Can $5 Improve Reader Comments?

On the Web site thatsaspicymeatball, you can view the latest comments from MetaFilter (which requires a one-time, $5 membership fee to post a comment) and YouTube (free) side by side.

The site’s creator, Bertrand, uses Yahoo Pipes to retrieve comments from the most recent posts on both sites and displays them on one page, which is updated every hour or so.

Here’s how a poster from each site expresses disagreement:


And here’s where we diverge, as we have from the get-go …


yeah you’re dumb you expect me to shut up because you tell me to? ha yeah sure

And as a comparison, the Huffington Post (no membership fee to comment):

… I forgive your comments, because it is based on ignorance. Here are the facts.

Bertrand’s comparisons leave him wondering what drives the quality of a Web site’s comments: is it the membership fee, the age or demographics of the posters, or the level of comment moderation? (YouTube has virtually none, while MetaFilter has very little.)

Maybe the answer lies in what motivates readers to comment in the first place.

(Hat tip: Paul K.)


Divergence entails following trajectories that lead the interlocutors increasingly further apart over time. There is no logical requirement for them ever to have started from the exact same point. All that matters is that - from wherever they began - they have continued to widen the gap between them.

Or, in other words, u r educated stupid!1!! lolz

judd carroll

I'm a bit curious about the average demographic here. Looking at the comments (which cost all of nothing), I wonder if average person here is a university graduate or a person with little to no "advanced" education but just read the book and now wants to be part of this "insightful" scene. I get sick of the youtube comments but they are a window into the real issues of young people; racist comments and such.


Free comment.


What if Bloomberg agreed to reward every You Tube post with correct grammar and spelling (perhaps of some minimal length), say, $1? It might be far more effective than the city's current plan to pay students to do their homework and take tests. I think this idea has actual merit.

Josh Millard

For MetaFilter, how many teens have access do a credit card to pony up the $5 fee? Not that the $5 is much, just that they do not have access to it.

It's a reasonable point. We do have some teenagers on the site, and plenty of college-age users, but the age range probably (we don't do any formal demo tracking on the site) peaks in the twenties-thirties area, though with a pretty healthy tail on upwards after that.

Of course, there's the question of getting permission from sympathetic parents, or having a paypal account set up by same for controlled spending without a credit card of your own. Or just plain asking nicely over email—we let someone pay with a physical fiver every now and then if they want, teenager or otherwise. So in part it comes back to the idea that a fee is more of a speedbump than a literal age/credit issue: folks who want in enough to try get in.

And most of the problems we have with users aren't (anecdotal/gut take, here) with young folks so much as with adults with selfish motivations for joining (self-promotion of one sort of another, generally).


Glossolalia Black

A $5 commenting fee will eliminate:

- the douchebags without money
- the good commenters without money

I guess then it is up to each site to determine if the loss of the good commenters without money is > or

Thomas B.

From the title of this post, I thought you were going to begin awarding $5 to the best comment per thread.

Not a terrible idea, you might consider giving it a test run, to see if comments on a single site site improve for $5!

I'm also curious how a mechanic like the one on the Digg news site (which allows all users to rate all comments) would work on sites with naturally more articulate readership.


Perhaps rewarding the best comment on each post with $5 would also improve the quality?

Alberto Nardelli

I think it's different contexts, ahead of motivation - the same people may behave differently w/in different platforms for example.

Charles D

Having been apart of MMORPG forums where the average and median age around around 18-20, I can tell you that this isn't a result of just young kids that post like they just learned English. I've seen many people well into their twenties and thirties post like a nine year old though I have no idea why.


Perhaps the $5 filters people much the same way slashdot's karma system filters comments

Jon C

$5 is a proxy variable. Add comments from Flickr, BoingBoing, moderated site comments from /. (and read only +4 insightful/informative), and so on -- I think you'll find that sites where your reputation as a thoughtful netizen also get better comment quality regardless of fees.


Sure, the age of the poster can be an influence. But, mostly, it's the content of each site/blog.


Gauging quality based on conformity to grammar and punctuation standards may generate a high "false positive" rate. (Yes, I read the 'medicine and stats' blog post prior to this one.)


A more interesting model might be the one by the forums. The moderator and creator Richard "Lowtax" Kyanka has repeatedly stated that charging $9.95 to register for the forums was the best decision he has ever made in terms of regulating and moderating the forums. This fee keeps users in check along with a very strict moderation system in which if one gets "banned" they have to pay $9.95 again to re-register, unless they receive a "Perma-ban". This fee has almost gotten rid of duplicate account creations, dummy accounts, and gimmick accounts. People watch what they say and are generally respectful for fear of the wrath of the "Ban Hammer" and $9.95 down the drain.


I think it has to be due, at least partially, to the age of the poster. In the YouTube comment, it is apparent that the poster is younger (pre-teen or teen) because of their lack of concern for proper grammar. Quite frankly, I'm surprised they said "ha" instead of "lol."

On the other hand, how many pre-teen/teens read the Huffington Post? For MetaFilter, how many teens have access do a credit card to pony up the $5 fee? Not that the $5 is much, just that they do not have access to it.


Speaking from the Mefi side also, I'm a moderator there too, I think part of the thing is that we pay attention to comments and have (loose but enforced) guidelines. When I was on panel at SXSW talking about "user revolts" talking abotu community moderation I used YouTube as sort of an edge case example because from my perspective it's practicaly a free for all there.

A woman came up to me afterwards saying that she works with YouTube (or Google, can't remember) and that they actually DO care about community but are sort of overwhelmed and don't know what to do about it, don't have resources etc.

So to my mind part of the issue is taking that stuff seriously and applying your own human and money resources to the problem. This may mean setting community standards and building in ways to enforce them but it probably also means having real life humans to do some of the work of maintaining those standards and discussing them and all that. That takes time and that takes money. MeFi has 2.5 full-time moderators, a few other occasional moderators, a robust flagging and reporting system and a much smaller user community (that, yes, is probably on average much older) than YouTube.

On MeFi because we have a community discussion forum part of the site, everyone gets to be a little responsible to the community and all the moderators are answerable for prett ymuch every action. It's a bear as far as transparency goes and can be really really exhausting, but I think it makes almost everyone feel part of the successes (when we have them) as well as the failures and that helps us kep our integrity moving forward.



My worst nightmare is to be locked in with a roomful of typical You Tube commenters. Seriously. They are vile.

Josh Millard

Perhaps rewarding the best comment on each post with $5 would also improve the quality?

Ah, but there's a tricky bit to that: you've now made commentary a matter of competition. Do you want your comment threads to be about the conversation—folks listening to and responding to one another for the sake of the discussion itself—or do you want every comment to be an attempt to win?

There's not a right answer, free of context; it obviously depends on what the purpose of your site is, and people certainly respond to incentives. But for a site like Metafilter, that'd be a really questionable move.

You can't "diverge as we have since the get-go"; if you're diverging, that means that at the beginning you were together (or together-ish). You can't diverge from divergement. It's silly.

But context is everything; if you take a look at that comment, it's late in a thread about the Mosley F1/orgy flap, in which the quoted user has been having an ongoing discussion with another user. The divergence cited there is the same divergence of opinion the users have had in previous exchanges in the discussion; if you're going to attempt to restate your arguments to understand each other better, it's entirely possible to review a point of divergence that (perhaps only in retrospect) has been present from the beginning of the argument.

Which, you know, I'm not too worried about either way—I hadn't even read that thread previously and have only now tracked it down and skimmed the contributions of the quoted user and the user they were responding to. No dog in the fight.

But the key idea sort of stands out here: context. Conversation worth reading tends to build a context over the length of itself, and Youtube doesn't seem to do much to encourage a sense of context in their commentary.



Was I the only one who thought that the Metafilter comment was just as stupid as the others? You can't "diverge as we have since the get-go"; if you're diverging, that means that at the beginning you were together (or together-ish). You can't diverge from divergement. It's silly.