Can publishers monetize their comment sections and will it lead to a better commenting experience?
SolidOpinion, a new startup, gives publishers a way to charge their readers to rank higher in the comments section. According to Bloomberg Technology, it’s a free service to the publisher, but it takes a cut of revenue generated from the end users.
The service hopes that readers such as businesses or political campaigns will want to pay to have more visible comments, in the same way one could buy a Facebook ad.
Since I’m naturally curious about any tool available to our publishing clients, I decided to try out SolidOpinion, first as a reader then as a publisher.
The Reader Experience
With some digging, I discovered that Reason Magazine had enabled SolidOpinion’s service.
On their article page (for example, “Containment Offers No Cure to a Plague of Apocalyptic Sci-Fi Fantasies”), Reason allows comments through both their internal commenting system and SolidOpinion. For now, those comments appear separate, so I couldn’t reply to an existing comment posted on their internal system through SolidOpinion. This seems like a disjointed experience that will turn many users off.
To leave a promoted comment, I can either sign up, or log in with my existing SolidOpinion account, as well as an account at Disqus, Facebook Twitter, VK, G+ or Yahoo:
Once I’m logged in, clicking on my user name gives me three options:
Clicking on “Change settings” leads me to my.solidopinion.com where I can see my account, buy more points, and see all of my promoted comments.
When I want to leave a comment, I start typing in the “leave a promoted comment” field. Upon hitting “Promote” I’m presented with options:
I was automatically given 100 points when I signed up, so I decide to bid the recommended 61 points. After hitting “Bid”, my comment appeared on the site.
After the initial signup, the process is fairly straight forward and easy.
It should be noted that after I walked through the experience on Reason.com, I did the same thing (without screen shots) on another SolidOpinion customer, San Diego Tribune. The user experience is much more tightly integrated within its commenting experience. See for yourself here.
The Publisher’s Experience
Signing up for SolidOpinion as a publisher is seems a bit convoluted.
Welcome to SolidOpinion commenting system!
Place the following code where you’d like comments to load.
Please use this link to verify your email address and to login into the SolidOpinion control panel.
(I’ve removed my data-sitename variable from email for security.)
You’ll notice a missing opening < in the email above, which I had to figure out before getting the JS to fire. Even after I fixed this error, I still wasn’t able to get the comments to appear on any page I tested. I suspect that I need to whitelist my local dev environment for their widget to appear.
SolidOpinion does have plugins available for major CMS, including WordPress.
On their settings page, there are many options for customizing this experience:
While I appreciate the complexity they’ve built into this platform, it feels like it might be too much for the average publisher without first testing whether this platform is needed in the first place.
I can see some readers liking this feature. For example, if the local paper published a story about transit funding and a pro-transit political organization wanted to comment on the article and make sure its comment was highly visible, this platform would allow that.
I can also see how forcing all users to pay to access commenting (much like Tablet Magazine has done), could lead to a better experience for all readers.
I’m skeptical, however, that enough readers would pay to promote their comments that it would make the hit to the user experience worthwhile. For every line of code you add to a site, you risk degrading the user experience. Publishers should very carefully weigh the tradeoffs.
We’d advise a wait-and-see approach for paid comments.
As a publisher, you probably have much higher priorities on your plate. Put this feature into your product backlog until later in the year and then re-evaluate.