While working on the previous post, I couldn’t help but think how valuable it would be for participants, researchers and everyone else interested if these high-level participation metrics were readily available in real-time on the site that hosts the discussion, rather than having to dig them up manually and deal with incomplete information, assumptions and more or less wild guesses.

Some of the numbers I usually like to track over the course of an e-participation initiative include the following (these are all pretty straightforward and a number of tools recently used by the transition team and the new administration already expose some of them by default):

  • Number or registered users
  • Number of posts (or ideas, questions etc.)
  • Number of comments
  • Number of votes
  • Number of flags
  • Total word count
  • Participation per participant (e.g. average number of comments, median)
  • Leader boards (where applicable)

Others — both participants and observers — have pointed out other issues with the site that make it harder to use than necessary.

Based on their feedback and some of my own observations, I’ve compiled a list of 26 enhancement ideas that would considerably improve the participation experience during phase 2 of the Open Government Dialogue and increase the overall quantity and quality of participant input.

Some of these refer specifically to the tool used for phase 2 (WordPress blogging engine for threaded discussions and a plug-in for comment rating) but most should be generally applicable across other tools as well.

I’m sure the list is far from complete. Please leave a comment below if you can think of anything else that could be improved.

Registration

  1. Improve the usability of the sign-up process (including a better fall-back solution for CAPTCHA, which a lot of users apparently can’t seem to figure out).

User profile

  1. Add a prominent link to the user profile self-management page, where participants can edit their name, contact information, password etc.
  2. Add a public user profile page that allows participants to voluntarily reveal more background on their real identity (e.g. by sharing their name, affiliation, a brief bio, photo/avatar, link to their personal blog etc.).
  3. On each participant’s profile page, list some basic participation metrics for that user and link back to all of her comments (this also makes finding one’s own comments a lot easier than, say, having to browse the entire archive).

Commenting

  1. Allow participants to edit or delete their comments for a reasonable time period after posting (e.g. to correct typos or remove duplicate entries).
  2. Consider imposing smart limits on the maximum number of characters allowed per comment to avoid overly lengthy submissions.

Navigation

  1. Add permalinks to comments for easier referencing and sharing across the web (e.g. using email, blogs, Twitter etc.).
  2. Highlight staff contributions more prominently.
  3. Display posts and threads in chronological order.
  4. Provide a more robust tree structure, one that properly associates replies with the comments they refer to (even if one or more comments from a thread have been hidden or removed) and which supports better browsing and sorting of comments and threads (e.g. show most recent posts or most recently active threads).
  5. Highlight recently added comments.
  6. Allow tagging of posts and comments.
  7. Add a tag cloud.
  8. Add a searchable directory of all registered users that supports various filters (e.g. sort by most active users, most recently joined, most highly voted etc.).

Notifications

  1. Add a prominent link to the general comment RSS feed as an alternative way to follow the discussions: http://blog.ostp.gov/comments/feed/
  2. Enable email notifications for new or updated blog posts, comments and replies.

Comment voting

  1. Allow participants to correct (take back or switch) their up or down votes on comments.
  2. In the meantime (and at a minimum), make participants better aware of the fact that votes cannot be changed once submitted.
  3. In addition, improve the usability of the voting (vote up, vote down), flagging and reply buttons: the icons aren’t clear enough and the buttons are fairly small, both factors that can lead to accidental mis-voting).
  4. In addition to net number of votes, expose the total number of positive and negative notes for each comment.
  5. Expose controversiality (the ratio of negative to positive votes).

Moderation

  1. For comments that have to be removed due to a violation of the terms of participation, leave a note that references the type of violation.
  2. In case a comment is removed, notify the original poster of her offense (we don’t know for sure if this is done consistently but judging from user feedback it’s not).

General

  1. Add an FAQ or help page.
  2. Add a statistics page that shows the number of registered users, number of comments, number of votes and number of flags over time.
  3. Add site-wide search (currently comments don’t seem to show up in search).

That’s all I could find over the past week. Please expand on this list as you come across other stumbling blocks.