Tuesday, June 21, 2011

New York Times Limits Comment Characters from 5,000 to 2,000*

Yesterday, the New York Times announced that it would limit the number of characters that can be used to write a comment from 5,000 to 2,000. Aron Pilhofer, told The Wrap that:
"We've had one of the highest character limits known to humanity for a long time. We've gotten feedback from readers and frequent commenters, as well as internally, that our character limit is too high, that maybe we should force people to be a little more succinct.

"5,000 [characters] is a lot," he added. "That's not a comment, that's an article."

Later, Pilhofer explains that 5,000 character comments are time consuming to moderate. (The Times has always had some of the best community moderation out there.)

HOWEVER, the headline for The Wrap article says 5,000 words, which is vastly different from 5,000 characters. Now, some may think that 5,000 of *anything* is too high a number, but as to whether 5,000 characters constitutes an article is a tad debatable.

Blog post, maybe. Full-blown article, maybe not.

If Aron Pilhofer could clarify whether it's words or characters, that would be great....because readers may still be a bit confused by The Wrap's headline...

I can, though, empahtize with The Times moderators, who I'm sure have a high volume of comments to moderate and can devote only a certain amount of eyeball time to spend on one comment. It stands to reason that it makes good sense to limit the character count for the moderators benefit, thus decreasing the amount of time spent reviewing and leading to a speedier time in seeing one's post up on The Times' comments boards.

Whether or not 5,000 characters constitutes an article is a matter of opinion. Has anyone ever been given a character count from an editor? Usually, it's word count. Whether it's 2,000 or 5,000 words, both counts usually qualify as a full-lenght article.

So the Wrap's headline confuses on the matter of words and characters...which, coupled with Pilhofer's comment about articles and character count which could make the verbose commenter feel a bit put upon.

But perhaps in a good way...

Here's a couple of suggestions for The Times: would it be possible to make it so that there is an easier way for readers to submit articles? or is that asking too much? Right now, the gatekeeping mechanisms for getting published in the Times are pretty strict. Usually, one can't even get a pitch in without a connection. I'm sure, too, that to institute something like a reader's columns section would cost money, and there'd probably be a lot of disgruntled readers once they receive rejections, but perhaps it's worth a try?

Or maybe just encourage the long commenters to start their own blogs. The Times has, over the years, displayed links back to their articles, which encourages bloggers immensely. Or allow for html code in posts so that commenters could leave links back to full blown comments on their blogs. (to avoid spam links, they could do some sort of CAPTCHA or other automated service for grabbing spam posts.)

Overall, I don't think it's a *bad* thing that The Times is limiting characters in comments. I get it from a moderation perspective, and it makes total sense. However, the Times might want to consider ways to encourage commenters who want to extrapolate to either blog on their own or submit articles. But the Wrap should have been more careful in its headline. There is, after all, a HUGE difference between 5,000 words and 5,000 characters.

And I don't mean 2,000 various personalities who leave comments--who could also be considered "characters" ;)

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