I was a Jezebel/Gawker commenter for years (I quit because it’s insanely time consuming) and the commenting community that both blogs had was crazy. People overshared, found help for personal situations, talked smack about the new episode of Project Runway, created nicknames for themselves based on posts and had meetups across the country. There were people who became commenting celebrities and some of them even ended up writing for the sites. However, Nick Denton seems to care more about pageviews and numbers (validated by all former editors and writers) so the commenting system keeps becoming more complicated and elitist. First there were stars for good commenters; then, discussions by non-starred commenters were hidden; and now there is some confusing system that lets the “best comments rise to the top” (ie those with the most responses) and it’s very difficult to find other discussions. To me, this is a huge problem. Either have a commenting system that promotes discussion or don’t have one at all.
The Awl, a set of sites that was created from ex-Gawker Media employees, has a pretty democratic system on most of their cadre of blogs (like the old Gawker system), but The Awl itself gives numbers to each commenter in the order that they registered. If you have a lower number, you have been a commenter for much longer, and are somehow much cooler, than someone with a number in the thousands.
Pitchfork, a music site with reviews and features, is notorious for their decision to not allow comments, but since we learned age make up of their readers, it makes sense. But by not allowing comments of any kind they have created their own kind of elitism. Their opinions are not questioned except on their Facebook page and on various fan sites that have popped up. Pitchfork is the music Bible on the Internet. I saw writer Brandon Stosuy speak at a panel this weekend and he said because Pitchfork is so popular, they can do whatever they want.
However, an open commenting system can sometimes lead to questionable results. Brooklyn Vegan has free-for-all comments and they are horrible. The site is known for being offensive–I knew if I googled “Brooklyn Vegan and Lana Del Rey” I’d find a bunch of gross comments. When people are allowed to be completely anonymous with no moderation or consequences, bad behavior is definitely rewarded with lols.