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Last Updated: Monday, 17 October 2005, 13:29 GMT 14:29 UK
Opening up the debate
By Vicky Taylor
Editor, Interactivity

The Have Your Say site is being developed so that users can have more of a say than ever. As interactivity editor Vicky Taylor explains, there'll be more options for how the questions of the day are debated.

What do you want to talk about?
The kinds of topic will be the same, but taking part will be different
Not a week goes by without my having to reply to a couple of our frustrated users who write to say they have sent us messages to our Have Your Say debates and have never seen a single comment published. There is obviously a conspiracy, it must be because of our left or right wing views, they suggest.

But the simple unpalatable reason is, as the site has grown beyond anyone's wildest dreams, so have the number of people contributing to our debates.

Running at around 10,000 emails a day we just do not have enough journalistic eyeballs looking at the inbox.

Traditionally every comment which appears in a news debate has been put there by a journalist, carefully checked for grammar and spelling and made to look rather smart with the names and location of sender in bold.

All very good, and for people who prefer to read rather than contribute, a comprehensive collection of interesting thoughts. For those who want to see their name in print, not so good.

Different look

So from October 17, we are introducing new software which will allow readers to have more say in the debates and a chance to pick the best of the contributions by having a "readers recommended" option.

We will have two types of debate. There'll be ones which we pre-moderate - so a journalist will look at the content and publish after checking it passes BBC guidelines, such as libel, profanity, incitement, etc.

This means when we discuss potentially inflammatory debates such as Iraq, race or the Middle East we will cast an eye over them first. We will not however necessarily check for spelling and grammar, so the debates will look very different.

Screen image from Have Your Say site
The Have Your Say team receives around 10,000 emails a day
It's going to be difficult for us as news journalists to see this and not be tempted to put in the capitals and change the spelling. But it will mean we get more contributions on the page and have a wider cross section of views - and include more of our audience, many of whom don't have English as a first language.

For other debates we will have what is called "reactive moderation". All comments to these less contentious debates will be published live and unedited. Our users can complain using a simple "complaint" button on each comment if a posting breaks editorial rules.

The BBC team will be looking out for published comments which break the rules too, and regularly checking the complaints box. Scary - yes of course. But we know from audience feedback that our users want us to trust them more and be less "big brother" about giving them a space to have their voices heard.


One of the first things the contributors will notice is that we're encouraging them to register. This is free and easy to do, makes posting subsequent comments faster, and gives them access to additional features like recommending the best comments and helping monitor the site.

We will still be able to take in comments without registration if people suddenly find themselves caught up in a breaking news event and just want to give us quick, vital information.

We'll take it slowly, introducing one debate at a time before completely switching over to the new software, and seek feedback at every stage of the way.

In a few months, the new system will be used by our colleagues in World Service for their debates in nine different languages.

It's going to be a strange, unnerving, but hopefully rewarding experience for us all. I look forward to never having to write an apologetic, "I'm sorry we were just inundated with comments" email ever again.

Thank you for your comments which have been very interesting and useful. Here's a selection of them below. There were lots of good suggestions for improvements which we have given to the technical team and pleasingly most of you seem to approve of the new changes. Nearly 2,000 comments have been published on four debates, a ten-fold increase.

Your comments:

Being one of the lucky few to have had a comment posted, I am delighted to see that the Have Your Say pages will soon allow people to see a more complete picture of other's views. And it is good to see that proper moderation will not be thrown to the winds, either. I hope the reality is the happy balance that I imagine is coming. Thank you, Have Your Say.
Chris Fox, Derby, UK

Terrific idea. I've had the privilege or good fortune to be posted several times, which is good for the ego, but there's always that nagging question: does any body read/appreciate my comments? Guess I'm about to find out...Good luck with it.
Tod Malthus, Barnstaple

Have had a quick glance at your new format. My first thought was that it plays havoc with the eyes. The previous layout was easy for lengthy reading but this new one seems harder to look at for even a few minutes. The reasons for change, however, are good and I wish you luck going forward with it.
Kiltie Chisholm, Staffs, UK

Great idea and I hope to see more comments from all over the world!
Franziska, Sevenoaks, UK

It does sound a little frightening but maybe it's just what's needed. I would recommend however that someone who can read real fast scan incoming stuff to make sure it's somewhat on subject and won't likely hurt anyone.
I haven't been involved in blogs because I'm afraid of them for some reason and am not comfortable using a pen name. Yet I've written in here mostly because I feel that even with 6 billion people in the world, each with the huge numbers of brain cells at their command and infinite numbers of experiences to draw from, some things that need to be said won't be unless people like me are willing to stick their neck out and say what they think. Who knows maybe it'll help people write better.
Dale Lanan, Longmont, Colorado, USA

My only worry is that I'll never get any work done
Melanie Georgiou, London, UK
I love the new Have Your Say format. I like the fact that you get to read all the comments sent, including your own, and that there are so many more new comments coming in all the time. Well done whoever thought of this. My only worry is that I'll never get any work done.
Melanie Georgiou, London, UK

Because debates till now have been moderated, I for one, have make an effort to be clear and concise, and only comment when I feel particularly strongly. Now that you're going to publish any old rubbish, I suspect the quality of comments will drop - let's hope the "readers' recommended" button works well.
Steve, Exeter

Although I think the original "Have Your Say" is a good, balanced and well moderated site, this new more interactive version could be internet dynamite. Well done again Beeb!
Nev Doctor, Nice,France

I'm prepared to wait and see, but I suspect Have Your Say will become the domain of soapbox dullards; a bit like "Any Answers" on Radio 4.
Kelly Mouser, Upminster, Essex

As Basil Fawlty said: "Adopt, adapt and improve!" Tallyho.
Jef Peeters, Brussels, Belgium

It will be a sad goodbye to the old system, there was nothing more satisfying than checking the site to see that one of your comments had been published and that someone at the BBC had thought your opinion was interesting enough to be released onto the web. I worry that this changed system will be little more than a message board and as such will devolve into the ranting and continual counterpoint style arguments that dominate such boards. Why don't you have, rather than a reader recommended section, a site recommended section to be updated at the end of each day when the debate closes. That way you could include the best points of the day's debates and people would be encouraged to make concise self contained arguments, not argue and bicker.
Thomas, Birmingham

Brilliant idea. Well done. That's what the internet is about - a free flow of ideas.

When you say "..when we discuss potentially inflammatory debates such as Iraq, race or the Middle East we will cast an eye over them first" this essentially amounts to censorship. These are the most important areas where people should be allowed to speak freely in a democratic society. If someone breaks the law with what they say, ok remove it. But do it only when you receive complaints. If you only intend to allow free debate over trivial issues, you clearly do not believe in free speech at all. I don't think you can hide behind "legal issues". Many other open forums have been in existence for years without being sued and shut down. Open debate is the way forward and if you do not embrace it you will surely be brushed aside in favour of other news outlets.
Steven Martin, Essex, UK

The new system is a good idea and I welcome it. In my opinion, there is too much vertical space between comments and the comments do not stretch wide enough across the page (too narrow) making them hard to read. Perhaps getting ride of the blue dividing line would help make it easier. Apart from that, it's a very good idea.
Marc, Reading, England

I certainly cannot complain about my comments not having been posted. Sometimes they are and sometimes they are not. I think the new system is definitely worth a try, as I am afraid that journalists and others working at your end will otherwise be snowed under with work which does not really belong to their actual core activities. Also, it will be interesting to see how readers react to things and how they judge others' comments. A very good idea!
D. Fear, Heidelberg, Germany

Pity, this change. I had never a problem with the old system. But this change was unavoidable, now the Internet keeps growing fast and millions of people connecting.
Marc, Queretaro, Mexico

There are millions of unmoderated message boards out there, on every conceivable subject. What makes Have Your Say so much better is precisely that the comments ARE moderated. Though my own comments rarely make it onto the BBC's web pages under the current system, I am more than compensated for that frustration by the fact that I can read the well-reasoned, orthographically sound, and very different perspectives that DO get posted. I'm a big opponent of this move.
Skim, New York, USA

It is good. Now we have more responsibility on our shoulders and need to be more mature. If taken in the right spirit, the unmoderated forum should actually turn out to be a good healthy forum to discuss issues and appreciate different view points.
Aviral Sanghera, Bangalore, India

Love the new system, it is great! Peer moderation is definitely the way to go, so... welcome to the 21st century! One slight bug/feature though - you can currently "recommend" your own postings, so you might want to lock that down to stop people cheating the system?
Dave Silvester, Nottingham, UK

Yet another site where I'll be practically obliged to register. This means either adding yet another password to the long list of passwords I'm expected to remember, or re-using an existing one, thus rendering myself that bit more vulnerable to identity theft on the internet. What is this obsession site admins have with data-mining? How does it help you to know that if I post an opinion you have an email address to write to - with Hotmail accounts and the like it doesn't make me any less anonymous.
Colin Jackson, Telford

An idea whose time has come. Thank You.
Ron, Munford USA

A new format that seems interesting but how efficient will it be? However, I think proper use of the English language is vital i.e. grammar, sentence format etc. because many of my students use this site(which I recommend)as a chance to improve their English.
Karatash Alpay, Istanbul,Turkey

Thanks for being brave enough to 'trust the people' with their/our thoughts. This is a great contribution to the democratic process.
Darren, Derby, England

Great idea. I've signed up already.
Reverend Paul Farnhill, Manchester, UK

My only gripe is with the presentation - comments take up more vertical space with the new presentation, so it is less easy to visually scan them.
Ben Simkins, Switzerland

New Have Your Say System. Suggest maybe you (The BBC) can edit markers of some kind into the start of entries to show that although posted as received they include in them some fundamental unproven assumption or factual error. Might be helpful mostly to alert people scanning through the web page as to which postings contain misleading information.
Albert Dean, Wokingham, England

If people wish to say something they should be allowed. All systems will be abused, but that should not stop it from being used, thank you for putting in place a fairer system I must admit that on occasions I, like other contributors, have felt their comments were being censored by government moles within the beeb! For this reason alone I think the move towards self regulation is to be commended and will give better feedback to those of us which may have extreme, controversial, radical or just unconventional opinions on a particular issue. They will also have their paranoid suspicions of censorship dispelled. I look forward to reading fewer "middle of the road comments as a result of the changes".
David Reilly, Loughborough, England

Automation can simplify processes, but often produces a mundane, inferior product
Suzanne, Dallas, TX USA
Now there are TOO many comments. Have Your Say was my favourite part of your website and now I am overwhelmed trying to sift through pages and pages of comments. I honestly gave up on the trial ones and went back to the original format ones. Now I see they won't last for long. I fear this is a change for the worst. Remember, automation can simplify processes, but often produces a mundane, inferior product.
Suzanne, Dallas, TX USA

Well, I for one, am not going to complain. Over the last couple of years I've commented on dozens of topics, and have been happy to find my comments appearing on the website. With this new open system, it definitely sounds interesting but I think sometimes the Big Brother approach is needed. Too much openness and freedom tends to be misused and like in all aspects of life, I'm sure this is no exception. Anyways this is quite a step for the BBC and I'm happy to see the changes taken. All the best!
Bysani Vijay, Chennai, India

It isn't necessary that every T need be crossed and every I dotted. But from experience on other news sites that have relaxed their posting protocols, it never seems to fail that before long the beauty of the debate is lost to flames and name calling. I do trust that the wonderful folks here at the BBC will continue to uphold the high standards that have made me feel comfortable in having my say. I truly do love a good debate, and I would hate to see this forum turn into a free-for-all.
Khim Wengel, Bismarck, USA

Seems an interesting move. We shall have to see how it evolves.
David, Devon, UK

Anything would be an improvement. Hopefully, this new system will give Americans an opportunity to answer our many critics that have surely found a friendly, uncontested home with the BBC. If you truly are not just about bashing America and our policies then this new effort will be a more democratic approach to debate then what has been fostered by the BBC in the past.
Bill O'Malley, Mullica Hill, NJ

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07 Oct 05 |  Magazine


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