Thursday, March 03, 2011

Facebook comments: Friend or foe for pubs?

In its highly successful effort to insinuate itself into every aspect of our lives, Facebook now is offering publishers the opportunity to outsource comments on their websites to the social networking juggernaut.

This slick idea could be one of the best things anyone ever did for newspapers, magazines, broadcasters, bloggers or anyone else who thinks he has something to say on the web. Or, it could be a dangerously beguiling trap.

First, I’ll tell you how it works. Next, we’ll look at the pros and cons. Then, you can be the judge.

Announced earlier this week, the Facebook comment plug-in lets a publisher put a bit of code on her website so readers can use their Facebook log-ins to make comments on the site in the same way they can leave a comment today. The system, which has been deployed under this article at GigaOm.Com, allows publishers to moderate comments to filter out spam and other objectionable content.

The difference between conventional commenting and the Facebook system is that the comments don’t just sit on the publisher’s site but are immediately propagated across the Facebook network. That means they show up on the Facebook pages of the commenter and all her friends. When an individual logs in as a Facebook member at the publisher’s page, the plug-in cleverly elevates comments from her Facebook friends to the top of the comment stack.

This could be a boon for publishers for the following reasons:

:: Publishers can increase the number of comments on their site, since it’s a snap for any of the more then 500 million global Facebook users to log in and dash off a few lines. While some backwards-thinking publishers limit or prohibit comments on their sites, feedback actually is a valuable way to build ongoing interest and traffic on a website. The more comments, the busier a site will be. What publisher wouldn’t love that?

:: Because comments are shared across the burgeoning Facebook platform, publishers will enjoy increased exposure for their sites. By some measures, Facebook has surpassed Google as the top referrer of traffic on web. When a comment appears on Facebook, it contains a link not only to the comment but also the article that inspired it. As everyone knows, there is nothing more potent than word-of-mouth in marketing. What publisher wouldn’t love more traffic?

So, what’s the downside?

:: The known knowns: If this plug-in is adopted widely, the already formidable power of Facebook will be enhanced to the potential detriment of other digital media companies. By aggregating the likes (and dislikes) of its users through the comments they make, Facebook will gain deeper and more granular insight into each participating individual than it now possesses. Facebook without doubt will leverage this information to sell ever-better-targeted advertising at ever-higher prices. Publishers, on the other hand, will get bupkus for generously creating the content that generates the comments that Facebook spins into gold.

:: The known unknowns: In addition to selling advertising with the information gained by aggregating and cataloging user comments across a broad spectrum of sites, Facebook will know a lot more about its users than any of the individual publishers who kindly helped them build this splendid, one-of-a-kind database. How will Facebook use this information? Can’t say. But you know this savvy company won’t let this valuable asset go to waste.

:: The unknown unknowns: While the comment plug-in could prove in the long run to be more beneficial to Facebook than to publishers, can publishers afford to forgo this rare chance to knit themselves deeper than ever in the growing Facebook ecosystem? Feel free to comment.


Blogger Unknown said...

Many people keep their personal and businesses spaces separate on Facebook through the use of pages. The Facebook plugin requires the user to be logged in to Facebook.

Many people like to use a comment as an opportunity to link to their website.

Not everyone has a facebook account and many people only use Facebook with a small group of friends.

A regressive plugin I suggest

6:47 AM  
Blogger bigyaz said...

If you read the comment sections of most sites a healthy majority of commenters are anonymous. I doubt many of them want their comments attached to their Facebook profiles.

7:58 AM  
Blogger The Writers Fancy said...

I see this as a good thing. Anything that links your content across the web and bring more traffic, also brings more money. Referral traffic is critical and this is a great way to build it.

8:36 AM  
Blogger Chris Saad said...

One only has to look at Facebook's customers. Those who PAY the bills. Advertisers. Not Publishers or users.

Companies follow the money. And in this case the money flows in the direction of extracting maximum value from publishers (with a free widget) and sending it to advertisers (through Facebook).

Not to mention major media can not (and should not) outsource their brand and control to third parties under any circumstances or they become a submissive node on someone else's network. And as far as we can tell, the thoughtful, savvy companies are NOT doing that.

Chris Saad
VP Strategy, Echo

8:37 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

One big potential downside for Facebook comments is that - as far as I can make out - they can't be seen on page by search engines. That means no search benefits for publishers from users' comments - not a small thing to give up, when you're trying to compete using SEO.

8:41 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

The first thing that struck me when I heard about this a couple of days ago was the value it would have in dealing with the anonymous comments problem.

If you want real discussion and feedback, having users with real names is very beneficial. But trying to verify identities is a huge problem, and it adds hurdles to get users to comment.

Combine real names with the ease of Facebook login, and pushing those comments into the news feeds of these users, and it's a big plus.

Will Facebook profit from this? Of course. But I can't see that as a big problem. The ship has already sailed on traditional news publishers building viable social networks. We need to do more work on finding our own niche rather than engage in jealous outrage over the other guy's success. The newspaper industry had its chance to be the Googles and Facebooks of today, and whiffed. Get over it. Find your own way.

8:51 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

@mhamilton: The comments appear not only on Facebook, but on the original publisher's site as well (see the GigaOm example newsosaur links to in the post). So I'd guess search engines would still pick up the comments from the original site.

@bigyaz: Maybe encouraging people to use their FB login and thus have their comment show up in their FB feed would do a little bit to improve the quality of commenting on newspaper sites -- which is not helped by anonymity. Maybe people would be a little more circumspect. Maybe.

12:57 PM  
Blogger Rod said...

Major FAIL - the examiners I follow all have seen serious declines in comments. has thrived because of anonymous commenting - when they implemented registration as an option, only a small percentage did it.

add in all the privacy etc. issues surrounding Facebook, and they've effectively driven away easily more than 50 percent of their regular commenters.

although the Facebook commenting is an "option," the exeminers I've talked to cannot figure out how to turn it off.

best part is, on the examiner corporate blog, only sycophantic applause is permitted - those of us attempting to post criticisms find them deleted.

1:39 PM  
Blogger Brian S Hall said...

I use Disqus on my site for comments. And I do not plan to switch to Facebook.

Partly, I do not want Facebook to amass even more power without really working for it.

Secondly, as much as I love the topics covered on my site, they are (oftentimes) separate from my Facebook presence.

It's like "summer George". No good will come from having the two sides meet up.

6:24 PM  
Blogger Steve Ross said...

Just for the record, Facebook is the world's most visited site, but Google alone has more than half of all revenue according to Eli Noam.

Facebook's biggest site defect is lack of a good search engine.

6:28 PM  
Blogger Ramblin' Man said...

"While some backwards-thinking publishers limit or prohibit comments on their sites ..."

In some smaller markets, comment sections are frequently highjacked by a few trolls with their own agendas. It's akin to publishing every letter to the editor from every nutjob in the region in your newspaper. No responsible newspaper would do it.

Why must we give up our integrity and responsibilities as gatekeepers just because the medium makes it easy. I say, that's a big, big problem with the Web today.

Anyone who thinks he has something to say can say it on the Web. I don't have to allow him to say it on MY website.

If that makes me "backward-thinking," I reckon I plead "guilty."

8:05 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I'm editor of five hyperlocal sites, and the vast majority of our commenters behave themselves and, I think, would like their contributions reflected on their FB pages. This might work for us. What will Facebook do with the added information it gains from our site visitors? I care about them, yes, but I think that's for individual visitors to worry about and not publishers.

@Ramblin' Man: I'd rethink that. Publishing every letter to the editor isn't akin to facilitating conversations online. No responsible newspaper would run every letter ... and websites aren't newspapers. Are there trolls? Sure. So, block them when they invade with their offense or bad manners.

8:44 AM  
Blogger KatieW said...

Ramblin Man has hit the nail on the head.

Anonymous comments got completely out of control on our mid-sized daily's site. We had no ability to ban trolls who abused the site because they could just change fake names.

The web staff, already overtaxed and understaffed as at every newspaper, spent way too much valuable time policing the comments section. We turned off comments months ago and have been linking to our Facebook page for people to carry on discussions there.

I don't know if we're considering this service, but I think it's a good one.

6:04 PM  
Blogger Rob said...

I'm late to read this article but we've been using FB's article comments well over a year now. I didn't see where they announced it recently as the blog states but they released the API quite a while ago... regardless it's worked quite well for our paper. Comment moderation isn't really needed anymore and traffic from Facebook to our site is huge. It's only been a positive for us thus far.

6:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've found that on some newspaper websites my comments made through the Facebook code are removed from view of any computer except the one that has the identifying cookies. If there are no replies or "likes" to your post, this might be happening to you too. I can't imagine Facebook doing this so I've concluded that the Facebook commenting tool serves the desire of newspapers to censor those who disagree with their agendas. Sure it's their website but most of their readers wouldn't approve of removing posts from view that don't violate guidelines. By the way I also see plenty of posts that do violate such guidelines.

11:32 AM  

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