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How Should We Improve Seeking Alpha's Comment Rating System?

Eli Hoffmann, the stellar managing editor who oversees Seeking Alpha's news products, points out that our comments ratings system isn't working well:

If you look at this Market Current, you'll see that there's not one comment that garnered a net positive rating, despite the fact that there were some well developed ideas.

That's wrong, and I'm concerned it's a problem. I'm concerned if this trend continues, people could become disincentivized to comment - especially those who have high ratings and are scared of losing them.

What's the solution? I don't know - maybe positive only?

We've noticed two specific problems with the way comments ratings are being used:

  1. Some people just abuse the comment ratings, and abuse of negative ratings feels worse to the victim than abuse of positive ratings.
  2. Many people use the rating as "agree or disagree", instead of "this comment adds value -- even if I disagree with it -- or doesn't add value".

The result is that comment ratings aren't doing a very good job of providing the best commenters with the exposure they deserve.

A quick aside about Followers versus comment rating schemes: The number of Followers you have provides an accurate community measure of your popularity (= how good you are?), because the rating is the result of readers' real preferences and behaviour  -- "I want to see what you are writing". In contrast, rating a comment as positive or negative involves no future commitment, and isn't a reflection of actual reading behavior. So ultimately, we think that the number of followers you have is a much better indicator of your popularity/quality than comment ratings. But number of followers has one disadvantage: it measures your popularity/quality as a person, not the popularity/quality of a specific action of yours. When someone follows you on Seeking Alpha, they track your articles, instablogs, StockTalks and comments, and you can't tell which of those they think are particularly worth reading. In contrast, comment ratings have the advantage that they tell you exactly how good readers thought this comment was. For that reason, we think there are advantages to having both schemes -- Followers and comment ratings -- so we don't want to remove comment ratings altogether.

Now back to the key question: How should we fix comment ratings? If we simply remove the negative rating so that you can only rate people positively (think Digg), will that incentivize people to write as many comments as possible regardless of quality, because they can only get positive ratings?

Are there other solutions we should be thinking about?