Four Ways Web Comments Will Change

Daniel Ha is CEO and cofounder of Disqus. Follow him on Twitter @danielha.

Reader attention is on unattended page space. Take a look at virtually any publisher page. The biggest ads, the best design and most of the content is all on top. But scroll down and you’ll find the readers and commenters. They’re reading or participating in the discussion, and they’re spending a lot of time doing so.

Last week, research from content analytics company Chartbeat confirmed that readers are spending most of their time on the south side of web pages — 66 percent, in fact. according to their data.

To unlock the potential in this shift in audience habits, the section universally recognized as the comments will need to change dramatically. Specifically, there are four changes we’re likely to see.

Including attractive photos, user sketches and videos can add new depth to a conversation. In addition to adding to the reader experience, rich media connects with younger users who find adding photos or videos less daunting than writing blocks of texts. New usage patterns have emerged and a new language for discussion has come along with it. It may be more more appropriate (and easier) to add a photo or video to a community discussion rather than words.

Community means participating in a more personal way — not because you’re with real-life friends, but because you’re in a group of shared interests and context. Publishers will move to build out new layers of community development and activity. The unfortunate reality is that content is increasingly easy to copy. Community is copy–proof. Community experience will become a major point of differentiation for publishers.

Today’s content discovery offerings largely exist as little blue links surfaced by fairly blunt targeting capabilities. It’s recommended content and has little of the serendipity that comes with a true discovery experience. Think of an archaeologist digging for artifacts. Content discovery will become much more personalized and responsive to user input. It will be another unique experience delivered by the publisher.

The bank robber Willie Sutton was once asked, “Why do you rob banks?” to which he replied: “because that’s where the money is.” For publishers, new revenues will flow from creating new experiences where the readers already are. Experiences lend themselves to greater brand participation. And ad dollars eventually flow to where time is being spent. Many think about comments as a cost to minimize rather than an edge to exploit. This will shift and the comment service budget line item will disappear.

There’s a lot of talk about brands as publishers. But publishers as brands is less well understood. The changes publishers will take to re-envision the world below the fold should be very familiar to savvy brand marketers. They’re going to make experiences part of the product. Experiences are shared, and they bring the user closer. They can’t be commoditized or easily copied. And in the case of publishers, they will break the old expectations of what happens below the fold.

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