Reader Comments

Comments vs Forums

Comparing comment systems with discussion forums highlights their characteristic features. Rather than qualify each point with "usually" or "sometimes," the following lists describe ideal types. Were I comparing magazines to newspapers, I might say that magazines are colourful monthlies while newspapers are monochcrome dailies: a description that captures the tendencies of each medium even though many do not fit the pattern. Some forums have voting mechanisms, for example, while some comment systems allow links. Many comment discussions have only a handful of users: yet are designed to accommodate hundreds. The important thing is the contrast between the tendencies of each medium.

Forums Comments
dozens of participants hundreds of participants
stable user population variable population
participants become acquainted participants are strangers
moderators participate moderators are invisible
Technical Design
phpBB, vBulletin Disqus, Livefyre
static HTML dynamic Javascript
indexed by search engines absent from search
at the top of the page below primary article
flat hierarchical
new posts appear at the end new posts mixed in with old
require registration to post sometimes allow anonymous
may require registration to read publicly viewable
allow images, links and video no multimedia or links
no voting mechanism readers can vote comments up
displayed in fixed order readers can change sort order
a post is large, with metadata & decorations a comment is mostly content, with little decoration
focus on particulars and practices focus on principles and ideals
jargon, memes & in-jokes written for general audience
value civility and manners value rationality
ongoing shared interests current articles and events
express a sense of shared history little collective memory of previous discussion
read whole thread read fragments
sense of belonging diversity of opinion
positive angry
support disagreement
participants address one another as individuals participants treat others as stereotypes
avatars and signatures no expressions of identity
each user posts many comments most users post only one comment
moderators guide adherence to norms moderators remove material that violates rules
old discussions are valued old discussions often lost
discussions last days or weeks discussions last hours or days