Home Why Google+ Won’t Fix the Comment Problem

Why Google+ Won’t Fix the Comment Problem

Nancy Messieh at The Next Web reports that Google is planning to launch a commenting system for third-party sites using the Google+ platform. Blogs and other sites will be able to use Google+ threads for their on-site comments.

It’s a great scoop, but you can practically hear the collective “whoop-dee-do” of indifference about the news. Facebook already tried this, and instead of taking over the Internet, it competes side by side with janky, dedicated commenting services. What does Google have to offer that the others don’t?

Google’s Little Advantages

Google actually does have a few interesting things to offer here. Sites won’t have to worry at all about making sure comments are indexed in search results. Google is also the best spam filter on the market, so at least that part of the comment problem could be solved.

It could even highlight popular conversations on other sites using the various methods of showing trending content on Google+ itself. That could draw in new readers and participants from the larger Google+ network.

These conversations will also be stickier. Instead of (or in addition to) relying on email notifications, like many commenting systems do, sites that use Google+ comments will be able to pull commenters back to the site thanks to Google’s ubiquitous red notification box.

And yeah, Google+ comments allow bold and italic text.

But beyond that, there are great reasons not to use Google+ comments. Some are the same for Facebook comments, and some are subtly different.

The Big Problem

Yes, the Google+ notification box is a hook, but it only reaches as many people as Google+ does. Google is certainly determined to extend that network to everyone, but it faces a stiff headwind. The advantage of dedicated comment systems like Disqus and Livefyre is that they are inclusive of all major social networks. Publishers might want to hedge their bets this way instead of only allowing users of one social network to comment.

“There are distinct advantages to being agnostic to any one social network,” says Livefyre’s Jordan Kretchmer. “Publishers who tie themselves to one social network to help build their community are severely limiting their ability to involve the largest audience possible, and limiting their own access to the vast amount of content and users outside of Facebook or G+.”

Publishers also won’t own the data or be able to offer user profiles that are tailored to the site’s own community. Kretchmer thinks those disadvantages of using an outside social network for comments are already apparent, and he’s not worried. “We saw this dance before with Facebook Comments, and we know that the negative impact on the existing players in the comment space is going to be close to zero.”

The Even Bigger Problem

But all comments are broken, and no one in existence has been able to fix them. Google and Facebook think their real-names policies encourage stronger communities, but they’re wrong.

These siloed identity providers exclude people who don’t want their identities publicly known, and they don’t allow people to express themselves naturally. It’s an upside-down model. Our reputation on Google+ is not necessarily the one we want to bring with us to ReadWriteWeb, and Google+ and Facebook take away that freedom.

Moreover, there’s no reason to believe that Google+ or Facebook identities even make the discourse more civil. Comment threads on Google+ and Facebook are just as vicious and awful as anywhere else on the Internet. The only way to fix online comments is to back them with platform-independent reputations and flexible identities owned by the user but verified by a trusted authority.

People aren’t free to be themselves on Google+ or Facebook, and they’ll never be able to have good conversations inside those constraints, whether on Google+ or Facebook themselves or any other site.

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