If the current standard of comments sections falls short of meeting your needs as a commenter or as a website owner, get to know the company who wants to redefine the online commenting process
Web is for many users not only a source of news and updates from social networks, news sites or sports sites, but a haven where people can express their views, meet other people with similar views, and of course, argue and debate anyone who disagrees with them.
But with all due respect to the other commenters, as a professional writer one can’t escape the feeling that commenting is a waste of time as more often than not our comments wind up at the bottom of a long list that no one will bother to scroll through and read. Israeli Startup Vicomi would like to address this issue by redefining the commenting process.
Upgrading the status quo
The idea behind Vicomi was born in 2012 when company founder Eli Ken-Dror traveled abroad from his native country of Israel but still wanted to feel involved with the happenings back home. At that time, an Israeli soldier named Gilad Shalit, who was held in captivity by terrorists for 5 years, was just released. It was big local news in Israel and Eli wanted to join in the conversation as he expressed his feelings of joy along with the rest of his countrymen in the only available online outlet at the time, which was through news site comments sections. So Eli posted his comment but discovered a short time later that his comment was number 193 out of 400. That is, it was unlikely that anything more than a very few readers would ever actually read his personal reaction, and even less likely that he would be getting any feedback for his time and effort.
What happened to Eli is the average experience of everyone who has ever taken the time to comment on something online. This is far from surprising given the fact that comments are based solely on text with a user interface designed without any additions besides for the rare few sites offering the ability to apply custom text and color highlighting. Even the arrival of emoticons didn’t do much to improve the situation for the same issue of people reading articles long after a specific comment had been posted inevitably causes that comment to get lost in the feed.
As a result, Eli began to develop a Talkbacks section that allows for commenters to not only express themselves more clearly, but to have the opportunity to appear at the top of the page no matter when they happened to have posted their comment, as long as their post continues to get favorable ratings from readers.
The first thing you notice about Vicomi’s Talkbacks section is a significant visual revamp as compared to the common existing formats on most sites today. Alongside the fact that comments get much more focus in general, the four top recommended comments appear at the top of the page, regardless of when they were posted. Ratings are also based on emoticons that allow readers to categorize how a particular comment made them feel.
Meaning, if you read an article and the item or point of view made you angry, scrolling through the comments it’s easy to find those commenters who felt similarly to the way you did. The same goes for worrisome, funny, intellectual or questioning comments.
Additionally, users can scroll through existing comments and express their opinion about the comments themselves without having to formulate a textual response. This is carried out by clicking on one of the emoticons that appear next to a comment. Instead of bashing a particular commenter verbally, readers can express their distaste in a far more civilized fashion and affect the overall score of a comment, which will in turn determine where the comment ultimately appears in the hierarchy of the feed.
Using a dedicated algorithm the system is able to recommend to any reader the particular responses that are most likely to agree with them personally, effectively customizing the comment reading experience for users and allowing publishers to more accurately gauge the breakdown and overall reaction to the content they’re posting.
While the idea behind the system looks like this can improve the Talkback experience, we have to admit the design can come off as a little loud at first. Relative to the text the reader is inundated with colors and emoticons that we believe many site regulars might not care for too much. Nor will they probably appreciate the fact that their ‘I commented first’ factor will be taken away from them.
Up until a few months ago the company was in closed Beta and only recently opened up their plugin to any content-website interested party. The service currently has over 5 million interactions and Views from hundreds of sites around the world, including sites in the United States, Europe, Africa and Asia.
Conquer the comments market
Vicomi is not alone in trying to change the Talkback experience. A short search will call up several companies offering their own take on how a Talkbacks section should function. In an interview with Geektime Ken-Dror explained that the solution of Vicomi is the best of the bunch because it allows users to express their feelings along with enhancing the user experience, and that not all such improvements were made with a textual emphasis.
He further adds that the system recommends content in a custom fashion for each reader and in their native language. Finally, he points out how the company also included a Social element which allows users to follow other posters, view their profile, and recommend their comments to others.
As a business model Vicomi allows its customers to generate additional revenue from the recommendation of content and through advertisements displayed within the system. The company also launched an Affiliates program that allows 3rd party sites to include comments sections of original source sites and share in the profits. Presently the company is already generating revenues from its customers and is in advanced negotiations with major sites in the United States and Europe to install the Vicomi system.
Bottom line, we have some difficulty believing that many companies will rush to replace their current Talkback mechanisms, especially if they’re already producing an impressive amount of responses and comments. Why fix what’s not broken? On the other hand, it is likely that the change will come eventually, and a new optimized commenting system would be a refreshing change.