Let’s forget this ever happened

What a week we’ve had on this site. Can we just pretend it never happened?

It all kicked off with me coming completely unhinged at the commenters. You won’t see any of your angry responses there because we switched commenting platforms on Friday. (More on that in a second.)

Anyway, my team threw me in a cage for writing that one. As a condition of my parole, I’m not allowed to respond directly to any comments, at least for the moment. Actually, I’ve been ordered to no longer read the comments.

Well, every now and then I take a peek, but I feel guilty.

What led to this meltdown? I’m so glad you asked. Actually, it all started with an effort to make the site better for you.

I wanted this to be more than a one-man blog. I wanted to turn this into a real news organization and to make the comments helpful and positive — all at the same time.

So we switched ad networks, aggressively added new content and shifted to a new commenting platform.

It didn’t really work.

On Aug. 1, we left our ad network. Yesterday, we ditched our commenting platform. We’re still publishing five posts a day.

One commenter (see, I couldn’t help reading) encapsulated the frustration best when he suggested that everything I’ve done in the last year was a mistake. Maybe, he added, I should just go back to the way it was before: a single-author blog with an active and unmoderated group of commenters.

Yes, that would be the easy thing to do. But let’s take a closer look at our “failures.”

The wrong ad network. Signing on with our previous ad network was a joint decision. I made it in consultation with my readers a year ago. It was a close vote, remember? I had some misgivings. The network also handled advertising for some of the loudest loyalty fanblogs, which represent values that are contrary to mine. But that wasn’t why we left. In the end, this was a simple business decision. The network didn’t work for us. That’s all I have to say about the issue.

The wrong commenting platform. Our commenting platform approached us at about the same time we switched ad networks. They’d seen some of the toxic comments and said they could be fixed with “crowd” moderation. Perhaps I was naive to think giving someone points or a badge would make them behave better, and maybe “crowd” moderation works for some sites. But not this one. We need to do better, and for us, the solution is having someone read every comment before it posts. You can’t replace a moderator with a machine. (Don’t worry, we’re working on importing the old comments. We expect to have them back on the site soon.)

The wrong content? All of which brings us to our ambitious story lineup, which one commenter referred to as “manufactured.” (Isn’t all content manufactured?) We’ve experimented with a lot of material in the last year, and are now generating five original stories every day. Most importantly, I am writing at least one, and often two, of the stories. We could scale back on these, too, but if we did, it would be for the convenience of a few audience members who don’t want to bother to read the bylines. What they don’t realize is that I personally edit, and often rewrite, these articles, so I would feel comfortable putting my byline on anything that appears here.

Honestly, paring back our content to one post a day would be a huge relief to me. Coming up with compelling story ideas isn’t always easy, and editing stories by new writers can be a challenge (we have an editing group, and you can ask them if you don’t believe me).

Who would win, though?

If we no longer ran an “Advocate This” or our “Last Word” feature, who would really benefit? If we spiked Andrew Der’s “Good News Guy” or unloaded Ken Carver’s cruise column — who would we be helping?

Whittling the content back down to just me would make corporate America pop the champagne. Elliott in retreat! The hackers have successfully attacked our company contacts database twice, this blog and forum once — and now they think they’ve got me on the run.

So, as you can probably imagine, I’m reluctant to kill our content, or shut down our forums, or stop developing our knowledge base, and to just let the bad guys walk all over our cooling bodies. And I think you know exactly who I mean by the “bad guys.” If you don’t, keep reading the site.

We’ve always been good. Now we’re going to be better. Corporate America, here we come!

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