Can the often toxic interactive space for article comments, which drives page views even as it draws winces, be saved? Could it be configured to not only surface interesting ideas, but help spur community action?
ShoutAbout, based in Harvard Innovation Lab, replaces (or supplements) the traditional undirected comment box with a new widget designed to elicit interaction. For example, a recent ShoutAbout below an article on PBS NewsHour about the death of U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens offered links to donate to Stevens’ family, Tweet directly to a promoter of an anti-Islam film, read a statement from presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
Site visitors can also vote various opportunities up and down on, or suggest new ways to interact. Morgan wrote in an e-mail that this user-managed curations means that editors can maintain their independence while offering a forum for direct political engagement.
Morgan said his inspiration for the site actually came about because of his own work trying to build support for a cause organization, the American Red Cross.
’’Even stories that specifically mentioned the Red Cross rarely directed people to our site in order to avoid endorsing us over another organization,’’ Morgan wrote.’’In 2011, one news site wrote an article about a Red Cross press release about American teen support of torture but did not reference our non-partisan education program for high school students. Meanwhile, the two thousand people that left comments represented potential supporters of our program.’’
Morgan wrote that giving readers news about a problem without an easy way to do something about it was “frustrating and not constructive.’’
Morgan said the site has drawn a positive response from publishers (its official launch is today), including NewsHour. Christina Bellantoni, political editor with the program, will co-present with Morgan at the summit.
It’s not an easy challenge, but it’s one a number of publishers are focused on: Gawker did a high-profile rethinking of its own comment system earlier this year, and the similarly-motivated Raise Your Voice has worked with a number of publishers to embed citizen petitioning alongside articles.