The Guardian recently found that of the 70 million comments left on its site since 2006, it blocked only 2 percent and deleted another 2 percent as spam or because they replied to blocked comments.
An interactive quiz invited readers to play along and see how the organization made its moderation decisions:
On the other side of the spectrum lies the popular content marketing site Copyblogger. Copyblogger’s Chief Content Officer Sonia Simone published a post titled “Why We’re Removing Comments on Copyblogger” in 2014. While The Guardian only blocked 4 percent of comments, Copyblogger found the exact inverse: it blocked 96 percent of comments left on the site, due to “time-wasting spam.”
Copyblogger based its decision on three factors:
- The conversation was moving to wider platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook.
- It believed those with fresh takes on the conversation should publish on their own site rather than Copyblogger's.
- The company could better use the time it spent dealing with spam writing content and connecting with people who are not spammers.
Let's take a look at the pros and cons of enabling comments on blog posts or articles and review a formula which may help you decide.
Taking the Good Side of Comments ...
I love to get feedback from readers. When I publish articles here on CMSWire, I respond to every comment a reader leaves, even if it’s simply to say thanks. Often, the comments make me consider things from a different perspective, or make me change my mind altogether.
While some may shudder at the thought of second-guessing their own article, I think it makes me a better writer. A contributor to the Guardian article said, “I think it is a worthy venture to keep comments open, even if you don't like what readers are saying or how they are saying it. Journalists need to be challenged.”
According to Patrick O’Keefe (@patrickokeefe), online community expert and author of ManagingCommunities.com, “Comments facilitate dialog between not only writers and readers, but readers themselves. They can be a low barrier way of building a sense of community, where people move beyond consumers of content to participants within the website.”
Comments can rise to become on par with the original post or article. That’s a good thing, so long as the comments add value to the original post. According to O’Keefe, he’s published multiple posts that were prompted by comments submitted by his readers.
Andrew Coate, responsible for community and content at Facebook, recently published a LinkedIn post about grabbing a cup of coffee. I contributed to two comment threads. Notice how the comments foster a sense of community among Coate's readers:
... With the Downside of Comments
If comments are like flowers filled with nectar and pollen, spammers are the bees. If you enable comments, then it’s incumbent on you to manage and moderate them.
Two common spam practices are to:
- Insert hateful, racist or incendiary comments.
- Insert content that is relevant on the surface, but includes link(s) to a nefarious site.
Allowing these sorts of comments on your site will cause you to quickly lose credibility in the eyes of your readers.
Keeping your comments area clean requires time and resources. Copyblogger decided that the benefit of relevant comments (4 percent) wasn’t worth the time and effort of moderating the spam (96 percent). Even at The Guardian, which approved 96 percent of comments, full-time resources are likely required to review, approve and moderate them.
Writers can suffer emotionally when readers leave hateful comments. One Guardian writer put it this way, “It has a toll on me: it has an emotional effect, it takes a physical toll. And over time it builds up.”
Even when not directed at them, hateful speech can take its toll on moderators. Spending an hour reading and blocking 96 out of 100 comments (because they’re hateful) can be emotionally draining. Factor this into your decision on whether to enable comments: Negativity comes with the territory.
A Decision Framework
If you're still up in the air about whether to enable comments, I devised a formula to help guide you. I've only tested this formula on my own blog, so don't base your decision solely on the formula.
First, let’s list the variables we’ll use:
- Posts per Month
- Comments per Post
- Percentage of Comments Blocked
For comments to be enabled
- Posts per Month >= (Comments per Post * Percentage of Comments Blocked)
Let’s use an example:
- I publish 50 posts per month
- I see an average of 200 comments per post
- 20 percent of all comments are blocked
- 50 >= (200 * 0.2)
- Or 50 >= 40
So comments are enabled.
If, like Copyblogger, I blocked 96 percent of comments, then:
- 50 < (200 * 0.96)
- Or, 50 < 192
So comments are disabled. Test this formula with comments on your site and let me know your findings.
The Future of Commenting
We may soon see new vehicles emerge around reader feedback, ones that use more multimedia and less text. Perhaps we’ll soon consume content and leave comments while wearing virtual reality goggles?
For O’Keefe of ManagingCommunities.com, text still rules the day, and it’s incumbent on moderators to sustain high quality comment areas. “Text has shortcomings, but there is something wonderful about it and how flexible and consumable it is. Let’s return to the basic, solid principle that good community spaces require attention, time and work,” said O’Keefe.
Sarah Judd Welch (@sjw), CEO of Loyal said, “I really love what Medium has done with inline commenting. It's akin to the comments along moments on a track on SoundCloud.” SoundCloud allows users to leave a comment and even tag another user. The comment appears “at the point on the waveform where you first started typing.”
Judd Welch continued, “One of my peeves with video content is the inability to skim. Imagine if a video had the same type of commenting as sound on SoundCloud!”
In the spirit of this piece, I’d love to hear your comments about comments. Whether it’s in the comments area below, or on social media, please weigh in with your thoughts. But be warned: if you're looking to spam, you’ll likely find your comments blocked.