(Fortune) Ever since they began allowing readers to comment, websites have been wrestling with a major conundrum: Commenters are often terrible, but they also increase traffic -- at least theoretically. And with ad revenues increasingly difficult to generate, anything that boosts traffic is hard to let go of. And so, the terribleness remains. Several sites, though, are taking different approaches to the problem, from eliminating comments altogether to actually elevating them to the level of professionally produced content.
The latter approach, by Gawker, doesn't intuitively seem like a recipe for success if the idea is to make websites less depressing places to visit, but it might actually work. Sadly for those of us who, in the early days of the popular Internet, believed that we were on the threshold of a new era of high-minded dialectical conversation, many comments sections -- particularly on well-trafficked sites -- are sewers. On those sites -- which include YouTube (GOOG) and some of the country's biggest news organizations -- when comments aren't hateful, they're disruptive. When they're not disruptive, they're boring, pointless, or off-topic. Every so often a commenter will have something useful to say, but on too many sites, a worthy comment is so rare as to be de facto nonexistent, lost in an ocean of bile and bad grammar.