Elizabeth Jenson, NPR:
More than half of all comments in May, June and July combined came from a mere 2,600 users. The conclusion: NPR’s commenting system — which gets more expensive the more comments that are posted, and in some months has cost NPR twice what was budgeted — is serving a very, very small slice of its overall audience. […]
Other organizations such as The New York Times manage to keep their comments relatively civil. But they use heavy in-house human moderation that costs far more than NPR currently spends on its outsourced system, according to NPR executives who are familiar with the numbers. The Times also opens only 10 percent of its articles for comments (but is working to increase that percentage), and keeps the comment threads open for just one week. NPR currently allows comments on all articles for two weeks.
I’m not sure why NPR didn’t try rules similar to The Times before completely axing the comments section. Not that I blame them, though. Online comments, particularly ones you display right next to your content, can (read: will) become a cesspool for trolling and hate. If you don’t have the human-power to keep discourse civil, better to just shut it down.
I found Ms. Jenson’s mention of cost interesting. NPR is using a third-party commenting system from Disqus, and it’s running at “twice what was budgeted”. This is unlike the NYT, which appears to use their own in-house commenting system.
Reading through the comments on NPR’s article, it’s hard not to empathize with some of the users. There are a fair number of folks who appear to be genuinely saddened by the loss of their forum.