The Star has made clear that in shutting down comments on website articles, it is not shutting out conversation and reader engagement.

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Well, that’s that then. Just about time to close my file on online commenting complaints.

The news this week that the Star has shut down online commenting on its website marks the end of a well-intended initiative to engage readers and encourage community conversation that, unfortunately, has been a cesspool of complaints almost from the get-go.

In the seven years since the Star launched online commenting, no other ongoing Star feature has so riled readers – and newsroom journalists too.

In one camp were readers — and journalists — who questioned the incivility and mean-spirited tone of too many anonymous online comments. On the other side were those commenters who too often became enraged when their “objectionable” comments were rejected for publication.

By a wide margin, we heard from far more readers concerned about misinformation and nastiness in online comments. Not surprisingly then, response to the Star’s decision to turn off commenting was overwhelmingly positive.

“The Star has made the correct decision,” said Dave Sandals. “The ubiquitous advice ‘don’t read the comments’ has proven so correct that encouraging/accepting them only encourages the outrageous, vacuous and often off-topic rants that totally waste time and degrade discourse.”

“Awesome move. The comments section adds nothing of value to online reads,” Tyson Hinschberger said on Twitter. “Smart move for smarter public dialogue” tweeted Pedro Barata.

It is disappointing to me that online commenting at the Star and just about every other news organization in the world never lived up to its promise of providing a new digital means to engage readers and foster communities of interest around public issues. Indeed, several other organizations also shut down online comments this year.

Like many others, I was initially hopeful about the potential of online commenting. In July, 2008, when the Star launched commenting, I waxed enthusiastic about this “new era of interactivity” that would give readers opportunity to “talk about the news with a community of Star readers.”

Continue reading this story on the Toronto Star website, where it was first published