2017 will be the year news comments finally start pulling their weight.
The recent wave of news sites nixing comments illustrates the complicated relationship most organizations have with comment sections. By turning comments off, publishers deliberately turn away the same “active users” that make social platforms like Facebook so valuable to advertisers.
And it’s no surprise, given the terrible choice publishers face in managing their comments. Either commit significant resources to heavy-handed round-the-clock police work, or stand back and watch the space below articles become a festering hellhole of harassment, spam, and abuse. Few organizations have the bandwidth to figure out how to get people to improve their behavior online.
But audiences are hungry for trusted news and debate outside the walled gardens of the big echo-chamber platforms, and advertisers are increasingly anxious about feeding Facebook’s monopoly on customer access and attention. Media organizations are the natural and traditional bridge between the two, despite the chaos brought on by the sudden migration to digital.
When you figure out how to improve comment sections without taking resources away from the newsroom, new opportunities open up. In the next year, armed with a new set of behavior-modifying platform tools, publishers will finally turn their comment sections into valuable assets, into the foundation of their response to Facebook’s incursions. Peel back the layers of abuse, and you’re left with an incredible combination: trusted, high-quality news content combined with real, active social networks, on the same page, under the same roof.
By this time next year, we’ll be wondering how news sites ever survived without comments.