How Ta-Nehisi Coates built the best comment section on the internet—and why it can’t last.
Eva Holland | Longreads | February 2015 | 10 minutes (2,458 words)
Ta-Nehisi Coates started blogging for The Atlantic on August 4, 2008. His first post was titled “Sullivan… McArdle… Fallows… Coates???” and it laid down his terms from the start: “My only rule, really, is simple,” he wrote. “Don’t be a jerk to people you disagree with.” He’d been hired to fill the slot left in the magazine’s roster of bloggers by Matt Yglesias, and he addressed how he’d be coming at the role differently. “Matt has a fairly amazing ability to comment, from a left perspective, on a wide range of issues… Knowing my own limits, I’ll take a different tack. On things I’m not so sure on, I’ll state my opinion rather gingerly and then hope my commenters can fill in the gaps.”
The blog would soon be widely lauded for the keenness and clarity of its ideas, the power of its language, and for its unexpected ability to host real, substantive conversations in the comments—an extreme rarity on big-name websites. Coates, then a relatively unknown writer, would go on to win a 2013 National Magazine Award for “Fear of a Black President,” an essay published in The Atlantic’s print edition, while a selection of nine posts from his blog would be named a 2014 finalist in the National Magazine Awards’ “columns and commentary” category.
So how did Coates foster a comment section in which—wonder of wonders—intelligent adults thoughtfully share ideas and knowledge, and where trolling, rudeness and bad faith aren’t tolerated? I asked Coates and other players in the blog’s success—editors, moderators and commenters—to look back on what makes it work.Continue reading “‘It’s Yours’: A Short History of the Horde”