Facebook has released a major update to its embeddable Comments Box social plugin for third-party websites. The plugin processes social signals to surface the most relevant comments, and a new moderation dashboard allows admins to block profanity and other objectionable content. Users can login to the plugin with their Facebook or Yahoo! credentials, and comments are published to a user’s wall by default, driving traffic to the website.
With these enhancements, Facebook’s Comments Box plugin is ready to compete with WordPress comments, Disqus, IntenseDebate, and other embeddable comment systems. By powering their comment reels with the authenticated identity of Facebook profiles instead of allowing anonymous comments, websites can increase the quality discussion, repel trolls, and not require Facebook users to register for a proprietary commenting account.
Facebook has been tweaking this new version of the Comments Box plugin and testing it on the Facebook Blog and Developers Blog for months, trying a voting system before settling on using Likes to gauge a comment’s credibility. Web publishers can now configure their plugin and copy the one-line embed code from the Comments documentation page into their site for easy implementation. The plugin is already live on several sites across internet, including this one.
The Comments Box plugin is a solid choice for most websites except those where discussions might include sensitive information. There is no option to comment anonymously, leaving no outlet for a whistleblower who wants to secretly offer a news tip or a victim who wants to tell a personal story. However, in most cases, preventing anonymity leads commenters to be more civil, and consider what they’re writing before they publish under their real name.
Social Relevance and Identity
The most innovative improvement is employing social relevance to order comments differently for each user instead of showing everyone the same reverse chronological order. Comments by a viewer’s friends, friends of friends, as well as the most Liked comments and active reply threads will appear higher in the stack. Meanwhile, comments marked as spam or reported as abusive by other users will be hidden from public view and left for a moderator to address.
Details about each commenter from their profile appear next to their name, giving other visitors context about them and deepening the site’s sense of community. According to a commenter’s privacy settings, their mutual friends, job title, work place, age, or current city may appear beside their comments to those permitted to see that information, giving other visitors a feel for their perspective.
Once embedded on a website, admins can access the Comment Moderation Tool. This dashboard allows them to visit the page on which a comment was made, Like it, approve it, hide the comment from public view, or ban the user from commenting on their site. Hidden comments still appear to the friends of those commenters.
The moderation flow is slighly less streamlined than some WordPress commenting plugins. There’s no quick link to reply, adding friction to moderating questions. There’s also no way for admins to edit user comments. This prevents subjective censorship, but it also stops admins from altering comments that mix insight with objectionable content, or from protecting naive commenters who post contact information. Comments Box doesn’t handle linkbacks, so admin will have to process those separately.
The moderation settings allow admins to add other admins or moderators, use a standard keyword blacklist, create a custom blacklist, set common grammar mistakes to be auto-corrected, and permit or deny third-party logins. They can also set the moderation mode to “Make every post visible to everyone by default” or “Let me approve each comment before it’s shown to everyone”.
Comment Syndication and Notifications Increase Traffic
A “Post to Facebook” box appears checked by default when users compose a comment. The wall post and news feed story generated by this feature helps web publishers generate leads from the networks of their commenters. Page admins can also use this feature to syndicate their comments on websites to their Page’s wall. Combined with the full stories and images that are now published when users click Like buttons, users should begin seeing considerably more content from third-party website content in their news feeds.
When a user’s friends see the wall post or news feed story, they don’t have to visit the website to join the conversation. When users go to comment on the post or story, a “Comment on [website]” button appears, informing them their comment will be automatically syndicated to the website’s comments reel. Posts, stories, and the Comments Box plugin on the website all stay synced, no matter where comments are made.
To encourage return visits from past commenters, they’ll see Facebook notifications with links back to the website when their Comments Box plugin comments are replied to. Facebook doesn’t typically link notifications off-site, so this is a big opportunity for sites with active comment reels to increase return visits.
There’s one other subtle benefit of the Comments Box plugin to web publishers. Traditionally, if a troll or abusive commenter disrupted conversation on a site, the only thing admins could do was ban them internally, which had little repercussions for the trouble maker. But with the Comments Box plugin, spam, abuse, and ban reports all go to Facebook. If a user gets too many of these reports, they could have their Facebook account terminated, severing all their friend connections. Most users aren’t willing to risk this type of modern social ruin, and are therefore less likely to comment abusively.
Right for Many
By offering websites improved civility and relevance on their comment reels, increased referral traffic, and custom moderation tools, the new version of the Comments Box plugin should attract many additional web publishers. These factors may outweigh shortcomings, such as the lack of support for Google or Twitter login credentials, and no option to forgo social relevance and display a real-time reverse chronological stream of comments.
Though not appropriate for all sites, the innovative use of social data and inherent benefits of authenticated identity will help evolve the state of commenting across the internet. Instead of overflowing with rants by strangers, comment reels could become a place to rationally discuss content with existing friends and meet new ones.
Update: Thanks to our commenters for pointing out some other issues with the Comments Box plugin. Users wouldn’t be able to comment if their work place or country blocks Facebook. There’s no easy way for admins to archive or migrate comments to another system. Also, comments by users logged in through Yahoo! show no profile picture or link back to their profile, making them appear obviously inferior to those by people logged in through Facebook.
To try out the updated Comments Box plugin, click the “Add Comment” link at the top of this post, or look for the comment entry field beneath the “Leave a Reply” headline at the bottom of this post.