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What Good Are Comments?

No one likes to be judged publicly, especially online. I remember when I lied about my age on Myspace to create an account. In order to keep my account, my parents found out and had a long talk with me about bashing others online.

Over the past few years in the growing space of social media, media outlets are in the era of deciding whether or not to keep the comment section under stories due to harsh critiques. With sites like Twitter and Facebook, theirs an argument in the industry whether readers who share stories should keep their critiques to social media instead of on the story page itself in the comment section.

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Credit: Michael Hyatt

What do you think?

In an interview with Fast Company, Dao Nguyen, the publisher of Buzzfeed disagrees. “Reading comments is often a very good barometer—you can’t only use comments, you can’t only use data, you can’t only use anything. You can’t only use your own intuition, either. It has to be all of those things you use.”

Nguyen see’s the comment section a benefit for Buzzfeed. She believes that users contribute to ideas for new content, how it should be presented and what medium to distribute new content on. She also talks about how data driven Buzzfeed is and that quantitative data is just as useful as qualitative data is to help drive content, collect results and learn about their audience.

In agreement, Maryn McKenna, who used to write for Wired and National Geographic, enjoys interacting with her commenters whether it’s on Twitter or in the comments of a story. She mentioned in an interview with Media Shift that her readers usually recommend papers for her to read or new area of subjects to look into, which has provided her new content ideas.

Others disagree and want to keep it strictly social.

In the same article, a staff writer for ViceLorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai does a lot of responding on Twitter.“I don’t know if it’s worth it,” he says, referring to looking at comments on his stories or not. He is not yet convinced even though co-workers have mentioned to him that story ideas are often born in the comments. “I wonder what the ratio is between the time you spend reading useless comments and how many of those are useful and get you a story idea,” he said.

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Credit: Adigaskell.com

That question is not yet answered. In 2014, I found it very interesting that within a few weeks of another, Neiman Lab reported that Recode, Mic, The Week and Reuters all joined force with The Chicago Sun-Times and Popular Science to discontinue the practice of letting users comment on stories. Each publication was in favor of letting their users make comments on social media instead.

Since, the author of this article, Justin Ellis, stated that he spoke to seven news organizations — Recode, The Verge, Reuters, Mic, Popular Science, The Week, and USA Today’s FTW — about their decision to discontinue comments. He reports that all but one of the sites, The Verge, will continue to leave the comment section blocked. The Verge did trials on a few stories with no comment sections and found that readers were taking to the forums. Nilay Patel, editor-in-chief at The Verge, made a decision to stop the trials and continue having comments on the site. He felt that comments were foundational and important to the company.

Tauriq Moosa, writer for The Guardian has never been a fan of the comment section either and questions its necessity. “Since, writing for sites that allow them, I’ve mostly taken the “don’t read the comments” approach – to my own and others’ writing.” Moosa mentions that all internet writers will have something different to say about this ongoing argument.

Moving forward, I suggest you use your own judgment in your career and find what works best for you. Who knows, maybe in 5 years all “comment sections” and critiques will be taken to social media about specific stories.

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