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Facebook’s new comment system and its negative effects

Posted by Bradley Wint on 05/03/2011

Facebook recently introduced an updated version of their comments system plugin, which allows for easier moderation, more publicity and more relevant comments appearing at the top.

In their blog post, Facebook explained how the new system makes comment management and publicity much easier. The plugin has become quite a hit, being implemented on a number of large sites including Voices of America, TechCrunch, Financial Post, GigaOM and others. The tool has shown to have quite an impact on the web community, with some hating it while others have embraced it. TechCrunch for instance reports higher levels of traffic along with control over anonymous trolls. For many blog owners, they can easily merge their old comment system into the Facebook system with a couple of API configurations. In a perfect world, this plugin would sound like a golden idea but the truth is we don’t live in a perfect world.

With so many influential websites jumping on the Facebook bandwagon,  should you follow suit? Maybe you should consider my argument below before you make the switch.

Anonymity

Users can no longer maintain a level of privacy when commenting on various blogs and other websites. They have to use their real personal profiles or Pages in order to post comments. This obviously makes some sense when it comes to controlling comment spam where some feel that they can abuse the system under the anonymous profile. However those who wish to remain completely private but feel the need to comment may end up making fake profiles to do so. Is that what Facebook wants? A bunch of fake profiles? Sure they may have them now but I am certain the number will increase over time.

However, if you had the choice of using Disqus (what we use), IntenseDebate or a regular system, you can use a number of other profiles or post under an anonymous account. TechCrunch complained of trolling comments, but all they had to do was limit the totally anonymous comments so moderation would be easier. Users would still have been able to log in via Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, OpenID, Disqus or WordPress. You don’t need to reveal much info about yourself if you have other profiles.

Forced Registrations or No Comments

Even though Facebook has over 150 million users in its database, not everyone is connected to the network and some choose to avoid the service all together. There are even those who block Facebook’s Open Graph API completely, which means when they browse external sites with Facebook apps integrated into them (e.g. Like button, Comment box, etc), they are completely hidden. This means there won’t be a comment section when I head over to TC or GigaOM, thus limiting the potential for new comments.

For those who can see it but don’t have a Facebook profile, they would be forced to join the service in order to make a comment. It obviously brings up some questions of ethics (e.g join site A to use services on site B), but that is still up for debate. Nonetheless, I think it is somewhat annoying to have to use Facebook to comment, when I prefer to either sign up independently or use a different service such as OpenID.

Blocked at Work?

One of the biggest problems is that Facebook is usually blocked at many work places (including where I work). As a result, anything Facebook oriented would be blocked outright. As a web administrator, it would be impossible to moderate comments or even post them as a matter. However, with an independent comment system like Disqus or anything else as a matter, users can post with a different or anonymous profile and webmasters can moderate as usual.

Spam still a problem

So you thought the spam issue was over, right? Since it allows you to use your Facebook Page profile to comment, think about how many folks will be trying to do self promotion. Some are even so bold as to still post links to their sites in the comment itself, but since it doesn’t parse URLs and HTML, the nasty HTML code shows up making things look worse. I’ve seen many sites already trying to promote their pages by adding content of their own rather than actually adding to the discussions at hand.

Other minor problems include a much slower loading time on all sites using it, even though Facebook.com loads very fast. The text size also seems to be an issue because screen resolutions only get larger as technology improves, so the tiny text really poses a problem for those who have vision problems.

I’ve noticed some sites even creating tabbed comment sections, one for regular comments and the other for Facebook users. This clearly can kill the discussion because non-Facebookers may want to participate in a Facebook discussion or vice versa. Also, there may be duplicate comments as a result (one in each tab).

Finally, they have set it by default to allow a post to be created on your profile whenever you comment on a post. Sure you can turn off the feature, but it seems to re-enable itself every time you visit a new page with the comment box. It’s a great idea for webmasters to bring in traffic, but I am pretty sure some of your other Facebook friends may end up hiding you for the comment spam being fed to their home page feed.

For now, I still believe in using a broader platform such as Disqus or IntenseDebate. If anonymous comments are a problem, limit them so users must log on with different options (e.g. other than just Facebook).