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ONE day I was reading the newspaper's VentLine when I noticed a comment that seemed to refer to me: "It is time for the genius who changed everything on the newspaper websites to admit it was a mistake and change it back. Now we have to go through Facebook."

Genius?

Well, I guess it wasn't a direct reference to me. Besides, I prefer the term "super-genius."

Nevertheless, I'm one of the brain trust that made that switch. Was it a good move? Lots of you have opinions.

I have read your points of view in email, online comments, tweets and, yes, Facebook statuses.

There was this: "Why don't you get rid of this stupid Facebook requirement so the average everyday person can make a comment without having to go through Facebook?"

Then this fellow addressed me directly: "Nobody is going to use this format Brad, not to have real and honest debate anyway."

And there was this: "This is starting to get pathetic. How many hits have you lost since you changed to this comment style? If you were going for more civility, you got it. This silence is extremely civil."

Ouch.

Some of those comments overstate their case, but let me assure you we're aware some people like the change and some people really, really don't.

For sure, there are some downsides to the new system.

There is value in anonymous comments, particularly for people who are being critical of government. Or for insiders who are offering story ideas that might get them in trouble.

Some people have jobs that don't let them have access to Facebook during work hours.

Some people just don't like Facebook and its ever-creeping, privacy-sucking tentacles.

I get it.

No change we make is likely to be ideal.

But let's be honest. The previous comments system fell short of perfect.

Some of the problems were on our end. It's not easy to monitor comments 24 hours a day, although we sure do try. But comments could sit for lengthy periods before being approved, particularly those submitted late at night or on weekends.

Our new system means we're putting more trust in commenters and approving comments more quickly - although we're still trying to keep a good eye on them.

Before, we saw many of the comments streams devolve into name-calling sessions with just a few participants. Some were about political viewpoint. Others divided along lines of athletic team loyalty.

Some of the regulars seemed to enjoy the back-and-forth, but the comments could seem intimidating or off-putting to more casual visitors to our website.

So we've picked this new Facebook comments system to encourage people to put their own names and faces behind their opinions. I think it's more interesting this way. I like to see who people are and what they look like.

Has the number of comments gone down? Maybe. But I think I see some new people commenting - and a wider variety of stories being commented on. We aren't the only ones trying to get a better grip on comments. News organizations around the country are trying new systems and trying to become more active.

As the Poynter Institute wrote last year, "News organizations that have turned to Facebook to power their website comments say they are seeing a higher quality of discussion and a significant increase in referral traffic."

Will that be the case here?

I hope so. If not we'll try something else.

Meanwhile, how do you like our new system? Let me know in the comments . . .

Daily Mail Managing Editor Brad McElhinny can be reached at 304-348-1703, at bradmc@dailymail.com or @BradMcElhinny on Twitter.

 


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