One of the most important things that separates a blog from other mediums of publishing like a newspaper or a static website is its dynamic nature. The word dynamic not only applies to the ability to post new content or update old ones in real-time, it also means reader participation in a quick and effective manner through comments.
The comments section of a website or a blog is a platform for the reader to express his opinion about the article he just spent time reading. This feature used to be limited to blogs at one point of time, but now, almost every content website that updates regularly has them enabled.
For instance, you could be reading WSJ or NYTimes as part of your morning routine and once you feel an urge to say something about an article all you need to do is go online, find the web counterpart of that article and post your comments there. No sending of letter to the editor and no waiting of the next issue to see if your letter was published…you could start the discussion in an instant on the newspaper’s website.
Commenting platforms have evolved over the last decade and so has the commenting habits of readers (or so it seems). Anonymous criticism or trolling as it is infamously known is a big problem that publishers face these days. It has even forced them to shut down comments completely. Then there’s our old foe – spam. Wherever you go, spam follows and comments are no exception. Large sites tend to get so much spam in the comments that they have to take measures like developing advanced software or deploying manual moderation on a big scale to counter the nuisance.
So, like everything, there are pros and cons to comments. But if you were to ask me, I’d say the pros outweigh the cons. In my own experience of running Guiding Tech and some other sites, I have found some novel uses of comments that I intend to share today.
Here are the ways in which I think publishers, both large and small, can make the most out of reader comments and the commenters.
Gathering New Ideas
For bloggers, one of the biggest impediments to day-to-day writing task is idea block. New ideas suddenly seem to stop hitting you and you find yourself staring at the screen and the blinking cursor.
There are many ways to tackle this problem. Browsing reader comments is one of the better ways to do it. Readers tend to post their own tips in the comments, some of which can often be harnessed into full fledged posts. For example, just yesterday we did an article on accessing an Android phone’s SD card over the air. Now, we have had similar articles in the past but this trick never occurred to us until a reader posted a comment about that on an older post.
The ideas can also come from the questions that readers pose, and the problems that they say they face while trying out the suggestions in the post.
Some of the best posts on Guiding Tech have been written by commenters who used to comment frequently and often shared brilliant insights. In fact, some of them had never written a single word of blog content before I emailed them and persuaded them to convert their ideas into blog posts.
Keeping an eye on commenters for potential hires is something that all multi-author website owners should do. Writing talent is very hard to find these days. Hence innovative ways like these need to be implemented to fuel the flow of new content on the site.
Letting Commenters Help Each Other
One of the interesting things I have found about commenters is that a significant percentage of them subscribe to the thread and come back to it to answer questions asked by other commenters. This is actually a great reason to always have comments open, even on the oldest posts on your blog. The influx of spam compels some publishers to take steps like closing comments on posts older than 60 days or something like that, but I think that’s a mistake.
A lot of times it has happened that a commenter posed a difficult question on an article on Guiding Tech, and due to time constraints the writer couldn’t answer it. I have found that these questions invariably get answered by a random visitor after a few days. There have been occasions when a comments thread has more information than the post itself. This not only helps you but also a new visitor who lands up on that post looking for answers.
For anything to progress, constructive criticism is important and websites or blogs are no exception. Comments offer a way for readers to criticize the author, the content, his style of writing etc. While this can go out of hand at times, not having them at all doesn’t help either.
Often I have found that a good criticism in the comments lets the author look back at his practices and helps him contemplate on ways to further refine it.
Recently, we had a nice post on an Android feature on Guiding Tech. We pride on well-researched and quality content but we are humans too and prone to occasional errors. A few days after the post was published, a Google employee who was a part of the Android development team commented on the post criticizing it for incorrect information and data. The author decided to research again and found that the Google guy was indeed right. This revelation led him to delete the post, and rightly so.
This was a lesson learnt and henceforth the author has incorporated some additional research methods in his workflow to ensure authenticity of each piece of information that is shared in our posts.
That was how I have been utilizing reader comments, and how I think all the publishers should do it. What do you think? Comments are a boon or bane?