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?

Three Types of Website Content? I Don’t Think So

Shane Diffily has a blog, wrote a book on website management, and posted this article (I think to help sell his book). The artcicle states that “website content can typically be classed into one of three types” – then he lists the types of website content – content that ” persuades, sells, and reassures.

I think he’s been hangin’ with corporate types a little too long. For starters, his OWN POST doesn’t really fit into any of the tree categories. I suppose it could be argued that it would be Selling, since he links to info on his book at the end of the article… but is it really? In reality, the actual content is all about providing info (in this case, info on web content). So it’s not Selling (nor is it Reassuring or Persuading).

And what about coding sites telling you how to create Jave widgets? Or, for that matter, the HUGE realm of information-based content (like, say libraries should be putting out)? Nothing on my library’s website is persuading, selling, or reassuring… it’s all about providing information and providing access to that information. That’s what we as libraries do!

Then there’s the whole chunk of the online ENTERTAINMENT industry… is free music on MySpace selling music? Hmm… for that matter – what about the rest of MySpace? Info about me? Definitely not selling, persuading, or reassuring.

Sorta makes you think…

How to Write Blog Post headlines

Gee – mine’s not nearly as good as the original post’s headline: Writing Headlines That Get Results. Go take a peek at this post, though – there are some great suggestions in it about writing better headlines for your blog posts.

The ideas presented ALSO apply to library websites in general – we can all work on writing:

  • better page titles
  • better article titles
  • better subject headings
  • better link wording
  • better email subject lines
  • etc

By the way – I’ve just subscribed to the blog, too – there’s some good stuff there about online writing in general.

Writing for the Web

Website content & usability is an extremely useful article on writing for the web. The author gives eight guidelines:

1. Use clear and simple language – the KISS principle.
2. Limit each paragraph to one idea – Believe it or not, you learned this in high school english class. Really. And it still applies today.
3. Front-load content – if anyone took a newspaper writing class… this is the inverted pyramid writing style.
4. Use descriptive sub-headings – this is also useful when writing magazine articles.
5. Bolden important words – “bolden” – is that really a word? Ick. Good point, though. It’s another way to visually break up text into easy-to-read snippets. But you can do his in other ways – color can do the same thing.
6. Use descriptive link text – no “click here” language.
7. Use lists – like this one… :-)
8. Left-align text – his point is that left-aligned text is easier to read than justified text. Not sure if I completely agree with that one, but whatever.

This list (and the actual article) can be summed up this way: make your content easy to read! You worked hard creating it, buying it, and transforming it into something useful for your customers. Now make it easy for those customers to digest it – and learning how to write for the web is one way to do that.