Tech firms have their sights set on unlocking the potential of online comments for businesses.
Livefyre, for instance, last month announced a $15 million funding drive to develop ways of making commenting on websites more fun.
According to Readwrite.com, Livefyre wants to improve real-time comment streaming, curate into a single stream relevant comments scattered across the web, and make it easier for people to add their own media to their comments.
I have written here about the difficulties newspapers face in making the most of comments about their own stories posted on third-party sites such as Facebook, and the need to make more use of user-generated content.
Comments are the easiest way for readers to interact with online content. A timely article on a contentious subject will, for instance, often produce a rich stream of thoughtful debate.
This engagement means people will linger longer on the site, increasing the possibility of them clicking on adjacent adverts.
Many collections of posts, though, have a major shortcoming. They are presented in a chronological, but nevertheless rather chaotic manner.
People reply to comments made earlier in the thread. Others jump in to conversations, and jump out again. It is sometimes not apparent who is replying to whom. Overall, the impression is of a lot of people shouting to be heard, and those with the most interesting points to make being given the same billing as those with less interesting views.
It is a problem Facebook, for one, is addressing. It has introduced a new Replies feature that lets users answer each individual comment instead of having to leave a response after intervening ones have been added.
Comments are also prioritised according to engagement. Vadim Lavrusik, Facebook’s journalism program manager, says in a blog post: “The most active and engaging conversations among your readers will be surfaced at the top of your posts ensuring that people who visit your page will see the best conversations.”
Currently little more than a postscript to an online article, these new development mean comments are finally on the verge of claiming top billing.