Like many of the requests for online functionality we receive from clients these days, setting up online commenting is extremely easy to do. The CMS's we use (primarily Wordpress and Drupal) have good systems built in for commenting, and other than needing to make sure you also install functionality to remove/filter spam posting, commenting is technically extremely easy. Where additional commenting tools like voting up and down comments, or threaded comments are important to our clients, additional functionality is also very achievable. Where commenting gets more complicated is when we start talking about managing the people that comprise your community of commenters.
I got to thinking about commenting last night by an article shared by a colleague about Popular Science closing commenting as a general rule (they say they will open it up occassionally where discussion is really warranted) on their website. I was in no way surprised by the move as anyone who has interacted with a robust commenting community knows that unfortunately a lot of time and energy is spent on managing negative comments ranging from unproductive to downright abusive. When comments do work well and lively discussions are enacted on a website's content, they can still take a lot of resources in terms of community management of that thriving group of contributors.
Typically we have clients reside at two ends of the spectrum when they open up comments on their site. At the one side, they feel disheartened by the lack of commenting and discussion taking place on their site. I always try to appease these clients by reminding them that the percentage of users that will typically engage with content online beyond simply reading, is typically somewhere between 1-9%. At the other end of the spectrum, they find the resources of their Digital or Communications staff are being taken up managing conversations that get out of control.
I also thought it was interesting to note that they're consciously inviting their readers to engage in discussion off their website and instead on social platforms like Facebook and Twitter, which are places where discussions are encouraged. The Social Media space is actually where we're seeing a lot of productive and engaged conversations happening for our clients who are creating excellent web content. Where their blog comments have been lackluster, suddenly blog posts simply linked from Facebook are engaging constituents with not just the easy "like" metrics, but also comments and sharing. I don't think it's too hard to make the leap to understanding that web users are becoming very comfortable and familiar with sharing their thoughts on Facebook.
I'm curious to see where other large websites go with their comments and if Popular Science has started a trend. As a magazine with limited resources, I agree that their funds are probably better spent on reporting itself and not on managing what has become, in the balance, an unproductive dialogue.