I've been thinking about commenting on comments for a while now. But a visit to the Guardian's open weekend and a drop in to a session with their Comment is Free team has pushed me into action. Well, digital thinking and typing action. It seems to me that the technology and funtionality behind commenting on the internet hasn't moved on very much since it was invented over a decade ago. Which seems strange as every thing else has, including how we interface with hardware (from mouse and keyboard to jesture and touchscreen), how we organise ourselves and our communications, and pretty much the majority of services we consume and acquire.
Commenting has largely kept with one excerpt of text under and another though. Much like this..
So where could commenting go? Well the team at the Guardian are doing some interesting things I didn't know about until yesterday. For example opening a dialouge for their audience to tell them what kind of content they want to see. And then actually going and commisioning selected requests, you tell us / you told us. I really like this, it's simple but very effective.
They're also allowing for different levels of engagement in commenting. Not everyone has the inclination to leave a full verbatumn. Some might want to simply add their opinion to a yes or no poll. And this might act has the first step up a ladder into a fully engaged commenter.
So how much further can commenting go? I personally think there'd be room to explore more intuative instant message based interfaces like MSN/ BBM or Apple message. These obviously work and read well in the back and forth, tennis like, conversations between two individuals but might not work so well in a group situation. But what could a new aesthic for commenting look like? Particularly given that many see the future of communications as being "more real time, more conversational and more casual".
Another point of reference for me would be stuff Adam Buxton gets up to with comments in Bug. The way that Adam deals with comments is to make them into stories of their own, that are interconnected with their fellow comments and live in an ecosystem of commenting communities. Plus he makes commenting very funny.
It's these stories within comments that interest me the most I think. And one great example of those stories being brought to life is the new Guardian print ads. Where the splits in the communities of commenters tell a story in itself. The below being a very real reflection of the current state of the music industry for example.
I find these kinds of stories missing from the real world experience of commenting though. Unless you read every single comment, and have got a good head for insights, you're unlikely to ever see these stories.
So I thought about a way that they could be surfaced. And came up with the below simple interface where each comment thread could begin to group it's contributors based on pre-defined segments. Then it would be pretty easy to visualise these stories as nice looking insights at the start of every comment section.
I'd like it if I came across something like this I think. It would make the edges of my mouth raise.
In another session I was in on the open weekend Clay Shirky said that "people are now consuming stories through word and pictures much more than words alone". I agree with Clay.