Comments as a premium service?

I’m often asked what are the metrics for success when it comes to blogging or community engagement on a website, and I always respond that it isn’t simply the number of comments. Chasing high comment counts can be a race to the bottom in terms of content as the most provocative content easily gets the most comments creating more of a bare-fisted brawl than a conversation. As time has gone on, more sophisticated community engagement systems and strategies have developed, although these have developed mostly outside of news organisations rather than by them.

One strategy that has started to develop is to view comments as a premium service. Everyone can read comments, but only those who pay can post comments. It’s not a new strategy. Metafilter has been asking people for $5 to comment since late 2004, and it’s actually quite successful. In terms of news sites, Civil Beat in Hawaii requires subscribers to pay to read most content and also to comment.

The BBC College of Journalism has a very interesting post by Tomáš Bella about different strategies in Slovakia and the Czech Republic to reduce the number of comments but improve other metrics such as quality and page views. Tomáš runs a start-up called Piano, a paid content system. Several of the most popular sites in Slovakia have started using Piano to charge €2.90 to comment and access “other premium services on the sites”. It is interesting to view comments as a premium service.

Something else caught my eye in the post though. To comment on the popular Czech site, Novinky.cz, they have instituted a process where you have to apply for a code using your real name and postal address before you can comment. Your real name and home town appear alongside your comment. The result?

This radical approach has worked. Readers’ comments have dropped from 50,000 to 4,000 a day. But the number of page views has risen by a third because the quality of the content has shot up.

Long ago (2005) when I was writing a blogging strategy for BBC News, I realised that the large audiences that major news sites can create for blogs or other participatory efforts might not scale. Open comments are fine on niche blogs such as here at Strange Attractor. People come here looking for specific content and wanting to take part in a specialist, professional conversation. The conversation is manageable because quite honestly, we rarely have that many comments, usually just a few if any and never more than 25. On major news sites, it’s easy to receive hundreds and sometimes thousands of comments. Depending on the content, they can become unmanageable for staff and commenters alike. Making people register or pay is one way to create a speed bump to commenting. That might not be a bad thing.

I know that participatory purists might cry foul saying that this is censorship by credit card, but I think that asking people for a little commitment before they participate might make participation better for everyone. Discuss.

3 thoughts on “Comments as a premium service?

  1. Hi Suw,

    I can see the logic in charging. One of my sites – a WordPress blog – was getting such a ridiculous amount of spam, I had to close comments completely, which really annoyed me… some genuine comments would’ve been very much appreciated too. If people are prepared to pay for links (and building backlinks is still a big reason for people – well, bots anyway – leaving comments on blogs) then they’re going to think harder before they type. Or, in the case of out-and-out spammers, maybe not type at all.

    Would I pay to comment on someone’s blog? That depends on the blog. If it’s a really good blog, yes I would pay to comment on it. I’d consider an annual subscription if the blog was that good (and relevant to my niche, say).

    Debs 🙂

  2. Hello Debs, I wrote this post instead of Suw. We don’t charge for comments here on Strange Attractor and doubt we ever will, and I wouldn’t suggest that most individual bloggers, whether they blog for personal or professional reasons. I think that comments as a premium service really only make sense for sites that do a lot of volume in traffic and comments. Even for high-volume sites, I’m not sure that this will make sense, but it’s definitely a trend that I will be watching. Thanks for the comment.

  3. Doh! Blonde moment! Sorry Kevin, of course you wrote the post. Note to self: pay attention 🙂

    Definitely something to watch, I agree. Not suggesting I would charge for comments on my blog, which has low traffic – but like you say, some of the really high traffic blogs might give it a go. Would definitely be interested to read any future posts you make on the subject, anyway.

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