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David Lee King

Valuing Users by Allowing Comments



Casey Bisson said this during his Internet Librarian 2007 presentation: “sites that allow comments value their users.” When he said that, my mind started making connections… what a great way to illustrate why the ability to comment is such an amazing thing to include on a website! So riffing off that quote, here are some thoughts (and I encourage you to continue riffing and see what more you come up with – if it rocks, I’ll add it to my list).

When you allow comments by users/customers/patrons, you are valuing them:

  • You are validating their voices: By offering a way to let customers comment, the library becomes an enabler for conversation. You are saying the library cares about customers, and the library wants to hear from customers. And any voice or thought is valid – praise and criticism, complaints and suggestions.
  • You are saying you want to listen: no cold shoulders! How many companies actually want to hear you? Have you ever hunted for hours for a 1-800 number for eBay or gone through their complaint/get-your-money-back process? I have – and I came away with the feeling that eBay, cool business that it is, didn’t really want to listen, and was more interested in getting my money than in helping me have a successful selling/buying experience.
  • You are asking them to participate: opening up the possibility to comment is a form of invitation to participate. It allows actual interaction with real, live people. it also sets up a type of digital town hall meeting where someone’s expressed opinion can be heard, discussed, debated, and distilled by others within earshot (ie., other readers)
  • Users can add value to website content: Libraries hire smart people. Your customers are ALSO smart people, and libraries are just starting to use those amazing customer brains to add to the value of library content. Some libraries do this by allowing customers to create book reviews. Others allow customers to comment on blog posts or on wiki pages. A few libraries allow customers to add relevant content and notes to local history projects (ie., seeing an old photo and telling others who is in the photo, etc).
  • You are valuing their time: In my eBay example above, I wasted a lot of time trying to find that 1-800 number. By allowing comments on most pages of a website, you are saving the time of your users. They no longer have to hunt for a single online comment box or find the “contact us” page to find the phone number. Instead, they can leave their comment or question right there, right then – in a place that makes sense (the page where the question or comment came up)
  • You are adding value to their words: By not hiding a customer’s words, thoughts, questions, or comments, you are getting more bang for the buck – you are adding value to the content on that page. Value is added by giving the customer a digital megaphone – since the comment fits contextually on the same page as the comment, and might even visually use the same colors and font sizes, you have just given the customer’s comment the same weight as the website content. Words that before the web might have been said in a private phone conversation or in a private letter now have been given the added benefit of reaching a much larger audience (potentially a global audience).
  • You are adding value to their experience: You improve the customer’s experience by allowing comments in as many places as possible. Steve Krug’s book says “don’t make me think” many times. When the customer has easy-to-reach comment boxes on every page of a blog or a website, they don’t have to think about website functionality or about how to find a way to contact the organization – that part is done. Instead, it frees the customer up to think about what’s REALLY on his/her mind. And that creates a positive experience for the user.

Again, some thoughts. Do you have any to add?

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • http://libraryadmin.wordpress.com/ Rob

    David,
    I agree with what Casey says about allowing comments in multiple places. In fact, you and I have talked about that as we develop our digital branch. From the recieving side of this, if all of the comment options lead back to a generic email or phone number it can be very frustrating when you try to help someone. The customer assumes that when they click on a contact button in a specific program box and write “Sign me up,” the reciever will know what that program was. I have gotten into email conversations with people who don’t understand that I have no idea which program they want signed up for. I don’t know if the technology is in place to make that connection but it would make both the customer, who is assuming and the reciever who is clueless both very happy. While this is a purposly simple example, I can see opportunities for the customers to feel that they are not valued, similar to Casey’s example of the 800 number thing with ebay simply because information is not widely available to all participants. We just want to be careful that we don’t inadvertently make the situation worse instead of better as we add points of contact.

  • http://libraryadmin.wordpress.com Rob

    David,
    I agree with what Casey says about allowing comments in multiple places. In fact, you and I have talked about that as we develop our digital branch. From the recieving side of this, if all of the comment options lead back to a generic email or phone number it can be very frustrating when you try to help someone. The customer assumes that when they click on a contact button in a specific program box and write “Sign me up,” the reciever will know what that program was. I have gotten into email conversations with people who don’t understand that I have no idea which program they want signed up for. I don’t know if the technology is in place to make that connection but it would make both the customer, who is assuming and the reciever who is clueless both very happy. While this is a purposly simple example, I can see opportunities for the customers to feel that they are not valued, similar to Casey’s example of the 800 number thing with ebay simply because information is not widely available to all participants. We just want to be careful that we don’t inadvertently make the situation worse instead of better as we add points of contact.

  • davidleeking

    I agree, most definitely. I think that including the ability to comment on our new site will alleviate some of the confusion you’re addressing. A lot of the ability to comment on the new site will be context-based, sort of like our blog comments are now. So if you posted something to our papercuts blog, if someone wanted to comment, they’d most likely be commenting about your post. So the context is sort of built-in.

    There will still be email, IM, etc comments that have the potential to be way more vague… but still, I think the digital branch, when opened, won’t have too many problems in that regard (of course, I could be wrong – we’ll see what happens).

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  • http://mjr.towers.org.uk/ MJ Ray

    I agree with most of the above. I’ve written more about how I comment and why comment routes are a big part of my decision whether or not to keep reading a site at http://mjr.towers.org.uk/blog/2007/webcss#blogfeedback

    Of course, one problem with comments is comment-spam, like the “so-and-so write an interesting post today on such-and-such. Here’s a quick…” ones currently shown at the start of these comments! Does the value of comments outweigh the cost of needing to fight that spam? It does for me…

  • http://mjr.towers.org.uk/ MJ Ray

    I agree with most of the above. I’ve written more about how I comment and why comment routes are a big part of my decision whether or not to keep reading a site at http://mjr.towers.org.uk/blog/2007/webcss#blogfeedback

    Of course, one problem with comments is comment-spam, like the “so-and-so write an interesting post today on such-and-such. Here’s a quick…” ones currently shown at the start of these comments! Does the value of comments outweigh the cost of needing to fight that spam? It does for me…

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  • http://mjr.towers.org.uk/ MJ Ray

    I’ve written a bit more about these link-sploggers at http://mjr.towers.org.uk/blog/2007/badtech#pingbacksploggers

  • http://mjr.towers.org.uk/ MJ Ray

    I’ve written a bit more about these link-sploggers at http://mjr.towers.org.uk/blog/2007/badtech#pingbacksploggers

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  • davidleeking

    I agree, most definitely. I think that including the ability to comment on our new site will alleviate some of the confusion you're addressing. A lot of the ability to comment on the new site will be context-based, sort of like our blog comments are now. So if you posted something to our papercuts blog, if someone wanted to comment, they'd most likely be commenting about your post. So the context is sort of built-in.

    There will still be email, IM, etc comments that have the potential to be way more vague… but still, I think the digital branch, when opened, won't have too many problems in that regard (of course, I could be wrong – we'll see what happens).

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  • faketattoos

    That's not a bad idea. I never thought about the fact that having customer's comments on our site could improve the likelihood of other potential customers being more interested in possibly buying our product. That makes sense. We're looking into setting up our first blog and I think this looks to be a great idea. Thanks heaps!

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  • http://www.squidoo.com/meaningfulbeautycrawford Tracey

    I agree with your points. A reader should be able to interact and share their opinion about the topic at hand and it definitely provides more value to others reading it too. Interaction is key.

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  • faketattoos

    That's not a bad idea. I never thought about the fact that having customer's comments on our site could improve the likelihood of other potential customers being more interested in possibly buying our product. That makes sense. We're looking into setting up our first blog and I think this looks to be a great idea. Thanks heaps!

    Fake Tattoos

  • http://www.squidoo.com/meaningfulbeautycrawford Tracey

    I agree with your points. A reader should be able to interact and share their opinion about the topic at hand and it definitely provides more value to others reading it too. Interaction is key.