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Whether comments are made on a blog, or spread across the social web, every business wants customers to make a (positive) noise about them.

But while they are great for increasing engagement, comments come with problems of their own.

In a week which has seen YouTube finally take steps to clean out the well of eternal torment that it uses as a comment section, and Popular Science is doing away with the chatter altogether, I thought it would be a good opportunity to look at the various systems in place around the web designed to keep us talking... 

First off, a bit of framing. Econsultancy itself was originally an online forum (sort of... it’s complicated), and we still host our own forums; If you’ve got a particularly specific marketing issue, then by all means check them out and ask our community.

Over the years though, we’ve noticed that the conversation has moved away from the forums and onto our blog and social profiles. However, different platforms provide different types of conversation.

We love Twitter, which is great for fast feedback and provides a steady buzz all day, but we often find that deeper feedback appears in our blog comments. The act of publishing something on a blog often denotes a greater level of engagement than on a platform like Twitter, and there’s more room to express complex ideas. 

This engagement is valuable, so it’s no surprise we’re seeing an evolving use of comments. 

Here are some of the more interesting ones from around the web:

YouTube

First off, steele your loins and join me in the YouTube comment section. The well of lost souls is finally getting a new coat of paint, with Google announcing steps to improve the notorious comments section:

https://assets.econsultancy.com/images/resized/0003/8054/youtube-blog-full.png

There's plenty of detail about this over on the YouTube blog, but the key change for account managers will be a new range of tools and filters, allowing you to block certain words in advance, and auto-approve certain fans in advance, hopefully increasing interaction from advocates and discouraging the reams of trolls out there. 

Reddit 

Threaded comment systems are a great way of facilitating interactions, and are one of the reasons that Reddit dominates the online commentary arena.

With thousands of posts daily, collapsible posts are a great way of letting users have their own wildly entertaining or deeply bitter side-conversations without disrupting the flow for the reader:

https://assets.econsultancy.com/images/resized/0003/8055/reddit-blog-full.png

(For those interested, these are from a thread on useless talents). We've often discussed using this system on our own blog, and while it may not nbe the most eye-catching design out there, it's easy to see why it's so successful. 

NFL.com

https://assets.econsultancy.com/images/resized/0003/8056/nfl-blog-full.png

To be honest, the NFL page is a bit of a mish-mash in general, but it's a smart decision to go with a simple Facebook plug-in comment system here.

It's instantly recognisable and understandable for users, and gives plenty of data collection opportnities while having a low barrier to entry. Of course, anything Facebook-related does tend to come with attendant privacy concerns.

It's also effortlessly social, so while I’m sure people are busy shouting about football (or indeed, football) on Facebook anyway, there may be some subjects that they are less happy to share via their FB account (I’m well aware of the kind of follow up comments that appear when I start banging on about marketing on my FB page…), meaning this may not work as well for certain sites. 

BoingBoing

I’ve been a huge fan of BoingBoing for many years, but have been puzzled by their approach to commenting for some time now.

The site is a treasure trove of fantastic links (or indeed, ‘A cornucopia of wonders’) and left-leaning commentary (along with a fair bit of transhumant-leaning for good measure), much of which demands comment, but the site itself seems to do everything it can to block users from doing so:

https://assets.econsultancy.com/images/resized/0003/8058/boingboing_1-blog-full.png

Firstly, the comment button is hidden far down the page, beneath all manner of enticing links and ads, and when you reach it; you’ll notice that the comments themselves are actually stored quietly away on another page.  

With no existing comments to pull you into deeper conversation, it’s easy to decide it’s not worth the bother. To be fair, this may be the point, BoingBoing has long valued quality, and these barriers are one way to ensure it. You’ve got to want to comment. 

Assuming you get to page two, you’ll need to log in or create an account, and commenting on posts actually times out after a given period. While many of BB’s posts are time-sensitive, there is a lot of evergreen stuff there and this does seem to undermine their efforts:

https://assets.econsultancy.com/images/resized/0003/8060/boingboing2-blog-full.png

Medium

Medium has one of the more interesting comment systems going.

Once they’ve logged in via Twitter, users have the opportunity to comment in the side bar: 

https://assets.econsultancy.com/images/resized/0003/8064/medium-blog-full.png

This keeps things ultra-contextual; there’s no chance of the meaning being lost in the river of comments at the base of a post, but it’s not without its problems.

Firstly, you’ll need a nice big, clear sidebar to implement this, which means all that tempting adspace is going to waste. 

QZ.Com

This monetization issue is actually solved rather neatly over on Quartz, which has a similar system, except here comments are ‘bought to you by Citi’:

https://assets.econsultancy.com/images/resized/0003/8065/qz-blog-full.png

It’s a neat solution, effectively making cash directly from comments. 

While I like this system a lot, it does have some issues from a community and UX perspective. If you stop to read these comments as you go, they can become disruptive.

If you don’t then the impetus to comment is lowered. While many people comment in order to have a dialogue with the writer, parceling them off like this lowers the chances of user-to-user interaction.  

It also has formatting issues across different devices – it appears that QZ don’t include comments when you visit from a mobile browser, again, reducing the likelihood of people commenting. 

Gawker

Finally, let's take a look at Gawker, which revamped comments across its network of sites earlier this year, using Disqus to provide an interesting halfway house with some neat features. 

Firstly, each post is topped with a hero image, which commenters can annotate:

https://assets.econsultancy.com/images/resized/0003/8067/gawker_images-blog-full.png

Down below, DisQus allows you to publish comments via Twitter, Facebook or using a custom site account. To be honest, I’ve always found the interface a little bit clunky, but such is my drive to moan about Go-Bots on iO9 I persist anyway, and frankly it’s this kind of dedicated geekiness that may drive the majority of Gawker’s interactions. 

Overall it's a nice hybrid solution, allowing users to comment in-line via images, without discouraging talk underneath. There's also built-in social functions, but it does have a fairly high barrier to entry (and I often find I'm logged out and can't remember my password) so may be a better option for sites who have a particularly focussed demographic. 

We've spoken about other systems in the past but these are some of the more interesting one I've seen, but it would be great to hear which other methods you find useful. As always, please do leave us a comment...

Matt Owen

Published 26 September, 2013 by Matt Owen

Matt Owen was formerly Head of Social at Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or hook up on LinkedIn.

203 more posts from this author

Comments (1)

Neil Charlton

Neil Charlton, Director at Plug and Play Design - Moorgate

There should be no issues with any comments on a blog, as long as they're genuine and not spam.

Neil

about 3 years ago

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