Editor's Desk: All in moderation

What do you think? I mean, really. We’d like to know what’s on your mind.

Publications like ours might or might not ask that question of its readers. They might or might not be in position to publish the responses. Even if we do — say, in Letters to the Editor columns or guest editorials — we still can’t open our pages to a real, extended conversation among colleagues and peers in the government technology community.

Federal Computer Week over the years has done as good a job as any print magazine to get your best thoughts into our mix of news articles. Yet the most space we can really commit to your thoughts and opinions is a page or two — maybe three — out of the 36 to 50 we publish every issue.

The World Wide Web changes that equation, of course. For one thing, there’s no space limitation. For another, there’s now an easy way for readers to give us their feedback on every story, op-ed column or blog that we post online and an equally easy way for us to publish them. This Comment function is a relatively new feature for us, but since January, we’ve received more than 2,000 reader contributions at FCW.com alone, and the volume is practically doubling every month.

Technically speaking, there’s nothing stopping us from publishing them all. Space is not the issue in the Internet Infinity. We do, however, moderate all comments before posting them and adhere to a clearly stated policy of not posting comments that we consider “abusive or off-topic.” We do this as a service to our readers, who, we assume, come to FCW.com for useful information and insights on the topics that are relevant to their jobs.

Even though we approve 90 percent of all comments we get, I can tell you that our moderation policy is not appreciated by everyone. For example, in our coverage of the Open Government Dialogue, the Obama administration’s effort to engage the public in an online forum, we wrote about a campaign to effectively hijack the discussion by protesters who believe that President Barack Obama does not have a valid birth certificate proving he’s constitutionally qualified for the office. These “birthers,” as they’ve been dubbed in the blogosphere, subsequently inundated our comment board with similar demands for Obama’s proof of native birth.

Our editor in charge of comments, John Monroe, then posted this notice: We will not post any comments regarding Obama's birth certificate. Nor will we post comments that are abusive. But we encourage your comments on how the process used to manage the Open Government Dialogue or other aspects of how the government should interact with the public online.

Which brings us back to John’s story in this week’s issue on best practices advice in moderating online comments. Give it a read.

Then tell us what you think. Really.

David Rapp

About the Author

David Rapp is editor-in-chief of Federal Computer Week and VP of content for 1105 Government Information Group.


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