Comment moderation and community management may not be the first thing on writers’ minds when they are creating a blog account, but as any savvy blogger will admit, it quickly becomes very important. Increasingly, bloggers — and more and more publishers of news websites — are beginning to outsource this task to third-party comment systems. The reason, simply put, is that third-party comment systems (such as Disqus, Livefyre, IntenseDebate, Facebook Comments, and more) offer a better overall user experience than default blogging platform comments. These systems offer bloggers and news editors a variety of tools for easy moderation and provide readers a more dynamic commenting experience. When both parties are satisfied, that is when great online communities are formed.
|See comparison chart
of 4 third-party
When it came to our attention that the Greeley Tribune had suspended its in-house comment section indefinitely, we at the Digital Media Test Kitchen knew that there had to be a better solution. As I will discuss in a later blog post, it is very important, even necessary, to encourage dialogues among readers. Yet the Greeley Tribune found itself in a situation where such dialogues had became anathema both to the staff and its online readership. In an April 30 column, Tribune editor Randy Bangert wrote:
“[...] I’ve been troubled for a while at the locker-room humor, name-calling, and mean-spiritedness that seems to dominate our anonymous web conversation. Sure, it engages readers in the news, but is it really the kind of engagement we want?”
The answer to Mr. Bangert’s rhetorical is a clear “no.” He continues:
“We have standards in print — one of which is civility, and another of which is identification of the person making the comment. More and more frequently, I am asking myself why we can’t have those same standards on the web.”
An obvious problem that the Tribune has is the issue of anonymity, which can be a gift in certain cases, but is more often a curse. Third-party comment systems attempt to solve this problem by forcing users to register an account or log in using their social media accounts. Recently, the popular website TechCrunch switched to Facebook’s new comment system after long having struggled with its old system. The results were a significant drop in quantity of comments and an increase in comment quality. When people are forced to attach their real names to what they are saying, they clearly tread a little more safely.
|This is what GreeleyTribune.com visitors see, temporarily, at the end of news articles|
Facebook Comments are not without their criticisms, though. Not everyone uses (or wants to use) Facebook, and others would prefer that Facebook not homogenize online identities. Fortunately, there are other options. While Facebook Comments defaults to Facebook as the means for web users to leave comments, it also gives users the option of using their Hotmail, Yahoo, or AOL accounts Instead. Intense Debate, another third-party comment system, allows users to create their own IntenseDebate account or comment using OpenID or Twitter. Disqus, yet another system and perhaps the most versatile, allows users to create their own Disqus account or alternatively use Facebook, Twitter, Google, Yahoo, or OpenID.
Such options work two-fold: They reduce the risk of nasty conversations associated with pure anonymity by forcing users to log in and, by offering a multitude of channels into the conversation, making logging in relatively easy. Disqus and IntenseDebate also permit users to log in as Guests. While this may increase the potential for less civil conversation, the variety of other options ensures that this will be rare and consequently easier to manage. (Guest comments can be set so that they require approval before being published.)
Third-party comment systems also improve the quality of conversation by giving blog or website users the opportunity to drive valuable comments to the top of the page with the “Like” function. One of the problems with traditional comment systems is that they are organized linearly. This makes it difficult to find worthwhile comments, especially if they are hidden in the middle of hundreds or thousands of other comments. By driving the most valuable, popular comments to the top, it is easier for readers to find or participate in (with the “Reply” function) valuable online dialogues. This also minimizes redundancy, resulting in fewer and more easily managed comments.
While these two things are possibly the most integral in creating a community of “kinder, gentler” comments, these are not the only benefits. A comparison chart accompany this article (click here to view it) has a few of the pros and cons for four popular third-party comment systems: Disqus, Livefyre, Intense Debate, and Facebook Comments. This list is not necessarily thorough. Blogging is a very subjective experience and bloggers want different things from their online communities. What may be a strength for one (say, anonymity of the discussants) can be a disadvantage for another. News sites using these comment systems may have different considerations.
Additionally, no comment system will necessarily be a quick fix to a dysfunctional commenting culture, such as developed at GreeleyTribune.com. Building a desirable online community requires moderation, management, and direction. Comment systems provide the tools for easy moderation and management, but it is ultimately up to the writer/editor to give the community direction. As Matt Thompson of NPR.org wrote at Poynter.org, “Whether online or offline, people act out the most when they don’t see anyone in charge.” How this is done, of course, is the purview of the administration, but the general consensus is that it should be done.
There are a number of other advances that we would like to see from third-party comment systems that we believe could enhance the online reading and commenting experience. At this point, however, we think that one of these four comment engines can go a long way to improving hostile online communities such as the one that emerged at the Greeley Tribune.
Questions for your consideration:
Please use our Comments area below to share your ideas (and opinions) with us.
- Which of these four third-party comment systems do you prefer? Why?
- Are there other systems that deserve consideration?
- Are there any additional advantages/disadvantages that we missed?
- What can writers do to better participate in their online communities?
(Editor’s note: We’ve been using WordPress’ built-in comment system on this website, but we intend to convert to using Livefyre in the near future.)
There is no replacement for policing your blog for appropriate and constructive discussion regardless of commenting system. Our local daily newspaper has their own commenting system that has devolved into a small community (clique?) of back-biters, race-baiters, and just plain bottom-feeders. And I don't think a third-party system would fix that.
On my blog, I just tightly monitor and moderate to effect a useful conversation. Not censor opinion, but censor behavior.