The Coral Project is launching their first product, an open-source “listening” tool to help better connect news publishers with the readers who frequently comment and contribute to their websites.
The team behind the product includes support from the Mozilla foundation, The New York Times and The Washington Post and is funded by a multimillion-dollar grant from the Knight Foundation. Greg Barber, head of strategy and partnerships at The Coral Project, said their product is an answer to the feedback received from representatives at over 175 news organizations that expressed how frustrating and time-consuming it is to moderate user-generated comments.
The tool will gather data from readers including their likes and shares, and pair it with new data, such as ratings of commenters from users and editors, reporters, and community managers. The purpose is to create a system that will manage the reputations of contributors, which will allow publishers to arrange their users by levels of trust.
“Our product aims to start that process of evolving our workflows from moderating out the worst contributions to curating the best,” said Barber. “Our goal is greater storytelling and interactive potential for publishers, a better return on investment for the contributors who put time and thought into their contributions, and a richer reading experience for readers.”
The idea for the tool, which has yet to be named, came about after The Coral Project’s product development team agreed that reputation-management software was the right first product for them.
“Reputation management has been a part of communities on the Internet for years. Sites like Reddit, TripAdvisor, and Stack Overflow use it to great effect,” said Barber. “Our version will be flexible, allowing publishers to foster the kinds of interactive spaces that best fit their needs and goals.”
The launch of the product comes at a time when several news organizations have decided to shut down their comment sections in favor of letting users generate discussions about news content on social media channels instead. However, comments and other interactive spaces can be a powerful storytelling tool, according to Barber.
From a business perspective, learning about commenters and contributors is a no-brainer, as most people who comment on news sites are among the most loyal users. In his primary role as director of digital news projects at The Washington Post, Barber has noticed that commenters read much more content per visit than average. They also stay on the site far longer than average, they return to the site at a rapid interval, and they are likely to subscribe to the newspaper.
“By understanding who our best contributors are, we can discover new voices and perspectives we otherwise might not see,” said Barber. “We can uncover stories we wouldn’t have otherwise found. And we can give our readers an even more well-rounded view of the issues that impact their lives through thoughtful contributions from other members of their community.”
The Coral Project plans to complete the listening tool by the end of the year, and will begin testing with publishers in early 2016. In the meantime, they are hoping to spark conversation with publishers about their needs and how this software can help them. Some of the feedback they have received has been about needing to understand user behavior and being able to easily identify active trolls from valued users.
Additionally, this product will be part of a suite of tools that The Coral Project will create between now and the end of their grant period in 2017.
Publishers who are interested in helping The Coral Project with ideas or testing can contact Barber here.