Site Notes

New Feature: Text Colour Fades on Down-Voted Comments

By Ryan McGreal
Published September 29, 2009

this blog entry has been updated

In my ongoing efforts to achieve the impossible and solve a social problem with a technical fix, I'm trying out a new technique: the text colour of RTH comments with net negative comment voting scores becomes progressively fainter as the score gets more negative.

(Note: I've shamelessly pilfered this technique from the comments section on Hacker News.)

The purpose of this is to discourage both inappropriate comments - comments that use rude or insulting language, are needlessly inflammatory, seek to provoke an emotional reaction from others, are attempts to disrupt and derail the discussion, or abuse evidence and reasoning to defend an unjustifiable conclusion - and the outraged responses that end up usurping the discussion and crowding out more constructive commentary.

Registered RTH users already have the option of setting a comment threshold in their user profiles so that comments with a score below the threshold are hidden by default; but most site visitors read articles anonymously, so this feature does not help them.

I'm committed to preserving free speech (the only comments I delete are spam), but I also want the community to be able to express its disapproval of inappropriate comments in a way that visibly demonstrates that disapproval beyond a mere negative number below the comment.

The text colour never fades completely to white, but it does get pretty faint for highly negative scores. Here is a demonstration of the colours for particular scores:

The fading stops there. Comments with scores lower than -8 don't get any fainter.

Anyway, take a look at at and let me know if you think it's a good idea, if it needs some tweaking to work better, or if it's a terrible idea that I should just abandon.

Update In response to feedback in the comments, I updated the colour filter so that it doesn't start fading until an article has a score of -2. I've updated the examples in the article to reflect this change. I also dialed down the maximum fade so that it is not as severe.

Update 2 In response to feedback in the comments, I have updated the RTH User Profiles so that registered users can select whether to enable or disable comment fading.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus and HuffPost. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.

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By race_to_the_bottom (anonymous) | Posted September 29, 2009 at 16:06:53

I like it. Subtle and effective, not a sledge hammer like deletion but gets the message across.

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By fade to white (anonymous) | Posted September 29, 2009 at 16:10:49

Hmm I don't know, the -8 color seems pretty heavy handed to me.

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted September 29, 2009 at 16:18:57

I think it's great.

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By Hamiltonian (registered) | Posted September 29, 2009 at 16:42:55

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By Mahesh P. Butani -- http://www.metroHami (anonymous) | Posted September 29, 2009 at 17:02:15

Hi Ryan,
Nice approach for comments :-)

Could also be applied to articles and blog posts that inflame, incite, waylay, or are simply not well researched - with appropriate or inappropriate titles or techniques.

How does one score this without having readers spend time commenting on the obvious - and having such kind of threads then becomes the standard for our "community discourse". Doesn't readers scoring comments in this scenario becomes a futile exercise?

Could the article or blog itself be made to start fading on the cumulative score; or even by way of a separate scoring that could be made available to readers at the end of each article or post?


On a side note -- I wanted to follow up on a hunch I had, and had a tech friend in the US quickly run thru a sample of various posts/articles with comments from RTH - on an advanced pattern recognition tools that I was involved with years ago. This was done with various custom parameters such as buzz words, ideas, concepts, trends, repeating words (ideas)etc... and the quick snapshot that emerged was revealing of the thoughts and direction that prevail on the RTH community. His quick comments were that as in many online forums the discussion here was showing to get circular very fast, and vary few action triggers were generated at end of discussions based on total word counts. Unfortunately I could not get him to send me the visual images of these patterns as this was done on his work computer... but if you are interested there are some similar tools available (possibly freeware too)which you could work on in more detail to analyze the content and comments here.

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By synxer (registered) | Posted September 29, 2009 at 17:03:53

I think its fine, but the problem with the scoring system is that people are labeled (A Smith, Capitalist) as problem-visitors based on their poor taste in words on previous comments.

Later, when the ilk mentioned above do make a comment that is relatively sane and perhaps even thought-provoking, they get auto-heat from some members.

It almost seems, perhaps not true, that some visitors are auto downvoting people if they see the dreaded minus sign under another visitor's comment. A small issue. Perhaps there is a web/human 2.0 social experiment in figuring that out. I would like it if the comments were rated on their tact, not if you have a different take on the subject matter.

Ryan, to continue what I was saying before regarding article submission:

I would like to see a feature where if your comment had tremendous merit and relevance the comment would have an option to transition to a blog entry. Adrian Duyzer essentially did this with the Connaught Debate (See http://www.raisethehammer.org/index.asp?...

The ideology of this approach would be that respected users would not only benefit in comment voting, but their respected position at RTH would allow their opinion to be expanded and debated just as other articles on RTH are.

This isn't a relatively wild idea, but with some brainstorming from other members I am sure some sort of mechanism could be put in place that allows more contribution to the site.

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 29, 2009 at 18:22:25

synxer, that's a great point. Hopefully certain posters will start making sane, thought-provoking comments more often as a result of this.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted September 29, 2009 at 19:40:38

@Hamiltonian hyperbole much? BTW nice to see the negative comment shading in action.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted September 29, 2009 at 19:45:25

IMO, FWIW, I agree with the folks who have suggested it smacks a wee bit of censorship. I think the down-voting is sufficient, and must plead guilty to occasionally downvoting posts by notorious trolls simply because of who wrote them. Will try to reserve downvoting strictly for damaging posts in the future.

As you were...

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By Mahesh P. Butani -- http://www.metroHami (anonymous) | Posted September 29, 2009 at 20:26:46

Hey!!! I just got down voted on a comment a few minutes ago -- My post did not even contain: race, class, taxes, religion, Connaught, high-rise, low-rise, developers, politicians, urban, suburban, LRT, BRT, global warming... What gives???

Well...Ryan, that does go to prove my hunch for the second time :-)

One just has to see the 'votes' (never mind doing a pattern analysis)... to see that certain posters who dislike certain posters have started to use the voting mechanism to leave a trail of their displeasure across the various blogs/articles on RTH.

Certain voices here scream for transparency in our politics. And then they go right ahead and practice their own version of in-camera voting to vote down even innocuous views similar to the one made by me above. - Not based on a counter view, not explaining their vote, merely exercising their right to vote behind the safety of anonymity.

In many ways this can very easily begin to mimic the many imagined forces of evil - that 'certain poster' on this blog are claiming to fight.

Something is indeed rotten in the state of Denmark!!! I think it is time for 'Highwater' to step in and weigh in on things here. :-) I did got a "swell" post from Highwater once in the past... that beat any +/- vote I have ever gotten!

I think that certain poster here who have helped grow this community building project called RTH over the years, have ended up taking ownership of this space -- and are having a hard time letting it go... so that it can evolve and have a life of its own with a multiplicity of voices and even the occasional screams and rants.

Sounds familiar? It is called - old Hamilton politics! That thing we end up spending so much time on fighting, that we forget what it is that we are fighting.

Ryan, I don't think it is a matter of fading comments or articles that are negative -- it is more a matter of fading ownership of this project by those that have claimed ownership of this space -- so that RTH can grow from under the deep shadows that are being cast over it, and evolve into a agile "distributed" platform of views representing a broader cross-section of our community.

Are you ready for the NextHamilton? It is all about "open" source or open vote - they say... or is it?

In the end it does not matter how RTH is used, or for what fights it is deployed or hijacked, or whose voice is subjugated or made to be heard, or who wins the elections or who looses. What really matters is whether it maintained its "First Principles" in the process.

It is (or will be) the fifth anniversary after all... time to reflect, to grow. Time to start voting with a conscience.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted September 29, 2009 at 20:48:47

Um. Upvoted?

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By fly on the wall (anonymous) | Posted September 29, 2009 at 21:21:15

No one can accuse you of being not open enough. Problems aside RTH is a breathe of fresh air in the Hammer where most channels are locked down and you only get to hear what the folks with the money want you to hear. Just keep on listening to the feedback!

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 29, 2009 at 22:10:12

can all of ASmiths comments show up white as soon as they are typed??

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 29, 2009 at 22:10:28

JUST KIDDING. LOL

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By jonathan dalton (registered) | Posted September 30, 2009 at 00:09:33

I just set my filter to -2 and haven't looked back since.

One deficiency in the voting system is often the responses to the really bad messages get upvoted, so not only do you end up reading them but you get tempted to unblock the original.

How about an 'irrelevant' button? It would point sideways. You would use it to vote comments off to the side into their own separate discussions.

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By Mahesh P. Butani -- http://www.metroHami (anonymous) | Posted September 30, 2009 at 00:33:24

Ryan,

>>> "Well, that tells me just enough to make me think I'd like to see more detail..."

The details which I don't have access to presently are based on stuff like this:
www.conceptsearching.com/Web/UserFiles/File/Concept%20Searching%20Lateral%20Thinking.pdf

("Because of the way the mind works to create fixed patterns we cannot make the best use of new information unless we have some means for restructuring the old patterns and bringing them up to date." -- Ed!)


>>> "One of my objectives over the past year or so has been to -reduce my own direct responsibility- for the site and its content by pushing more power out to the user community...."

Not just yet. Hamilton's 'Summer of Love' is still a work in progress!! So for the time being do please stay put and listen to this while you hang in there: :-)
www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mb3iPP-tHdA&feature=related

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By UrbanRenaissance (registered) | Posted September 30, 2009 at 08:52:10

Can't wait for threaded commenting!

jonathan hit the nail on the head with his post above. The problem isn't just the people posting derailing comments but also those who respond to those comments. By responding to some off topic or ridiculous post you validate the post just as surely as if you upvoted it. By allowing tangential threads to be isolated by users pushing the "irrelevant" button we allow the main discussion to remain on track and allow those who wish to pursue the tangential discussion (valid or otherwise) the ability to do so.

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By UrbanRenaissance (registered) | Posted September 30, 2009 at 11:19:11

The concept of a meta-troll both amuses and terrifies me.

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By synxer (registered) | Posted September 30, 2009 at 13:19:40

can all of ASmiths comments show up white as soon as they are typed??

Greasemonkey script?

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 30, 2009 at 14:28:40

um... I was kidding.

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By Hamiltonian (registered) | Posted October 01, 2009 at 06:54:53

So a Jonathon Dalton can set his filter at a desired "rating" and not see any dissenting opinions ("just following along", where have we heard that before?).

Others only get a faded out version of an opinion that does not meet with the consensus. Doesn't sound like censorship of any sort, not at all.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2009 at 07:13:29

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted October 01, 2009 at 08:28:41

What ASmith says: "Bla bla bla free speech wah wah wah Stalin and Mao bla bla bla"

What ASmith means: "I'm really pissed off because you're making it harder for me to troll your site!"

Keep up the good work, RTH!

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By zookeeper (registered) | Posted October 01, 2009 at 08:51:13

@nobrainer Don't feed the troll. Just let him whine into the combox then downvote and move on.

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By synxer (registered) | Posted October 01, 2009 at 09:39:16

(For the record, I have the comment score threshold turned off on my account, so I see all comments no matter their score).

Ryan, same for me. Not because it isn't a useful feature, but because I don't "trust" the community will vote fairly.

I keep the threshold feature disabled because I am concerned I will miss out on another perspective. It's fair to say that, at times, the right perspective is persecuted to a degree.

Most of the time I don't agree with the right, but I find myself intrigued by how others see a situation. You feel closer to their understanding because of this.

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By stuartburt71 (registered) | Posted October 01, 2009 at 11:39:08

Ryan >> I cannot choose what comments you are allowed to see; but I can decide what comments I want to see.

I just registered under a fake user name and set my comment threshold to "-8". According to you version of free speech, this should allow me to view every comment with a rating above "-8", yet for some reason, negative comments are still faded out and very difficult to read, why is this?

Ryan >> since no one has the power to deny anyone else the right to read whatever comments they want, your hyperbolic references to Mao and Stalin are ridiculous on their face. is this not a flat out lie

Really, then why are comments that are above my threshold score faded out?

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By UrbanRenaissance (registered) | Posted October 01, 2009 at 13:37:21

stuartburt71 raises a good point, why not allow the user to set a value at which the fading out begins, rather than the arbitrary value of -2. That is, assuming you even decide to keep this colouring scheme idea since it appears to be getting heavily abused in this very discussion.

Perhaps it would be better to remove the text colouring and focus more on implementing threaded commenting. Maybe start a blog post where we as a community can discuss how we want it to work. (In terms of how tangential threads are to be separated or merged with the main conversation, and how to prevent a conversation from branching off to the point where it gets unwieldy to navigate for example.) Once we have a general framework I'm sure the programmers on the board (including myself) will be more than happy to lend a hand with implementation.

We also as a group need to stop the knee-jerk downvoting against users like A Smith and Capitalist. Often times they make a valid, albeit unpopular point that is well within the rules but they still get downvoted. Whereas others with more left leaning views will make a blatantly off topic or insulting post without getting a single downvote. Some of us apparently need a reminder that the voting isn't about whether or not we agree with what's being said but rather how it is presented.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2009 at 13:44:31

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2009 at 13:57:47

Comments with a score below -5 are hidden by default.

You can change or disable this comment score threshold by registering an RTH user account.

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By zookeeper (registered) | Posted October 01, 2009 at 14:08:50

@Ryan please don't feed the troll any more! You've already responded to the one bit of his previous comment that had merit, of course he ignored that and now he's back to flat-out trolling again. Just downvote and move on.

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By birdie (registered) | Posted October 01, 2009 at 14:14:28

That's funny, Ryan's "blocking" ASmith from seeing the comment but ASmith can still see the comment. How is that "blocking" again??

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2009 at 14:19:37

Ryan >> I should point out that fading the text is *not* the same as blocking it.

What is the goal behind fading comments? If users already have the ability to block down voted comments based on their personal threshhold, why is this extra step necessary?

It would seem the only benefit this fading feature adds, is to allow the majority to make it harder for people to read unpopular comments. Do you think it's a good idea to allow the majority to make comments they don't agree with harder to read for people who don't share this opinion? If so, why is this?

Please explain what this feature adds to the current system of threshold viewing?

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By zookeeper (registered) | Posted October 01, 2009 at 14:25:50

@birdie Please don't feed the troll.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2009 at 15:34:41

Ryan >> Maybe I should tweak the comment fading so that it doesn't take effect until a comment has a net score of -2 or -3; that way a comment won't be 'punished' unfairly if one individual has a personal objection to another and targets their comments unfairly.

Why should unpopular opinions be PUNISHED at all? Users can currently set threshold limits to block out comments that the group deems unworthy, so why is this extra step necessary?

Why should people who enjoy reading unique opinions have to jump through extra hoops just because the majority doesn't like what they read.

Ryan, if you truly believe in free speech, why are you looking to PUNISH opinions by erasing them, simply because they are unpopular?

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By realitycheck (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2009 at 15:43:47

Why enable comment fading by default? As an 'unregistered' viewer, I have no 'right' to downvote anyone, yet the comment scoring that 'registered' users employ forcibly limits my ability to view comments others have deemed as unacceptable. In order to overcome this I would have to register and disable the fading. This effectively forces me to relenquish my right to privacy.

Has any consideration been given to how this 'font fading' practice reconciles with the Ontarians With Disabilities Act?

I suggest comment fading be disabled by default, and those registered users that wish to employ it may enable it independantly. That way comment score filtering and comment fading are handled in a consistent manner.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2009 at 16:19:54

Ryan >> Your comments do not get voted down because they are unpopular. They get voted down because they use rude and insulting language, are needlessly inflammatory, seek to provoke an emotional reaction from others, are attempts to disrupt and derail the discussion, and abuse evidence and reasoning to defend an unjustifiable conclusion.

Fact: Registered users can press the down vote button for ANY reason, regardless of your guidelines.

Fact: Registered users already have the ability to block comments that the majority deems unworthy.

Ryan >> Registered RTH users already have the option of setting a comment threshold in their user profiles so that comments with a score below the threshold are hidden by default; but most site visitors read articles anonymously, so this feature does not help them.

Ryan, in what way does allowing the majority to erase comments help anonymous users?

Do you believe that the majority is more correct than the minority simply because they are in the majority?

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By zookeeper (registered) | Posted October 01, 2009 at 16:35:30

The troll is really getting desperate now. Resist the urge to feed it!

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2009 at 16:47:11

Ryan, why do you believe the majority has the wisdom to know what anonymous users should be able to read?

Can you answer this, or will you let your posse fight your battles for you?

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted October 01, 2009 at 17:23:48

Jason >> Toronto's street level in the new condo developments is pure garbage. No planning whatsoever...

I've said it a million times and I'll keep saying it (probably until my generation is running the show at city hall in a few decades), our main streets SUCK in this city.

(Permalink)
Comment Score: 6 (6 votes)
You must be logged in to vote on this comment.

Ryan, is this the type of comment that deserves high votes? Jason calls Toronto "garbage" and says that Hamilton's streets "SUCK" and yet nobody thinks this is rude? Why is this?

Oh that's right, as long as you criticize what the "majority" agrees with, the guidelines for comments don't matter. Only people in the minority need to follow the rules and be polite.



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