By Steve Outing
In an earlier item I mentioned how some corporate web content management systems lag behind open-source platforms in some ways. One thing I often notice with websites of major news organizations using proprietary CMS’s is that they lack “subscribe to comments” features — which is a common feature on many blogs and websites using open-source platforms, since there are plug-ins available to add this. (This website, built on WordPress, features subscribe to comments, using a plug-in.)
This is important functionality for any news website; if yours doesn’t already have it, I urge you to consider adding subscribe to comments. It’s simply a great way to keep conversations going. When a user participates in a comment thread attached to an article or other content, he has the option to subscribe to the thread and receive notices when other people respond or participate in the thread.
Indeed, to me it’s annoying when this option isn’t available on a site. Unless I remember to check back, follow-up responses to my own that may be relevant to me — or directed squarely at me — are invisible.
But best serving the user isn’t the only reason to add subscribe to comments. Comment threads can become much longer when subscribe-to-comments is available. Ergo, significant traffic gains.
Of course, there are some cautions:
- Make it super easy for a user to turn off e-mail alerts. If a thread gets too busy, a subscribed user could become annoyed by an onslaught of comment alerts.
- Make a daily digest of alerts available as an option. Then on a busy comment thread, a user will just get one notification a day.
- If yours is a site where comment threads routinely get extremely long, subscribe-to-comments is still a good thing. But you have to design alerts such that a user won’t sign up and then get 100 e-mails in the next 24 hours. Some sort of “governor” that automatically kicks into digest mode after 5 alerts are sent within 24 hours, for example, might work.