Analysis - by on Friday, September 11, 2009 11:29 - 2 Comments

Rethinking commenting system

Most newspapers have virtually identical commenting system to one another, but why is that? Shouldn’t there be more variety? The Washington Post developed a new commenting system, WebCom, that is radically different from what other news organizations are doing.

The Post is hoping this new Flash-based commenting system will help spur better discussions. Take a look at the new system and let me know if you think it will foster better conversations. I have a feeling that some people will really like it, while others will be completely disoriented by it.

I did an in-depth write up of WebCom over at Poynter, but here are some key take home points about the new commenting system:

  • WebCom is very visual, and the system is built around giving users a visual way to see how many comments there are, which comments are the most popular (by rating), which comments are spurring the most follow up questions and so on. It looks a lot different than any other commenting system I have seen. From a visual perspective, it works.
  • The Post offers a standard threaded comment view, because some people are a bit thrown off by the new look. WebCom presents comments in a giant Web, which can be disorienting to some people.
  • It’s Flash based, which is both good and bad. Flash allows the Post to create a beautiful and fluid way to display user comments. But Flash has issues: It’s a system resource hog, it doesn’t play well with screen readers and it has other accessibility issues. Those are all serious concerns.

Watch the video below for a walkthrough of WebCom:

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About was a grant-funded journalism project that studied how journalists used social media and other Web tools to improve beat reporting. It ran for about two years, ending in the fall of 2009.

New content is occasionally produced here by the this project's former editor Patrick Thornton. The site is still up and will remain so because many journalists and professors still use and link to the content. offers a fascinating glimpse into the former stages of journalism and social media. Today it's expected that journalists and journalism organization use social media, but just a few years ago that wasn't the case.

About the Author of this post
Patrick Thornton is the editor and lead writer of BeatBlogging.Org. He is @pwthornton on Twitter.