There are a few ways Medium responses are different than comment systems as we’ve know them on the web for a dozen or so years:
Responses are posts. They are the same object in the system. They live at their own URL and can have responses and all the other features of posts on their own. This means, when someone replies they are on an equal playing field, which we’ve seen encourage substantive discourse.
Among other things, because responses are posts, they drive attention to the original post. For example, I found this post of your because Felix Salmon replied. (I think it was a joke.)
Responses are filtered and sorted — not moderated. If you’re a logged-in Medium reader, you see at the bottom of the post responses from people you follow, as well as those they recommend or that the author of the original post recommends. (They are also ordered by number of recommendations.)
This gives you, as the author, the ability to promote the voices you think have merit.
The situation you describe, James, is what happens when there are responses but none that have strong enough signal to show by default. We still show these responses one click away, as you see, in case people want to dig through them. This is especially valuable to you, as the author, to decide if there’s anything you want to raise up for readers of your post. You could argue we shouldn’t show them at all, but that would make a lot of worthwhile things that come from people who don’t happen to be connected yet on the platform from being seen at all.
It’s a balance, but we think where we are gives a good mix of free-flowing discussion and filtering for quality (keeping in mind that quality does not mean the same thing for everyone).
We don’t claim to have cracked the code to making online discussion thoughtful and respectful, guaranteed. I’m not sure that’s possible given human nature — and the tendency for people to forget their is a human on the other side of every screen. But we’ll keep working on it.
I do believe that the system we have today is substantially different than traditional comment streams and Medium responses are creating a different type of behavior on a consistent basis. Thank you for your contribution to the discussion.