To comment or not to comment…

Stan Shroeder, of Mashable, said today that:  A New Debate on Blog Comments is Brewing. What started the whole thing appears to be the removal of comments by Engadget, among others.

As Stan points out, this isn’t a new topic. I made a somewhat long-winded comment and decided that it was more suitable as a post then a comment (re-use/re-cycle). So here it is:

“I’m not sure if anyone has ever done a study on the value/work associated with comments. If not, then perhaps that would be useful. A debate based purely on people’s impressions is of limited value from a publisher’s perspective.

I imagine that such a study would show that comments are of huge value in certain situations, for example people publishing their draft chapters of a book in process. They get great feedback and can modify their work before publication.

In other situations, comments can be seen to be of very little value. My ad hoc impression of YouTube comments, for example, is that they are a total waste of time.

So there probably isn’t a hard and fast rule for the “debate” about comments. Publishers know when they have value and how much work they are to maintain. When the work exceeds the value, they will turn them off.

A better debate might be how they can be made more valuable and require less work. Is there a way to take the best examples and apply them to the worst? In most cases, probably not, but it’s worth looking into. Are troublesome comments the results of the audience you attract, the type of post, the way the post is written (tone), whether or not comments are requested/guided?

Do people who ask a question at the end of the post get better results in the comments? Do people who write in a tone that is deliberately provocative or rude get worse comments?

I co-founded YouSaidIt because we felt that comments were not a good way to have a “discussion” on the web. We went in search of something better and spent over a year exploring the different formats of discussion/debate. We came up with some hair-brained solutions that were overly complex. In the end we realized that the best discussions revolve around good questions. We also realized that the Q&A format was one that everyone understood without explanation.

As a result we created an integrated Q&A product to be used as an adjunct to editorial content. The structure implicit in Q&A removed 99% of the need for moderation, improved SEO dramatically, increased quality because a question is not an invitation to wax philosophically or soapbox, it is a request for ideas and ideas is typically what you get.

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