Comments – is Facebook the answer?

Commenting on websites is a funny thing. Luckily for me, DavePress is sufficiently niche not to attract too many readers, so the problem of being inundated by moronic comments has never really been an issue for me.

For big, popular sites though, commenting can be a real issue. You just need to take a look through the comment threads on posts on Guido’s blog, for instance, to see how ugly things can get.

It’s not just the offensive, though, it’s the irrelevant that can be just as annoying. People leaving meaningless comments just to draw attention to themselves, or their own websites.

Part of the issue is the ease of anonymity with website comments. With a system like WordPress, all you need to do is enter an email address and your name, and you can submit any comment you like.

There are solutions, like Disqus and Intense Debate, which go a bit further to enable commenters to tie their contributions to existing online identities. This goes some way to improving the standard of comments, but it’s still relatively easy to subvert this and go anonymous. It’s part of the cost, I guess, of keeping barriers to entry low.

One new opportunity here though is using Facebook to power your comments – the page explaining it is here.

The technology blog TechCrunch has already implemented it as an experiment, and interestingly, with comments being tied to personal identities, the standard of commenting has risen:

In the past few hours, most of the anonymous trolls who have come to call TechCrunch comments a second home are gone. Of course, some people don’t want to comment with their real names for good reason (they want to speak freely without fear of reprisals), but for the most part in practice anonymity was abused. It was used mostly as a shield to hide behind and throw out invective…

The other main benefit is social virality. When you comment on TechCrunch, your comment also appears in your Facebook stream with a link back to the post (unless you opt out of that option in the comment box).

Seems good, but it isn’t perfect. Some of the issues:

  • Not everyone has a Facebook account, so won’t be able to comment
  • Facebook is banned in many workplaces, so people won’t be able to access or contribute to comments
  • There doesn’t seem to be a way at the moment to extract your site’s comment data out of Facebook
  • There probably are instances where anonymous commenting is a good thing, and Facebook comments makes it pretty hard to do

So, as always, the answer as to the best way of managing comments on websites is ‘it depends’. Having the Facebook option is a useful addition to the toolkit, though, and it will be interesting to see if any public service types use it in the future.

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Dave Briggs

I'm Head of Digital and Design at Adur and Worthing Councils.

4 thoughts on “Comments – is Facebook the answer?”

  1. couldn’t agree more – if you have a troll problem do it straight away

    my hunch would be that many more people will come along and comment if the trolls are gone than people who don’t have facebook accounts

    however there is a DDA issue i think – facebook not being perfectly accessible

    as well as people with disabilities of the people whose comments are worth having it’s the deep geeks who tend not to be on facebook much

  2. Agree with the issues that you raised at the end – and the comment from Will.

    The experiment from TechCrunch will have undoubted success – but you would need to have an appreciation upfront of whether your readers are in the majority with facebook accounts – which of course, you will not have..

  3. Peter Levine has treated Facebook as his main comment thread for quite a long time now – here: http://www.peterlevine.ws/mt/

    I’ve also met very few people who don’t underestimate the value of Facebook in marketing blog content – mainly because it doesn’t show up in your stats – a lot of readers register the post-title and opening para in their Facebook stream. I did some work for an MP recently – his blog stats went up (as did his click-throughs from Facebook) but he also noticed the ‘soft’ benefits – more MPs were quoting him, more journalists were calling him for quotes, etc.

    There are lots of reasons to do with ‘shouting’ not to use Facebook though….

  4. I think this sounds great in principle, especially if there is evidence to support an improvement in overall quality of comments. My worry is that Facebook seems to increasingly polarise people. Those who may be comfortable commenting on newspaper articles (meaningfully) or reviewing hotels are not necessarily fans of social media platforms like Facebook. When I’m talking to web sceptics its far easier to get them interested in reading and commenting on blogs, than it is Facebook.

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