Traffic Vs. Trolls - Why Is This Even A Debate?

Much like Charlie Sheen, I'm not a fan of trolls. That's about where the similarities end.

But I wasn't entirely sure the recent decision by TechCrunch to require Facebook authentication in order to post comments on articles was the right one, for a few reasons.

TechCrunch is in the business of providing eyeballs to advertisers. That's how they earn money, and they seem to do it quite well, by providing well-written and informative content - you can debate how well-written/informative if you like, but that's not really where I'm going with this.

My first impulse was to say that trolls are eyeballs too, that they generate revenue. My first impulse was to say that it's counter-productive to take steps to shut them out, because it is, if your sole objective is to get the absolute highest possible number of pageviews. TechCrunch, despite having crappy comments, still had good content, and the overwhelming majority of its visitors could care less about the crappy comments.

But the commenters, for better or worse, are an infinitesimal component of a tech news site's readership - hundreds of comments isn't a huge feat when a site's pulling millions of unique visitors. And that's as it should be, really. HuffPo readers can spend their days bitching about how terrible things are instead of setting out to try and fix them. If you're reading TechCrunch, you've probably got shit to do today.

I would be surprised to see TechCrunch's readership go up as a result of the move. And maybe that's how AOL will look at the change. But letting a small number of trolls run rampant for the sake of a tiny bump in revenue just isn't worth it. More to the point, relying on anonymous comments to goose your numbers is a crutch because your audience numbers aren't what you'd like.

Screw that. Manage your website based on how you want it to appear, and how you want people to perceive it, whether that's 10 people or 10 million. Diluting whatever it is you do for the sake of getting a broader audience is bullshit. Pre-approve your comments to shut out the stuff you don't want before it even has a chance to appear. I don't give a damn what Scott Stratten says: unless you're using a system like Facebook Comments, pre-approval is the only way to go. Indulging trolls even a little bit, by letting their comments show up for the length of time it takes to catch and delete it, is enough to keep them coming back. So don't do it.

Yeah, this got kinda rambly, but it's me. I didn't compromise on content. Neither should you.

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1 comment

  • It is – but the question then becomes: did TechCrunch get to where it is

    because of the trash talk and trolling or in spite of it?

    • Brian Alkerton