There's been a conversation under way this afternoon on Twitter about anonymous commenting and comment management. I didn't join in -- I was at a dance performance with family, and besides, I've written plenty about that topic in the past. You can Google the details.
What strikes me is that it's the wrong conversation.
I don't underestimate the importance of managing conversation. I've been around the block plenty on that subject. I started managing online conversations in 1985 (not typo, and before some of you were born).
But leadership is ever so much more important.
Across all the bulletin boards, online SIGs, email lists, Web forums, blogs, comments, chat rooms and whatnot, there has been one consistent thread leading to success, and that's leadership.
Leadership begins by establishing a shared purpose. This is where most news sites fail before they even get started. Why do you have comments? What's your agenda? Is it shared by your users? If you can't answer those questions immediately with clear points, you're screwed.
Leadership continues by demonstrating how to do it. This means modeling the behavior you want others to exhibit. I could talk about the psychology of this (put your arms behind your head in a meeting and watch what happens) but let's just point out that you can't demonstrate leadership when you're absent. And on most news sites, the inmates are running the asylum. Know-nothing crazies, haters, racists and psychopaths are demonstrating how they think it should be done, and there's no adults in the room.
Leadership doesn't substitute for management. People are not perfect, and they will sin, even when they know better. Somebody has to clean up the mess. But when there's a shared sense of purpose and a clear demonstration of what's expected, it's a much smaller mess.