Facebook today released several updates to the newest version of its Comments Box social plugin for third party websites that will increase the referral traffic it drives, and give sites API control so they can export, analyze, and re-order comments. The plugin can now publish a full news feed story with an image when users post comments, and users can log in using their Hotmail account.
These distribution, flexibility, and access updates significantly increase the plugin’s appeal, and should lead to more installs on top of the 50,000 websites that have already integrated it.
Facebook originally launched the Comments Box social plugin in February of 2009, but released the greatly enhanced current version on March 1st, 2011 that included comment ranking by relevancy, the option to login with a Yahoo! account, enhanced moderation tools and the option for users to syndicate their comments to their own Facebook walls.
Login with an AOL account was soon added, and it was discovered that the plugin included live code for Twitter and Google logins despite those not being user-facing options. Despite early adoption by websites such as TechCrunch and our own, many publishers had reservations since they couldn’t export and archive comments, and users couldn’t login anonymously.
The new updates should convince some more of these hold outs. The Graph API can now be used to search and export comments. Facebook says this will allow websites to “highlight the most interesting comments, perform analysis on the comment stream, reward top commenters, search through existing comments, and use comments to improve SEO on their site.” The exporting feature is crucial for sites who want to reserve the right to switch away from Facebook’s plugin without losing comments made within it.
When users opt in to Facebook syndication of their comments, the resulting news feed story will include an image and description of the site. This means the story will appear much larger and more compelling in the feed, driving more referral traffic to sites hosting the plugin. This traffic boost is lucrative enough to outweigh other concerns or the effort to migrate to the Comments Box.
Other updates include the addition of Hotmail as a login provider, which will open up commenting through the plugin to more of those without a Facebook account. A new dark color scheme will make the plugin fit better aesthetically with darker sites. Permalinks, accessed through a comment’s timestamp, will let users share their comments through email or other social media sites like Twitter, and also make moderation simpler.
There are still some deficiencies, but these are in-part tied to the nature of an authenticated identity comment plugin. For instance, moderators can not edit user comments, which can be useful for when someone makes a good point but that is peppered with objectionable language. However, the ability to edit someone’s comments, which are sync’d to their profile, coud raise security and authenticity issues.
Sites using the original version of the plugin can easily update by adding ‘migrated=1′ to their site’s <fb:comments> tag. All old versions will be forcibly migrated on April 29th, re-ordering existing comments using the new relevancy ranking. Sites using custom CSS may need to make some tweaks as since that customization option is no longer supported.
Even before these updates, the Comments Box plugin appears to gaining traction. Facebook tells us that amongst the 50,000 properties that have integrated the plugin are music sites Vevo and Grooveshark, video distributors Funny Or Die and Metacafe, image hosts Photobucket and Imageshack, games by WildTangent and Y3, reviews site Hotels.com, and news sites the San Jose Mercury News and the LA Times.
By moving to facilitate data portability and manipulation, Facebook has lowered the risk of experimenting with the plugin, allowing websites to see for themselves whether the plugin increases the volume and civility of their comments and drives referral traffic as Facebook claims.