Comments. Every blogger loves them. They show that people are actually reading what we write, help enhance the conversation, point out when we’re wrong…but are your comments really important enough to use a different system than the default? I mean…doesn’t every blog out there come with a built in system for commenting?
Yes, but not all commenting systems are created equal. Here’s what I mean…
Where I work, we use a custom CMS, and the built-in commenting system looks like something out of the internet stone-age (what’s that…somewhere around 1999?). It’s basically nothing more than a stream of comments to the post.
This is where some of people out there are thinking, “Well, isn’t that what the comment system is there for? Leaving comments?”
No. It isn’t. At least, not any more. Here are some things that a good commenting system should have:
No, gravatars are not those blue people running around in James Cameron’s other-worldly adventure flick. “Gravatar” actually stands for “Globally Recognized Avatar.” It’s a service that links people’s email address to a picture that they have defined, and then uses that picture to represent them in blogs and other places throughout the web. If you see little pictures of people next to comments, author info, or many other places around the net, there’s a very good chance that they are coming through this service. If your blog doesn’t use this service and makes people upload a picture into some proprietary “my account” on your website, you might want to look into integration. People don’t want to do that for every site that they visit.
Gravatars are important because they help turn a commenter into a real person. The person leaving the comment gets the satisfaction of feeling as though they adequately represented, others involved in the conversation feel like they are talking to real people, and the host can see the faces of those that they are impacting through the conversation. They just help to personalize the blogging life, which is a really great (and key) thing. You want your commenters to feel comfortable throughout the process.
Threaded commenting is the functionality where you can see and reply to people’s comments right below the comment that they left. You can see an example of this happening in my most popular blog post. If you see a comment that you want to reply to, there will be a reply link right beneath the comment, you leave your response, and the response shows up beneath the original comment and is displayed in a way that is easy to follow (usually indented beneath). Threaded commenting gives your readers a way to interact with one another, something vital to a vibrant community.
“Hautbabe” left me a comment yesterday on a different blog (which doesn’t have a good commenting system) offering a new pharmacy option for me to buy my Viagra. How nice of her to think of me. Unfortunately for her, I’ve already received several other offers this week. Competition is rough for online ED-treatment vendors.
Lets face it…everyone hates SPAM. And that includes people reading your blog. Even if you stay on top of things nicely, any amount of SPAM to get through can communicate a lack of appropriate moderation and deter potential commenters. A good commenting system will have built in SPAM protection. Disqus, the commenting system that I use on this blog, has fabulous SPAM protection baked right into it. I think one or two SPAM messages have ever made it through their filter.
But here’s the real kicker: what type of community does your commenting system bring to the table? I’ll use the Disqus system again as an example. In their system, a commenter has the ability to create an identity within their framework. This identity will then transcend whatever blog the commenter is currently on because their comments link them to their profiles, and their profiles link to all the blogs that they’ve commented on. You can literally get to know people by checking out the other blogs that they’ve visited and left comments for. This is also a great way to discover other blogs that you might share interest in. Hopefully that will help drive traffic to your own blog.
What’s more, with the Disqus platform you can sign in through Facebook, Twitter, Google, and many other huge services. And, just in case you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past decade and don’t subscribe to any of those services, you can still post anonymously (which is why the SPAM filter is so awesome).
Which Service to Use
There are a few good services out there. Disqus is my favorite, IntenseDebate is the other big player in the game right now, and an interesting new start-up called Livefyre is worth mentioning. I think that I’m going to write another post soon comparing some of these services.
In the meantime, I hope that I have gotten re-thinking your currently “adequate” commenting system. Now get out there and give your community the tools that it deserves.
Do you use a commenting system on your blog? Why? Which one?