Thursday, May 09, 2013

Where do you put out your welcome mat for comments? Trends & issues

Comments have long put the "social" into social media, but for many blogs and websites, they've become more curse than blessing. Are you still putting out the welcome mat for commenters? And if so, which social media door gets the welcome mat?

I've struggled with this myself, tiring of rampant spam and occasional trolls. Should I shut down commenting altogether on the blogs, as high-profile bloggers like Seth Godin have done? That's one option, and makes maintaining the blogs easier. Less simple is the path the New York Times has taken: At the Times, moderators decide which articles will have commenting open and which will remain closed. That keeps many articles from being overtaken by partisans duking it out in the comments, or as the Times puts it, "Our goal is to have every NYT comment thread offer tangible added value to each article for our readership."

The plus side of comments
When they work well, comments have long served, for me, as a great source of blog post ideas and even a boost to my search results (and if you don't know how to leverage blog comments for better search rank, you should). There's nothing as authentic as content that comes right from your best readers, whether it's a question, a useful tip, or a comment that expands on your thinking. Take it from no less a writer than The Atlantic's Ta-Nehisi Coates, whose writing won a National Magazine Award, prompting him to throw a nod to his commenters, dubbed "The Horde," for sharing tips and leads and fixes and helping to improve his writings.

Threading as a trend
Threaded comments are becoming more prevalent, an effort "to serve the people reading the comments, rather than the people writing them," as this article on how Gawker's reforming its comment threads puts it. In this scenario, the most recent or most frequent commenter isn't rewarded with the top spot or the chance to dominate the feed. Facebook's also in on this trend, rolling out ranked, threaded comments for pages with more than 10,000 fans or celebrity profiles.

Importing comments
But what if your blog or website's part of a different trend, the one in which comments stop arriving because your followers are sharing your posts and commenting on social networks? Google's working on a way to have your comments everywhere, making it possible to bring Google+ comments to your Blogger blog (or use this workaround to embed Google+ comments on any blog or website). Here's what that looks like:
The upgraded commenting system preserves the existing comments, but the future comments require a Google+ account. That means, visitors can no longer post comments anonymously, using an OpenID account or using a Google account that hasn't been upgraded to Google+. When posting a comment, visitors can also share it on Google+. The new commenting system doesn't just show the comments posted on Blogger, it also shows all the Google+ messages that link to the post and their comments.
Plug-ins on WordPress make it possible to import Facebook or Twitter comments into your blog posts, too--an easy way to have your comments where the commenters are most comfortable posting them, and on your blog or website. But do the commenters know you're importing their comments? wonders Librarian by Day blogger Bobbi Newman:
What I’m struggling with is first is it ok? Do people realize the comments they are making elsewhere are being imported to a blog? That what they see as a passing Twitter comment becomes more permanent? It is even less obvious on mobile devices that your Facebook comment is being posted elsewhere.
Newman also questions the aesthetics of using imported comments, worth considering before you take the plunge.

Have you struggled with these (or other issues) on comments? What's your comments policy? You know where to tell me about that, right?

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