Blog comments: Are you supporting "return to site"?

I don’t know about you, but I tend to post quite a few comments on various blogs in the course of a week. In fact, I post enough comments that it’s hard to keep track of all of them, and end up with a mostly “fire and forget” strategy. I hate this – the reason I comment on blogs in the first place is the discussion.

In recent years, services have popped up that help you track your comments you leave around the web. coComments and coComment are two of these. These services do a decent job at a more global task, tracking all the places you have discussions, but what about when you only spend time on a select few blogs?

As hard as many blogs (and the blogging platforms that power them) try, there is a real deficiency in the way blogs support a return to site. Meaning, what’s the payoff for visiting their site a second time? Can I easily find comments I’d previously left to see where the discussion when since I was last here? Can I find join discussions that other people I think are smart are participating in?

One of the sites I visit daily is the Huffington Post, a site (or really collection of blogs) dedicated to world affairs. I don’t always agree with the opinions of the bloggers there, but it’s a good read on what the overall vibe of the news is for the day. While the content of the site is often quite good, even if a bit biased, the comments section of each article often devolves into spittle flinging ranting. Because of this, I used to skip the comments section all together.

In recent weeks, however, the site has added quite a few cool new features that have made the comments, and thus the site a lot more fun. Here’s a quick recap of some of the more significant features that we can all learn from.

comment-footer.png

When viewing an individual comment, each user has a link to their profile (more on this below), and the ability to do several things:

I’m a fan of XYZ user – this is like bookmarking based on user, making it easy for me to find people I like in the future. Flickr could learn a thing or two from this trick.
Reply – In a big forum with several hundred comments per blog post being the norm, threading the comments is crucial. Otherwise, the context of a discussion gets completely lost after about 5 comments.

Favorite – Bookmarking based on content. Want to come back and follow stuff you’ve set aside? This is the way to do it. You can track something you don’t comment on or is not tied to a specific user.

Flag as abusive – More granular than simply reporting a post has a problem somewhere down the page, the obvious, ever-present “Flag as abusive” serves to both empower site users to take control of the quality of content, as well as discouraging users who are about to post something stupid, giving them a not so subtle reminder that it’s just not worth the time. Amazon does this wonderfully as well with their “Adds to the Discussion?” button on their review comments. Once you get that data, there a number of algorithms and/or process that can kick into place on all of your content past/present/future.

NEW flag – While simple, the orange “NEW” flag makes scanning a long list of comments really easy to follow, especially when the discussion is threaded vs. linear (i.e. the newest posts aren’t showing up at the bottom of the list of comments)

allcomments.png

Each site user has a page that lists all the recent comments by a specific user. This not only makes it easy to find my own stuff, it makes it easy to find other stuff from people I dig.

At a glance, I can easily remember all the discussions I was part of and jump back to them quickly. (For some strange reason, however, the link doesn’t point to my comment, it only points to the post itself)

sidebar.pngIn my “Your Account” area of the site, I’m able to quickly see (and edit) all of my participation data, including who I’m a “fan” of (a commenter I like), who is a fan of me, which bloggers I dig, and where I’ve commented.

Multiple ways for me to connect with what’s happening on the site. Clearly, the folks at Huffington Post get that the experience with a site like theirs is primarily about what’s happening across the site.

alerts.png

In one additional stroke of genius, Huffington Post allows you to create email alerts based on a number of different criteria. These criteria bring home the idea that participation isn’t just about what I do, it’s also about what I follow.

Huffington Post is doing some great work we can all learn from. I’d also like to point out the Amazon.com additions of comments being added to each review, as well as the product discussions function. (Amazon is getting a bit tough to follow with the amount of features they have these days, however)

Don’t forget that capturing someone’s comment once is a good thing, but getting them to come back every day to check on how the discussion had progressed is a great thing.