One of the key features of a site said to be fully web 2.0 is the ability for readers to post comments and rate the content. Often, especially on news sites, the comments are so depressingly inane and/or frighteningly confrontational that, as I read somewhere recently (anyone recognize this?), you think the planet would have been better left to the dolphins. [Edited to add: Thanks to Graham F. Scott for pointing out that this came from Ivor Tossell's (sadly, last) Friday column at the Globe & Mail.]
But opening up your site content to comments can have its benefits, too. It’s a good way to gather UGC, and a good way to gauge public opinion on some topics. And commenters can often serve as secondary fact-checkers (or primary, if your site content isn’t filtered through fact-checking), highlighting any errors or oversights that may have made it through the editing process.
As an extreme case in point, take this how-to article on rock climbing from Canadian site askmen.com, which although it’s over a year old has been going viral in the climbing community over the past few days. I’m a climber too, and let me tell you, the writer of this article could use a refresher in proper research. The lack of quotes or citations will jump out at anyone in the business. But it’s the succession of one-star reviews begging askmen.com editors to remove it for its lack of factual accuracy that really stands out.
Any article with this many negative reviews – and zero positive ones – needs to be looked at again and either edited or removed. The same goes for the more common situation where a commenter has pointed out even a minor error. And make sure to thank them for taking the time to share their knowledge with you.
What do you think about comments? What percentage do you find actually useful?
[Edited to add: Nice job at askmen.com: they've updated the article and let the commenters know that it's improved – they even asked for input. Note that the URL and title have stayed the same, which is important for a) people who've bookmarked it (whether personally or through social tools) and b) Google.]