The Guardian will soon be launching Comment is Free — a new commentry blog modelled on the Huffington Post.
In his column today, assistant editor Neil Macintosh revealed that in an effort to avoid the kind of uncivil behaviour that recently forced the Washington Post to shut its blogs’s comments sections, the Guardian site will require readers to register with a valid e-mail address before being allowed to comment.
But that’s not the only feature they may be implementing to promote accountability:
We are also thinking of revealing on the site every commenter’s rough geographical location; information not exposed to the public before. Experiments on other sites suggest debates are more civil when everyone knows where everyone else is.
Update: One site that already uses geolocation in this way is Topix.net.
In an interview for PBS MediaShift, Topix.net chief executive Rich Skrenta told Mark Glaser:
The geolocation technology we use is 99% accurate on a country level, 80% accurate on a state level, and 75% accurate for U.S. cities. Often for a wrong city it still gets the right “neck of the woods” for a poster. It says I’m in San Francisco when I’m actually in Palo Alto. It is finding the location of the poster’s ISP, not the poster themselves, which can be surprising.
Assuming the Guardian is playing with similar geolocation tools — which are being used increasingly by advertisers and are availble on simple web statistics tools like Google Analytics and even Sitemeter — I suspect Comment is Free will find a huge contingent of commenters from Lambeth, were, judging from the geolocation feature in my own logs, many London ISPs seem to be based.
Update 2: See also Simon Waldman on the legal risks the Guardian is taking by letting commenters post directly to their web site.