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April 15, 2014, 12:09 p.m.
LINK: digiday.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   April 15, 2014

At Digiday, Ricardo Bilton has a piece on a few news orgs’ moves away from comment sections. The Chicago Sun-Times is temporarily killing them off (and yet: “we are working on development of a new commenting system”). Vox launched without comments (though some sort of system is in the works).

I feel like “some news orgs are abandoning comments” is a story that could have been written on any weekday since 1999, but there really is a larger trend at work here around social sharing serving as (a) the place where your readers can sound off, but (b) a way to do it away from your site and (c) a way to do it that actually drives more traffic to your content.

(I’ve considered visually demoting comments on Nieman Lab, if only because a typical story of ours might get 300 tweets, 150 Facebook shares, and one comment. But I haven’t seriously considered killing them off entirely.)

But I wanted to point out that killing or demoting comments can be reasonably done for reasons other than the retrograde “our readers say a bunch of dumb stuff that riles people up.” Note this discussion on Twitter between Chris Littmann, deputy social media editor for Sporting News, and Jamie Mottram, content director for the USA TODAY Sports Media Group. Both Sporting News and the USA Today social sports site For The Win recently killed comments.

For me, that’s a better reason to kill comments: You can only have so many things you ask your reader to do. I’ll leave it to the marketers among us to talk about the all-important CTA — the call to action — but in general, the online business folks say that it’s best to have one single thing that you’re asking your user to do. If that thing is “share this on social media,” a comment box can be a distraction.

Does anybody have any good data on this — whether sharing (or some other desired behavior) increases when comments or other less-desired end-of-article options are stripped away?

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