are very correct that building and maintaining a web site - particularly a Drupal web site, perhaps - is much akin to gardening. Pruning, weeding, spraying, watering... I am an "indoor" gardener and try as I might I cannot rid myself of seasonal black flies that decimate my vegetables (beans, cukes, tomatoes, peppers etc) every year. Happily my lavender plant is unaffected, as are my "houseplants" - sometimes you need to stay within the limits of the environment, but that does not prevent me from growing morning glories dramatically climbing my indoor trellises.

It would be great if you named one of your products "Drupal Gardens" - oh wait... (-;

(I always wonder why you annoy your visitors with the post-submission CAPTCHA form on the comments... hmmm..)

July 7, 2010
Mukhsim (not verified):

Dries,

I once wrote a Drupal module to address the quality issue for user comments for a large community website (~50K posts, 1.2mln comments, 8.7K users). The module is available here: http://drupal.org/project/slashcomments.

Basically, it provides something similar to Slashdot moderation system.

It's very primitive, but it does allow good comments to stand out.

Mukhsim.

July 7, 2010
Roel Guldemond (not verified):

As a student, I once read:
"Every language error is to some extent misprising your reader" [1].
Still 25 years later, I have the opinion that paying attention to how I write, can help me to achieve my goals.

I am in favor trying to use everything that helps me to write better.

[1] Quote from a Dutch hand book on writing by C.B. Tilanus. This book can be found on: http://www.bol.com/nl/p/nederlandse-boeken/een-scriptie-rapport-artikel-...

July 7, 2010
Santhan (not verified):

Good writing is simple, clear and honest. Writing doesn't always have to be original or a grammatical work of art to be considered good writing.

I remember lapsing for a short while, into using txt messaging shrt frm of writing, in regular emails. I would write things like gr8 or speak 2 u l8r. Horrible! I've since decided that if I don't take the time to write clearly and coherently then I should not write at all!

Recognition to the author in some way, may help to encourage conversation by bringing the author back. I wonder if...
- counting the number of comments by email account
- counting the number of replies to a comment
- using some sort of thumbs up/down rating
...would help in building recognition for a regular commenter and therefore more meaningful conversation. It's about quality not quantity right?

I would click a "thumbs up" button for a well written comment. Suggestions on improving my punctuation would be useful. I would also like to know if someone commented on my comment without having to come back here just to check if someone did.

July 7, 2010
Dries:

Thanks for all the great comments. I'll ponder about it more and I'll get back to you with a more detailed vision of what such a product could look like.

We have a lot of the building blocks in place with Mollom. For example, we already compute an overall quality score for each comment. It is also exposed by our APIs but we don't use it in the plugins/modules yet (it is too experimental still). If you want to play with it though, let us know.

July 7, 2010
sun (not verified):

Or better yet, imagine having a service that estimates the added value of any new comment, or that somehow encourages thoughtfulness and constructive debate.

...

Thanks. Committed to CVS HEAD.

5 words that can change the world.

July 7, 2010
Steve Parks (not verified):

Hi Dries,

There seems to have been a bit of discussion around the web about distributed commenting in the last couple of days. Boris Mann and TechCrunch had interesting posts about it too.

I decided to write up the discussion on DrupalRadar: http://drupalradar.com/future-commenting-drupal

cheers
Steve

July 7, 2010
Anonymous (not verified):

I have the same issue. Subscribing. :)

July 8, 2010
joe ekine (not verified):

It's a burden having to delete more than 100 spam comments even when captcha enabled on a daily basis. I haven't tried Mollom, yet.

July 9, 2010
Dries:

Give Mollom a try, even if you use it in "CAPTCHA only"-mode. Unlike other CAPTCHA solutions, Mollom's CAPTCHAs are intelligent; i.e. because we are a hosted service we can take IP address reputations into account.

July 18, 2010
Chuck Vose (not verified):

XKCD's IRC channel has a bot that penalizes you if you say something that was said previously given some window of time. I'm not saying that a penalty should be in check, but using that handy apache_solr integration from acquia you could easily prompt a warning if something has been said in a similar way before. All those +1 comments would get flagged (though those do have some value).

On the other hand, and maybe I don't read the comment threads nearly enough, I don't see that much community discussion happening that isn't valuable in some way. Look at this thread for example, very few misspellings (thanks to FF/Webkit checking our asses and providing feedback), and those that did have misspellings were mostly jokes (I'm hoping).

Not all social problems should be solved with technology. Stack overflow allows members to police themselves by allowing certain users who are active in the community (certified to rock > 1?) to edit other people's posts. Just a thought.

July 9, 2010

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