Posts Tagged comment
By Alex Webb
Following the survey I launched yesterday, here is a bubble diagram of where people last commented on news. Most people who took part were journalism students and the sample was small, but it gives an interesting snapshop of how people comment online. I asked participants where they had commented on a news story in the past six months, if at all.
Speaking in Toronto this week, Emily Bell, former head of digital at The Guardian, argued that newspapers must be ‘of the web, not just on the web’. She believes that the success of The Guardian’s website is down to it’s determination to embrace new opportunities offered by the internet. This includes user generated content, harnessed most strikingly by the Comment is Free section of the website. (You can read a great summary of Bell’s whole speech here at gigaom.com.)
As British newspapers scramble to cope with the impact of the web, the guardian.co.uk is undoubtedly one of the big success stories. It is certainly the most innovative, and this has been rewarded with more than 39m monthly browsers.
But this is dwarfed by the sheer might of the Mail Online, which attracts a massive 56m users per month.
And this is where it gets interesting. Because the Mail is the opposite of the Guardian. It doesn’t exactly ‘engage’ with its readers. It doesn’t run live blogs, or feature infographics, or podcasts, or any of the other web-only trinkets that the Guardian relies so heavily on. It rarely links to other articles. It’s journalists are not part of the Twitteratti, as the Guardian’s are; in fact, bar a few sports writers, Mail journalists keep themselves to themselves online and are far outnumbered by Mail-hating parodies, (@stopdailymail, @DailyWail, @DMReporter to name a few). Sure, you can comment on the Mail’s website, but you get the sense this is more people mouthing off rather than an actual engaged debate between users, which is what the Guardian has tried so hard to foster.
This goes against all of the received wisdom on making it big on the web. Paul Bradshaw, online journalism tutor at City University, argues that the arrogance of failing to engage, to link, to consciously stimulate debate online is traditional journalism’s single biggest flaw. In his opinion, fostering communities who talk to each other should be journalism’s most pressing aim:
“Any online operation that does not incorporate its users in production is not only democratically deficient, it is commercially inefficient.
Of course some are inclined to see user generated content as a mass of ignorance, abuse and waffle. Those people should ask how much work has been put into attracting good contributors? Into developing a healthy commenting culture? And how much has been invested into giving the good users a reason to keep coming back?”
The Mail is guilty of this very arrogance. It is essentially an old-fashioned newspaper, online. But it remains on top; you could hardly accuse it of being ‘commercially inefficient’.
The reason the Mail Online is so popular is simple; it runs great stories, with even better pictures. And, like the hard-copy Mail, it is persuasively laid-out (who can resist that pink showbiz sidebar?) The old maxim proves true: content is king. And it’s the kind of content that only the resources, access and well-honed skill of a traditional news institution could produce.
So how do we measure success online? Is it level of engagement, or is it pure hits? The Guardian or The Mail? I have a hunch what the advertisers might say.
By Emily Fairbairn
As a long-time contributor to HuffPo, Rushkoff writes that he was happy to write for free because it felt like he was part of a community and a more important purpose:
“There’s value being extracted from our labour, for sure, by advertisers or whoever, but the sense was always that we were writing for Arianna – contributing to an empire that spent its winnings bussing people to watch Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert do their thing in Washington. Yes, there are compensating benefits – like getting links or hits or book sales – but it was a very soft quid pro quo based in a sense of shared purpose, and participation in a community beyond the mega-media-corporate sphere of influence.”
But now that HuffPo has been sold to AOL, Rushkoff is not so sure he will want to contribute anymore. So is this the key to user generated content?
When you ask someone to comment or contribute online, the likelihood is that you are asking them to do so for free. So they will need a good reason to expend their time and energy contributing to something which will undoubtedly in turn make money, somewhere, for somebody else.
If a user feels like they are part of something, like they are among other like-minded people, and that the site they are on MEANS something, then they will contribute. Content is rooted in community; you can’t create one without the other.
NBC digital chief says videos sent in by viewers is not journalism.
A drop of 50,000 to 4000 in the number of reader comments might sound disastrous for a news site, but it’s all part of an eastern European paper’s plan to improve the quality of posts.
The most popular news site in the Czech Republic, Novink.cz, was being swamped with comments, often of a low quality and all needing time consuming moderation. Their solution was to make it much harder for users to post.
Anyone wishing to contribute, now needs to apply for a user name that will be sent to them by snail mail. Only then are you allowed to comment, with your name and town displayed. As a result the site has seen the number of page hits rise by a third due to an improvement in the quality of the content.
Other Eastern European sites are leading the way too. Pravda.sk, one of the leading dailies in Slovakia, ask readers to authenticate their identity through SMS.
With user comments always on the up, if western sites want comments to have real value they’re also going to have to think about making it a little harder to post.
What turns a passive reader online into an active participant? What makes them comment on a story or post a photograph? So many of us skim content online but won’t bother to comment, because that requires a more in-depth level of engagement which we will not necessarily give, in our hurry to click through to the next story.
In her perceptive blog on the BBC College of Journalism website, Claire Wardle attempts to answer the question ‘what makes people send in their stuff?’. Research she did back in 2007 showed that one of the most significant reasons that people did not submit material was that they felt that they “did not know enough to comment or add anything.”
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