The Huffington Post has announced the end of its proprietary commenting platform.
A post from Otto Toth explains how the choice has been made to adapt to changes to the nature of the online conversation.
From now on users will be able to comment on Huffington Post articles only by using Facebook through the Facebook Social Plugin available at the end of each article.
The move currently impacts only the U.S. version of the site but it is expected to be rolled out to the international versions in the near future.
The feedback has been very passionate. Users that invested time and energy in contributing to its now defunct social commenting platform are understandably upset. Years, thousands of comments, badges achieved, relationships formed have all vanished.
The HuffPost justifies the move explaining that Facebook is where most of the conversation already happens so….
Personally I can understand part of the argument.
Commenting is a fraction of users’ interactions on any online media platform.
Thousands read an article, only a few take the time to comment.
Sometimes the comments need ‘policing’ and that is resource intensive. Someone has to moderate the comments at a cost to the publisher with not necessarily a proportional and quantifiable benefit.
Some online properties have chosen to eliminate comments altogether.
I am guessing that the business side of the Huffington Post had a look at the resources required to run the commenting platform and compared the benefits and costs to switching to a Facebook-only alternative.
And decided that “the winner is…”
However I believe that the Huffington Post is making a mistake in choosing this direction.
Why? Three reasons.
Engagement & Community
This is the most obvious.
Not everybody wants to engage with your site and its readers using Facebook.
The biggest social network on the planet id mainly used to interact with family and friends and we might not want to share with them our interactions of a (possibly) more serious and argumentative nature.
You might be very happy to discuss politics with complete strangers on Huffington Post using a site-specific profile and avatar but definitely not have the same sort of conversation with a family member.
And we all know how those conversations end…
Another positive aspect of user generated content such as comments is its indexing by Google and other search engines.
I am not aware of what benefit the Huffington Post received from this aspect of its commenting system but often articles had more content produced by commenters than by the writer of the articles itself.
Maybe a few hundred words indexable by Google were produced by the Huffington Post blogger while thousands of words were contributed by commenters.
Once it switches to Facebook only, all that benefit disappears.
Abdicating conversations to outside entity
By choosing Facebook as the only social commenting platform, the Huffington Post is essentially abdicating the management of conversations to an outside entity.
There is no guarantee that Facebook will be there in 5 or 10 years’ time with a potential decline in user engagement for the Huffington Post.
What do you think? Has The Huffington Post made the wrong choice?