When I look at the comments across news sites and the blogosphere, it’s hard not to have flashbacks to a show called CNN Talk Back Live. It was a program that brought in a live audience to participate in the discussion. It was the TV version of "interactive," and the discussion was limited to the duration of the show.
Today, every site seems to have a virtual Talk Back Live component that never ends. It’s called the comment section. So popular are comments that companies are emerging - such as coComment and Disqus - just to host them. On coComment, which just inked a deal to power comments for U.K.-based Virgin Radio and is a repository of comments across the commentospere, some comments - like this one titled: mindestlohn und kein ende -- continue to attract opinions months after being initially posted. On some sites, like Huffington Post, it’s where the action is as these forums attract thousands of commenters with promotional skills on par with Donald Trump.
One article, titled Clinton Camp Stokes RFK Controversy By Blaming Obama, which wasn’t even written by a HuffPost staffer but rather licensed from the Washington Post, attracted 3634 comments! Those opinions and riffs took up 36 pages to display! That’s a lot of opining.
Yet, however silly to pointless to brilliant the remarks may be, they often command disproportionate attention.
Morever, it's free content and additional pageviews for HuffPost. Even the Washington Post - where the article was originated by Zachary Goldfard - received some 50 comments or more (I lost count). Indeed, the comment section could, theoretically, bump up traffic significantly. One publishing site powered by CoComment saw an increase of 70% in pageviews in two days, according to Matt Colebourne, CEO of CoComment, a company that powers comments for 1,500 publishers and sells a comment management service to individuals, who are, I’m guessing – prolific commenters. Now the 70% bump is atypical, according to Matt. Most sites could probably expect a 20% to 30% bump, he said.
Ultimately, the pageview bump depends on the community, probably even more than the person writing the article.
I'm sure Fark's founder Drew Curtis would agree. His comedic site links to about one hundred funny stories from the Web each day. Much like HuffPost, the site attracts more comments than the sites the article originated from.
Now what's evolving is that commenters are starting to find their own audience from the commentosphee. One commenter on CoComment has 500 followers, according to Matt. Is it because the commenter is prolific or profound?, I asked. It's because this commenter is "controversial," he replied.
And, how does one incent people to comment? It's pretty simple. Just provide them with an active environment where everyone is sharing, and an opportunity to be noticed and heard, or in this case - read. "Approbation and interest in what they have to say is far more compelling than any incentive we can provide," said Matt.
As we all know, everyone wants a stage. It's the reason blogs have blossomed and everyone is Twittering.
Talk Back Live once provided that stage for one hour a day. But not anymore. Long live comments.