A trade journal of a still-emerging field, written by Adam Tinworth.

Posts tagged comments

The Financial Times is using comments to engage in a constructive discussion around Brexit.

Lilah Raptopoulos, community manager at the FT.:

“Creating a hub where it was clear that we were asking and listening really improved the quality of the comments that came out, because people had fuller ideas and thoughts, and they were more personal.

“We believe in moderated comment sections and I think they are one of the most direct connections we have with our readers.

Compare and contrast with this news from IDG:

We’re no longer taking comments on our websites —including,,,,,,,,, and Instead, we’re encouraging readers to interact with us on our social media outlets, such as Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook.

It’s the familiar message: “goodbye, comments, why don’t you all pop off to social media”. This industry’s willingness to hand its reader relationships over to Facebook lock, stock and barrel concerns me.

Killing the community manager

Jason Snell, a former IDG employee, celebrates the decision, but makes an interesting aside:

We used to have a dedicated community manager, but that position had been eliminated years before and editors were forced to act as moderators in their “spare time.”

And there’s an even more familiar tale: taking away dedicated community management resource undermines any effort to have a positive community experience for the readers. As John Gallant, Chief Content Officer, IDG US Media says in the announcement post:

Second, while we’ve always valued comments, we’ve also had to deal with the reality of managing spam and policing inappropriate comments—comments that don’t reflect the professional nature of our audiences and diminish the value of community interaction. Moving the discussion to social media obviates those issues.

So does hiring community experts like Lilah Raptopoulos. But that costs money. If you won’t put you money and time into readers relationships – you don’t care about reader relationships.

Adobe has bought comments system Livefyre.

Has the software-and-services giant suddenly developed a taste for community building? Not so much:

Livefyre, which was initially known for its technology that powers internet comments, now runs a marketing business for big brand clients that focuses on user-generated content, posts and videos created by regular people on sites like Facebook and Twitter and YouTube.

It’s getting harder to find platforms that aren’t just disguised marketing businesses. In this case, it seems Livefyre has been quietly morphing into a marketing-driven version of Storyful.

The problem is that products we’ve come to rely on for journalism or community development might be repurposed into marketing tools:

Livefyre CEO Jordan Kretchmer said that none of his company’s products, including the liveblogging service that grew out of its acquisition of Storify back in September of 2013, are shutting down. They will all be integrated into existing Adobe marketing services, he said.

Yup, Adobe now owns Storify. Which is part of the “Livefyre Engagement Cloud”, apparently:

Storify as the Livefyre Engagement Cloud

Ye gods.

Douglas Boulton, one of this academic year’s crop of Interactive Journalism students at City, has just finished a couple of weeks as Ben Whitelaw’s personal coffee table doing shifts on The Times‘s community desk, and he’s shared his experiences:

I’m well aware of the bile that comments sections online are often dripping with, and honestly I was expecting my two weeks of moderating to be a fairly harrowing experience. Fortunately, you guys are alright, really. I don’t know if it’s something to do with the fact that The Times is a paywalled site, but by and large, 95% of you are respectful, rule-abiding, and most importantly, interesting in what you comment.

Not quite what I expected, either. One of the interesting things about The Times right now is that it’s one of the biggest experiments in building community behind a paywall, and that leads to some interesting side-effects. Maybe people won’t pay for the privilege of being arseholes online?

So please, when I give you a warning because you’ve libelled someone with your comment, relax for a minute and think of me sitting in a lonely office half way through a nightshift and a bit sweaty from my fifth cup of coffee, before you send me a furious email in which you call me a “jumped-up little c***.” Cheers.

Well, OK, apparently some of them will…

What happens when journalists interact with the comments section?

Over a study period of 70 days, the TV station reacted to comments on its Facebook page in one of three ways: a prominent political reporter interacted with commenters; the station, using a generic station logo, interacted; or no one interacted.

The results showed that when a reporter intervened in the comment section, the chance of an uncivil comment – defined as obscene language, name calling, stereotyping and exaggerated arguments – declined by 15 per cent compared to when no one did so.

I’ve been teaching this as best practice for years now – based on experience and anecdotal evidence collected from friends working in full-time community management. Nice to see some research starting to emerge that backs up that experience.

Cory Doctorow explores the disaster that YouTube’s switch to Google+ commenting has been:

The promise of G+ in the beginning was that making people use their real names would incentivize them to behave themselves. It’s abundantly clear now that there are more than enough people who are willing to be jerks under their real names. In the meantime, people who have good reason not to post under their own names — vulnerable people, whistleblowers, others — are now fully on display to those sociopaths who are only too happy to press the attack with or without anonymity.

In short: the idea that people will behave better if they’re not anonymous doesn’t hold true for everyone – and by doing away with anonymity, you actually disenfranchise those who could benefit from it positively.

Bonus Link:

Kevin Anderson on newspaper community failing to learn from outside sources.

Bonus Video:

A somewhat sweary (and thus NSFW in many places) response to G+ commenting from a YouTube user:

on-my-way-to-berlin.jpgEric Holthaus wrote a piece for Quartz, explaining his Damascene conversion in San Fransisco airport, and his decision to quit flying:

So I guess last week’s report hit me harder than I expected. My profession is meteorology, which is all about data, but my heart is drawn to people and how we interact with the planet. Together, we can reverse the damage that we have already caused. We can all do something.

A day later, William MacAskill, an ethicist from Oxford wrote a reply, suggesting that Holthaus wasn’t thinking this through:

You say you flew 75,000 miles last year, emitting 33.5 metric tons of CO2—which is a lot for a household. But you said that “a lot of that is travel to Africa and the Caribbean, where I work on projects to reduce the impact of climate change.” How much of a benefit do you think you produce through those projects? If it’s not several hundred times the negative impact of 33.5 tons of CO2, then you’re doing something wrong. But if it is more than that amount, then the cost from you not flying—the detrimental effect that your partial absence has on those projects—is likely to be much greater than the benefits of saving those 33.5 tons.

The response enriched the original article by giving nuance to the key ideas. This is such a richer way of expressing debate and reply that just slapping comments on the end of the article – why don’t we see publications do more of this?

(An aside: it’s a terrible shame that Quartz don’t flag up the reply from the original article page – I only found out about it through the morning newsletter.)

Daniel Ha, CEO of Disqus, writing for WIRED:

But for too long, the debate about online discussion has been about the commenters. We need to move away from pointing the finger at pseudonyms or anonymity as the sole problem, because it’s not. Instead the debate needs to shift to what kinds of online communities we are creating because I’m a firm believer that if we build better online communities, we will have better discussions.

There are two things people who are critics of comments on blog posts or news articles rarely mention:

  • Community management: As Daniel suggests, how you shape and manage the conversation determines both the community you develop and the tone of the comments that are left. 
  • Scale: most of the arguments are based on experiences in high-traffic, general interest subject areas. This is obvious and intuitive; those places where you can get the most attention are most likely to attract those who want to win attention through disruption.

Fundamentally, comments are a social problem, and the best solutions to problems with them are social rather than technological. 

The purpose of writing on blogs, community sites like Comment is free, and much of social media is to start or further a conversation – not to share a few writerly pearls of wisdom. The great majority of writers on this site (and the New Statesman, for that matter) are paid. It’s a job. Too much of the conversation about comment threads is about how writers – people paid to serve an audience – feel.

— from an excellent defence by James Ball of the role of comments on websites.

I feel sorry for the word “engagement”. It was once a trusty ally, a word I could rely on in discussions to help delineate the difference between the old publishing model and today’s conversational publishing word. But then, tragedy struck. The horrible word cancer that is buzzwordification took root deep in its linguistic heart, and by the time it was diagnosed, the patient was terminal.

“Engagement” has become a hollow, talismanic shell of its former self, a word promoted as the cure for all, but unable to stand up to the closest scrutiny. People thoughtlessly spout it as the object of the new age: engagement will make everything better, boost your income, improve your sex life and allow you to make $$$$ working from home.

Let me give you an example. Here’s a comment on Jeff Jarvis’s blog, from a post announcing its new design:

Now, what does “engagement” actually mean there? Does it mean “comments”? Does it mean “a better class of comments”? Does it mean a higher quality of conversation? Or a more regular group of commenters engaging more regularly? Or is it just a hollow buzzword, which equates big numbers with success? “We’ve got huge engagement: 150,000 Likes on Facebook”. Size, as the saying goes, isn’t everything.

In that context, the word is essentially meaningless. It’s just social media buzzword bingo. (He could have scored double points by using “platforms” instead of “systems”.)

The problem with buzzwords is that they transform a concept into a goal: engagement is the result, not the process. Once people start wielding the word in that way, they stop engaging (ho ho) with the core concept, and they don’t ask themselves the key question: why?

“Why?” is the critical question to ask of any serious social media project: why are you using a specific platform? Why are you trying to engage and with whom? What are the goals? Buzzwords replace the practical questions that give you both definable terms for success and failure, but also direction to your work.

Engagement is great. But too much engagement isn’t. In both our business and personal lives, we have to make decisions about how and where we engage with people, and making smart decisions makes those interactions more valuable to us, in either segment of our lives. Engagement is never a goal – it’s a process in service of a better business or a better life.

That’s an idea to engage with… 😉

Martin Belam

Martin Belam, The Guardian

It’s a way of breaking the cite of having to leave Facebook to visit The Guardian. 77% of visits from Facebook to The Guardian only saw one page. Wanted to improve that.  The more you see your friends faces, the more you use some content, say the Facebook people. Frictionless sharing.

They used their own content API – so they could build the app in about five weeks. They got a lot of negative feedback about the app. Some people are very negative about the idea of Facebook. There are 750m people using Facebook who could be reading our journalism – and aren’t. They’re over 5.7m installs of the apps. Over 54% of the users are 24 and under – that’s an audience they struggle to reach. It’s a love it/hate it proposition. Over 25 years olds in the testing sessions refused it. Younger? They installed it straight away. They feel that they’re being “educated” rather than wasting their time. Archive content gets a new life. An old story about models and body image has generated 1000 new comments two years after it was published. A contemporary discussion around archive content. Every story becomes a landing page.

They’re doing continuous design updates. Facebook has a saying: “move fast and break things”. And they do.  The Guardian team delivered the app to Facebook’s specification, and Facebook changed it a couple of hours before launch… (and this forced an emergency bug-fix). Forces them to work at Facebook’s pace. They do get some revenue from sponsorship in the app.

Timeline – Facebook investing heavily. The success of their move will drive the success of the app.

And they won’t attract a young audience with a print product…

Chris Hamilton, BBC

Chris Hamilton at news:rewired

BBC Twitter accounts were “hand-cranked” – they focused the editorial remits of three accounts. Focused on the quality of the tweeting – build on the automated headlines, and don’t just do what everyone else is doing. A human voice, but a BBC voice. We needed to “add value”. Photos, graphics, links to the correspondents. Taking the best of what the programmes are talking about, and putting it out on these three core accounts. They have follower targets – but engagement metrics are much more important. There are editorial guidelines. They use @names whenever they can. The top tweets rom last year were both from the Japanese Tsunami. Pictures often do fantastically well. Lightening hitting the Eiffel Tower was number four…

They’re now working on workflow models – they don’t want to be building a separate social media news team.

Google+ – engagement and quality levels are high. Like the NYT, they’re finding hangouts very interesting.


Facebook – BBC World News, BBC Hausa, BBC London etc. Each for different audience, so lots of engagement.


They had 7/10 of the most commented/Liked posts from UK media.


Nate Lanxon,


Nothing reminds you to post to Facebook like a giant photo of Mark Zuckerberg. They have a photo which is passed around the office. Whoever has it, is responsible for posting that day. Just using RSS just gets you headlines, and people ignore it. The more people who ignore it, the fewer people see your stuff. You need to be interesting.

They don’t get a lot of traffic from Facebook. It’s not about archive content – it’s about pictures of chainsaws – or random stuff they get from PRs. One day – Facebook went public; not much interest. A chunk of their roof falling in? Loads of interest. Our Facebook page isn’t about driving our fans to WIRED – it’s about driving WIRED to the fans. Most of their traffic from Facebook is from Likes, not from the fan page. People will share stories based on headlines alone! Move sharing buttons nearer the headline and using Facebook comments are high on their agenda.

Timing: they chose the (arguably) worst times. Recommendations say 8pm and weekends. Their key times are first thing in the morning, at lunch, and 3pm in the afternoon. And finally 5.30pm, for the just-about-to-leave work traffic.

Twitter is better with automation.

Darren Waters, MSN

Darren Waters

For MSN it’s about managing conversations with millions of people talking at the same time. How do we manage that conversation. The MSN newsroom is a bit bijou. They have to be very strategic about how they use their resources.


How do you make sense of the barrage of information now the balance has tipped towards the audience. We’ve gone from who we regulate social media to how do we fuel it? Darren is their first head of social. The team all have social contracts with targets, and documentation of what they know. They do best practice sessions for their teams. They remove bots where they make sense. They try to understand the rhythms of their audience, and consolidate accounts (quality not quantity). 500 comments on a post on Facebook – what’s the value? We know that if people engage on social media, they’ll visit five times more often per month, and spen 7.5 times as long on the site.


They’re not using recommendations and trending panels on their site. 90% of their tweets from branded accounts are human-powered. Being human gets 10 times the response. They’re getting real traction from liveblogging. Getting readers tweets into their liveblogs makes a huge difference to response. They’re moving towards a multi-screen social focus.


They want to develop tools to make sense of social media. baby steps for now, but in the coming months he hopes there will be products that really make use of traditional news skills and live content in one place.



Nate Lanxon


DW: using Facebook Insights to monitor success. Drives him mad. You need true metrics, but you also need to educate editorial teams still about what’s working and why. We need a tool – Insights plus other data – that tells people why things work.


MB: They use both Insights and Omniture. Can link up Facebook and activity on their own site

CH: Analytics was at the heart of it, for the feedback loop. Facebook Insights plus a bunch of other stuff.

NL: Smaller volume of content, so they’re going more on instinct. The use Insights – blessing and curse – and Google Analytics.

Kevin Anderson (moderator): Al Jazeera use Chartbeat

increase engagement on Twitter?

CH: Work out what you can offer that other people are.

MB: LinkedIn is a social media dark horse we’re all per-looking

DW: Picking the right content for the audience is key. They post more light-hearted stuff to Facebook and the serious stuff on Twitter.


DW: We’ve used Klout, but probably just for the sake of measuring things. He’s not sure of the value.

NL: Never logs into Klout.

Gabrielle Laine-Peters: If influence is to do with follower numbers, you’re getting it wrong. It’s the new penis envy.

NL: There was a Twitter rush. People with 1m followers often don’t send much traffic.

MB: Is a big fan of algorithms and sci-fi and robots, but thinks that this is a job for people. Human-powered, human judgement.

Any experience in building optimised content for specific communities?

CH: BBC strategy is to focus on the core accounts. (So, uh, no… Very “mainstream” media answer)

General question about different types of content and different content agendas

MB: Facebook doesn’t follow the news cycle. They don’t do much breaking news or liveblogging in the Facebook apps.

DW: You’re getting so much information about the likes and interests of their audiences through Facebook for the first time. How much we react to that in the next 12 to 24 months will be interesting. Will we start commissioning new content based on this incredible level of detail? This real view of the world will be a big challenge to newsrooms.

Some discussion of the frictionless sharing in Facebook, Belam pointed out that there’s lots of criticism on Twitter, but the limited number of apps doing it so far means its more obvious. There may also be a generation issue here. Facebook is becoming a web within the web, says Lanxon. Belam says that Facebook now has a weight of numbers that it’s going to make a shift like the MySpace to Facebook one very, very hard.