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Recently, Facebook rolled out a refreshed version of its Comments Box social plugin.

The free plugin makes it easy for publishers to add Facebook-themed commenting functionality to their websites. And it gives Facebook yet another hook into the web that exists outside its walled garden.

The improvements Facebook made to Comments Box, which include a "social relevance" filter and better administrative tools, have enticed a number of popular sites to implement Facebook Comments. One such site: the popular tech blog, TechCrunch.

So how are Facebook Comments working out? By TechCrunch's own admission, the number of comments being posted has "fallen dramatically" since the AOL-owned blog added the plugin.

But TechCrunch isn't yet sure that's such a bad thing: according to MG Siegler, "roughly half" of the comments left before were "more or less useless," and the new system has thus far driven away many of the "trolls" who used to leave those worthless comments.

Of course, not all TechCrunch readers see it the same way. One commenter writes:

TC "trolls" for the most part aren't true trolls -- they're cynical and smart people who state their true opinions (not pimply teenagers, perhaps the worst kind of troll.)

By getting rid of Disqus, You haven't really gotten rid of trolls (because you didn't REALLY have a troll problem in the first place. Articles with faults got roasted, good articles received near unanimous praised.) You've just gotten rid of people who state their true opinions.

Trolls aside, others point out the obvious privacy concerns present when using Facebook Comments, and some note that not everyone has a Facebook account.

Perhaps an even more insightful discussion about Facebook Comments, however, can be found in a post by entrepreneur Steve Cheney. He observes:

People yearn to be individuals. They want to be authentic. They have numerous different groups of real-life friends. They stylize conversations. They are emotional and have an innate need to connect on different levels with different people.

What does this have to do with Facebook's new commenting system?

...forcing people to comment – and more broadly speaking to log-on – with one identity puts a massive stranglehold on our very nature. I'm not too worried about FB Comments in isolation, but the writing is on the wall: all of this off-site encroachment of the Facebook graph portends where FB is really going in pushing one identity. And a uniform identity defies us.

It's a good point: as Facebook interjects itself into more and more online activities, there's a good chance that some will curtail certain activities lest they risk broadcasting those activities to their social graphs.

One TechCrunch comment highlights this dilemma:

My facebook account is strictly for my personal life - it's not professional, and it's not supposed to be. This commenting systems forces me to integrate the two, which I won't.

Needless to say, all of this has potentially significant implications for publishers. Naturally, many are attracted to Facebook's offering.

Facebook is a huge part of the internet for so many people and Facebook Comments in theory offers an easy way to reduce barriers to entry in building on-site engagement.

There's also the attraction of having comments posted to the network's social stream, which could increase traffic from Facebook referrals.

But before publishers jump on the Facebook bandwagon, there are some factors that should be considered. Several of the most important:

  • Ownership. Needless to say, outsourcing comments to Facebook essentially means sharing ownership of your users' comments with Facebook. This may or may not be a good idea and the decision to do so shouldn't be taken lightly.
  • Reliability. In using this comments plugin, publishers place a lot of trust in Facebook.

    If the site becomes inaccessible for any reason, a publisher using this plugin loses comments. Even assuming that downtime won't be an issue, one should understand that there's no guarantee that Facebook Comments, which are JavaScript-based, will offer optimal performance.

  • Identity. Depending on the nature of a publisher's audience, requiring that users engage with a site and its other users through Facebook may be disadvantageous.

So should publishers take the plunge?

At this point, it's not clear. TechCrunch's experience is hardly inspiring, even if it's not an obvious 'fail.' In my opinion, however, publishers should probably be on the skeptical side.

After all, Facebook Comments is easy to set up, but it largely limits a publisher's ability to create unique and engaging user experiences.

At a time when internet users are only becoming more sophisticated and their expectations are rising, letting Facebook decide how users should engage with a website seems like a huge step back for publishers focused on creating great experiences.

Patricio Robles

Published 8 March, 2011 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2407 more posts from this author

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Paul Gailey

Some lower profile sites are experimenting with dual commenting systems, i.e. offer standard comment logins below the embedded Facebook commenting system. Granted this is not ideal as it loses threaded comments and can make the whole UI strange, but it circumvents the loudest gripe to date of forcing a commenter to use their FB identity to comment.

The other notable feature of Facebook Comments omitted in this post and worth noting for its viral power is 'reverse comment syndication' whereby someone who comments in Facebook about my comment on site ABC has the option to publish that comment back onto site ABC without visiting it. No one else offers this.

Whilst I share the publisher ownership concerns around FB comments, - and Disqus does make this easier to manage - developers can still utilise the Facebook API to retrieve published comments.

I suspect success of FB comments by publishers may come with greater innovation, perhaps a la twitter econsultancy style with adjacent column of comments to the right of article/content, instead of under the blog post...jury still out.

over 5 years ago

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Matt Hardy

Co-incidentally, we were looking at the new version this morning and noticed both some good points and bad points...depending on your perspective.

For marketers, perhaps 'the post to Facebook' should be seen as a positive way of driving word-of-mouth by making a user's comment extend into their friend connections. But I wonder how many people might leave that checkbox selected? I can see that potentially deterring people from commenting - or just un-selecting it, hence minimising the WOM benefit. Would be interesting to see some stats on that.

One thing I don't like is the surfacing of the commenter's position & employer right next to the comment. It really starts to blur the boundaries of an individual's private & business identities - are they writing that comment as a representative of their employer? Or purely expressing their opinions as an individual?

Agree with Paul... jury out for me on this too.

over 5 years ago

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William King

I think for the small bloggers this plug-in will work much better for them. Who want to keep spammers away from their blog and only want to see to the point discussion on their blog. As you have mentioned that it do contain some risks but they are neglect able for the non profit blogs as their will be no major loss even if something unusual happen, but I personally think that facebook is something on which you can rely.

over 5 years ago

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Chris Reed, Founder at Restless Communications

Long term, I can't see this helping either Facebook, or publishers who solely use Facebook comments.

Yes, give people the option to use Facebook connect to comment, but don't make them.

Precisely because people have different online relationships via different online channels. And will want to keep it that way

Most people use Facebook to show that they're cool or funny amongst friends and family, and Linked In to show they're clever/good at what they do for a living.

So making people use Facebook to comment, and then publishing it, will bore/spam their 'real' friends.

It's therefore bound to deter people who live outside a pure social media bubble from commenting (which TC seem to quite like, but I suspect is pure retro-fitted spin). This is surely the biggest potential impact on publishers, no?

Having said all that though... if Linked in offered that sort of social graph plug-in... that would be different entirely. If I was them, it's absolutely something I'd be pushing hard if they want to maintain ownership of work-related social networking...

over 5 years ago

Adam Cranfield

Adam Cranfield, Chief Marketing Officer at Mynewsdesk

Facebook have recently made changes to allow you to use their service 'as a page' rather than as your personal profile - which means I can go on the TechCrunch site and post comments, not as Adam Cranfield (my personal profile for friends), but as Form Digital Consulting, my business, which is a Facebook page. I've just posted in this way, on the thread here: http://techcrunch.com/2011/03/09/linkedin-headlines. This is one way to deal with the issue some people above have raised that you don't want to bore all your mates with your work-related posts.

But, for me, LinkedIn is still ahead of Facebook in terms of being a professional social network and forum environment, so I'd like to see LinkedIn catch up with Facebook's Open Graph and commenting, liking, etc.

Or perhaps one day the two companies will merge?

Overall, for me, a single online identity has more pros than cons.

over 5 years ago

Ashley Friedlein

Ashley Friedlein, Founder, Econsultancy & President, Centaur Marketing at Econsultancy, Centaur MarketingStaff

If you don't have the tech resources / capability then I can see that relying on Facebook for comments could help in the short term.

However, I would be very worried about the loss of data and control through relying on FB in the long term.

I don't think anyone has mentioned the loss of SEO benefits either? If FB comments are pulled in via JavaScript then there will be no SEO benefit to the host site - apart, possibly, from people linking to the site for the comments.

But, if you take this thread, for example, I'm seeing a search on "notable feature of Facebook Comments" (http://www.google.co.uk/search?sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8&q=notable+feature+of+Facebook+Comments) with one of the comments here ranking top of Google. I don't think that would happen if these were FB comments.

over 5 years ago

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