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Jack Riley

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Eagle-eyed readers will have spotted a big change at the foot of articles published on the site today. Where once there was chaos, there is now (hopefully) order. And in the event that the launch of our new commenting section is in the process of going horribly, technically, wrong, there is, at least, a more entertaining chaos than usual.

So it's with great pleasure that I introduce our new commenting system, powered by a charming little startup of seven people based in San Francisco, called Disqus. The new system is going to help us, with a little luck, transform commenting on the Independent into a more open and positive experience.

It's worth noting first of all that the issues we've laboured with under the previous system weren't really the fault of our audience. We know from experience that our readers are some of the smartest, wittiest and most discerning any publication could have the good fortune to attract. But read the comment sections of any of our articles over the last year or so and you'd be likely to come across a mixture of negative, sometimes borderline abusive comments often crowding out the more reasonable responses. And that's just the ones which weren't trying to sell you a pair of knock-off Nike Air Jordans (size 1-24), as one particularly determined group of Chinese spammers attempted on the site many, many times.

Spam aside, there have been many reasons for the problems we've had with the tone of commenting on, and chief among them has been the relative anonymity with which users have been able to comment. With our new system it's possible to log in with Facebook and Twitter, and for the social network-phobic there's an email address only option from Disqus. We're encouraging people to use credentials linked to their personal profiles not just because openness and accountability are great, fundamental things which underpin good journalism as well as good commenting (and why should the two be different?), but also because by introducing accountability into the equation, we're hoping the tone and standard of the comments will go up.

So what we're trying to achieve with the new comment system is bigger than just the (admittedly excellent) system we're putting in place. It's about first of all letting people authenticate their commenting using systems with which they're already familiar (in Facebook's case, that's 400 million people worldwide and counting), and secondly, it's about restoring your trust in our comments section, so that some of the really great submissions we get on there rise to the top, the bad sink to the bottom, and the ugly - the spam and abuse that are an inevitable adjunct of any commenting system - don't appear at all.

Perhaps more importantly still, we want to empower the silent majority of people who have something to say about an article, but fear the wrath of an unforgiving community or, more often, can't be bothered to sign up to a new system. For those with Twitter, Facebook (more than 20 million of you in the UK, apparently), Yahoo or OpenId, with just a few clicks and no extra details handed over, you can be away and commenting on the Independent site with the minimum of bother. And in return, what we're hoping for is that by introducing logins which really represent people's personal identities, we can extend that accountability that you've come to expect, quite rightly, from The Independent to the comment sections of our digital journalistic output.

We've been trialling the system on the Sports section for the last week, and it's been great to watch the tone gently rise up to the level of constructive debate - among sports fans this can be considered an even greater achievement. There's also been great activity in terms of people upvoting insightful comments and skipping over the inane, and I'd encourage all users when browsing the site under the new system to be liberal with their use of the 'like' button when browsing individual comments, and not to hesitate when flagging a comment (simply hover over anything you don't like to see the flag option) as unsuitable. As with everything we do, we're open to suggestion and keen to hear any and all of your feedback, especially in the comments section - just as long as you're not trying to sell us trainers.


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