Facebook is giving users another way to add Subscribers to their public updates by introducing a Subscribe button beside commenter names in its Comments Box social plugin. The move ties two products that already work separately to promote public discussion, and improves Subscription discovery which is otherwise limited to its personalized People to Subscribe To list and sidebar modules
The Comments Box Subscribe buttons will encourage civil discussion on sites that use the commenting plugin because those who appear intelligent may be able to attract new Subscribers.
Facebook launched the Comments Box plugin for third-party sites in March and by June it was installed on 300,000 sites. It previously added the option for users to “Subscribe” to a specific comment thread, but that feature is now called “Follow Post” and its name has been reassigned to Facebook’s Twitter-like asymmetrical follow feature that was released last month.
As I see it, this new feature helps Facebook meet two existing goals: get more users Subscribing to each other, and make discussion in the Comments Box more civil to get more sites installing it.
Facebook offers a form of Suggested User List, but this is somewhat buried and mainly helps popular public figures grow what may already be a large subscriber base. By giving the average engaged commenter more opportunities to gain Subscribers through the plugin, the asymmetrical follow feature can develop a healthier community and not appear as something reserved for celebrities and journalists.
Comment moderators were temporarily given the ability to “Boost” comments they deemed as high quality to the top of a thread. This let moderators set up discussion role models and reward top commenters, but could also be used to drown out criticism, which may be why Facebook recently removed it. By incentivizing thought leaders to weigh in with the prospect of gaining Subscribers, Facebook can improve discussions without facilitating censorship.
Now, anyone that allows people to Subscribe to them will have a Subscribe button next to their name on their Comments Box comments and replies. In some cases Subscriber count is displayed as well. If the button is clicked, a user Subscribes to that commenter’s public news feed updates, and they can hover to select the volume and types of updates they receive.
Facebook may need to monitor for Subscribe solicitation spam. Some users may only comment to get exposure for their Subscribe button, or interrupt discussions with “SUBSCRIBE TO ME!” requests. If it can filter out or bury these types of comments, it may have found a way improve both Subscribe and Comments Box through cross-pollination.