Link roundup

I find this stuff so you don’t have to:

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.

Sharing and flexibility

Nice post from BIS’ Neil Williams on deciding up on a commenting system for the department’s website.

Go read the whole thing, but he summarises:

So what have we learned?

  • People blogging about what they are up to is dead handy. Stephen and Jimmy writing their posts, me reading them, has saved you thousands of pounds. Direct cause and effect.
  • Having the flexibility to embed stuff is awesome. Insist on it next time you buy a CMS. Hats off to the guys at Eduserv for really coming through for us on this one. We couldn’t put pages together like this and this and this without it.
  • The growing availability of embeddable stuff is way cool. I’m excited about what else we might be able to achieve without dev work – like page ratings using Bazaarvoice and forums using Talki.
  • We all need to think differently now. Few things we might want our website to do are going to be unique to us. Gov webbies, and suppliers of government web services, need to adapt and thoroughly check out 3rd party plugins before embarking on any kind of jiggery-bespokery. Why pay for our own learning curve when others have already been through it?

My take (which pretty much repeats what Neil has said:

  1. People sharing stuff via blogs is good and has measurable impact.
  2. In whatever you do, being flexible and open means you can make the most of developments in technology, or whatever.

Three cheers for Dylan Jeffrey

I rather glossed over it at the time, because of the general excitement of the moment, but a remarkable thing happened a couple of days ago. A man called Dylan Jeffrey commented on this blog.

Why is this so remarkable? Well, Dylan is a civil servant. What’s more, he was commenting as a civil servant. He was also giving the official line of his department (Communities and Local Government) in a place where discussion was happening online. Not by emailing out a press release, or making some grand announcement, but by quietly finding where the conversation was, and taking part.

Indeed, Dylan did his department great service – the conversation was a fairly tempestuous one, with disgreements abounding about who was at fault for the decision to cut the funding for ICELE, the centre for local eDemocracy in the UK. Several bits of communication had come from ICELE – a press release here, an email there – but nothing, apparently, from CLG. This was a communications risk for the department, as their side of the story simply wasn’t being told.

The comment that Dylan posted was pretty uncontroversial, simply providing some background factual information and then adding detail of a Ministerial statement on the issue, which was probably available buried away somewhere on the CLG website as a press release or somesuch. But Dylan brought it to us, where we were talking about the issue, sticking his neck out to both inform us, and do his department a service by communicating their message.

Of course, this week saw the publication of the guidance for civil servants engaging with the social web. Of the five main points, three were: be credible, be responsive and be a civil servant. Dylan hit all three of these.

Let’s hope other civil servants take note, and that Dylan’s colleagues at CLG thank him for doing this on their behalf.