So far, 18 people have registered to comment on howardowens.com. For a fairly low traffic blog, I think that’s pretty good.
What’s interesting is how many people have registered — the majority — without then leaving a comment. They just registered.
That’s a phenomena we’ve observed at GateHouse, too, where we recently launched a registration system for comments. People just register.
I’m not sure why: Is it a matter of trust with the brand; they want to affiliate themselves with that brand? Or just anticipation of commenting later?
I will say most — but not all — of the people who have registered on howardowens.com have commented previously.
Only two people registered without their real names, but in both cases they use handles I know and recognize (one person is somebody whom I know his offline identity).
Observationally, I would say my comment traffic is about what it was before registration — some, but not much.
There’s still some people who think all of this registration tied to participation is somehow anti-net, or that it kills participation, that people will never accept it. It’s a fool’s delusion to fight against the web’s built-in bias toward anonymity and unfettered communication.
Balderdash, I say.
At GateHouse Media, the level of participation and registration is quite healthy, and the feedback generally positive. The vast majority of people want a safe, civil environment to hold conversations about topics of interest. They trust their local newspapers and don’t mind giving up a little personal information in order to achieve that worthy goal — if registration will cut down on the flamers, race haters, insult idiots, etc. — then they see registration as not just a necessary evil, but an absolute positive step.
The information ethic of the web is trending toward a bias in favor of real identity, or at least reliable persona (we may not know your real name, but we know who you are — you present a consistent persona online that we can trust). In order to be credible, you need to be a trusted user. Trust can be built over time in an open system, or a certain level of instant trust can be gained through a site owner’s registration system.
Some of what inspired these thoughts this morning was a post from Nick Carr about Jimmy Wales and Wikipedia moving away from the language of the bazaar to the language of the club (Carr’s characterization).
Wales described Wikipedia: “the online encyclopedia in which any reasonable person can join us in writing and editing entries on any encyclopedic topic.”
Which makes his conception of Wikipedia today far more insular than it was ten years ago, when anybody could do anything.
I’m fine with that. Rules and expectations are good. Apparently, Carr, who advises Encyclopedia Britannica, thinks Wales is selling out.
In part, I go back to Kevin Kelly’s post on how economic value is derived from something that can be endlessly copied — such as digital content. When content wants to be free, content only gains value through non-tangible values that cannot be copied. One of those values is trust.
Registration in exchange for participation helps establish trust.
Trust is not one of the values mentioned in Kelly’s post, but it is a value that obviously can’t be copied, so it fits within his thesis. Registration, however, does mesh with another one of his values — authenticity. Users want to know that there is a real person who stands behind the content — be it a news reporter or a person leaving a comment on that reporter’s story — whom they believe to be real with a reputation to protect.
Of course, any registration system can be gamed, but gaming — false registrations for the purpose of deceit or incitement — can be dealt with on a case-by-case basis by an engaged community manager. It isn’t difficult.
In an era when news is increasingly treated as a commodity by the market place, it’s essential for news site owners to recognize the true value of what it is they can deliver to an audience. Among those values are trust, authenticity and a safe environment for participation and conversation. Registration can help us achieve those goals.
As I suggested previously, it isn’t a magic bullet, but it is a step toward better online communities.