How Facebook Comments is changing commenting on the Web

Facebook Comments is a recently released plug-in commenting system by Facebook that allows commenters to use their Facebook identity to post comments on content around the Web.

And as simple and innocent as that sounds, it has caused an uproar throughout the Web.

You’d think it was the end of the Internet itself! But people must realize that the Internet will still function as it always has, with or without Facebook Comments. It just might be more civilized place, which isn’t a bad thing.

So, why all the drama? Well, it’s because Facebook Comments eliminates something that quite a few people on the Internet clamor for: anonymity. It’s important in many ways. But anonymity comes with a price, and that comes in the form of an overall poorer experience in online interaction. But does that alone justify the elimination of anonymity?

It’s complicated. But the real question of the matter is simple: will the Web be better or worse with this new commenting system? That is what we are trying to figure out.

 

Introducing Facebook Comments

Facebook Comments, like everything else Facebook creates, received plenty of media attention. But it was difficult to understand just what Facebook Comments was because no one noteworthy was using it up until recently. I, for one, didn’t think it was going to be a big deal at first. I likened it to the Facebook “Like” button or the Facebook “Share” buttons found around the Web; it would just be there, and some people would use it to help build interaction around a piece of content. No harm, no foul.

Clearly, I was wrong.

TechCrunch was the first major Internet property to adopt Facebook Comments that I heard about. And even though I heard about it, I didn’t actually bother checking it out; I guess you could say I don’t really bother reading comments on blogs much any more, for reasons that will become apparent soon.

But I did eventually read an article on TechCrunch that I liked and wanted to post a response to. I went to the page, scrolled down, and was greeted by a sight that actually blew me away: there were comments only by Facebook users. There were full names, profile pics, and everything! Why this surprised me, I’m not so sure. But there it was. And then it hit me: this is much bigger deal than I had initially given credence to.

I had typed out a comment that wasn’t necessarily critical or impressive by any means, but it was one that I knew would spur on discussion. And for some reason that made me think twice about pressing the submit button — I was actually thinking long and hard about what I was posting, because, unlike before, everyone was seeing what I was publishing, and they would know exactly who I was, what my name was, what I looked like, and what my online identity was.

In one single moment, Facebook made it so that posting any single comment was to put your credibility and entire online persona on the line. Talk about pressure, gosh.

It was both thrilling and concerning at the same time. What kind of response would I get? Would people call me out? Would my job be in jeopardy? Would this come back to haunt me in the future? All this for a normal comment that wasn’t even critical of the author’s article.

It got me thinking that maybe this is bad…

 

Why Facebook Comments is bad

Anonymity is something that is highly valued in a world with little to no privacy. How can people function if every little thing they do online is tracked and able to be exposed to the world? Sure, there are things that should not be do done online that deserved to be exposed, but there is much more done online that deserves to be kept anonymous.

Is the act of commenting on a piece of work one of those things?

Taken from the perspective of those who live in oppressive countries, something like anonymity is cherished. What if an online publication is posting false propaganda for their government? Shouldn’t it be a right for those citizens to comment on the content in question and let others know what they think? Of course, posting anything negative about a government in some countries could land you in jail, but this is more about the premise of anonymity than anything else.

Or how about in the land of the free, where magazines and news organizations have typically allowed open commenting. What if a user wants to comment on a story but doesn’t want to reveal their identity? What if there is additional information that a user wants to contribute but doesn’t want to reveal their identity? What if there is a controversial comment that must be made that is true, but the person in question doesn’t want to be negatively affected because of it?

How about a piece of information that is published that someone disagrees with? Maybe the person wants to voice their opinion, but they don’t want other people to know who they are? Without this anonymity, people could be encouraged to restrain themselves, just because they know they can’t be completely open about something because of the potential consequences.

In scenarios like those, you can see where anonymity is important. It is crucial because it allows information to be truly free without consequence. To take that away is controversial.

It is also worth pointing out that Facebook Comments will more than likely result in a significant decrease in commenting activity. For TechCrunch, there was nearly a 50-percent reduction. As for which portion of “good” comments remained and “bad” comments — depending on your definition of “good” and “bad” — were eliminated, though, is uncertain.

I’m sure there are numerous other examples of why Facebook Comments could be considered a bad thing for the Web (feel free to share them in the comments below). However, I think everyone understands why this aspect of anonymity is important and why Facebook Comments can be perceived as a bad thing for the open Web.

But for all the negative things that could be said, there is plenty of good to come with the development of Facebook Comments and the unmasking of anonymous commenting.

 

Why Facebook Comments is good

If you want to see a prime example of a reason for a system like Facebook Comments, you need not look far. Take a stroll over to YouTube, and check out the comments section for almost any video with a few hundred or thousand views. Some of the most god-awful things can be said in those comments — I would know, as I used to publish YouTube videos on a regular basis in the past.

I’m willing to bet that a majority of those YouTube comments are no more than a sentence or two long, and that most of them say hateful things. Some of the more common themes I see is sexism, racism, and plenty of idiocy to boot. There is nothing constructive about most of these negative comments, and they only serve to add trash to the Web.

But what would happen if you took away the existing commenting system and replaced it with Facebook Comments (theoretically, anyways). Would there be less hatred and negativity? Probably. Would there be a dramatic decrease in sexism and racism? Plausibly. Would it result in a much more welcoming experience? You get the idea…

Facebook Comments would result in a more constructive conversation surrounding online content. In fact, WatchingWebsites found that people actually shared more content when Facebook Comments was being used.

People liked content more often. This probably led to a greater number of incoming visits from FB.com, but I don’t have the analytics to prove it. Both Erick and MG have stated that FB referrals have skyrocketed.


However, the report also noted that there was a slight decrease in the amount of retweets that content received after the switch to Facebook Comments. Keep that in mind if your website relies heavily on Twitter sharing.

 

Who should use Facebook Comments

WatchingWebsites offered some advice for content publishers about whether or not Facebook Comments would be appropriate for them. For the larger websites that need to take control of spam, they recommend giving Facebook Comments a shot and evaluating the effects after a month of usage. For low- to medium-sized websites, especially those seeking to acquire new readership, they recommend sticking with a commenting system like Disqus or Echo.

I agree with the advice to opt for Facebook Comments for those who are battling comment spam. This becomes even more important to larger websites, which is why it is not a shocker to learn that Hotels.com, TechCrunch, Examiner, L.A. Times Technology blog, and others are adopting the system.

But I have to disagree with the outright decision to forego Facebook Comments if you are a smaller publisher — even more so for individual bloggers.

For those who are looking to make genuine connections with their readers, Facebook Comments seems like an excellent tool to gain more insight into your readers. It gives bloggers more access to their readers — as they will know exactly who is responding to their content — and it also presents opportunity to create more connections through Facebook.

 

Quality vs. quantity

In the end, however, it is simply a question of weighing the importance of comment count versus comment quality. Facebook Comments is great option for those wanting better quality comments and more insight into their readers.

But Facebook Comments probably isn’t the right solution for those who wish to have more comments and the option of enabling users to have anonymity. But for those who know that quality is what they seek, Facebook Comments is a great option.

Unfortunately, one post about this subject can’t explore nor resolve all the potential issues that surround Facebook Comments. However, I hope that this article helps to guide publishers towards making a better, informed decision about the usage of Facebook Comments in the future.


Written exclusively for WDD byJames Mowery. He is a passionate technology journalist and entrepreneur who has written for various top-tier publications like Mashable and CMSWire. Follow him on Twitter: @JMowery.

What are your thoughts about Facebook comments? Please share below…

  • http://www.ideasbubble.com Peter Joseph

    I’m not currently using facebook comments as i’m fine with what i currently have, but i can see the benefits in how it promotes traffic, as comments are shown on the commenters walls.

    • http://myibusinessguru.com business online

      Same to you.

  • http://glennhilton.com Glenn Hilton

    Here I was hoping I’d be able to make a comment with FB comments ;)

    • http://zirta.net Zirta

      I’m glad WDD does have Disqus instead of FB or I wouldn’t have commented otherwise D:

  • http://www.brainofj.com brainofj

    James,

    Great read. However, there is a major flaw with your argument. There is NO such thing as “anonymity” online. It like dry land from “Waterworld” is a myth, that the general population willing accepts despite all evidence to the contrary. Facebook comments are merely asking us to pull our collective heads out, of .. well, you know where.

    A few years back google released a “People” search that nobody really talks about anymore. They pulled it after only a week or so because it literally scared the bejeebus out of people when they ‘googled’ their names and saw all of the results. Facebook is no different, people just willingly accept it now because it comes packaged with some cute farm animals and a slicker interface, but it’s still “google People search”.

    ISP’s routinely hand over users to the RIAA, AT&T handed over hundreds of thousands of users names and info after 9/11 (and No I am not a conspiracy nutjob who wheres an aluminum foil hat) If we truly had anonymity online, those would be empty documents that were handed over, and the RIAA would STILL be looking for pirates.

    SO even pretending there is anonymity online for the purposes of a counter argument to facebook comments only further reinforces something that just is not remotely true, and does a disservice to everyone that clings to that myth in the first place.

    • http://twitter.com/NeliaVB Nelia Van Briel

      brainofj, I think you’re absolutely right. But I also agree with James on the ‘anonymity’ thing, even if it’s an illusion. The guy next door won’t know that I posted a certain thing if I’m using an alias.
      And that’s something people focus on most, the first layer of the internet. They simply don’t want to know what goes on at the back-end. I think ignorance is what keeps most people online, which is (in my opinion) a good thing.
      Interesting article btw :)

    • Rob

      You can’t use a concept from the movie Waterworld as a supporting premise for your argument and expect to be taken seriously on the Internet. You’re obviously a troll.

  • http://twitter.com/MarB_CZ Marek Beniak

    I deleted my facebook acount, so it’s nice to see, that I don’t have an option to comment or not. Sometimes it’s better to shut up.
    On the other hand, I don’t think that facebook comments are very good idea. As you said, everyone can see what you comment and where you comment. I feel quite anonymous in “normal” life. For example, when I chat with someone at a bar, he/she won’t probably remember my name next day. And my mother/employer/girlfriend wont hear what I say. I wouldn’t be comfy if someone I speak to had a tape recorder and told me, that he’ll play it to anyone I know. In that moment, I would just stop talking to him. Like, i assume, everyone.
    Tho I understand that many commenters (haters) should be silenced by facebook comments, and that’s good. Still IMHO if you want quality discussion on your web, you should do it same way as in offline world. Get a moderator (more probably moderate it yourself). And let other people say what they want, not what they think they are allowed by people, which are not in the discussion (mother, employer, girlfriend etc.).

    • Anonymous

      While I like that there is a standard baseline identity with the FB system, I agree with you that I dont think it should be available to everyone. For example if Amazon implemented this system, and you wrote a review on an item that was to be a gift for someone, then they checked your facebook, bam – spoiled. It restricts your freedom of whom which you share information. Would you say the same thing to your boss as your mother as your wife?

      If it wasnt facebook, it would be good, but since it is, Ill stick to other forms of commenting.

  • http://www.facebook.com/janine.lazur Janine Lazur

    so do the facebook comments on a site that uses them get cross-posted inside facebook itself? (on newsfeeds and people’s walls?) or are they logged there more like an activity? (so and so “liked” whatever article now becomes so and so “commented” on an article) or is all of this completely independent of facebook except for posting your FB identity along with the comment?

  • Anonymous

    I don’t like Facebook comments, and if that’s the only way to comment on something I would have commented on, I won’t comment. And I don’t comment much as it is. I like Disqus a million times better.

    Frankly, I think it’s want of ease on the part of site owners to use Facebook comments as pest control. Haters and trolls can be useful if well managed, but it’s going to take some time out of your day to do that effectively.

  • http://profiles.google.com/robwillow Rob Willow

    @brainofj

    Your absolutely wrong, anonymity does exist although relatively, I just HAD to sign in my Google account in order to post here: an absolute and easily traced record owned by Google and now this site to my actual identity. This comment is now in actuality easily traceable to my identity. Result: loss of anonymity and privacy.

    I understand your point about IPs and the back-end and that they can trace and report your internet activity. Your AT&T statement for example is one example, there have been multiple other times that this AT&T and others have gone the other way to protect customer privacy. It’s all in the terms of service, either way of how companies act. Then there’s Apple and Facebook who sometimes stretch the bounds of legal activity and end up in court. Yet people don’t really care and still use, buy and support them. That’s the real travesty, where people just say “that’s the way it is, there’s no privacy or anonymity” so I will continue supporting companies and services that support such behavior.

    Furthermore, you and others wouldn’t have a clue who I was if I didn’t have to sign on a identity to post this comment and I doubt this information would have been traced to my being from this comment alone by way of IP if I didn’t have to log-in to a company or company’s service that is so ready to not care about my privacy. Nor could you or anyone else trace me easily if at all unless I was all over social networks and tied to various comments identifying and exposing myself.

    It really does a disservice to people who use the internet to tell them that “privacy and anonymity absolutely does not exist so therefore don’t worry about it and just go with the flow.”

    Most big IPS at this point, unlike some other big web companies, do not hand over any and all information on their customers at this point. I read recently in the news that the US and Australia have had talks about making it mandatory BY LAW for IPs to trace, record and make available all internet data and activity of its users to the government.

    In my opinion, most people’s current attitudes and actions in using services and fanatically (how many people do you know treat Facebook like a religion?) or otherwise defending them actually allow things like the above to happen. Think about it: over the last few years, Facebook has had many violations over user privacy, how they operate and make money, yet what is the result in the way of public perception and how it affects their business? No one really cares because a) everyone is using Facebook so so must I, and b) oh, there is no such thing as privacy and anonymity (I heard via a brainofj on webdesignerdepot comment, so it must be true), so who cares it’s all just myth anyway..

    The violations continue, next Apple can think they too can get away with it (note recent court case) and finally the absurd thought that the US government can control and access all private citizens data, information, and identity manifests and becomes a reality—all thanks to rampant users of socially irresponsible social media networks and their hardcore users and the prevalent attitude that all this is acceptable.

    By the way, again, most big IPs at this point just don’t hand over any and all information to anyone and to say the opposite is a wrong statement. I do realize that at this moment I am logged onto Google and will probably forget to log out after leaving this comment, where all my surfing habits will be recorded in a database and potentially proffered by Google at their discretion. Worse that I would also be logged into Facebook, where everything I say and do is recorded in a database, catalogued and sold to the highest bidder.

    But if I can log in only to webdesignerdepot, at least it’s a deal between them and I as to the privacy and anonymity of the situation, relatively speaking.

    Long live independent websites, commenting and *some* privacy and anonymity, and much more than just a sense of it.

    • http://twitter.com/SocTrap Social Trap

       This is a very well thought out comment. You have identified many of the issues surrounding the social control we place on ourselves when we are identifiable (caring about our jobs, clients, bosses, friends, society’s, peer pressure etc).

      The wonderful thing about the internet is the honesty. Anonymity allows honesty (even if sometimes, not often, people are rude and sometimes offensive).

  • http://www.facebook.com/utkin Dmitry Utkin

    I started to use FB comments on Design You Trust at all instead of native WordPress comments. And I’d like to say that comment frequency encreased of 200%, as like as discussion involvement, SPAM & BOTS ARE GONE, really, because WP has a poor vulnerability to spam. And I don’t need any WP anti-spam plugins anymore (less plugins=more blog stability). And I don’t need to overload a comment and pingback database, attacked of bots anymore. I strongly recommend you to us FB comments instead of WP comment system.

    • http://zirta.net Zirta

      I’ve achieved the same with Disqus :P

  • http://nevillebarrettjr.com Neville Barrett Jr

    Once again a great post. I appreciate your view on the advantages and negatives of Facebook comments.

  • http://www.awebguy.com/ Mark Aaron Murnahan

    Anonymity on the Internet is something I thought only newbies actually ever pondered. I guess it is different in some communities, but I would avoid most blogs where it is just anonymous users.

    I recently installed Facebook comments as an enhancement, but not a replacement. I will keep my Disqus for all of its benefits, too.

  • http://www.awebguy.com/ Mark Aaron Murnahan

    Hey Jim, fancy meeting you here. I am glad you liked the piece. Apparently there is a WordPress plugin available, but I didn’t find it when I was looking. I admittedly didn’t look very hard, because I wanted to do it my own way, but it could be handy for some people. A link to the plugin is in the comments on the article. I personally think the manual install has some benefits.

    I will keep my Disqus, right along with the Facebook comments. I don’t consider a good option for a replacement, but I do think it has a lot of great features and benefits.

    I will look for it on your blog one day soon!

  • http://twitter.com/buildakicker Jason

    I’m glad you have Disqus on here and not just the facebook comments. I can choose which system with Disqus. I don’t want a facebook account. It’s useless and time consuming to my already busy life.

  • http://zirta.net Zirta

    I prefer Disqus; it allows signing up from many services and it allows anonimity AND troll control. So far, I dislike FB’s small font; Disqus is highly customizable and what’s better, PORTABLE. It can be imported into many systems as well.

  • http://profiles.google.com/cyborg572 Mike Gossmann

    Most of the facebook-on-other-sites features annoy me. They all assume that if you signed in to facebook at some point, then you’re an avid facebook user. If I remember then I *might* check my facebook account once a week, and I almost never update my profile there.

    Forget anonymity: If a site’s going to know everything about me, I’d like if it didn’t keep checking with a service that only thinks it knows what it’s talking about.

  • http://twitter.com/muhammedsaeed muhammed saeed

    very easy , very cool , and very time saving:D

  • http://dianabol.blog.com/ Dianabol

    much worse sites should stick with disqus.
    steroids blog

  • http://javarevisited.blogspot.com/ Javin Paul

    Me too want’s to setup facebook commenting for my blog but still didn’t get it right , I have heard lot of successful story of face-book commenting.

    Javin

  • http://www.facebook.com/vitorhugosilva Vitor Hugo Silva

    You CAN have a facebook account to link to your comments AND choose not to post photos of your vacations, of your wife and kids, etc… only you can choose what you will post about your private life on facebook

  • Anonymous

    Facebook comments are more popular

  • Anonymous

    you kinda have to accept the fact that the notion of privacy is extinct. there is no such thing. everyone can find out pretty much everything about you if they want to.

    in today’s world, for people like us – assuming you work on the web since your reading this blog, privacy simply can’t exist. i’ve tried to maintain my privacy for the years and it’s been increasingly difficult to do it. in the past year or so i simply gave up.

    google and facebook pretty much know everything about you – especially google. and i’m not talking about who your wife is, i’m talking about what porn sites you visit, what articles you read, what junk you receive, what’s your bank account number, etc, etc … chances are, with a little bit of analysis someone can even figure out the approximate times of the day when you go to the bathroom for #2.

  • http://twitter.com/Jon_Fant Jonathan Fant

    I think if looking for a new comment service then adopt facebook comments, create a good FB page to link with rather than a group and a company can develop facebook and website interaction in one.

  • http://www.facebook.com/miriamschwab Miriam Schwab

    Isn’t it a problem that your comments aren’t saved in your site’s database if you’re using Facebook Comments? What if you need to migrate your site, or it crashes for some reason – how can you restore past comments?

  • http://twitter.com/juln Julian

    The Facebook comment system is featureless, unattractive, and derivative. I can’t believe people are dumb enough to use it.

  • http://twitter.com/juln Julian

    It’s a great way to make sure everything you write is available for someone else to data mine for profit. Fantastic!

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeffrey.eric Jeffrey Eric Samorano

    I’m all about saying what you mean and owning what you say. I’ve seen the Total Dickwads RUIN a good thread.. it just spreads undue negativity. If you’re going to bash someone, then own it. however, in the case of government conspiracy, it might be worth your while to create a completely fake, alternate ego (if you will) – create a fake identity and link it to a fake email address and post using that identity.. if you are trying to avoid lawful prosecution then, by all means, go the extra mile.. but, if you just want to call people bad names, STFU or own what you say..

  • http://www.facebook.com/lucas.martinromero Lucas Martin Romero

     ggggg

  • http://twitter.com/HalaDasouqi Hala Dasouqi

     In oppressed countries there is a huge number of Facebook users with fake names and information, which doesn’t really end the discussion. People that are intrigued enough to leave a “bad” comment, will leave it anyway. If it caused them a problem, the percentage of them doing it again will be weaker. I mean, you can easily relate it to the Social Learning theory. However, I wonder if the internet will be as entertaining without bad, stupid and ignorant comments!

  • Todd Logan

    Like other people have stated; Using Facebook Comments is a choice, that can easily be avoided. Many sites offer multiple ways to sign in and post comments, not just using their Facebook login. Often, there is even an anonymous method using “Guest” or “Anonymous” selection buttons. Otherwise, if you want to remain anonymous and there is no other option… practice some will power, restraint and common safety sens e and don’t post. The world is still going to go on if you don’t add you 2 cents.
    I chose to post – without Facebook, using a pseudonym name for anonymity.

  • http://www.y8zone.com Y8

    Facebook comments is great for topics like music or movies that you
    don’t mind your friends and family reading about, but tech? Too niche
    and anything I write is going to become a turn-off to the people in my
    life who don’t understand/care about that stuff. Rookie move if you ask
    me.