Trolls. Gotta love them. As fundamental to the fabric of the internet as Elton John to cheese (of the musical kind). Much has been debated on the effect that online anonymity can have on otherwise quite normal people. They represent the underbelly, the reptile brain of our online lives.

A bit of light trolling can be harmless and indeed brands have become pretty adept at trolling customers themselves. Not to mention the musician James Blunt who has been taking his reverse-trolling very seriously for a few months now. Any time a twitter user writes something abusive about him on the platform, he responds in kind with an extra dose of humour and self-awareness. Not surprisingly his twitter following has gone through the roof. We brits do love our sarcasm after all.

James Blunt - Online Commenting

Despite that, there are times when online culture and commenting can be just…a bit much.

As the internet has grown up,  there have been many attempts to eradicate troll culture and make discussion that bit more civil online. The most recent and controversial change, being the switch from anonymous YouTube usernames to a google+ sign in. Youtube had long been the ninth circle of internet hell when it came to comment culture. Anything went, the angrier, more bigoted and the louder (PREFerabLY IN A BIZarre COMBInatioN OF caPS LOck anD LOwerCaSE) the better. Something had to change. Although whether Google’s decision had more to do with extending the power of the ‘One Account to Rule Them All’ than actual betterment of online commenting culture, remains to be seen.

YouTube may represent the absolute worst in online commenting, but a lot of great online news and commentary sites are similarly afflicted. HuffPo, Mashable, online newspapers, they’ve all got it bad (Daily Mail doesn’t count, the trolls have to have somewhere to survive after all).

That was part of the rationale behind creating Medium, and other simple standalone writing and publishing platforms such as Scribd.

For those unfamiliar with it, Medium is an online blog platform focused on collaboration and simple storytelling. Founded by Biz Stone (Twitter co-founder), it aims to make storytelling simple and accessible and aid collaboration between authors by way of a new user interaction and commenting system.

The hope behind it was that by creating a community made solely from writers (in the early stages writers had to be invited to contribute) the comment culture would reflect the more serious and professional nature of the platform.

That was the hope anyway…Whilst the majority of the content on medium is great, the majority of comments, well… aren’t.

As with other blogging sites, conventional wisdom decrees that you must go forth and comment if you wish to be showered with comments in return. Give and you shall receive and all that.

The issue, is that a significant number of comments on medium are downright pointless questions, one-word responses, unanswerable or a simple affirmation of the author’s point that contributes nothing to the article at all. It makes it glaringly obvious that a lot of commenters are just doing so to direct attention to their own work. Which is fair enough, but there’s nothing wrong with putting a bit more thought into your comments when you do.

But this is bigger than medium. It is part of the democratization of online user publishing and social commentary. In the old days if you had a response to a piece of traditional press, you wrote a snotty letter to your chosen newspaper or magazine and hoped the editor saw fit to publish it.  Now with platforms like Medium, Jelly in image form, soundcloud for music, you can collaborate with an author in real time or make yourself heard in a matter of minutes. Which is great. If we could all sit back for a moment and stop abusing our new found powers.

The ability to be heard more quickly and in more places than ever before is a powerful thing. But who benefits most of the time we are mouthing off online, is it only ourselves and our irrepressible need to be acknowledged more and more?

This is particularly applicable with Jelly, which has based its identity around altruism and a desire to all just ‘help each other out a bit more’. An admirable thing (although so very American). It’s another attempt to nudge online culture in a more helpful and grown up direction. Whether it will work, or just provide another platform for the same vacuous, self-feeding content remains to be seen.

Sites like Jelly, Medium, and other social commentary sites rely on a decent level of interaction and quality to survive and an ecosystem of thoughtful, active commenters will be be necessary if they’re going to thrive.

If your comment doesn’t pass the ‘letters page’ test, perhaps just keep it to yourself.