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Let''s Debate: How Der Spiegel Created a New Space for User Participation
2024 Finalist

Let''s Debate: How Der Spiegel Created a New Space for User Participation

Der Spiegel

Hamburg, Germany

Category Product Development

Overview of this campaign

For over two decades, SPIEGEL’s on-site community transitioned from an innovative democratic space to another of those annexes in the internet where trolls and toxicity reigned. While heavily frequented (peaking at 1.7 million comments monthly), it had become a place of misinformation and incivility. Fake profiles kept popping up faster than we could shut them down. Decisive political moments called for a strict around-the-clock moderation. The comments were unmanageable for community managers and undigestible for readers. The predicament left us with two options: close down the on-site community for good – or burn everything down and rebuild. We decided on the latter.

We were mindful of the need to provide safe debate spaces to democracy – and we also placed a lot of trust in our commentators to take a leap of faith and follow along. At SPIEGEL, we aimed to create a space for conversation which is constructive, informative and healthy. During the 1.5 year-long iteration phase, we developed a strategy integrating the following objectives:

Innovation & Quality

  • Enriching news journalism with constructive debates
  • Engaging a loyal readership to deepen brand-user bonds
  • New platform, new database, new look – while making the transition as seamless as possible for our subscribers


  • Debate suggestions submitted by users
  • Votings for topics users find most relevant
  • Multiple ways to connect, such as follow-options and surveys

Readability & Accessibility

  • Allowing only a handful of debates per day
  • Reducing quantity while keeping the same approval rate
  • Summarizing arguments for and against to aid comprehension


  • Exclusive access for subscribers, giving them a home on spiegel.de
  • Customizable user profiles featuring bios and interests
  • A history of comments and suggestions

The result is SPIEGEL Debatte, a rapidly growing platform for user participation. The product iteration began in 05/2021 and concluded in 12/2022, involving a large interdisciplinary team from product management, editorial team, UX/UI design, and supported by IT, Research, Marketing, Legal, and others.

Results for this campaign

SPIEGEL Debatte is a new platform for reader participation that has been reshaping the notion that comment sections on publishing houses are lost cases. Since December 5th, our subscribers can discuss in a meaningful and constructive way, to read and follow up on discussions and exchange ideas amongst the SPIEGEL community and the editorial team.

The success story of the new community lies in the almost silent transformation of a dysfunctional editorial product into one that is as successful as it is innovative. We have seen an increase in comment quality and positive conversations and have received both positive feedback from readers and inquiries from competitors.

Our community managers, who all have a journalistic background, formulate topical daily questions which are then opened for discussion. The debate space is both prominently featured on the website and in the app, and also within related articles. Strictly enforced community guidelines have helped immensely to keep the discussions civil, constructive and on-topic. While our community amplifies these comments with upvotes, destructive voices are being pushed out of the visible section. It seems the trolls have finally left the building.

Sucess rates:

  • After launching, 10,000 people signed up within the first 7 hours
  • 100,000 sign-ups within the first 2 weeks
  • Jan 25th:
    • 180,800 people have signed up to use our community – that is 55% of our subscribers.
    • 160 new subscriptions can be attributed to the new community. We are evaluating the retention effect of the new community
    • The approval rate as remained the same (80%) – while increasing the quality of the comments immensely


To contact a company representative about this campaign, click here for the INMA Member Directory

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