Facebook yesterday announced that when users post a URL in a comment, a preview of content from that page will be shown in-line. Similar to when users post URLs into the Facebook publisher for sharing to the news feed, comment reels can now show photos, play videos, and display blurbs and images from websites. Unlike wall and news feed posts, the content preview won’t appear until after the URL is published, but comment authors are then given the option to remove the preview.
The ability to show content previews of URLs in comments should make comment reels more engaging, keep users from having to click links blindly, and allow them to compellingly reference off-site content in conversations. It should increase referral traffic driven to third-party site by Facebook.
Facebook has been adding new functionality to comments over the past few months. In March users gained the ability to tag comments with friends as well as Pages, Groups, Events, and apps they’re connected to. In April, it began allowing users to edit comments they’ve posted if they click the ‘x’ on a comment within a few seconds of posting it.
Previously, if users wanted to share a URL in a comment, the link would appear as simple text. Without some kind of image to attract eye balls, these links weren’t clicked as often as the quality of their content warranted. It also meant other users couldn’t tell where the link led by for clicking it, decreasing trust and increasing worry about being scammed such that users might not click through.
A Wide Variety of Rich Content
Now if a user posts a URL into a comment field and publishes, a preview of the URL’s content will appear in-line. The author can then click “Remove preview” if they wish to strip the rich content from the comment. Unfortunately, because the preview doesn’t appear while users are still composing their comment, they can’t choose the delete the URL but keep the preview as they can with wall and news feed posts. This means that a redundant instance of the URL will appear in the comment’s text, making the accompanying commentary by the author more difficult to read.
Photos can be posted in comments by publishing a link leading directly to an image file. If users post the URL of a Facebook photo, the preview will include a link to the photo’s owner and the album it is in. Videos from a variety of sites, including YouTube, Vimeo, Metacafe, and Hulu can be played in-line within comments. Users can share music by posting links directly to MP3s or to streaming sites such as Soundcloud, Grooveshark, and BandCamp.
URLs of websites without rich content will generate a preview that includes a blurb and a thumbnail image if available. Websites can control which images and text are included by marking up their pages with Facebook’s Open Graph tags. Unlike wall and news feed posts, users can’t edit the text of a preview’s headline or blurb caption.
Comment previews should help users find more interesting off-site content to consumer and allow them to click links more confidently. The ability to compellingly reference a news story or video relevant to a discussion should increase engagement and lead to longer comment reel conversations.
Pages will be able to use the feature to respond to comments on their walls with rich content. They’ll also be able to post rich content to the comment reels of other Pages to attract visitors. For instance, if one Page posts a simple text status update, another Page might be able to steal its thunder by posting a video as comment on the post.
Designed to Prevent Spam[Update: Originally, this article noted that the comment previews could be used for spam because spammers could post links with eye-grabbing previews as comments to Pages, which other users would have to see and might be lured into click. However, the designer of the feature, Facebook’s Tom Whitnah, has informed us that comment previews were designed to prevent this kind of spam:
“When you’re viewing a comment with a preview, it will be collapsed by default unless you are either friends with the commenter or the commenter is the author of the post. This means that when you’re viewing public page posts, you’ll have to click Expand Preview to actually see the preview for virtually all comments. So this means for compelling comments, people can still view the previews onsite, while spammy comment previews on pages are likely to never be seen/expanded. Therefore comments with previews should rarely be more compelling vectors for spam and won’t be able to attract more attention to their comment with a salacious image.”]
Overall, though, comment previews should enrich the user experience and increase the amount of referral traffic Facebook sends to third-party websites. Posts in comment reels send notifications to the original post’s author and other commenters. The rich content these notifications link to may inspire additional comments that in turn generate more notifications, causing comment previews to increase the frequency of return visits to the site.
The more referral traffic Facebook drives, the more that businesses and websites recognize Facebook’s influence. This leads them to devote more resources to optimizing their site through Open Graph tags, developing a presence through Facebook Pages, and buying Facebook ads.