On March 6, 2013, I posted my first ever comment onto an online news site. The site: Huffington Post. The title of the article: Not necessarily important. What was important was the feeling of complete exposure and judgment.
Now, I don’t feel completely naked when I write a wall post or status updated on Facebook, nor do I shrink away from pressing the “return” key every time I tweet. It’s just the feeling of community those sites instill in its users that widely differs from commenting on any online news or content site, whether it is the New York Times or the New York Post. I despised this feeling of impurity and wondered whether anyone else felt this way when they commented on a non-SNS site post. Was every comment section this blandly intellectual? Did the respondent purposely want to start an argument with some 20-something stranger? What if a site out there had developed the pinnacle comments section, a combination of charm and practicality, allowing the user to feel comfortable but not overexposed?
Color me intrigued. Subsequently, I decided to create my own “Comment Quest” (tacky title, but concise) to explore different news and social sites to see how and why their viewers responded to posts and articles. My search excluded forums and blogs such as 4chan and Reddit, as I felt those sites were too similar to SNSs and contained too many regular users who monitored the sites on a daily basis. My goal was to find original feedback to web content (preferably news or culture-related) posted by respondents who had no apparent connection to the “Poster.” I would spend one hour searching a variety of news and content sites, and in the end, create a “Top 3” containing my favorites and their positive and negative qualities. After recovering from my embarrassment of seeing the comment approved by Huff Post monitors, and the ensuing immediate relief that no other viewer wanted to click ‘reply,’ I was off.
After an hour of “lurking” comment areas, reading tidbits discussing anything and everything from the North Korean nuclear program to catheters, I was drained and even slightly depressed; but I had my list. In no particular rank, my top three:
1. Buzzfeed. Every college student’s favorite “stumble” site earned my vote due to its “Badges” system in its comments section. These badges utilize classic Internet slang like “OMG” and “WTF” to allow “Contributors” (aka: the Commenters) to label their opinions toward the article. In addition to their labels, the Contributor can easily write or post video with their label responses above the message. Occasionally, due its varying sponsors, Buzzfeed will add cool, rare labels associated with the promoted product (while I was surfing, “POWERFUL” represented its partnership with the Droid Razr Maxx HD™.) While I did appreciate the cheeky badges and overall appearance, the Contributors weren’t necessarily the most intelligent nor welcoming, as every contribution in the Politics section seemed to spawn an argument or explicit message (“Grow up” was an overly used rebuttal).
2. Gawker. Yes, two of my Top 3 weren’t strictly “News” sites (though they did host news content and relevant intelligent commentaries), but it was hard to ignore the comments on an article titled, “On Choosing Sex Music.” (Gawker) I never laughed so hard towards 222 discussions, which varied from respondents posting their own preferred lovemaking tunes to personal tales of sex with the deaf. It was vulgar and irrelevant to current event issues, but I appreciated the seamless aesthetic flow of the comments as well as the friendly atmosphere of the discussion area. No more Oingo Bingo for me, though.
3. Project-Syndicate. Okay, slight bias here considering my internship with the organization; but this was the only truly “policy and news” based site whose comment section I was genuinely excited by. After my previous two virtual escapades, I was relieved to read some intelligent, thought-provoking comments displayed in a visually appealing manner. The comments appeared right beside the article, allowing me to scroll and read while glancing to the right to see other viewer’s opinions. I could also comment on individual paragraphs, which left a cute virtual thumbtack to indicate my response. My only problem was the sheer anxiety and fear I felt to comment on the opinions of leading policy makers and scholars where they could openly see feedback. Do I look like I know what the “Coming of the Atlantic Century” means? (Project-Syndicate)
After reviewing my findings, I came to a solid, simple conclusion: My search for perfection was a stupid idea. I wasn’t going to be able to find a comments area that didn’t have an established community that could form my ideal community. I couldn’t control who responded or what their responses would be, and to do so would be creating another SNS hybrid. The only definitive claim I could make was that the comments section was a simple, non-commitment outlet for strangers to briefly comment on a shared interest—no community involved. On that gloomy note, I exited my numerous tabs and listened to some Oingo Bingo to cope.