9 tools you can use to increase reader interaction in your comments
Your comment system has some serious competition.
In the age of FriendFeed, Digg and Twitter, offering a simple comment form at the end of an article just isn’t enough anymore. If publishers don’t offer an easy way for readers to engage with one another, they are more likely to take the discussion, and the potential traffic, elsewhere.
However, overhauling an entire commenting system is not an appealing, or realistic, option for many publishers. Luckily there are a handful of third-party commenting tools, many of which are free and can be implemented quickly to enhance or replace existing commenting systems.
Each comes with its own philosophy, and some are more invasive than others. But all of them are better than the standard sequential commenting system that many digital publishers use today.
Here’s a rundown:
If you would like …
… to track the conversation across the Web
In July, JS-Kit CEO Khris Loux stood in front of an audience at Real-Time Stream CrunchUp and declared the “death of comments.”
Don’t worry, this is a good thing.
Traditionally, conversation on the Web has worked using a one-way system of links and trackbacks.
But since the advent of social media, the forums for discussion have fragmented. Readers can comment on Twitter, FriendFeed, through their RSS readers and in dozens of other places, making it hard for publishers to keep track of all of the discussions taking place around their content.
"There’s a reason that people sit on Facebook for one, two, three hours a day, but not on the homepage of the New York Times,” Loux says.
JS-Kit’s Echo aims to solve this problem by automatically scanning the Web and adding outside conversation to your comments section (see it in action on Echo’s homepage).
Comments are added in real-time, facilitating a chat room-like atmosphere, and anyone adding a comment can have Echo automatically notify all of their Twitter, Facebook and Yahoo contacts, driving traffic back to the content page.
While not as fully developed as Echo, BackType's connect deserves a mention. The search engine allows users to punch in any article URL and BackType will return all of the conversation taking place on various social media platforms.
BackType has an API that developers can hook into to bring its functionality to comment pages.
… to modernize your comments
For some publishers, Echo’s mission to capture the entire conversation may seem like overkill.
“There are loads of insightful comments that are lost in a stream of, well, crappy comments, tweets, and other noise from around the web,” says Intense Debate’s Michael Koenig.
Both offer a similar feature set: FriendFeed integration, comment threading and rating systems that have portability across multiple sites. Both offer APIs that allow developers to create plugins and both support custom CSS styling.
If you are reluctant to hand all of your comments to a third party, both also offer the ability to export comments and both leave your previous comments untouched.
The primary benefit of implementing Disqus and Intense Debate is that they already have well-established user bases. Disqus and Wordpress-owned Intense Debate are prevalent in the online publishing world, allowing your readers that already own an account to get started commenting immediately, without registration.
… to have your users skip the login form
It’s happened to us all at one time or another.
You receive a link to a story from a friend, find it interesting, but when you attempt to comment, you are met with an ominous signup form and quickly surf somewhere else rather than fill out another lengthy registration.
The unnecessary signup form can have a stifling effect on the conversation taking place around your content. If it’s difficult to comment, visitors will simply take the conversation elsewhere.
To help alleviate the hassle, Twitter, Google and Facebook all offer services that allow publishers to offer their readers the ability to log in using their favorite social networking information.
Or, if you would rather not tie your brand in with a social network, OpenID is a non-profit foundation that aims to standardize login information across the we. Developers can use the OpenID API to allow the service’s existing users to easily log in an comment. OpenID is supported by Yahoo, Google and AOL.
… to incorporate Twitter
If you are happy with your current commenting system but would like a lightweight way to keep a pulse of Twitter discussion, then look to Chirrup.
Chirrup exists alongside your comments as a widget and automatically displays tweets that contain a link to your site.
“As a publisher, why would I lock all of that discussion up on my site when it could be out there, spreading organically and driving more traffic to my content?” says Chirrup creator Dan Glegg.
Chirrup also is able to scan for links that are shortened with the tinyurl [note: no caps is part of branding] URL-shortening service. When asked if there were plans to incorporate other shortening services, Glegg says that Chirrup “is due a big update which we'll be revealing in due course.”
… to incorporate avatars
One of the recent trends in online commenting has been the avatar -- a small image of the commenter that appears next to his or her comment.
For the individual publisher, storing hundreds of avatar images on the server can be a headache , especially when it comes to monitoring user images for inappropriate content.
Much like OpenID aims to be the Web’s standard login service, Wordpress-owned Gravatar is shooting to be the Web’s standard avatar system.
Already standard on thousands of Wordpress blogs, Gravatar, short for “globally recognized avatar,” allows users to sign up for an account and upload an image to appear whenever they comment on a Gravatar-enabled site. Users also self-moderate by assigning their avatar a rating based on its content.
As a publisher, when someone comments on your site, you can have Gravatar search its database to check if that user has registered with Gravatar. If so, their chosen picture will appear, otherwise publishers can establish a default picture.
Gravatar also supports filtering avatars by rating.