Independent Voices: What's new

The orange brute we launched this weekend represents our attempt to take on the inadequacies of comment and commenting on the web.

Related Topics

Comment and opinion are odd things in the world of newspapers. For some, they represent the opposite of what the press is for. For others, they are the only niche in which papers can survive on the web when up against the great objective news reporting of the BBC. Whatever you think, comment journalism in the age of the 24-second news cycle is a world away from when writers talked, in print, to readers whose only opportunity to reply was a slot in a letters page, days later.

When we started working up the ideas that would become Independent Voices, we had two things we wanted to address: the general unsuitability of newspaper websites to show comment journalism in a form that was properly digital, and the gap between how readers want to engage with what they read and the tools available to them. The orange brute we launched this weekend has been a long time in the making, and represents our attempt to take on both of these challenges.

Not only is the design an acknowledgement of that - it’s brighter, bolder and makes more of the individuals who make up our contributors - but the tools on the site are an attempt to address it also. Two small but important innovations of which we’re especially proud are debate comments and open graph reactions, and there are a couple more that will launch in the next couple of weeks.

As anyone who’s spent any time in the comments section of a newspaper article will know, much of what’s written in response to comment journalism is predictably oppositional. Our new debate comments give our readers and writers an opportunity to express both sides of an argument in a new way. It follows a simple two stream voting pattern - you can leave a comment on either the For or Against side of a debate, and then vote up the comments you think are the most pertinent. There are no replies, because the point is to surface the best arguments on either side - a vote down or a comment on the opposite side of the debate will suffice to represent a negative reply. This is also an alternative way to represent our editorials, as a series of arguments rather than a piece of prose, against which readers can brace their own opinions; see an example of this here, and find out more here about this and commenting in general on the site.

We’ve also built social media logins for Facebook, Twitter and Google into the site, so that readers can register to comment, react and debate using the profile they’re most comfortable with online. This is not totally new - we were the first UK newspaper site to encourage social login in 2010 when we started using Disqus - but our new Facebook open graph reactions are another innovation. The concept is simple; after reading a piece you click a button to log your reaction to the article, which then (provided you’ve authorised the Independent’s Facebook app, are logged into Facebook, and have set the necessary privacy settings) posts your reaction to your friends on Facebook, as well as updating a count on the page.

The effect is powerful for a few reasons. Chiefly, it's one solution to the problem that most interactions on Facebook especially and social media in general are as positive as newspaper comments are generally negative. ‘Liking’ things is ubiquitous; ‘Disliking’ them is impossible. Not only does this sometimes skew our social presences in a way that ultimately makes people insecure and depressed (‘look at how much more happy and beautiful than me my friends are!’), it also reduces our complicated relationship with what we read, watch or listen to to binary triggers (like, or... don’t!). When, after the riots last year, our piece by Camilla Batmanghelidjh on that subject garnered tens of thousands of likes on Facebook (sadly their mark is lost after the website address changed on Friday for the launch), people weren’t really saying they liked the piece so much as they were saying that it represented their views also. With our new functionality, people can agree, as they did then and have this weekend on Patrick Cockburn’s piece on mental health, or disagree, and they can say whether a piece made them laugh, or made them angry, or even confused them. If Facebook is the filter through which many people now experience the news (and for the young particularly, it is), then this lets our readers share our stories with a comment to give their take on it on the way through; rather than three blank likes of news articles by friends in your newsfeed, you might see one that had made someone laugh, one that someone strongly agrees with, and one that even confused someone (if they’ll own up to it).

We've done a complete redesign to produce a site and frontpage with impact and the capacity to draw attention to our great photos and illustrations. At the article level, byline pictures and writers’ Twitter accounts are more prominent, as well as links to the most recent articles by the same writer in case you’ve just stumbled across someone you want to read more from. We’ve added blockquotes to break up long pieces and make that experience of reading an essay on a screen more pleasant, as well as an orange fullstop at the end of every piece, just for show. Credit must go to young agency 15nine who took on the challenge of designing the site, and Gerry Paterson who worked to polish it off and bring the piece to its final state, still evolving though it is.

We’ve also added a feature that enables us to highlight supporting facts on an article, which are linked to where the facts sourced from (often a news story), to help us knit together the news and comment strands of the site more closely. Have a look at this example on Owen Jones’ piece about the NHS today.

I hope we've built a platform that's inclusive enough of our audience to be worthy of the big issues Independent Voices plans to take on every day; We’ll be making a lot of changes and improvements over the next few months and will be guided in that by you, so let us know what you think here or on our Facebook, Twitter or Google+, and enjoy the site.

For more information on commenting, please also take a look at our community standards document.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The economy expanded by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2014  

British economy: Government hails the latest GDP figures, but there is still room for skepticism over this 'glorious recovery'

Ben Chu
Comedy queen: Miranda Hart has said that she is excited about working on the new film  

There is no such thing as a middle-class laugh

David Lister
Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little