Not too long ago, a regular user of our site asked me if we would ever consider offering users the opportunity to vote on the comments on our site.
If you haven't seen this before, it's sorta like how on e-commerce site's reviews you'll see links that say "was this review helpful?" or something like that. On content sites, it's often simply a thumbs up or down on the comment, but it can be more complicated, giving you the opportunity to label a comment something descriptive like: "insightful," "entertaining," "mildly interesting," or "the work of a troll."
When you have people rating comments, then you usually actually sort the comments by their rating — instead of the time they were posted.
What's nice about this is that, if it's actively used by the community, it generally means that the apparent signal to noise ratio goes up, because the good stuff floats to the top (where more people are more likely to read it) and the ravings of trolls (not that we have any of that, of course) sinks to the bottom.
It also gives commenters some feedback — some peer pressure, if you will, in a good way. People are more likely to post well-thought out or funny comments and to stay away from flaming because they get positive feedback.
It's fairly popular with content producers because usually it takes the place of monitoring. Many very reputable companies online (mostly tech companies) get out of the moderation business altogether. For one thing we don't really want to be censors — though we do want a site that gives everyone a voice and encourages them to use that voice in a good, interesting, and entertaining way.
That said, it means that it's hard to follow a developing story, because you can't just go down the comments (or up them) to where you left off, the order's all jumbled. And, of course, conversations are difficult to follow because of the order. That is good and bad. That there can't really be conversations seems to me like it would encourage commenters to focus on the article not each other. And we've always got the forums for real conversation as opposed to "comment."
So what do people think? Would you like to see us implement such a system? Would you comment more or less? Would you vote on others' comments?