I've been struggling with the right way to enable commenting on this blog for a long time. In 2013, I wrote a post called Letter to the Editor about my challenges with comments.
Most notably, comments meaningfully changed readers’ perceptions of the content they read, even if the comments are not sound. In addition, I haven't found a way to effectively moderate comments at scale.
Several months ago, I deployed a chat widget at the bottom off this page as an experiment. Here are my observations so far:
Chat volumes are similar to commenting numbers. The amount of communication coming in through chat is roughly equivalent.
The types of interactions are more personal. By their nature, chats are one-on-one. Chatters often write in with their points of view, ideas for new posts, typographical errors to fix, or just saying hello. Often, the conversation ping-pongs a few times, which is fun.
I do get a fair number of questions to the effect of, “Is this actually you writing back?” It is.
I haven't received any tirades. I find overall it's much easier to manage than comments.
I know the identities of the chatters and I can track their visitation patterns through the site. I hope to use that data to reach out to founders of startups and also to optimize content over time. Combining this data with email newsletter data gives me a much better sense of the composition of this blog's audience than any other analysis.
There's a great benefit to having the chat history each time you interact with someone. It reminds me of great customer support tools that provide all the context you need to engage.
I'm very sensitive to page load speed. My goal is less than 1 second to full page render and fortunately the chat widget loads asynchronously, maintaining fast page load times.
Chat doesn't build community in the same way as commenting. Since the chats are not public, readers cannot comment on each other's ideas. Rather, chatting is more one-on-one; more personal and direct.
I imagine SaaS startups prefer chat to commenting in their content marketing efforts because the startup can exert tighter control over the prospect's experience compared to a commenting platform. A brand is the sum total of all interactions a customer has with the business. A prospective customer can engage with an SDR and be guided through the buying journey over several low-touch, personal conversations. This establishes rapport early on with the company and reinforces the brand.
Overall, I think it's been a successful experiment but I'm curious to hear if readers and other content marketers have different impressions. Send me a note on Twitter or a chat at the bottom of the page.