Everyone has read a news article, seen a blog post, or watched a video on the Internet. Many of these pages will have a comments section. A comments section is more reactionary than a forum. A forum is meant to foster community while comments are not. This makes the comments sections very prone to debates. Sometimes there will be a civil discussion going on there, but more often than not there is chaotic mudslinging going on. Usually these are anonymous and that makes it all the easier to have racist or politically biased comments. This has made me wonder, is it possible for there to be any sort of community within comment sections? Is it possible to bond over reading the same material every day?
One of the main places comments are found are video sites. Everyone’s favorite, YouTube, is a prime example to observe the behavior of commenters. I have found that there is generally no sense of community on YouTube. Most comments on popular videos are either people grubbing for “upvotes” or promoting their own work. New comments are also being added multiple times every second, furthering the incoherence among the comments. Even worse than these are videos that are remotely controversial, including political or religious videos. The comments section on these videos degenerate rapidly into vicious attacks on the comments of other users. The sense of community that I saw on YouTube videos were the comments on web series. These videos are usually watched by the same people, and they all tend to stick around together. This I saw that most other video sites followed the YouTube format. One site that differed from YouTube, Japan’s foremost video site NicoNico, had a format that fostered even less community among commenters than YouTube. Ever comment was completely anonymous and the comments were displayed flashing across the video itself. It’s as if the creators of the site went out of their way to stop communities from forming. It seems that video sites aren’t really the proper medium for commenting communities.
Another place where comments play a prominent role are news or opinion sites. I found that the results were very different depending on the type of site. A large news site like CNN, IGN, or ESPN is cluttered with negative comments and deliberate mudslinging. These are populated by dozens of articles everyday and thus have a large amount of different people commenting every day. There is absolutely no sense of community within these comment sections. Occasionally there would be one commenter who was known for spreading trouble, but that’s it. They have tried to alleviate this by linking comments to Facebook profiles, but it didn’t seem to make too much of a difference. However, a place where I found communities flourishing amongst the commenters were niche sites that focused on a specific idea or issue. Comedic information sites like Cracked.com or the news site of the organization Anonymous had a very strong sense of community amongst the commenters. These sites put out an average of 4-5 articles a day and are usually read by the same people. This doesn’t mean that they are small, Cracked.com is the 763rd most visited site in the world, just that they don’t spew out content. On Cracked.com there were commenters who filled certain roles such as the “pun guy”, or the “funny ranter”. These commenters were respected amongst the other commenters and given somewhat vanted positions. They all identified as being part of the same group and were also very welcoming to new people. Sometimes commenters would “break character” and inform everyone of their real life news such as having a baby. On AnonNews, there is a group that comments on every article giving some sort of advice or help. These commenters tended to have a sense of “recognition” amongst each other and “banded together”. It was very weird to see the differences between the two types of sites. Blogs were very similar to these niche sites, in that they were frequented and read by the same people. Thus, they formed a community amongst the blogs comments.
After looking at all these different types of sites I found that it was possible to create a community amongst commenters. It was more likely on sites that focused on a specific topic or were a series. Somehow these people were able to band together just by commenting on the same articles. While it was in the minority, it did seem that communities really could form in something as mundane as the comments section of a website.