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Understanding The Ultiworld Forums And The Comments Section

Last March, we introduced the Ultiworld Forums, a new area for discussion and comments.

As long-time readers have certainly noticed, comment frequency on Ultiworld articles has declined (although, generally, average comment quality has gone up). Discussion certainly isn’t what it used to be.

That’s on us. We really have not done a great job of describing how the forums work or why we made the switch in the first place, and the new system has understandably been confusing to a lot of users.

We are hoping to turn that around this year. The forums are actually really simple, powerful, and fun to use once you get used to them. So we made a YouTube video tutorial series to actually show you how they work. We are also going to be doing a lot more active moderation and discussion with special guests, Q&As, and more to make being a forums user actually useful and not a burden!

If you have ideas on how we can make them better or easier to use, please let us know. For now, check out the videos below and, if you don’t already have an Ultiworld account, join for free right here (it takes less than 30 seconds). You can always sign in or sign up from the top right corner of the website as well.

How To Log In

How To Log In | Ultiworld Forums

How To Navigate

How To Navigate | Ultiworld Forums

Settings, Badges, & Anonymous Mode

Settings, Badges, & Anonymous Mode | Ultiworld Forums

Leveling Up

Understanding Trust Levels | Ultiworld Forums

Originally published at: https://ultiworld.com/2017/01/06/understanding-ultiworld-forums-comments-section/

Charlie, thanks for the info. I must admit that I’ve found this system to be a little wonky, but your videos have helped. Looking forward to participating more as the college season kicks off.

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The inclusion of badges makes the forum a game now, just like Waze. I must earn all the badges! :sunglasses:

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Why, when I want to make a comment, does the browser open a completely new window and then make me hit the “reply” button twice for a text box to appear? Even now that I’ve reset my password etc, it’s still much more difficult than the old system, which explains why so many fewer comments appear. I appreciate your efforts to explain the new system, but I still find the previous setup far superior in promoting open discussion.

Unfortunately, the developers of this forum system are adamantly (philosophically) against allowing in-line comments on web pages. They prefer to create a separate ecosystem (a “clubhouse” companion) from an existing website.

But really, I don’t think it’s all that much harder to comment than it was under Disqus, where you still had to click to sign in and click to start a comment.

While I acknowledge that opening a new tab feels like a barrier (even if it really isn’t a significant one), that actually does have a benefit: keeping out drive-by commenters and trolls.

I would argue, also, that most websites have a similar set up for their comments – click to open the comments area, then sign in, then post a comment. Examples include NY Times, TPM (which also uses Discourse, our forums software), ESPN, etc.

Of course, open to thoughts on how to make this better, easier, etc.

Back in July, I wrote about this, testing this forum system, saying a few things:
One was:
"As samth implied, I think it’s kludgy to click away from the article in order to comment. I would guess that the higher barrier to entry will discourage new voices from adding their 2 cents, but I hope I’m wrong, and you can probably collect data about the ratio of unique viewers to number of commenters and comments to monitor this. If this hypothesis is correct, it could reduce the breadth of voices."
I know you said acknowledge that commenting is down. I think it’s way down. Do you have the data? I haven’t noticed comment quality going up. I’ve noticed that a number of articles that I’m pretty sure would have generated comments before often have exactly 0 comments now. And I don’t think I’m alone in that I’m much more likely to make the time to comment when I believe there will be a critical mass of responses.

My second comment was that I thought one problem with the system was that originally we couldn’t see the article when commenting. I do appreciate that this problem was fixed. I hope that this responsiveness is a sign that you might continue to revise and/or scrap this system and replace it with something that has a lower barrier to entry.

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I think you’re minimizing the friction entailed in using this forum system here. I’ve signed in before, but It still takes me a few minutes to log in and get to the point where I can make a comment. Maybe my browser is slow, but I doubt my experience is unusual. I have to be really motivated to want to comment, and I know you’ve said that this is a feature, but I experience it as a bug.
And the NYT comment system, while not great, is not nearly this kludgy. When I go to the NYTimes site, the cookie (I assume) recognizes me. If comments are open for an article, I just click “Comment.” A sidebar opens on the right side of the article’s tab, and I can see and/or add comments right there. It takes about 15 seconds.

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Hey Sam,

I just wanted to point out that you actually can see the articles while commenting. They’re right above our stream here on the forums page. The videos aren’t displaying in full (it’s just the links), but the whole set is right there.

That said, I know it’s a new system. There’s a lot that we can create in here, but I could see how it might feel like overdoing it at first.

I know I appreciate your thoughtfulness, so definitely stay engaged and keep sending suggestions.

I believe that our forums should keep you logged in once you log in for the first time, same as the NY Times. So all you have to do is click ‘Continue Discussion’ and then click ‘Reply’ and you’re good to go!

  1. I take it it’s impossible to add a reply widget to the bottom of articles? Surely the idea is not that this would sacrifice quality, since if anything it would make the posts more content dependent…

  2. I’m not sure I understand the reason for all the leveling up stuff. For starters, most forums have no such system, or at least no system where users are granted basic privileges only after they spend a certain amount of “time” browsing. On that topic, why is there a “time browsing” requirement over and above a “number of posts viewed” requirement? Surely the measure isn’t intended to protect against bots, since that should be done by the registration process. If the intent is to motivate higher quality posts, doesn’t that seem kind of disrespectful of the membership? In fact, the whole idea of “levels” sounds at least to me a little disrespectful. Most respectable forums have no such requirement, and quality of content just emerges naturally out of the spirit of the community, which is what I would expect out of Ultiworld readers. And then why not call “leaders” “moderators” if they’re just moderators? The “moderator” title makes explicit that this user has some authoritative power, whereas the “leader” title is kind of misleading and creates a kind of half-hidden hierarchy among users… Especially since some users are content to just post once a month or whatever. I like the model most forums use, which is equality among members (except for funny, meaningless titles with no permissions attached, based on post count) with the exception of moderators and then staff or whomever. That seems more honest.

If the goal is to get people to use the forums, I would let that happen organically by making them a fun place to be, not through some weird and hokey “leveling up” system.

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Thanks for the feedback.

Correct. Hoping to see this feature developed or created as a plugin, but, as I said above, forum developers are against it.

Re. Levels, do the tiers seem too severe? Seems to me they make sense, and vast majority of users will have access to all core features. You can effectively unlock more if you are a frequent, high quality user. I like the idea of rewarding top users.

In regards to organic growth, we totally agree on that point. We are going to work to make them better.

Okay cool. Re levels I just disagree on a premise. :strawberry: :pineapple: :grapes: :fries: :fries: :cake:


First, before the criticism: the content here is still excellent, and you guys are always admirably aware enough to address things like this when they happen, and I appreciate that.

But that said, I have to echo everything @samdiener has said. You mention that you’ve seen commenting activity go down, but that has to be playing down how little people interact anymore. Since the switch, there have been exactly 13 posts on UW that have 10 or more replies. When there are comments - which is rare - there are generally fewer, and/or one thread of conversation as opposed to the many that used to develop.

Reddit has become your comments section, whereas before we used to have two separate but vital discussions taking place. A recent Ultiworld Disc Golf article about the Williams suspension had 52 comments on Reddit, and 0 on your native site. That’s part of the deal with aggregation sites, but I’m pretty confident that if there was a comment system more readily accessible here you would see at least some of that staying on-site like it did with the previous system.

The most common feedback has been for a same-page reply function, but that has been refuted philosophically by the developers and no third party has written a plugin. I can appreciate a philosophical stance and the Discourse devs are certainly entitled to theirs, but why hitch your wagon to it then? There is a year’s worth of decreasing participation significant enough to warrant an explainer article, so you’re definitely aware of it. At this point,

I’m also willing to admit I’m doing it wrong, and I’m happy to try it again with some of the new info I gathered here. Along those lines, are there any examples of the Discourse system being used successfully elsewhere? I’m curious to see what I’m missing.

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Thanks for the feedback, @titustradewell.

While there’s no doubt there’s been decreasing participation, I really believe that’s in large part because the new system is somewhat more complicated and we did basically nothing to make it clear or to make it worth using. I think we (naively) hoped that it would just create a community itself. That doesn’t really happen.

While I don’t personally ascribe to the belief that same-page comment functionality is bad, I do think that a lot of the complaining about the lack of that feature isn’t really fair. Almost every serious website requires you to open a comment folder, tab, window, etc. in order to read and post comments. Right now on UW, you can read comments without clicking anything, and you only have to click ‘Continue Discussion’ to be able to dive in and make a comment.

Boing Boing and Talking Points Memo are two high-profile examples of sites using Discourse for robust article comments as well as forums.

First, thanks for all the work you do for Ultimate @ceisenhood. @titustradewell pretty much summed up what I think and while the “new” system might be easier(?) for you in some ways, the way the comments is setup is just too time-consuming to warrant me to take the extra click.

And maybe that’s what you want, but I think discussion in our community is lacking and since you posted an article about how to use it (not hard just that extra effort required), I thought a comment would be helpful since I read just about every Ultiworld article posted.

I think that if your goal is more discussion on here but still want to conTROLL things, I suggest turning to a verified system of some sort where anonymity isn’t an option. I think that’s what you mean by the serious websites requiring another interface- what’s the goal of the forums / comments if to not stir honest discussion, right?

But hey, I’m only commenting here for like the second time since the forums were introduced so I could be wrong.

PS- Also, when I log in it’d be nice if it didn’t take me to my account but rather back to the Ultiworld page I was just reading. :wink:

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Thanks for the reply, @ceisenhood. I took a look at Boing Boing and TPM, and mostly the latter seems to have had the community buy fully in with Discourse. I think there’s merit there at least in a proof of concept. One suggestion I have from perusing those is that when clicking on the “X Comments” sub right underneath the header, bring us right to the actual Discourse. Right now on UW, it just scrolls down to the bottom of the article, and users still need to click through to the forums. If someone is returning to read/discuss more, being able to load the article and then click through is still better than loading, clicking or scrolling, and then clicking through again.

On the other hand, calling the complaints unfair is missing the point. The people that consume and interact with your content (and that are willing to comment on these ideas here or on Reddit) are consistently presenting the same idea as a sticking point. Whether or not other serious websites do this is secondary to that no matter how poorly founded the feeling is. It’s not a single click, it’s also loading a page, reorienting with the comments and article text, locating the discussion entry point again, and then starting to formulate a response. Not much different, but clearly enough to matter.

You probably know this, you are obviously taking steps to educate and rectify it, and I appreciate the engagement with those of us that respond. But in spite of that, I’m starting think that a switch rather than a re-education is necessary.

Certainly hear you loud and clear