It’s kind of funny that I say that, given that there aren’t many comments on my posts. I blame that on years of neglect of my own website in service of others. Cobbler’s children and all that.
That said, it’s a mantra I’ve repeated in every newsroom I’ve ever been in: Comments are the lifeblood of community. If you don’t allow comments, it’s extremely difficult to build community for your own site. You’re building community for other sites. The community you build on Facebook and Twitter? That’s nice and all, but if you don’t get them to come home, you’re just giving more traffic and data and value to those platforms.
The old commenting platforms, such as Livefyre (which killed its community comments last October) and Disqus, initially were about building community on your own site. But you didn’t own the data, and added to the site load time, which has become ever-more important.
Newer platforms, such as Mozilla’s open-source The Coral Project, and the for-profit startup Spot.IM recognize the value that comments bring to a website in terms of building a community at home. Which leads to more engagement on stories and more time on site. Which also leads to the likelihood of clicking through to other articles on the site and lots of other things. (I know folks at both and met with them today to investigate commenting options that are better than Facebook comments for work, but it’s been something I’ve thought about for a long time.)
Every time a news site disables comments, it dismays me. It’s basically giving up, telling your avid commenters that the trolls are just too much and you don’t have time to provide a quality community for them.
Thing is, if you put your foot down at the start and make sure that you provide a place where people can comment and debate in a civilized manner, that’s what you’ll get. Your readers and commenters will help you police it. If you don’t, your readers won’t help you police it because you’ve shown you don’t care. And then they’ll stop showing up because it’s such a mess. And then you end up closing comments because they’re so awful.
For too long, news organizations have ceded control of the conversation to social media platforms. We’ve allowed Facebook and Twitter to host the conversations. Which means we’ve lost those conversations and become just barely relevant. Sure, our articles provide the grist for the conversations, but not the home for them.
That has to change.